To Give or Not to Give

BrokenSphere // Wikimedia Commons

On Feb. 1, the Street Sense Media opinion editors received this inquiry with the subject line “Thoughts on Panhandling:” 


I appreciate the mission of Street Sense, and I am wondering if anyone there — editors, writers, or vendors — has thoughts on the best approach to deal with requests for money. In Fairfax County, I noticed that the police encourage those who want to help to try to refer panhandlers to various agencies or charities rather than giving money. I am thinking that most of the homeless in D.C. are not so far from churches, which would be able to make the necessary referrals, and many of the homeless may already know where to turn.  

 Given the bad things that might come from direct handouts (buying drugs or alcohol, for instance), I just wondered if the Street Sense community had a strong opinion one way or the other. I don’t know if you’d want to address this in a future issue, but it might help those like myself who wonder if there is a “right” approach. 

Kind Regards, 

Here is what our vendors had to say. Send your questions and views to [email protected].

Let God be the judge 

By Wanda Alexander 

My opinion on homeless people asking for money on the streets is… it depends on their needs.

There are a lot of homeless people asking for money where I sell my papers on King Street in Alexandria, Va. I walk up to them and tell them about Street Sense papers and that they can come and work for Street Sense. Some of them take the number down.

I was one of those people before I came to Street Sense and I really needed help. Sometimes people buy them food plus give them money. Sometimes those in need don’t even have to ask. There are many good Samaritans out there. One girl that I knew very well, it was on a Monday morning, and I saw people just dropping money where she slept. She was just lying there. Money was everywhere around her.

One man came by and touched her to tell her to pick up her money and she did not move. Come to find out she was dead.

Whatever they do with the money, let God be the judge because we don’t always know their needs. We might be saving someone’s life or just having a conversation with them. You can give in so many ways. I will let God be the judge. 

What’s in your heart? 

By Andre Brinson 

If you’re wondering whether to give money to a person asking for it, don’t do it unless it is from your heart. I am sure people who donate have had some kind of bad feedback from time to time. But keep in mind that many or even most panhandlers either have or have had some type of mental or emotional problems.

I have panhandled before and horrible things have been said to me. And trust me, even selling Street Sense does not mean it is always a good day. I know vendors who cannot handle someone not speaking to them or not buying a paper. I tell them to focus on doing what they set out to do.

I am sure people say nasty things to us or don’t buy our papers because some of us don’t look approachable. So, vendors, remember: be polite; keep an open mind; and, smile. Hey, I don’t have teeth, but I can STILL smile.

And also remember good overrides evil  every day.

How will they survive? Will you help them?  

By Reginald Black

I am a native Washingtonian, a Street Sense vendor, and an advocate for the homeless. The homeless community needs constant donations. We need, food, clothing, and shelter. But most of all we need housing. How will homeless people earn money if people are told not to donate?

We all are in need of something. We should remember how we have gotten to where we are. There are great disparities in our world. Not lending is one of them. Someone once said, “Lend to everyone who begs from you, and expect nothing more than being in the act of giving.”

Money is how people obtain housing. Homeless people are homeless because they are isolated from money, because they can’t see ten days down the road like you can, and because they can’t even see tonight. They have to survive, and tomorrow is not guaranteed. People should think about giving because we may not meet the next day. We must have money because it is the only way to obtain housing.

So I ask people in Fairfax: What would happen if you did not give to individuals? How will they survive? Will you criminalize them? Will you help them?

A black and white illustration of a person under an umbrella in the rain holding a sign that reads "help homeless," looking at a sunny building labeled "Economic Stability"
Illustration by Ibn Hipps // Artist/Vendor

How your hard-earned money is spent  

By Ibn Hipps

I’ve been abused all my life. My father beat me in the head and other places with a baseball bat and other blunt objects. He whipped me on my naked back. He made me watch when he beat my mother with extension cords. I was molested by one of my father’s friends. When I told him, he told me I was a liar.  

I was always told I was stupid and would never amount to anything, just like my mother. I’ve tried to prove him wrong. But I’ve failed again and again, like when I tried for two years to get my G.E.D. and didn’t. So I started to believe him after a while. Maybe he was right.

I respect people and approach people with a “Good morning, everyone” or “Have a blessed day.” But sometimes people can be very rude and nasty. Even when they are, though, I understand. I don’t judge people. It was hard to break the wall down. But now I see the light inside.

