Why I am Weary of Giving Money to People Panhandling

Should we give to anyone who asks?

Clearly scripture tells us to keep an open hand to our brothers and sisters in need.

Deuteronomy 15:11 (ESV)

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

However, experience has taught me that almost all of the folks standing on corners, sitting at the exit or entrance of freeway ramps, panhandling in public, or even coming to churches to connect with the person in charge of benevolence are not truly homeless or impoverished. My Dad, Carl Bales was part of a news expose on panhandlers in Des Moines, Iowa. The news feature showed that many panhandlers were making as much as $300 per day, which they used to purchase alcohol and drugs. I know more than 400 people experiencing homelessness in Pasadena by name, and over 1000 people by name on the streets of Skid Row, and I can tell you I have never ever seen one of these people, who truly are experiencing homelessness, standing on a corner panhandling.

I do know folks who panhandle all day, earn about $300 per day, then walk to their car and drive to their apartment or home.

As the person in charge of the benevolent fund at a number of churches over the years, I realized no matter how many safe guards I put up in making sure the funds were dispensed to people truly in need, I could have spent $1,000,000 dollars and not even made a dent in addressing the whole need.
People experiencing homelessness and poverty need a caring community and a relationship much more than they need the few bucks you or I can give on a street corner. The scriptural basis I use for this is Acts 3:1-8 (ESV)

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.
3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.
4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”
5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.
6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

From this I learn people need permanent help in becoming strong, and a connection with Jesus Christ and a faith community.

I advise that giving cash to someone in need is the least helpful, most temporary, and should be given only as a last resort. When someone asks me for cash so they can get something to eat, I invite them into a restaurant with me, buy them something to eat, and if possible, sit with them and hear their story. When someone approaches me and asks for funds to get a place to stay, I connect them with resources, often hand them my card, and ask them to come to our Mission to enroll in a program that will provide not only a roof over their head but possibly a life-transforming experience.

At rare times, giving funds is the last resort and maybe the only option. When an elderly lady on the streets of Shanghai, China asked me for help, I was unaware of services available, and also aware that there is no Social Security for elderly folks without family in China, and I gave her all of the cash I had with me. Now I’ve been asked to come back and help Shanghai establish a Rescue Mission, and I’d say that will be real help!


Andy Bales, CEO,  Union Rescue Mission

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