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Are panhandlers swindling us?

One thing that has become mentally draining while out doing my normal things, such as studying at Starbucks; grabbing food; driving my car; or heading to school whether its walking to the train station or riding the train to school, are panhandlers!  For those that are unfamiliar with what a “panhandler” is; a panhandler is an urban beggar who typically stands on a street with an outstretched container in hand, begging for loose change; or a bum, per Your Dictionary.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to give, and I give when I can to those that really are in need, but when you are out every day with no mental capacity to get help yourself, its mentally draining to deal with. My theory is, if you can sit, stand outside or walk a strip for many hours; even when weather is bad, and ask for money, then you can physically work a job. I do understand that some suffer from mental health issues; some may be drug addicts; or some may need information to agencies that do help, but something must give, because this is not a healthy way to live.

The least we can do, instead of giving someone that lives this lifestyle cash to buy God knows what ever, is to refer them to get help, or maybe even call an agency in front of them so that they speak to someone that can help them. Someone that has quick access to a shelter that provides counseling, treatment, health care, education, life skills, job training, and affordable housing. If they choose not to take you up on the offer of referring them to an agency, then I would just let them be, and donate elsewhere to maybe a charity or agency that takes donations. Keep in mind that you may be contributing to whatever drug or alcohol addiction they may have, if they even have one or they may just be swindling local pedestrians.

Note that there are many places out there like the Salvation Army that provide meals, or temporary shelter, so what is the purpose of giving to a panhandler with services out there like the Salvation Army? If someone is panhandling just to buy a meal, they can get that meal from a Salvation Army or a homeless shelter. One priority that I have made is to refer/hand out A Safe Haven Foundation cards to local businesses, or to those that are in need. A Safe Haven Foundation provides with individualized case management, shelter, food, treatment, education, job training, access to employment and affordable housing. I would like to hand them out while running, cycling, heading to school, or while floating around in my neighborhood. It is the least I can do, instead of helping temporary or contributing to possibly an addiction by giving money versus going the distance, and referring to an agency to get help.


“Mission.” A Safe Haven Foundation

Panhandler dictionary definition | panhandler defined

“Homeless Services.” The Salvation Army USA: Eastern Territory – Homeless Services


What do you think?

20 points

Written by Thomas Gouard

Im a military veteran; a full-time college student, and a fitness addict. Fueled by inspiration; God's word; endorphins and laughter!


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  1. I am homeless. I have c-ptsd (From childhood, not military. All I have been able to find are help programs for vets, here) and I really don’t know how to function in a social setting with the way my brain reacts around people. It’s a flood of paralyzing panic, flashbacks, and dissociation. I can work online alright, I just don’t really have any skills that translate well into the online job market. But I do make a few bucks a day, doing stuff on my laptop.

    I have had no luck asking for help, but a lot of panhandlers are the real thing and in all honesty, I’m glad many of them get what they need. At the end of the day though, a few of them I know leave their favorite panhandling spot to head back to their comfortable homes, kick back, and relax. Or, change into their not-homeless clothes, then go out and enjoy themselves. Maybe I’m wrong, but the ones like that seem perfectly able to function enough to work. It’s frustrating to me.

    Sorry for the little rant.

  2. This morning, a story about a homeless marine went viral because he spent his last $20 on fuel for a woman who had broken down near where he was panhandling.

    Here’s the thing:

    I was homeless both as a child and as a young adult (after I left the Army, I was homeless for over 2 years 2005 until 2008). This man’s generosity is not unique. Some of the best people I have EVER met, I met while homeless. They are the most selfless people ever.

    One of my friends used to say this about being homeless: “I have nothing and you have nothing, But if we put our nothing together, we could have a little bit of something.” That statement always stuck with me, 12 years later. She is a wonderful soul – and I have met many wonderful souls on the street.
    It is National Hunger and Homelessness Week. This story brightens my life. Here’s the deal – homeless folk are just like the rest of us. Some of you are 2 paychecks away to homeless. They are trying to survive, and they know that survival is a COMMUNITY effort. It is rare that you would see a selfish homeless person. If a homeless person has something, they will share it. Whether that something is cash, food, or skill. Call it reciprocity or common sense if you like, but the truth is, we know what it is like to be without, and it pains us to see others suffer like we do.

    In the homeless community, panhandling is rare (I would estimate that it is less than 10% of homeless individuals who panhandle consistently). There are reasons for that. For me, survival sex was the way to go. For others, it is drug dealing and other business dealings (selling self-made goods, or art, etc). Panhandling takes its own skill set. You are more likely to be paid if you are busking, beautiful, or disabled. I had none of these, so I had to find other more lucrative survival techniques.

