Deciding whether to give money is a deeply personal choice. Religious conviction and taking care of the poor drive some people to give. Others prefer to support organizations that provide housing and services. Some people give money sometimes and not other times. Here is the most important thing to remember:
THERE IS NO CORRECT ANSWER ABOUT WHETHER YOU SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT GIVE MONEY.
Pope Francis weighed in on the issue and basically said: “Give them the money and don’t worry about it.”
Similarly, Mark Horvath, Founder of Invisible People, wrote a blog post that offers the perspective that “if you feel the urge to give money and you feel safe, then it’s perfectly fine”. Horvath goes on to provide tips for interacting with panhandlers:
- Don’t ignore people who are panhandling; make eye contact.
- If you feel like giving money, then give.
- Your safety comes first. If you don’t feel safe, don’t engage.
- If you don’t feel like giving money, simply say “sorry.”
- Carry alternatives to money (e.g., clean socks, bus tokens, gift certificates for food or coffee).
- Simply listen to people.
Many cities have street newspapers that people can sell as a means of bringing in income. Street news sellers can often be found in the same parts of town where people panhandle, so if you are not comfortable giving money to an individual with a cardboard sign, this can be a good alternative.
Another way to help is to give someone who is homeless a pair of new socks. If there are homeless people in the neighborhoods where you live and work, keep some socks handy in your glove compartment, purse, or backpack. Clean socks help prevent several health issues faced by homeless people.
Give Without Judgement
It is important to remember that if you choose to give, you should give without judgment or expectation about what the person will do with the money. When someone gives you money, or when you earn money from a job, that money is now yours to do with what you want.
While the vast majority of people who panhandle—94 percent according to one survey—use the money for food and other basic necessities, some will use the money for drugs or alcohol. In many cases, people are addicted to substances as a coping mechanism for dealing with past trauma, such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, rape, or other violence. This is called self-medicating. In that moment, the addiction can be an uncontrollable force in the person’s life. Sometimes, a person might drink or use drugs simply to cope with the overwhelming difficulties of living on the street.
Additionally, many negative stereotypes about panhandling persist. They often paint a picture of someone who is lazy and doesn’t want to work, or someone who is making a lot of money begging. While these stereotypes have been debunked and proven untrue, the public’s perception has remained unchanged.
Remember, though, that most people who panhandle are using the money simply to survive. They have started panhandling as a last resort to survive, and feel they have no other options.
How you respond is your choice. Make a thoughtful decision based on your conscience and based on the facts—not the myths—about panhandling.