Should I Give Money To Homeless People?

You’re driving in your car, come to a stoplight and see someone holding a sign on the side of the road asking for money. Should you give them money?

That decision is totally up to you, it’s your money.

Here’s what I think:
After doing my Homeless Experiment I got to know more about homeless habits, even more so than when I did the Bottled Water Experiment.

There are several ways bums commonly make money:

  • Flying a sign: Holding a sign on the side of the road.
  • Panhandling: Walking around at gas stations, streets, busy parks, supermarkets etc. and asking people for money.
  • Random Hustles: Washing windshields at stoplights, pointing out parking spots and other relatively useless services.

Different areas, climates and populations promote or discourage different types of efforts.

This time I experienced a part of Austin, TX. called Riverside as well as the Downtown area. Riverside bums camp out in the woods or live under a bridge. To get food they dumpster dive, panhandle (aka walking around at gas stations or supermarket asking people) or fly signs. People often give food.

For food the Downtown homeless population simply goes to one of many free soup kitchens or organizations that provide free meals. I was VERY well fed when pretending to be homeless in downtown Austin. For extra money they may panhandle for a short while, or they can go to a day labor center and get a manual labor job for the day (although almost none actually do this).

For the most part food seems to be easily available (at least here in Austin) no matter where you go.

So if food is taken care of, where does that money you give bums go? I’d say less than 20% goes to food, and most goes to drugs and alcohol (from what I saw, mainly beer).

After observing the lifestyle many of these people lead, I feel relatively little sympathy, and don’t particularly feel like giving them any money.

So should you give them money?
In short, my answer is: NO.

Why I won’t give:

  • It supports bums standing on street corners begging or panhandling all over the place, and I don’t like that.
  • It almost all goes towards alcohol.
  • There are usually plenty of places to go for a meal.
  • It’s usually only the chronically homeless that stand outside flying signs or panhandling for money.
  • Most “real” homeless people who have temporarily fallen on hard times rarely ask for money in any of these ways.

So those are some of my reasons. It’s very obvious that many people DO give, it’s an economic truth that if no one gave, they wouldn’t be out there trying for very long.

However if YOU decide to give away YOUR money, that’s your personal decision. A lot of people will even voluntarily buy bums cigarettes or beer. Once again, that’s a personal decision.

I especially hate giving money to bums downtown in my area, because I found out just how easy it was to get a free meal, plenty of food and even temporary jobs.