    If you hear any media source saying that you could make $40-50 an hour panhandling, they are LYING. The most you could consistently make panhandling is around $20 a day, if you are panhandling that ENTIRE day (10-12 hours). There are people who are more generous than others, but the majority of the time, a panhandler is getting loose change. The only time a panhandler makes more than pocket change is maybe once a month. Do an experiment, and watch a panhandler, and you will see that they do not make that much.

    Now a common complaint is “Well, I will buy them food but not give them cash flat out.” There is a problem with that logic. Are you ALWAYS hungry? After you have a meal, do you think “You know what, I am full, but I am just going to go and eat again.” Panhandlers might have JUST ate, but that one meal isn’t going to sustain them through until tomorrow. And again, homeless individuals pool their resources. One panhandler might be buying food for 10 individuals. So, the only way that they can be sure that they can keep eating tomorrow is if they get money. Also, most foods spoil – and the ones that don’t, aren’t the most nutritious. A homeless person buys what they will be eating within the next half hour. And fast-food has high caloric values – so they are typically going to get that because they can’t STORE any food.

    And lastly, it is patronizing to tell a homeless person on what goods they should spend their money. Unless you have been homeless, so maybe you wouldn’t know this, but cash can easily be lost or stolen. And, to open a bank account, you need an address and phone number. 10 homeless people might share one cell phone so that they can make and receive the phone calls that they need to make.

    AND, it is nearly impossible to find a job while homeless, because you need an address and phone number. You might use a shelter’s address, but it is not uncommon for employers, even low wage employers, to blacklist addresses.

    There are so many unique challenges to being homeless, that “They should just get a job” is both offensive and naive. Some do have “jobs” whether it be busking, selling goods, or selling services. And, around 40% of homeless adults work in “legitimate” fields – such as day labor, food service, house cleaning, among others.

    In conclusion, this man’s generosity is common in the homeless community, don’t assume you know what it is like to be homeless, and especially do not be so naive to assume that it is easy to not be homeless.

    I haven’t been homeless since 2008. I attended university WHILE homeless, and I wasn’t one for drugs or alcohol (though, some people are, but again, they are probably sharing their drugs and alcohol, and some homeless folk are selling drugs). What you see in Hollywood is a poor caricature. The only film that does a decent job showing what it is like to be homeless is They Live, and even that is quite stylized and caricatured as well.

  3. We have beggars in Auckland, New Zealand. It’s a sign of our times, that some are more equal than others. The truth is, not all people can get employment certainly not begin their own business.
    Im fast coming to a conclusion that one day working for others is secondary and not the best way of being employed.
    Working for yourself is, like a recognised profession. Unless you are in the public service sector, like Doctor, Nurse or Police.
    I believe all should have the opportunity to earn, but in a way, those opportunities have been taken away. Im not sure what an immediate solution is except a good education for children.

    • We have this agency near me named Cornerstone Community Outreach. Its a homeless agency that helps individuals out, and also gives the opportunity for employment with the agency itself. It’s sad that many don’t get the assistance they need, but yet the resources are out there to help.

          • I really hate to tell you, being formally homeless and growing up in chicago. The support system isnt there. Many of chicago shelters are barely keeping the lights on. Chicago lost half its soup kitchens just from little changes in the health code to keep the homeless out of gentrified areas of chicago. Also there are massive shortages of beds, programs, etc. There is some help that do well but the shelter system is broken. You come in contact with TB, bedbugs, lice, just stepping foot in one. Then your chances of being beat up or exposed to drugs shoot way up just being within a block or two of the shelter. Thats why many dont go near the shelters or soup kitchens.

