A street corner dilemma: What do you do when asked for money?

A peaceful downtown street in Syracuse, N.Y. And then a panhandler makes you think hard.

A peaceful downtown street in Syracuse, N.Y. And then a panhandler makes you think, hard.

Somebody you don’t know addresses you on the street.

They ask for money.

You must make a decision.

It’s an issue that will not go away, a cultural sign of our economy and so much more.

Recently in downtown Syracuse, N.Y., my walking journey was interrupted by a request that threw me off my stride.

The man did not like my reply to the negative when he asked me for a dollar.

To read my entire story about reacting to the panhandler in my weekly blog post for waer.org, click the link below.


37 thoughts on “A street corner dilemma: What do you do when asked for money?

  1. I don’t like to provide money. I will have provided food or paid rent or electricity (if they have it) I would even pay for clothes, though I always have in the back of my mind that if I provide money I would be enabling a drug or alcohol habit.

    I often feel distressed when I encounter people who are homeless – as we are rich enough particularly in western countries to be able to support those who are vulnerable and less fortunate within our community. Not working to help and elevate these people to become contributing members of our community does not help them, and it certainly does not help the community.

    Thought inspiring post, Thanks for sharing!

    Miss Lou


  2. Unfortunately, Detroit is a pretty broken city. I usually give the money. I only regretted it one time. The woman hung around the building where I worked at the time. I didn’t see her every day, but a couple of times I gave her a dollar. When I didn’t have money one day, she got nasty. I’m not sure what happened, though. I never saw her again after that day.


  3. I have always held true to the thought, “Charity begins at home.” I did raise my children to give when they had extra to others in the lunch room or on the streets, too. I am on a much tighter budget since I downsized my life, job and everything is not as easy as it used to be. So, if asked where they will take the moment to listen, I tell them “Sorry, I really am not able to give at this time.” I hope someday to be able to give more… Robin


  4. I give them directions to the Rescue Mission and tell them that they will receive 3 hot meals a day and a bed to sleep in for free. Then I go on my way without saying another word. If they need money for drugs or cigarettes or beer they can go get a J.O.B.


  5. I’ve given money to panhandlers and, sometimes, shortly afterwards, I’d felt taken advantage of. I saw the girl I gave money to walk toward a diner. She said she was looking for work, but she was hanging out by an exit ramp.

    One of the times that I felt my money was going to the right place is when Dave and I brought pizzas to the Oxford Inn and distributed them to those who lived there. It was a great feeling.


  6. I’ve said yes and I’ve said no. There’s so many variables. More often than not I don’t carry cash. Sometimes I’ve felt comfortable about giving money, and on an occasion or two I’ve had food with me that I gave. But I am a very strong advocate of trusting your instincts. If something feels wrong, pay attention to that. But usually if I don’t give, it’s because I don’t have it to give. I think an aggressive response to a “no” would upset me or make me a bit peeved. But I would walk from it.


    • Yes, I am glad that this particular situation has alerted me to be on the lookout for aggressive responses to a denial. Some days, you just don’t have it to give in this day and age, financially and emotionally. Thanks, Colleen, for adding your wise words to this delicate debate.


      • You’re welcome Mark. I was bothered by this guys expectation. And your comment “Some days, you just don’t have it to give in this day and age, financially and emotionally.” says it all.


  7. i don’t really have a system, other than going with my gut in each situation. generally i figure that even if i give someone a dollar that they many not use as they said, there is always a chance they may, and i’m willing to take that chance. sometimes, if they tell me they’re hungry, i just buy a carryout for them when buying my own food and surprise them with it, on my way past.


    • I really like the method of buying an extra carryout item and surprising them, Beth. But one time I did that out of a burger place and the gentleman told me the dollar menu item was not healthy and he didn’t want it. That made me think even more about what to do. It is really a dilemma, no matter which way you decide on each particular situation.


      • yes, there is always that risk, and that shows that he is not really as hungry as it may have seemed. there is no right or wrong in this, just have to go with what you feel at the moment and be willing to accept that it may not be as you had hoped, but a chance you feel is worth taking in spite of that possibility.


  8. So I’m having trouble signing in to comment on the actual article page so here ya go:
    It’s tough! Although I typically don’t carry cash I often times will give a dollar if I have it. Especially if the person genuinely seems to need it. I think Brent Crane was spot on when he said to follow your gut.


    • I think that’s right, look and consider, both the asker and your own position at the moment, too, CBXB.

      And, that site does have a register-to-comment policy, you are right. Thank you for coming back to share your thoughts here, my friend.


  9. hi Mark, this is such an important issue to raise. I have given money – and at other times have not. I gave a lady, who came begging to our door, a pint of milk once. She wasn’t to know that it wasn’t the done thing to go knocking on doors asking for help, she hadn’t been in the country long. I guess I want to try to remain compassionate and I know that sometimes that means that people will take advantage. It’s a fine balance.


  10. Wonderful writing, Mark, from the heart, the mind, and the gut. My usual response is to say “sorry ” with authentic regret and eye contact. Sometimes I give food or water. But I’m going to learn from this and try to have some useful information to hand out
    (if I can keep track of it).



