Question time: Do you give money to beggars?

Published May 25, 2015   Posted in Having some fun

It is not that my area of the country is especially prone to a heavy begging population.  But nevertheless, there is a big enough population of beggars in my neck of the woods that makes this question a tough one to ignore.  Here, they stand on street corners holding “Help me” signs in the hopes that a driver will roll down their window and give them some money.  A couple of these beggars brazenly puff on a cigarette while holding their cardboard-slated pleas for help.

My question for you: Do you give to beggars?

My answer

The tl;dr (Too Long Didn’t Read) version: No.

The longer version: I do not give to beggars.  Ever.  Putting political correctness aside, giving to beggars encourages begging, and whether we wish to admit it or not, a population of beggars has an affect on crime and property values – though, homeless shelters may have an increase on the value of nearby properties.

Perhaps George Orwell said it best in his first book titled Down and Out in Paris and London when he wrote, “A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honor; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.”

Moreover, while I certainly admit that some beggars are indeed homeless, there are many who are not.  In fact, this DailyMail article out of London reports that the “fake homeless” can easily pull in over £20,000 a year, equivalent to the salary of new teachers – tax free.  And more than that, many simply aren’t homeless.

But this point is neither here nor there. Whether or not beggars that you see are truly homeless does not play into my decision not to give.

I do not give to beggars because I value every dollar that I spend.  I don’t especially like the idea of giving my money to someone or something without having a good idea about where my money is going.  Giving money to the government through excessive taxation is bad enough, but unfortunately, that is tough to control while I am still working.

When someone stands on the corner of an intersection with a neatly-written plea for help on a cardboard sign, puffing away on a cigarette, this person is literally giving the finger to society as a whole.  That cardboard sign might as well read, “I’m holding a sign while smoking a cigarette.  Give me cash.”

I see no value in spending that money.  

To many, giving money to beggars makes us feel better about ourselves.  And truthfully, helping others should make us feel good.  However, giving my hard-earned money through my car window to someone standing on a street corner, and without a clue about what he or she is going to do with that money, doesn’t exactly give me that warm and fuzzy “I’m helping somebody” feeling.

The fact is nobody really knows what they are helping that beggar to do.

Okay, but what happens with those people who truly need the help?  Not everyone is a “fake homeless”.

I happen to live in a city that offers FREE bus rides to the homeless so they can get anywhere in the city.  Moreover, our city provides the homeless with the opportunity to sell newspapers on street corners and earn cash every single day – and many do.  Free transportation and essentially a free newspaper-selling business, ripe for the taking – so long as you’re truly homeless.

Homeless shelters in many areas of the country not only offer a place to stay and food, but also the opportunity to acquire skills to get a job – a real job – like the “First Step Job Training Program” from the Coalition For The Homeless, or these homeless job training services in Boston, or the Adkins Life Skills program, or this wonderful opportunity for homeless teens.

The list goes on.  Seriously, try a Google search.

The bottom line is there are a LOT of opportunities available to the homeless in this country.  The only requirement is desire.  If homeless people are not willing to help themselves, then it becomes pretty darn tough for me to want to help them either.  Begging indicates a void of motivation or determination to provide value in exchange for compensation.

How about proudly displaying a sign that reads “Will work for food”?  Doesn’t that portray a much more respectable understanding that building skills through work is what provides long term potential?  Do good work and that person might keep you around for more.  Do GREAT work and they may get recommended to others.  Work in exchange for compensation.  Skill-building.  This is what separates a person who simply wants a handout from those truly down on their luck, but is determined to succeed in our opportunity-rich country.

Like George Orwell said, begging, by definition, is a business.  That is one business that I can never bring myself to support.

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14 responses to “Question time: Do you give money to beggars?”

  1. Typically I don’t give to beggars. However, I have on occasion given food. If I happen to have leftovers from a restaurant and I see a beggar I will offer him/her my left overs.

    My wife will sometimes buy an extra bagel or coffee or something to give to a beggar.

    But we don’t ever give money.

    That reminds me of a story. We were in Chicago on the subway coming back from dinner. There was a homeless man on the bus who engaged us in conversation and started sharing his story with us.

    Before we got off the subway he asked us for money. We offered him our left overs and were surprised when he said that he only wanted money.

    We exited the subway without giving the homeless man anything. That was an eye opening experience.