I’ve been clean from drugs for four years. I’m never going back. I dress cleanly and appropriately to have a positive approach to life. I save the money I earn from selling Street Sense to help my children and to pay my bills. I was able to visit my children in Ohio because of Street Sense and the good people who support me in my struggles.


Everyone has the right to try to survive  

By Angie Whitehurst

Panhandling is a strange word. I’ve certainly never seen a pan hand anything out.

We use the term “hand out” negatively as if it is bad behavior and there is something wrong with the person asking for a hand — begging, pleading and sometimes with a whisper asking for help.

Panhandlers have every right to live and to try to survive. I might not like to see, hear, or be approached, but I do not have the right to deny the right of subsistence to anyone.

Yes, I see the junkie panhandling for just enough money to get a fix or something to eat. And yes, I hope that they get what they need and that they do not go crazy, become enraged and subsequently hurt themselves and or someone else.

And with the fentanyl opioid crisis — if I give them money which they use to buy that lethal stuff and then they die — I feel bad and tell myself that was their choice.

I have also come across women asking for money to buy diapers, baby formula and food for their family. And I watched them purchase those items at the grocery store.

When people are in need, it is the human nature that makes us give and hope we are doing a good deed.

The laws and the enforcers of those same laws would have you ignore, walk away or tell the panhandlers where to seek help.

If you saw someone drowning what would you do? If you witnessed a car accident and saw someone trapped in a car, what would you do?

You would help and you would also call for help!

Panhandlers are trying to help themselves.

If you don’t like panhandlers then do something about it — end hunger, poverty and homelessness.

I learned to forgive 

By Jeffery McNeil

Some of the things written about homeless people can be erroneous and absurd. From experience, I learned not to judge people that are down in skids because one day that could be you.

As with anything, if you want to help the homeless you must do your research first. People that are intelligent in business and investing can be utterly clueless when it comes to dealing with the streets. If you were buying a home one intelligently, they would research every detail. With donating to panhandlers, however, they randomly decide that if one experience with a homeless person was horrible, they then try to paint all homeless people as lowlifes.

I never cared for people who label or categorize others in neat little boxes. People who are homeless or panhandlers are not monolithic. Some panhandlers have been out there for years and built up a clientele while some have issues and are begging for change to survive.

The Bible says the poor will always be among us. I usually don’t give to panhandlers, but over time there have been people I know who were doing well, then fell. And I learned to forgive because we all have afflictions that one day will destroy us. So if I have a few dollars that I won’t miss, I will donate. However, if you feel giving money to someone will stress you, then don’t give donations. Volunteer at a church or soup kitchen. Be of service in another way.

I learned that if someone asks you for money you must make the determination if the person’s sincere or a con man. There’s been times I offered sandwiches or other items and been told to go to hell because they wanted money. I also had times when someone asked me for change, I told them to bleep off, and then someone else gave them a twenty dollar bill.

There are many resources in Washington, D.C. that help the homeless with things like writing resumes and getting an ID. If homeless people desire income there are programs such as Street Sense and Labor Ready.

In the eyes of the panhandler you’re not that important. Money isn’t everything. As a vendor, some donations are not worth it, if the people feel they need to moralize or lecture you on why someone behaves the way they do. You don’t know the panhandler’s situation. They probably feel depressed that they’re not doing something else so the last thing they want to hear is someone bellyaching about giving them money.

Give from your heart  

By Jackie Turner

Although most people are kind, sometimes it is difficult to give someone money. So when people buy Street Sense from our vendors, that’s a good thing because we are working. And if you want to give one of us more than two dollars, you can do that with the Street Sense app. But doing either of those is different from giving someone cash for nothing.

When people give, they should do it from the heart rather than to regulate what I do with the money. Remember, you can’t get drugs with a quarter and you can’t buy much food with a dollar. Think about that, cynics. And also remember that if you want to help people, buying Street Sense is the best way.

Jackie Turner is a Street Sense Media vendor and artist. 

Buy them something to eat 

By Sheila White

Panhandlers make it bad for street people who are working, like our Street Sense vendors. Some panhandlers surely want money for questionable activities; others want money for legitimate activities. Either way, when panhandlers ask for a dollar to buy something to eat, just buy them something to eat. Then, if they reject the food, please don’t spend your money on them again.

Street Sense vendors sell papers to educate the public about what’s going on in the world. So remember: it’s okay to help them and others out when they’re doing the right thing. Conversely, it is not acceptable when they do the wrong thing. In the end, it is your decision whether to give them the money they’re requesting.

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