Why Do People Panhandle in the U.S.?

Panhandlers are people who ask, or “beg,” strangers for money. Some people who panhandle are homeless. While it is hard to give exact numbers, as many as half the people asking for money on the street may have a place to call home. However, they may not be able to buy food and pay their bills. Whether homeless or not, when someone is panhandling, it is often a “last resort” because they don’t make enough money to pay rent and buy necessities.

In one informal study in Portland, OR, people reported that they earned about $22 a day panhandling. A common belief is that panhandlers use the money they receive to buy drugs or alcohol. That is true in some cases (about 38% of people who experience homelessness are dependent on alcohol and 26% use drugs). However, many use the cash to buy simple necessities like food, toilet paper, hygiene products, and bus or subway tickets. In some cases, panhandlers use the money to pay for a place to stay for the night.

If everyone in the U.S. had access to an affordable, safe place to live and a job earning a living wage, people would not need to resort to panhandling.