            I stayed at PGM for a month because of a roommate screwing me over on rent and getting us evicted, it wasnt a drug issue or even work issue I had a job even. So anyone can be homeless. Also in the sad state of being homeless the services actually dont care if you keep being homeless. You know why? The more people they have stay the night, the more people they hand out molding food to, which does happy and chicago health department does nothing about, is more money they get from state and federal funds. There is no reason to stop homelessness or even cut it in half because if they do, most the shelters would go under very quickly. While giving money to a panhandler might see like a bad idea, its the thought that counts. I never begged myself but the people i know who did, most of them just wanted to get a few dollars together to stay at a flop house to avoid the shelter system. As for people standing for hours, they are well enough to get a job. Many are so mentally off they cant. The city and state have cut massive chunks out of mental health services. Which just leads to them being arrested or flooding the ERs costing taxpayers more than if they just left the programs in place. Just because they can stand there doesnt mean they can get a job. Just means they have found a way to at least live another day. Shower and clothing places are limited so try getting a job smelling badly. Even harder to get a hair cut or keep your nails clipped because the cops view nail clippers as a weapon if they are looking for something to run a hobo in for. PGM says they have all these services but when I was last there they happen once in a blue moon. Dental, vision, etc is maybe once a year. Hair cuts are maybe once a month if that. Clothing is once a week but you only get one set. The old head of PGM was interviewed and he said he doesnt care about getting the people off the streets, they are more interested in getting people to love jesus. They only offer the sleeping, food, etc to get them in the door. Its a cult place, again why the homeless doesnt deal with shelters is that too.

  4. I have only been to the USA once, and that was to attend a conference in Baltimore in 2006. One of my abiding memories is of the number of beggars on the street, and of how aggressive some of them were. Some even asked you for specific sums of money and why they needed it. I suspect that many of these were professionals who were not as poverty-stricken as they claimed, but there were also presumably many who were genuinely in need, due to America’s extremely poor social security provision and lack of a National Health Service.

    Of course we also have beggars in the UK, but they are not the same – the vast majority are genuinely homeless and for all sorts of reasons. They also tend to just to sit there are mumble “any spare change?” as you walk past.

    • We deal with similar in Chicago that will literally walk into the business your eating at, or walk up and down the train cars asking people for spare change. Those are normally the individuals you want to avoid. And typically are the ones that use the money for pleasure reasons.

  5. guess I should mention I became homeless because my insurance company quit supplying diabetic supplies, and I still have to stay on the insurance for 6 months, paying 200 a month

  6. This is a really complex issue. We want to help those in genuine need and don’t want to enable scammers and abusers by giving them money and help others really do need.

    Before the government got involved, local churches who knew their communities and members took care of the genuine needy among them. Since they knew the people, they often helped before they were asked. I know my own church today still offers able-bodied people who ask for help a job.Many refuse that offer because they don’t really want a job. They just want a handout.

    I had a homeless friend once. He had worked for us and was evicted when he was sick. We took him in for a couple of months and he helped us immensely. Our pastor offered him a job digging some ditches at the church. He was such a good worker the pastor introduced him to a gas station owner where they also repairs cars. The owner offered our friend a job, and he was soon promoted to manage the station. Then he started also working as a mechanic there, since he was a mechanic. A couple of years later he had his own auto repair shop.

    Handing someone money is not the same is offering a hand up that comes with a personal relationship. Churches usually offer both by helping provide for physical needs while bringing a person into a caring community.

    • And it’s a tough judgment call. There is a often gap between the time one applies for services and the time one starts receiving them. Many churches in our area prepare kits with things homeless people need — socks, small packages of toiletries, snacks, bottled water, etc. They keep them in their cars or on their person if walking when they go to areas with lots of panhandlers. They then give the panhandler a kit instead of money. It shows one cares but doesn’t help support a destructive habit. Others take one they see begging out with them for a meal. The scammers often refuse. They don’t want food. They want money.Those who are really hungry accept and also get the human contact of eating with someone in a warm place.

  7. You’ve stimulated a great conversation here Thomas, and I think the answers tell us a lot about the place where begging occurs. In the United States there are a lot of resources to help people in need and I am less likely to trust a panhandler asking for change in an area surrounded by relief agencies, food banks, and other places to get help. When I traveled in Guatemala % Venezuela in the late 1980s the gap between rich and poor was so great that I gave away about 20% of the money I traveled with, considering it a “poverty tax”. The value of the local currencies was so week against the dollar that I was living like a king on a modest amount of money. It seemed only right to share.

    • Amen to that, PaulPallazola. And I feel as though the aggressive ones that approach you shouldn’t be trusted as well. The aggressive ones are the ones that pushed me into writing about this, because I’m out doing my normal things, and being approached by these individuals. It’s not just one day, but its every day by the same individuals, and the sad part about this is we have like three or more agencies within the mile radius in my neighborhood. God bless you for sharing.