    • Steve says:

      Hey Gen Y!

      I definitely agree that offering food is the much, much better way to help those who truly need the help. If they refuse, that says a lot about that person that you just tried to help. Like you, I don’t want to help someone purchase their next pack of cigarettes. Giving them food for the night, however, is right on.

  2. Vawt says:

    I used to, but don’t anymore. I will buy them lunch, but no cash. I usually just offer to arrange medical care for them if they really need it. I would rather give my charitable donations to somewhere that I know the money goes to a good use.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Vawt,

      Yep, food over money – I certainly agree, and I am definitely with you in your concern about knowing where your money is going.

  3. Steve — You make some great points about the life-changing services available to homeless people. The sad truth, though, is that in many places, including virtually every big city and even many smaller cities, the homeless services are hugely oversubscribed. That means that shelters are full, job training programs have very long waiting lists, and social workers are overstressed. Not to mention that an incredibly high percentage of homeless people are mentally ill, and aren’t necessarily in a place where they can take advantage of programs to begin with. Anyway, to answer your question — we never give money, but we often give food. We actually carry Kind Bars in our car for this purpose. Whether people take it or not tells us a lot. Sometimes people refuse, but for the most part, they accept, which tells us that their need is real. If nothing else, though we know there are panhandlers out there who are doing pretty well at it and we’ve both been taken advantage of, we try to come at it from a place of compassion, and know that most people have to be in a pretty desperate situation to even consider asking for a hand-out. No one with much dignity left would be willing to do that. It’s sad.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Our Next Life,

      Agreed, whether or not a person takes your food offering does say quite a bit about that person whom you are trying to help. Good on you for giving food rather than money. That seems to be a theme here that I anticipated emerging from these discussions. 🙂

  4. Jenna says:

    This post comes across as rather harsh and, towards the end, you seem to have conflated being a homeless person with the act of begging. Perhaps you or your loved ones have not experienced homelessness. Perhaps you have never lived in an economically diverse area, where your next-door neighbor lives below the poverty line. Perhaps you have not traveled or lived abroad in an area outside the prime tourist spots or the protected natural areas. Regardless of your own experience–or lack thereof–of homelessness or poverty, I would ask you to actually talk to people who have experienced homelessness before making broad, sweeping statements about them. It is not enough to merely Google “homelessness” to address an issue that has been present in society for so long. Talk to homeless people. Hear their stories. Be curious about their experiences. Be present.

    I am glad that “Our Next Life” mentioned above that many homeless people are mentally ill. Along with that, many women and children who are homeless are driven to that because of domestic violence. Regardless of the cause of homelessness, it is a profound challenge for those who experience it. It requires incredible resilience on the part of the homeless person and, from others, support, encouragement, and compassion. Sadly, so many homeless people do not receive that kind of support. As “Our Next Life” pointed out, such social services are strained. And contrary to the general statements you made, other resources for the homeless are not without limits. And you have to have enough hope and strength of mind and will to advocate for yourself in a society that distrusts you and sees you as a “beggar” and not an individual who has unique experiences.

    Think about the language used in your post for a moment. You refer to “the homeless,” “beggars,” and “pan-handlers,” but you only use the phrase “homeless PEOPLE” one time. That kind of language is distancing from the humanity of a homeless person.

    To answer your question about giving money, there is so much more to life than the accumulation of wealth, and I have never regretted any assistance I have given to a homeless person or someone who has asked me and my husband for help. As a person of faith, I would rather show kindness to others and have a little less in the bank account than to hold on to my money with a tight fist. After all, you can’t take it with you when you die.

    I once asked a homeless relative how to best assist people who ask me for money in public. He said that food is always a good suggestion and, if someone is very distressed, helping to connect that person to resources–such as nearby shelters, public phones, or the police–can be an important service. I tend to follow this advice.

    With regard to my budget, I categorize small acts of kindness under my humble “entertainment” budget. Larger donations, usually to organizations or to loved ones who are having hard times, are categorized under my “gifts and donations” budget, which has a higher amount allotted. In this way, giving and generosity are built into the very fabric of my family’s finances. It is part of our way of life.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Jenna,

      I intentionally used the term “beggar” rather than homeless. Some of these people are truly homeless. Others aren’t. But they all are begging.

