Should You Give Money to a Panhandler?

Salem’s Union Gospel Mission has put together a FAQ on panhandlers and if you’ve ever considered giving money to a panhandler take a moment and give this a read:

We see them on our streets daily. They are usually holding a cardboard sign that says in a variety of ways, “please help me.”

Does your heart go out to them? Do you want to stop and do something? Most of us want to offer help; it gives us a good feeling when we can offer food or tuck a few dollars in their hand. But who are we really helping when we give to panhandlers?

It might be helpful to ask ourselves some questions the next time we are approached for help:

  • Will this move them out of the “danger zone”? Does it move them ahead out of the situation they are in?
  • Will this solve any drug or alcohol abuse problems they might be facing?
  • Will this train them for jobs, provide needed counseling or offer other life skills?
  • Will this help them face and overcome the obstacles that have defeated them in the past? Or will this just continue to enable a lifestyle that is destroying them?

The reality is that giving to panhandlers is more about how it makes us feel than it is about bringing lasting change and restoration to struggling lives. Panhandling is unhealthy for the panhandler, and it is unhealthy for the community.

We encourage you to restore hope and restore lives by saying no to panhandlers and yes to supporting life-changing programs that are available free or for a small charge by the nonprofit charitable organizations within our community.

Here are some Meal Tickets—cut them out—keep them in your wallet or purse and the next time a panhandler approaches you, be ready to give them a meal ticket good for a meal and other services at UGM. If they really want to escape from their situation, it will be the kindest act you can do.

Disclaimer for the meal tickets: Meal tickets are meant for information only. Anyone who comes to us in need of meal will be served. Our guests do not need to have tickets in order to receive a meal.

Practical what to do: A way that we would encourage you to respond to a request for food or change would be “Sorry, not today sir (or mam). What’s your name? Well (their name), I know that the Union Gospel Mission serves 3 meals a day, 7 days a week and this card has the times that the meals are being served and the address of the Mission. God bless you!”

For more information on the Union Gospel Missions’ life-changing programs browse their website or email your questions to

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