    • If you are a city person, for work, play or comfort, the homeless and hungry issue is something that will not leave your landscape. I think sincerity and authenticity should always go a long way, Ann, to communicate, and food and water are great things to offer. Thanks for commenting, sincerely.


  11. Mark … you touched a common nerve, it seems. Every situation with these folks is different, and as someone said, if their reaction to your “no” is hostile, then you made the right call. It is a random decision, depending on your mood at the moment (and financial situation), and most importantly the behavior of the person asking for cash. I prefer the tactic of the “flyers,” who hold up cardboard signs at intersections. It’s a passive, non-threatening method, and that approach removes any sense of threat — even if what’s printed on the sign might not be completely truthful. Thank you for writing about this. Jim


    • You and your deep, thoughtful connection with our homeless was among the whole bunch of feelings rattling around my brain following this encounter, and as I wrote my column, too, Jim.

      Individual the reaction is, on so many levels.

      Thank you for commenting, sir.


  12. We avoid downtown Austin altogether, where hoards of homeless are, and there are no (visible) homeless or panhandlers in the burbs where we live. In college 20 yrs ago, I remember how aggressive they would be downtown after barhopping if we wouldn’t give $, they’d spit on your car windshield. If we drive into town during the weekends and have leftover to-go boxes, we will give that (chips and salsa, extra rolls w/ butter). I have been known to circle around the intersections several times to time it for a red light so that I can hand it to them. Last month, we gave my husband’s leather jacket to a man at the intersection. We give $ depending on our mood and how the person carries themselves. Like you said, a young person is suspicious. And I am so freaking sick of this culture of entitlement who thinks anyone with a clean shirt owes them the world. We make poverty wages and still give what we can.
    We read the signs they hold here and almost all say “Anything helps. God bless.” or “Married with two kids, please give.” Some are vets, but some are sane and fit and I think, “If they can stand here for 8 hrs, why can’t they stand at McDonald’s for 8 hrs?” I don’t want the president taking half of my income to hand out to others (read: pay govt salaries), but I do think it’s our responsibility to help the poor. Our church does Mobile Loaves and Fishes to get food to homeless, but perhaps if our economy were more stable, more people could work in jobs and not street corners. My husband and I both had good jobs w/ benefits three years ago, and now neither of us has either. It’s a hard time.


  13. You just have to do what you have to do. Sometimes, you give and sometimes you don’t. I am sure many of us–definitely not all of us–have given out our fair share without asking questions.

    The gimmicks bother me–the men and women who use the same excuse how their car broke down on Erie Boulevard, and they’ve come to Armory for assistance. They’re the same people, who use the same question on consecutive days, and they are dressed nice… however, they are wearing different outfits each day. It’s hard not to call them out on it, so you ask them, “Still? Since yesterday?”

    I’ve gotten yelled at by the saxophone player a couple times, because I didn’t give a dollar when I walked by. Only once have I snapped back, telling him that I gave him money a couple days ago–and I definitely had. I shake my head and keep walking now.

    You are absolutely correct with saying there are so many services in Syracuse that they could utilize.


    • There are so many layers to this issue, Chris. Even those that do the same thing and offer the same reason every day, I don’t think that’s a particularly easy or rewarding way to make ends meet. It’s so unsettling all the way around.


  14. here in st pete we are constantly under seige by homeless people asking for handouts, most turn bitter when denied payment, after years of occasionally giving out one or two dollars we now just keep walking


  15. Different countries have different social habits, and also different support options for the ones in need. My personal decision is to give, while I can share some money.

    I must say though, that in my home country beggars may not actively ask passerbys. They can sit or stand with with a cup (or something else to collect the money in), also put up a sign with their story, but they must not ask directly. So people are free to give or pass by without much pressure. The situation which you describe usually doesn’t happen here.


    • Thank you for stopping by with your thoughtful answer, gedankenweber. There are also people here who stake out intersections where you must stop your car, and they hold up signs in the hopes that people will roll down their windows to help.

      There are different manners of asking. Some relate stories about their need.

      It is heart-wrenching in either case.


      • Putting aside the issue of agressive beggars (which might be solvable with regulations) I think we need to think about what to do with the raising numbers of unemployed people. In some european countries there are like 25% unemployed, and there is little hope that there will be jobs for all them in future.

        Automatization and increasing productivity per worker will reduce the deman in workforce further. I think this is a really pressing problem, and most governments have no idea what to do, but to pay the old prayer of new jobs which will come with better economy.

        I’m afraid we’ll head towards a sort of revolution if we don’t find a smooth transit from a society where everyone has work and can create some income from it, towards a society where only few work and which has to have menas to let the others survive and life a human-worthy life too.

        I must admit, I have no good ideas how such a smooth transtition could happen, but there are better thinkers than me, and I hope that ideas will be found. Sure is. We need to look for answers, and we need to start soon.

        I think I’ll blog about that someday soon. Thank you for the inspiration 🙂


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