  8. Answering questions from a written title; can yes or no. In my country, the social gap is still quite high, and so many people are not getting jobs in their productive age. In the capital city of my country, the second most populous metropolitan city in the world, beggars and street singers spread evenly everywhere. The government forbids us not to give them money, and there is always a raid to arrest, train and repatriate them to their home country, but generally, they are not deterrent. Our difficulty indeed is to see which one really needs help or who is professional. Professional beggars in my country often own farms and mansions in their home areas, from begging! Not to mention the organized beggars, the people who manage the certain area, lowering the beggars of underage children, renting the baby as a means of compassion, and other tricks. But also not a few of them are really poor. So? I try to develop empathy and intuition to feel when I need to give, invite or buy them food or just say “sorry” not to give if they feel they are professional.

    • Many of us in my mostly middle class area see the same panhandlers at work in the same places every day. You sometimes see them trade shifts. Some lean on a crutch. When they finish for the say I’ve seen some walk down my street carrying their crutches. I think people like this are the kind you refer to. Then there are the rest stop scammers in the old cars with a baby and a child or two who ran out of gas, conveniently at the rest stop, and need money to refill the tank and get to the next one. Or they need a car repair and can’t pay for it. My guess is that they move on quickly enough if they see a patrol car pulling in.

    • And I’m sure we have many of professionals too, and that makes a lot of sense. I could see many catching the train to another part of Chicago, or Chicagoland, but work the streets in my neighborhood because it generates more money. Its sad that some will stoop so low to use those tricks like having underage children or renting the baby as means.

      In my neighborhood we have a older lady that approaches pedestrians and asks for cash. I’m still unsure if she is a professional, but she really works it well if she is faking it. With an agency right around the corner, it puzzles me that a senior would be strolling around town asking for a dollar to buy food. Most of the time, none have money to give because we live in a world now where people use cards and not cash.

  9. I gave to a homeless couple last night. It was just a couple of kids (probably in early twenties) playing guitar so I gave them a few bucks. And chatted a while. I might not do this in a big city. But these kids weren’t bothering anyone. I felt sorry for them.

    • And God bless you for that. I just found out this semester that there is a program that helps homeless teens out, but I’m unsure of their qualifications. The closer I get into my field, the more I will educate myself on that type of program, but I rarely come across homeless teens.

    • Many of the people playing for tips in parks and farmers markets aren’t poor or begging. They are providing pleasure and I put something in their cases. Many are after publicity and new fans. I’ve watched one of these girls I first met a community event grow up to play in a popular local music group. I have gotten to know many of these wandering minstrels and also have seen them performing in paid jigs.

  10. Well, you bring up some good points, but also you do not understand fully what is going on. We are in a housing crises in the good ole USA and other parts of the world as well. In my state we have the 40 hour a week working homeless. I was one, and know so many good people that are homeless. The days of winos and druggies being the homeless are long gone. I have a skilled profession and cannot afford to live in an apartment much less a house. It is now estimated that the rent for a one bedroom apartment is around 1000 dollars a month. If you can find that good of a deal. Bedrooms rent for 5-800 around here. You now have to work 3-4 minimum wage jobs to pay just rent. Not including utilities, healthcare, food. We have whole families on the street. The salvation armies and other services are overwhelmed and turning people away. I got lucky and found a bedroom to rent which my grown son share. He also works full time. What I do when I see a panhandler, is buy them a meal and share it with them. Take time out of your day to have lunch or dinner with them. It is very lonely being on the street, and a lot of people will really appreciate this as well. If you can find them help from one of these agencies by all means do so.

    • I guess I should mention I became homeless because my insurance company quit supplying diabetic supplies, and I still have to stay on the insurance for 6 months, paying 200 a month. I could not quit the insurance until it was time. Most people in the states are one paycheck away from being homeless as well. All it takes is an injury.

      • I understand, and $200 a month is pretty expensive included with other bills. Being a paycheck away from being homeless is a fear I have, and I find myself always looking for things to bring in extra cash. Virily, just happens to be one of those things, along with monetizing blog, YouTube, and doing casting calls as background extras. I just recently told my sister, and hope to express it to many others is that I constantly need to keep generating money, because anything can happen; not just to me, but family also. I fear of the day that my mother will pass away, because I know that my whole world with change, and I know its coming. I just want to be stable financially, and stable mentally so that I can handle it the right way.

    • And many of us aren’t aware of these services turning people away; all we hear about is what they offer. As a military veteran; being homeless or one that is in their position is one of the fears that I have, because I run into several Vietnam era veterans, and its heart breaking, but it’s only so much that a small donation can do. Its just sad that what society lacks or fails to do becomes many other peoples problems. And many people nowadays can’t afford to give, because most struggle themselves.

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