Giving money to street people: Does it help?

I’m a left-of-center kind of guy, and I get a lot of gratification out of helping people in general, whether it’s donating time, teaching skills, counseling, or being somewhat lenient with persons who owe me money/service for whaterver reason. The one prerequisite people need to get my help is to take the initiative to help themselves.

Which brings me to the people-on-the-street-asking for-money thing. I can’t tell the con-artists from the people who can use the money to truly better their situation. I feel like the majority of the panhandlers I encounter in my Midwest medium-size city are not using the money to better their situation. And if they’re not doing anything to help themselves, I feel like my generosity is wasted and my good intentions are taken advantage of.

Please talk about if you give money, if you don’t, under what circumstances, and most importantly, why.

It’s very simple.

If the guy is holding up a sign saying “Will work for food,” offer to give him a large pizza if he’ll wash your windows or mow your lawn. If he refuses, he’s not really willing to work for food.

In fact, giving a panhandler food (or warm articles of clothing, or some other consumer item (s)he seems to be in need of or says (s)he needs) is, in my not-so-humble opinion, almost always a better idea than giving him/her money. If you give them money, they could turn around and use it to buy cheap booze or something. If they ask for money specifically, ask them what they really want so that you can get it for them; if they insist on money, they probably do not intend to spend it on what they say they’re going to spend it on.

Tracer, I find your attitude incredibly sanctimonious. If you gave a friend $20 in a card for their birthday, would you expect to dictate to them what they spent the money on? If they said they were off to buy a bottle of Johnny Walker would you take the money back?
Why is the person begging on the street so different? You have the choice about whether to GIVE or NOT GIVE, but IMHO, you have NO RIGHT to quiz that person to determine whether they are worthy of your charity. Since when did you assume you had the right to be the moral guardian of the street-folk, telling them what they are to do with their lives?

“If you give them money, they could turn around and use it to buy cheap booze or something”.

Yeah, they probably will, but so effing what?
As far as I’m aware, Prohibition ended back in the 30’s in the US, so purchasing alcohol and drinking it is quite legal. Or is it only right for other people to indulge in intemperate passtimes? Have the poor forfeited their basic human rights to self-determination by the mere act of asking you for some spare change?

Grrrrrrr. (I’d say something MUCH nastier, but this ain’t the pit)

I agree with Tracer. If someone is holding up a sign that says like “Hungry vet, please help” he is implying that money given will go to remedy the stated problem (i.e. that he is hungry). Taking money from a good Samaritan and buying cheap wine is obtaining money under false pretenses.

I think it is almost always a better idea to give a beggar a helpful item such as a blanket, a burger, or place to sleep.

Simply giving money can perpetuate a self destructive life style.

I think your ire is misplaced. The issue here is whether you want to do good or feel food. There is a perfectly coherent, non-sanctimonious ethical position that says you should not help people harm themselves. It is not sanctimonious to make certain that your charity makes the world what you believe to be a better place. For most people, giving food to the hungry -> good. Giving smack to the junkie -> bad.

In any case, your attitude implies that you are against all organized charities, which I seriously doubt. People usually give money to charities because it will be used for a particular purpose. Charities, in turn, give money, services, etc. to people for a particular purpose. This is qualitatively no different than ensuring that money you give to an individual is used for a particular purpose.

Hilarious! Thanks!

It is their money if and when you give it to them. If you should give someone $5.00 and as they are walking away yell “Don’t you dare spend that on booze”, then kambuckta you have a point. However, if you say “I won’t give you any money, but I will buy you a meal.” it is his/her choice to take or decline the meal. At that point it is still your money that is going to be spent and you can decide how you want it spent. One would also have the right to say “I saw that you spent the money I gave you yesterday on booze. I will not give you anymore because of that.”

I have given a birthday card to one of my kids that contained a certificate to use at McDonalds. :slight_smile:

OK, now YOU TOO Autz! I (without writing it all out again) will reiterate my point by saying who are YOU to determine what is right/wrong for other people?
When I am approached by people in my suburb (which is a very regular event) I give them some gold coins
a) if I’ve got any (more often I’m poorer than them!) and
b) if I feel like it.
I do not pretend to hold the moral high-ground and subject them to the Spanish Inquisition for the sake of a few lousy bucks.

