You see them standing on the corner on the drive to work, or walk by them in the grocery store parking lot. Panhandlers, “beggars” — whatever you call them, they need our help as well as our respect. If you’ve ever pondered the most compassionate ways to respond to this much-ignored subset, this guide will help.

1. Give Money

If you encounter a panhandler on the street and feel the urger to give them a few dollars, just do it! Even a dollar or some spare change can go a long way to help someone begging on the street. While you can’t know with certainty if the person you’re giving money is actually in need, chances are they’re at least in some kind of financial distress.

If you’re concerned about how your money will be used, a recent study of San Francisco’s homeless suggests that 94% of panhandlers use the money they receive on a daily basis for food.

2. Give Non-Monetary Goods

Can’t shake the fear that your money won’t be used for food or essential supplies? Skip the money and directly provide the goods you think they could use. If a panhandler really is in need, a McDonalds gift card or a granola bar might be even more useful than a dollar bill.

3. Just Say Hi

While smiling and saying hi won’t do much to change a panhandlers situation, acknowledging someone’s humanity is never a bad thing. You wouldn’t ignore a friend asking for a favor even if the answer was no. So why not extend the same courtesy to panhandlers? If you’re feeling particularly inclined, you can even engage the person in a conversation. Ask them about their story and how they got where they are. Whether or not you can give them what they’re asking for, treating panhandlers with compassion and decency can only make their situation better.

4. Get Involved

If you have no interest in interacting with panhandlers at all, but still want to help, you can get involved with one of the many organizations helping to take care of and prevent homelessness in cities across the country. The homeless shelter directory is a great place to start looking for such organizations. Opportunities range from hands-on work in shelters to donating canned goods and blankets that will be distributed to panhandlers by the organization’s staff.

 

Beggar holding hat