Should I Give Money to a Panhandler?

What do you do when you see someone holding a sign, asking for money? Do you give them some? Do you feel guilty if you don’t? Or do you pretend not to see them?

Nobody likes to be confronted by homeless people. Their needs seem so overwhelming. Yet they deserve to be treated kindly. Here are nine simple guidelines to truly help the homeless people you meet.

  1. Be prepared. If you spend any time in downtown Salt Lake, you're bound to get approached by a panhandler. It can be useful to carry a spare bottle of water or some granola bars, ready to give away. Better yet, keep a few pdfHelp Cards handy at all times. (You can also order them here.)
  2. DO NOT give cash to a homeless person. Too often, well-intended gifts of cash to the homeless are converted into drugs or alcohol – even when the “hard luck” stories they tell are true. If they are hungry, buy them a sandwich or direct them to the Rescue Mission, where we serve three hot meals every day .

  3. Recognize that homeless people are not all the same. The person you meet may be a battered woman, an addicted veteran, a mentally ill individual, a con artist or someone who’s lost a job. Don’t try to rescue them, but refer them to the Mission to get help from people who are trained to deal with their problems.

  4. Talk to the person with respect. Many of the homeless are consumed by isolation, depression and paranoia. If a homeless person approaches you, a friendly response (even when saying “NO”) can help restore a degree of dignity.

  5. Pray for the homeless. The harshness of street life and lack of personal purpose fill homeless people with despair and lead them to continue the cycle of destructive choices. God can respond to your prayers to help heal their brokenness.

  6. Always be alert and cautious when you talk to someone on the street. Stay in areas where other people can see you, and don’t take unnecessary chances. Don’t feel that you are being uncaring if your personal safety is in question.

  7. Donate canned goods and other supplies. The Rescue Mission of Salt Lake depends on donated goods to provide meals for the hungry. Bakeries and restaurants often donate excess supplies, but canned goods such as tuna, beans and soup are always needed and appreciated when received from individuals.

  8. Encourage the homeless to get help through your local rescue mission. Free meals and shelter are available at the Rescue Mission. People experiencing homelessness can also choose to enter the Rescue Mission's New Life program to deal with the root causes of their homelessness. Often in an environment of support and love, lives are changed and restored.

  9. Support your local rescue mission. Because all the help provided by the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake is offered free of charge, the Mission must depend on the support of caring individuals, churches, businesses and civic groups. Your charitable gift can provide the help a homeless person needs to start over.

Not in Salt Lake? You can find a national list of rescue missions here.



Association of Gospel Rescue Missions
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Rescue Mission Of Salt Lake