Panhandling: to give or not to give?

Posted by Barbara Comito, Marketing Director Aug 13, 2014 6:16:00 PM

Give Real Change


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It is hard not to be moved by a thin, weathered-looking man standing on the corner in crusty clothes, holding a cardboard sign: “Hungry. Anything helps. God bless.”

Or, “Vietnam vet. Homeless.”

Or, perhaps hardest of all, a woman with two children playing in the grassy swale alongside her: “Out of work. Struggling.”

It’s disturbing in the summer when the sun is bearing down on them, even harder in the winter when they’re inappropriately dressed and the wind chill is below freezing. You almost feel guilty about the groceries in the trunk of your car or the comfortable home waiting for you.


Photo credit: Bethany Mahan

But is that discomfort a bad thing?

In an opinion piece for Spokane Faith & Values, Liv Larson Andrews wrote: “I need to be called out of my place of privilege. I need to be faced with the truth about poverty in the place I live, and I need to remember my part in that system.”

She makes a good point. The old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” is dead on too much of the time.

So, is panhandling a bad thing or a good thing?

The subject is integral to the “Give Real Change” campaign – a joint effort between the Downtown Spokane Partnership and the City of Spokane. The campaign’s goal is to discourage panhandling and re-direct people’s compassionate impulses toward charities helping the poor and homeless. 

UGM has made a stand against panhandling – not so much because we are concerned about “cleaning up downtown” and certainly not because we want to criminalize poverty.


Bottom line, we believe panhandling does not help and often hurts.

In response to Liv Andrews' post above, Eric Blauer wrote this comment: 

For me, this week has been full of interaction with homeless, mentally ill and children suffering from ...poverty...If money goes from our hands to the hands of an addict, who then uses that money to buy drink or drug and then violates and abuses a child or woman, that act no longer looks like love or charity to me. Empowering addiction, abuse, homelessness, violence and theft by perpetuating and empowering sin and dysfunction isn’t helping but hurting in my opinion.


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We would agree that panhandling often contributes to or perpetuates suffering, and that's what motivated our participation in this campaign.

Below, Executive Director Phil Altmeyer answers a couple basic questions about UGM’s involvement with the “Give Real Change” campaign.

Why is Union Gospel Mission involved in this campaign?

We care about the poor in our city, and we care about how we’re helping them. “Give Real Change” is about educating the public. If we continue to give to panhandlers, we keep them in their addiction and on the streets. It is not real help. We need to ask ourselves, what does it look like to love people who are heavy into their addictions?

Acting out of compassion, sympathy or pity isn’t always helpful. We can do things for people that keep them stuck. 

Our heart, our purpose, in joining this campaign is to reinforce the message that loose change handed through a car window doesn’t bring about life change. Life change happens within agencies that are equipped with the resources people need – food, shelter, education, addiction recovery, job training.

We’re just trying to say – extend your compassion in a way that makes a difference, in a way that is truly helpful.

What’s in this for the Union Gospel Mission?

There’s no financial gain for the Mission. We are merely lending our voice to the message that giving money to panhandlers does not bring about real change.

We are fortunate to have a generous community that offers lot of amazing resources to help people. There are better alternatives to panhandling.

Want to be prepared with meaningful help? Click on the link below to download our FREE tip sheet on how to help a panhandler.

How to Help a Pandhandler. Click here to download our free tip-sheet. >


Topics: homeless services, panhandling


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