AND YES, more often than not they head off to the nearest pub/bottleshop! I see them there WHEN I AM BUYING A BOTTLE OF PLONK FOR MYSELF. If it’s OK for me to buy some, it’s OK for them. It’s probably better for them because they have few other resources to escape the misery of living on the streets. And it helps to keep warm on cold winters nights.

Yes, indeed it may be a self-destructive life style, but it’s up to the individual to come to their own realization and want to effect changes to it. It’s not up to YOU to be a moral walloper.

From this column:

I, for the record, have never partaken in the Untied Way as mentioned in the article, but have often thought about it. I do give money and/or food to the homeless, both institutionally and on the street when asked (though not every time; there are, sadly, too many people out there).

Does it help? It doesn’t hurt.

Thruth Seeker I’m not too sure about charites. I think a lot of our money is used to get the president, of said charities, a brand new car.

I still give, though. Yes, I’m stupid. I wouldn’t know how to get my money to the people who deserve it, otherwise.

As for people on the streets; Yes, I give.

They can do what they like with my money.

The solution is to give them some food and some money then, isn’t it? then they can be nourished and spend the cash on either more food, clothing, blankets or just something that they want, even if that is liquor.

May I turn the question on it’s head and ask What good is done by withholding money from homeless people?

I’m not going to give money to someone when I expect they will spend it on drugs or booze. That’s called enabling and does the person more harm than good.

Gotta agree with Truth Seeker “Giving smack to the junkie -> bad.” And by extension giving money to the junkie to be used for smack is also bad.

I have the right to make these decisions because it is my money

sure you do autz

but like kambuckta said; What if you give a friend some money for his birthday and he -heaven forbid- bought BOOZE with it?

You’d ask for your money back?

Archive Guy, that excerpt was JUST what I was trying to say. Thank you. Interesting site too!

I’m entirely with kambuckta on this one. I feel no right to control the way the money I give to a particular person will be used. If I want my money to be used for a specific purpose, I’ll give it to a charity.

Referring to alcohol and the homeless,

No, what it does is, it helps to KILL on cold winter nights. Alcohol does not keep you warm, it makes you feel warm. By dilating the blood vessels in the skin it allows heat to escape, dropping your core temperature, and bringing on hypothermia. This is pretty common knowledge, I’m surprised to see someone spouting the quoted ignorance on this board.

(whew, I almost put my foot in my mouth… preview helped me catch hyperthermia and change it to hypo):stuck_out_tongue:

So clairobscur and kambuckta, if I were a homeless person and I asked you for money so I could buy a gun and kill myself, you would give it to me? What if I was gonna use the gun to kill someone else?

What if my plans were not so nefarious, just misleading. What if I were perfectly capable of working , had in fact turned down offers of work, and chose to panhandle on the side of the road instead. I guess if you want to support that kind of behavior that’s fine, I’m not gonna tell you that you can’t. But you really shouldn’t go screaming at others if they choose not to.

Of course I have no right to tell anyone what is right or wrong for them to do with their money. But I certainly don’t have to support someone else’s habits either. I can choose to discriminate with my charity.


I don’t think most people consider giving a friend a present to be the same as giving money to a beggar. Giving a gift to a friend is a show of affection while giving money to a beggar is more an act of compassion. If I’m giving money to a beggar I’m doing so because I want to help him eat, stay warm, or clean himself up a bit. So I would have a problem if I found out the beggar was going to spend the money I donated on drugs or booze.


Beggars can’t be choosers. If they want to beg for my money I’ve got a right to ask them what they want it for.


Since it is my damn money and I want to make sure I spend it on something worthwhile.


We’re not talking about the “poor” we’re talking about bums.


I can keep my spare change which will build up into a small fortune over time.


There is a homeless man in my neighborhood with a gorgeous dog. I always want to give him bickies for his pet, but he refuses to converse with me about his dog. It’s frustrating.