The question of “should I give money?” is really is a choice that you need to make for yourself. However, if you choose to give someone money, what that money gets spent on is no longer in your control.

Walking around the city, it sometimes feels like there are a sleeping bag and a cardboard box on every corner. A person may also be sitting there, holding a paper cup with a few coins inside. They may ask directly if you can spare any change, or else have a story of hardship written out on a piece of card beside them.

To give or not to give on the street is a personal choice.

Some people prefer to donate time, money or other items straight to programs that work toward long-term solutions for the homeless. Every major city in the United States has terrific organizations that provide immediate interventions, such as shelter, medical care, and food, as well as long-term support systems, such as job training, addiction counseling and transitional housing.

Some offer to buy food or a hot drink for a person on the street to ensure that the money doesn’t go for the source of addiction. Others choose to give spare change at the moment.

It may sound harsh, but homeless advocacy groups say we all have to stop giving these people money.

If you’re worried about the money going to alcohol or drugs there are a few options:

  • Give the money to an organization working with people experiencing homelessness.
  • Buy a street newspaper.
  • Buy a small gift card – i.e. for a local coffee shop or fast food restaurant.
  • Use the money to donate food to a food bank.

Buying food instead of giving money is something that a lot of people ask about and it is going to come down to choice for the panhandler again. They might be a picky eater or have allergies. They might have a hard time trusting that the food someone hands them on the street is safe, edible and something they will like. Most of us like to have the ability to choose what we want to eat and when we want to eat it. Giving a panhandler a coffee instead of cash may be your preference, but if it’s the fifth coffee they’ve been handed in 20 minutes, they may well refuse it.

What is the right thing to do? Read about the downfalls involved with handing money out to a person living on the street here.

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