Panhandling and How to Really Help the Poor and Homeless

By Joanne Fagan | Eva’s Village, Paterson New Jersey – September 19, 2012

When it comes to personal and corporate volunteerism, charitable giving, or helping an individual stranger, Americans typically give more than people in 152 other countries according to Philanthropy.com1.  Moreover, Americans have continued to maintain high rates of charitable donations both during and after the recent recession, one of the deepest in living memory2.

Given this generosity, it would probably not surprise you that a recent survey discovered 40% of Denver Colorado’s residents gave to panhandlers. However, how much they gave probably would surprise you: $4.6 million dollars — every year3. While no one knows exactly how many people overall give money away on the streets, estimates run anywhere from 10% to 60%4.

Does Giving to Panhandlers Help the Poor and Homeless?

How top help the homeless. A kindness meter, using a former parking meter, which allows people to donate money to charity rather than to panhandlers
A kindness meter, using a former parking meter, which allows people to donate money to charity rather than to panhandlers
Doesn’t giving money away on the street help at least in some small way? If by help you mean simply getting immediate cash into the hands of someone on the streets, then – yes, giving money away “helps,” i.e., anecdotal evidence suggests that panhandling can bring in between $20 to $100 a day3. According to the U.S. Department of Justice however, most panhandlers have places to live, and most homeless people do not panhandle5.

This segues into the nuisance (but legal6) activity of professional panhandling, e.g., in Coos Bay Oregon, police observed panhandlers making as much as $300 a day in a Wal-Mart parking lot3. Memphis journalist Jason Carter experimented with panhandling in 2008. Wearing clothes to appear poor and homeless, he discovered he could earn about $10 an hour — all tax free3.

But what about a truly needy panhandler?  “Every study around says that cash handouts don’t help, says Linda Kaufman, former executive director of Pathways to Housing7, an organization that helps the homeless find affordable housing. “The top uses [for cash],” she says, “are always alcohol, tobacco and drugs.”11

The Economics of Panhandling and Costs to Charities

The Denver statistic of a yearly panhandling cash flow of $4.6 million,and formal studies and anecdotal evidence that effective panhandling can bring in up to $100 per day, most going to professional panhandlers and the rest doing very little good for the truly needy,  is both sobering and discouraging — and all the more so when you consider  that charitable nonprofit organizations such as Eva’s Village must constantly scramble for funds while relying heavily on either volunteers or on staff who they can only usually pay at the low end for the high level of skills they offer.  Consider too that the sub-par economic growth that has been going on now for over 3 years8 has finally started taking a toll on non-profits across the nation in terms of decreased donations9. This makes the cost of panhandling even higher to those organizations that effectively help the poor and homeless.

How Can You Truly Help the Poor and Homeless?

1. Stop giving to panhandlers and start giving to trusted charity organizations instead10.

2. Adopt this win-win strategy. If you feel guilty not giving money to someone who looks like they truly need it (and unfortunately professional panhandlers know how to look poor and homeless), instead of giving your money away, take that money and put it in a jar at home. Label it “savings” Take another jar and label it “help the poor and needy.”

Now instead of giving money away on the streets, put it in the jar labeled “savings” and then put an equal amount in the jar labeled “help the poor and needy.”  Set a target amount, say $100, and when you hit your target, take the money from the “savings” jar and put it in a savings account and take the money from the other jar and give it to your favorite charity.

Alternatively, keep saving the money you would have given away on the streets and commit to automatically donating an equal amount each month to your favorite charity – and keep track of what you’re giving for an extra bonus of a charitable tax deduction at the end of the year!

© 2012, Eva’s Village – One of the Highest Rated Charities in the U.S.


1. Americans are the most generous, global poll finds, The Chronicle of Philanthropy (, December 21, 2011.
2. Americans Are Generous, Despite Economy, Hani Sarji, July 4, 2011.
3. The Professional Panhandling Plague, Steven Malanga, City Journal, Summer 2008, vol. 18, no. 3.
4. Fearing the Mirror: Responding to Beggars in a “Kinder and Gentler” America, Michael M. Burns, HASTINGS CONSTITUTIONAL LAW QUARTERLY, Volume 19, Number 3, Spring 1992.
5. Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Problem-Specific Guides Series, No. 13, Michael S. Scott, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, September 8, 2003.
6. It’s legal to panhandle, or beg, as long as it’s not aggressive or publically obstructive — see:  Brown vs. Kelly, no. 05-CV-5442, 2007 WL 2156400
7. Pathways To Housing. Washington D.C.
8. North Jersey non-profits still see giving suffering from recession, Harvy Lipman, July 9, 2012.
9. A  recent survey of more than 2,500 non-profits found contributions are down across the country so far this year (2012). The downturn is hitting human-service charities particularly hard, including Eva’s Village.
10. Know before you give. Support social services not panhandling. A coalition of social service agencies, residents, churches and businesses created the “Know Before You Give” campaign to curb panhandling and encourage donations to social services that can provide real help for those truly in need.
11. Should panhandling be legal? YankeeJim,, November 30, 2010.

View Larger Map

Enhanced by Zemanta

Previous post:

Next post: