Do you give money to beggars with cardboard signs?

By Chuck Woodbury
Everywhere you go in big cities these days there are beggars standing on street corners with cardboard signs. They usually say they’re homeless. Some say they’re veterans. Most just want money but others say they will work.

I give money to maybe one in 100 of these people. I don’t trust them. I know that some people earn a decent living doing this. I could never do it, but then again if I were totally broke and hungry, I suppose I might. I am not happy that I am skeptical, but I can’t help thinking that my money will go towards liquor or drugs. I know that many people genuinely need help. It’s just you can’t tell the honest people from the pros who beg for a living.

I often give $2 to homeless people who sell Real Change, a Seattle-based newspaper about homelessness. I figure they’re selling something, not just asking for a handout. The person selling the paper gets to keep $1.40. They are always very nice when I pay them. You can read about some of the Real Change sellers here.

WHAT I HAVE NOTICED IN THE RURAL MIDWEST, where I am now, is that there are no people with cardboard signs. I suppose that’s because everybody knows everybody. If someone is really in trouble, I bet their neighbors would help. In metropolitan areas, a person could be a beggar and never be recognized by anyone. They could pull a scam if they wanted and probably make good money.

I have traveled a bit in Europe, and I can’t recall seeing people standing on street corners with cardboard signs. You see people begging in the cities, but they’re usually sitting along a building on a busy sidewalk, usually with their heads down with a box or hat in front of them. Some of these people are physically hurting, you can tell.

What about you? Do you give money to beggars with cardboard signs? If you don’t mind, would you respond to the poll below? And please leave a comment. Thanks.



40 Thoughts to “Do you give money to beggars with cardboard signs?”

  1. Trey Rogers

    This is a hard one. I have been homeless when very young. Never did I panhandle always being able to find work for at least a day or two a week. However, living day to day scared me to the point change. I give a meal when I can and cash at times. I couldn’t help everyone seeking it even if everyone of them were truly in need. So I donate regularly to groups I have researched and found legitimate and supplement my giving when my gut tells me I should. It is the best I can do?!

  2. Neil Glenn

    Friend of mine saw one with a sign, “Will work for food!”, so he stopped. Told the guy he needed help cutting firewood, and would supply a big dinner when finished. Guy got in, only rode a couple of blocks, then said, “Ill get out here.” So much for ‘working for food’! Another was interviewed by local paper, said he made about $100 A DAY! SUUUUuure, I will give HIM money!

  3. Bluebird Bob

    Saw a guy with one leg and a crutch and a sign stating he was a vet on an offramp in Portland. I was 3 cars back and saw the first two give him some dollars. Didn’t give him any money. Coming back on I5 further down I was stopped at a light and saw this same guy at a nearby station by a pay phone with maybe a 3 year old Camero with the door open and he was rubbing his “missing leg” that had been tucked back up in his baggy pants. Good con.

    1. Billy Bob Thorton

      Guy probably voted for Hilldabeast!

  4. kc

    While hubby was filling up the motorhome at Pilot (yup, took a while, so had plenty of time to witness), I watched a fellow beg from several people, none of whom gave him any money or food. I actually thought he was simply soliciting or giving directions in a couple instances. However, he approached hubby on his way back to our RV, and I saw as hubby listened then spoke, then entered our coach. He told me the guy had been asking for money to go buy lunch….well,we don’t often carry cash anymore, but it was getting close to lunchtime, and we’d already planned on stopping just down the road to split our usual PBJ (peanut butter and jam) sandwich. Hubby offered that I would make him a whole one, give him a glass of milk and a piece of fruit. Sure, I would have too, but the dude said he didn’t “want no PBJ,” he “only wants beer money.” WHAAAA? Heck of a lunch. I guess he thought honesty would get him a dollar?

  5. Terri

    So I always carry a bag with a few cans of soup, meats or chef boyardee that are all pop top, disposable utensils, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, cloth, deodorant & few bottles of water Often throw a pair of socks in too with the occ grocery store gift card for $5-10 …don’t care if they prefer to get tobacco or beer with it .. they probably need that now & then more than I do. Their choice.
    Always get their name & backstory & take a second (or more if safe) to pray with them or for them. When I get a different story on a second visit that is the end for me helping out.
    I tend to put in the time & effort with those I see often, one is now sober (used to leave his bag next to him on the ground) & the other really chooses to live this way & often has specific food requests … get to buy fruit for him.

  6. SusanB

    I do when I have something to give. It’s not mine to judge who can or cannot work, or cannot find work. I can’t know who “the least of my bretheren” are, so I give without asking. It’s a lousy buck, people, or it’s a sandwich and a cup of coffee. And more importantly, if I don’t have anything on me to give, I at least try to acknowledge them. One of the hardest things about being reduced to begging is being invisible and one of the greatest gifts for the truly disenfranchised is when someone acknowledges them with a kind word. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money on me, but I hope things get better for you.” I learned that from one of the homeless, by the way. Not long after, I struck up an conversation with a homeless man who spent his days outside the Starbucks near my work. He relied on friends in bad weather and often slept outside, because shelters were too dangerous. Sometimes, he would sell flowers or help another street vendor for a few bucks. He hadn’t had steady employment in 20 years. Partly because of having been incarcerated and partly because he wasn’t terribly bright, no one would hire him. But he was a sweet man who spent what little he had to buy a get well card when my husband–who he didn’t even know–had surgery. At Christmas one year, I gave him a Starbucks card (he hung out every day by the local one) and then added enough for a meal every payday. I encouraged his frequent efforts to find work but realized after awhile that it wasn’t going to happen. Still, we became friends and I continue to pray for him and those like him. Not everyone is born with what it takes to get ahead. So yeah, it’s a lousy buck or the price of a sandwich and coffee, and I don’t question whether they truly need it or not. And if I don’t have any cash, I try to at least smile and ask how the person is doing. It’s out of my comfort zone, but it’s the right thing to do.

  7. Carolyn DeLoach

    While parked in a Walmart parking lot making repairs to a damaged tow hitch I had a young man walk up. He carried a back pack and looked college age. He straightened his back and offered his help in exchange for a meal. He was clean, hair combed, and physically strong. I thanked him but declined his offer as I was finished and about to get back on the interstate. He continued walking towards the interstate ramp nearby. I watched as this individual completely transitioned from being a strong, strapping young man capable of physical labor to one with a severe limp, dragging his left foot. He slumped his shoulders, untied his long hair and messed it up. As I drove by I could not believe it was the same person. He went from a strong, able college kid to a broken, down trodden human being. Quite the con artist.

  8. John Daynes

    I can always spot a faker from someone who is genuinely in distress, because I have been one of those people (for three very long years)! I can’t really portray which is which, it’s just an intuition I’ve learned from hard experience. Those of us who were genuinely in need tended to gang together to force the fakers off the street – violence was usually involved. I usually help those in genuinely needful situations, because I know who they are!

  9. Rene Maloon

    My husband worked for Union Gospel Mission & I have helped volunteer at their camp. We have cards we give so they can get a meal, shower, room (3 hots & a cot as John says) most will turn it down. You have to be sober they say…UGM will do more for the homeless than giving them money on the street. So, no I won’t give them money, but we do try to give them a hand up, not a handout.

  10. littleleftie

    Saw a group of “regulars” switching over at the end of their “shift”….watched the one coming on shift ride an old bike up under a bridge, park it and walked up onto the road. The one going off shift walked back down under the bridge, jumped on the bike and rode away. Obviously this was an organized scam. Makes me angry because seeing these people begging, wearing nice leather boots, good coats, carrying a relatively nice backpack and often wearing chains or similar “jewellery” and often with a large, well-nourished dog. I think to myself—go get a job. Even the temporary agencies would hire someone for a day here and a day there. I have offered to purchase a meal or a coffee but have usually been rebuffed==being told that no, they wanted cash. No, I wont give money. But our town has special “parking” meters downtown–for donations of charitable coins–that are donated to a select number of organizations helping homeless or needy individuals. Anyone can walk up to the meters, painted bright yellow, and put in a few coins. A much better solution for those who like to donate… my opinion

  11. Jillie

    If you pan handle in our township? You will be fined. This type of begging is a scam. I am hearing more and more that the people are just mentally ill and do it to pass the time. I am also hearing from the news that they are being shipped in by vans. You pay the driver a percentage and you keep the rest. John Stossell from 20 20 did a huge thing on this. So no. Do not give them money. They can work. I also saw one woman begging? Two days later walking her children to school Dressed very well I might add. Just a thought folks.

    1. panicum

      “Just mentally ill”? Seriously? Please, do your yourself a favor and read “No One Cares About Crazy People” by the Pulitzer award winning author, Ron Powers. His sons were both diagnosed with schizophrenia and his youngest killed himself. It’s not an easy read, in fact, it is guaranteed to make anyone with that attitude very uncomfortable.

    2. Magee

      “Just mentally ill” – yes, a lot are, but they are on the streets due to closing of mental hospitals. Most could not be considered employable. They may not know how to handle it, but giving them a dollar won’t decrease my standard of living.

  12. rolan lajoi

    We do not give out money. There are many types of ( begged ) looking for a hand-out . Some of them earn quite a living at this .
    We are in a way selective on whom we give to . We carry up to 10 $5.00 gift cards front WENDY’S. We feel for those folks that are hungry this the best place for them to go. Have from time to time been told not interested !
    One afternoon at a Trader Joe’s in Tucson came across a young couple dumpster diving ; early mid 20’s . Offered them two certificates , was told thank you but that they were vegetarians. I said that Wendy’s has some good fresh salads and baked potatoes. They then accepted them with a heart full thank you.
    In Nevada had been confronted by a woman witwith several children. Gave her certificates for them all . Very much appreciated.
    Pulling out of a Pilot’s had a young man holding a ( cardboard sign )
    It read Please need money to buy ammunition !! Kept right on going.
    Give cash NO it’s to easy for some of these people. We have an epidemic in this Country with way too many people out their begging for many different kinds of aid. It’s nearly imposible to help all those you come accross.

  13. Jim

    I don’t give them money but I have gone to the nearest fast food restaurant and bought a lunch to go and took back to them.

  14. Mark Sanderson

    We have a condo in the N San Diego County CA area. What we’ve noticed on several street corners is the individuals begging use the same cardboard sign over and over. It’s hidden between a stop sign and its post. When a new guy shows up for “work ” he just pulls out the folded sign and he’s in business.

  15. Hazel Lorane

    It’s really difficult, one doesn’t want to support drugs, etc., however, it’s good to remember that “for the grace of God” that could be me, a relative or someone we know. We donate locally to a homeless shelter/food pantry, but have learned that giving food (cold water bottles, snack paks, etc., purchasing a meal or a fast food gift card) is welcome by most. I would hope that someone would help any family member, relative, etc. should they be in need. Our minister suggested that one help another human in the case of not knowing the need. Having managed a temporary employment service, I know that those who are physically/mentally able could in many cases get temporary work. If only the mentally ill could find and accept help, the homeless situation would decrease.

  16. Mike & Louise Bacque

    My wife and I have come across some folks down on their luck while travelling. We are particularly apt to assist if they have a pet (dog) with them. We’ll often buy a loaded coffee shop or restaurant card or an actual meal, seldom do we dole out cash. We also buy a little something for the pet. Those we help are visibly without, often carrying their life’s possessions with them and living in makeshift shelters. We’re fortunate to enjoy a full-time lifestyle and view it to be no issue to help out another human being as we can’t judge the person’s life and circumstances which led them to have to ask for money.

  17. Randy Summers

    The most beggars my wife and I have ever seen is in Las Vegas NV. Mostly young people, not sure if they are homeless or just lazy.

    1. Bonnie Bowers

      I live in Vegas and there is a bunch that meander and set up camp on Washington St. and many more who live underground off the boulevard. It’s sad to see whole families, with school aged children out there. Phoenix is another bad area of people down on there luck. Its a sad thing in Vegas. I tbink they need more facilities for them but many want to be left alone because they have been abused so much. There are fake homeless too….beware!

  18. Michele Beckler

    I live in Portland Oregon and the beggars on almost every major intersection is horrible. I never give money because it has been shown by multiple agencies that cash goes to drugs and alcohol. I will however, if I’m at 7-11 and am asked for food, buy a meal and give it to a person. There are many organizations in Portland that help the homeless and my time and donations go to them because I know they can be trusted. Another subject of concern in Portland are the “zombie” rvs…homeless that live in an RV that moves from place to place. I know, I know, that’s a whole other subject but one that, as a new RV owner, I’m very concerned about.

  19. Bob Sanders

    When we use to travel by RV, we would always see some beggars by the Pilots/FJ stations. A few times we would give them a sandwich and soda from our RV. Very few times have we ever given cash, it is hard to really tell if they are homeless or what. When I see an individual with a sign saying he is a veteran, I want to ask him why didn’t he stay in the service for 20 years and retire like I did. Today we travel by car and pass them all up.

  20. Jean C

    I have volunteered for a number of organizations that feed, clothe and house the homeless. Between those charities, welfare, food stamps, the VA, etc. I do not feel compelled to encourage beggars on our street corners. Most seem to have sufficient funds to smoke, drink alcohol and have a dog. If they can’t support themselves they shouldn’t subject a defenseless animal to their “lifestyle”.

  21. Bill Semion

    We hand out cliff bars. If they say they’re not allowed to take, only money please we roll up the window.

    1. Jillie

      Try this one on for size. My one employer handed out employment fliers and the one guy said I don’t need a job I need the money. The employer said if you can stand? You can work. The guy ripped up the app and the employer rolled up his window and left. Sad but true. This was on the side of the road by a highway.

  22. mr. fuddled

    I suspect there are very few in areas of the country where people strongly value the work ethic. i worked with homeless during my career. there are some who have fallen on hard times and are struggling to recover, but not generally. most are in the lifestyle by choice. whether because of personality disorder, mental illness, etc. also, street beggers are usually not “homeless”. they are just working their chosen profession like the rest of us. do i give handouts? absolutely not! you do not “help” by reinforcing the behavior. a couple dollars isn’t going to make life any different to them. it only gives a warm fuzzy to the giver.

  23. George B

    If the individual is standing with a piled up shopping cart of his worldly possessions then I “think” he may need help and usually give. When travelling with our RV and I see people riding their bikes cross-country, if safe, I ‘ll stop and offer them a nice cold can of pop or bottle of water out of the fridge. So they know it’s safe, the lid still has the safety tab attached. This is really appreciated on a hot day.

  24. mike

    In Nashville TN many of the sidewalk “Beggars” are actually “Vendors” selling the local Homeless Newspaper. They pay $0.25 for it and sell it for $1.00. The paper seller’s are generally located at the best high traffic intersections in the city and are in the same location everyday!

    The “Beggars” are typically around Wal Mart, other large shopping areas and the interstate exits.

    I do buy the monthly Homeless Newspaper as it does have some interesting articles written by the homeless. I DO NOT contribute to the “Beggars”. With unemployment virtually “0” percent in Nashville with “Now Hiring” signs EVERYWHERE they can get damn job like the rest of us!

  25. Sandy B

    I never give money but I will give them a bottle of water and a granola bar or I’ll go inside a restaurant and get them a sandwich.

  26. Bob Godfrey

    A truly “disabled” veteran would normally be receiving assistance from the VA and should not have to beg. I also know that beggars in some cities are professional and have been known to gross $60-70K / year by doing so. So how do you know for sure?

  27. Tommy Molnar

    Some are not too bright. A cup of Starbucks and cigarettes tell me they really don’t need any of MY money.

  28. Jan

    Yes I do frequently. For the grace of God, it could me in need.

  29. Nanci

    I am truly blessed to live the RV lifestyle and to have intentionally sold my house and to be intentionally “homeless”. Many of the people on the streets are not equipped to have a full-time or even part time job. Would I have hired them for a job? For the majority this is the “job” they can do and I usually have a dollar or two within easy reach.

  30. Clayobx

    Rarely to someone at an intersection of a highway but depending on appearances sometimes. I’ve often seen travelers along the back roads with their total belongings and a canine usually cared for and my wife and I will donate to their life. It is an act of “there but for the grace of GOD go I.”

  31. JB

    Just recently near where I live, an older man who was begging – with cardboard sign in tow stating he was homeless – was actually found out not to be. He’d be dropped off at a site by a relative. . When found out, he then started his begging across the state line, which was close by. So no, I do not give to those supposedly *homeless* people. Sadly, there are people like this man who make it impossible to tell if someone is truly in need and thus are hurting those that likely really do need the help. And unfortunately, this was not the first time in our area that people out begging on street corners were not what they claimed to be

  32. Larry Fuchs

    I’ve seen them by the entrance ramps of I-90. When I went by several different times there was always someone different there. It was being run like a business.

  33. Mike

    I gave money to one man because his sign made me laugh. It said “Need gas for my Lear jet” ☺️

  34. JD

    We live in a small town on I-90 in Idaho. We are starting to see more and more of the “cardboard sign” people. Just today one was sitting by the stop sign leaving the local WalMart. They ain’t locals I can tell you for certain!

  35. Diane

    I rarely give money to beggars. (I’ve seen too many of them go into the bank and “cash in” their change for a wad of green — sometimes one or two hundred dollars.) But I frequently will park the car in the nearest parking lot when I see someone standing on the corner of a busy intersection, rain or shine, with a wearable “sidewalk” sign or spinner sign board, hour after hour, working for minimum wage. I’ll walk up to them, hand them $20, and thank them for working instead of begging. You should see their faces light up! Makes my day! 😀

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