      I appreciate the position that you are coming from with this topic. I gather from your post that you DO give money to beggars. Then, the natural follow up is how often, and where do you draw the line? Like I said in my original post, my area has a pretty high population of beggars on street corners holding signs.

      Every time we leave the house, we sit at an intersection with someone asking for money. It is an issue that the people in my area deal with every day. I have heard that the police are asking the population to stop giving money to these people because of the safety issues involved in this business.

      Do you give every time someone asks? Do you give once a week? Maybe only around the holidays? Where does compassion begin and end?

      Perhaps too broad of a topic to talk about through this little comments section, but eventually, everybody says no to someone asking for some dough. The question is when…and why?

  5. Sue says:

    I will give money directly to the homeless. I would rather be taken advantage of than not help a person who truly needs it.

  6. Even Steven says:

    The amount of beggars I see in the city of Chicago if I gave only $1 to each person, my guess is I would easily spend $10 a day. Giving money away is not for me, I prefer to help out at a charity with time or money, I prefer to give a couple dollars to the guy selling Streetwise magazine on the corner.

    I’m mostly likely desensitized from what I see every day, it’s a sad topic for those that really need it, my hope is they go to some of the great programs available and I will donate to them along the way.

    • Steve says:

      In a way, you probably are desensitized to it. And truthfully, I may be as well. While our homeless and begging population wouldn’t reach the level of Chicago’s, we do have our fair share of them here. I agree with your approach, though, of preferring to give a couple bucks to a guy selling something. At least then, that individuals knows the concept of “value in exchange for money”, not just a handout.

      That reminds me of a guy who’s in a cowboy hat, black shirt and pants and a TIE selling newspapers on one of our street corners. This guy truly is homeless, but he is taking advantage of the opportunities that my city provides. I would sooner give some cash to him than to someone just asking for a handout.

  7. Jason says:

    I am hit and miss on this one. I fully admit that I have given money to homeless people on the street. I have even given to those that aren’t homeless or are in shelters b/c they are forced that way because of the high cost of living. Most of the time, however, I will give someone food. I think on only one occasion have someone every gotten offended. Most gladly accept the food and eat it ravenously.

    A bigger question is have you ever given to someone who holds up a sign that says, “I Won’t Lie I Need A Beer.” Perhaps, this is just terrible of me, but I have given money a time or two. Maybe the honesty is what gets me.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Jason,

      That is a good question. I’ve seen those signs before, mainly walking down the Las Vegas strip. Certainly, they are hoping that people admire the honesty, or just get a bit of a chuckle out of it, and throw him or her some cash or coin. At the very least, that guy is aware enough to offer people something different to read…almost a “humor in exchange for coin” kind of deal.

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

  8. Chris Muller says:

    Oooh! This is a good one. I am going to intentionally NOT read the other comments so I am not swayed, but here’s my short answer: I don’t NOT give money to the homeless. Here’s what I mean…

    I truly believe in karma… and if someone is truly in dire need of help, I will try to help them however I can. NOW… I do agree with the ‘fake homeless’ concept and I also think people are just too lazy to get off their asses to go find work, but let’s call it intuition… I can tell when someone is truly homeless and truly in need of help. I might throw some change or a dollar their way every once in awhile, but this isn’t often.

    What I would much rather do is talk to the person and ask them about their story. Why are they homeless? What do they need money for? You’ll quickly weed out the fake homeless by asking a few questions. The REAL homeless will give you answers and you’ll be able to tell who actually needs help and who doesn’t.

    I’m frugal, borderline cheap, so don’t get me wrong, I don’t LOVE giving away my money, but something tells me that if I was in need some day, I would want someone else to proactively help me without me having to beg.

    Last week we were downtown and I saw a guy standing outside of a bar, normal clothes, no sign, looked completely sane… Holding a cup and shaking it for money. My first thought was, “is he an alcoholic or just lazy?” Horrible to assume, I know, but what I should have done is taken 30 seconds to ask him what’s up. If he gives me some B.S. response, I’d walk away. If he says he hasn’t eaten in a couple days and legitimately would take a granola bar out of my wife’s purse, then that’s a different story.

    At risk of rambling on here, I think this is a tough question. Even typing this response I find myself going back and forth. I do think it’s good to help those truly in need, but the tough part is deciphering who needs and who doesn’t. One solution is to ignore this whole question and just volunteer your time at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Thoughts?

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