Some people say that giving money to the person you see on the side of the road begging for change actually helps that person continue staying on the road begging for change.

Some people say panhandling yields significantly more income than most people make by working.

Have there been any studies on this?

Some apply the same reasoning to deny that public funds should go towards the homeless. Is there any validity to this argument?

  • 4
    This seems like a better question for Economics.
    – jwodder
    Mar 1, 2017 at 2:30
  • 1
    @jwodder: Homelessness and what to do about homelessness is current public policy issue in most large cities in the U.S. Mar 1, 2017 at 2:32
  • 4
    As this is asking about giving to panhandlers rather than the direction of public funds to homeless people, I agree that this is not a good fit for the politics SE. What does this have to do with politics?
    – Publius
    Mar 1, 2017 at 2:55
  • 2
    "Some people say" just isn't a great source for us to fact check.
    – user1530
    Mar 1, 2017 at 6:51
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    This isn't really a question about politics. The question does not imply that you are a politician or that the homeless person you give to is one. Private donations to private people are not a political process. What might be on-topic is asking about the effect of government-sponsored welfare on homeless people. So if you rewrite the question to primarily focus on this aspect (instead of just tangentially), then it might be worth reopening.
    – Philipp
    Mar 1, 2017 at 9:34

2 Answers 2


I think that totally denying public funds to the homeless is far from being feasible as it is part of social security, which in turn is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Social security/protection is also part of the Inclusive growth concept.

From a layman perspective (as I understand it): we do not plan for letting people die in the streets. We do something about it.

"Some people say panhandling yields significantly more income than most people make by working."

Although I have heard about such rumors, I think this is highly exaggerated in most of the cases (at least within Western countries). The first answers from here provide references related to income and expenses of beggars. One particular study is this and its conclusion is the following:

[..] Toronto-centric study considers both numbers, and it concludes that the majority of Toronto's beggars live in extreme poverty and are homeless.

The same article explains the complexity of the phenomena and suggests that it is not only the financial dimension:

The homeless often need something more than money. They need money and direction. For most homeless people, direction means a job and a roof. A 1999 study from HUD polled homeless people about what they needed most: 42% said help finding a job; 38% said finding housing; 30% said paying rent or utilities; 13% said training or medical care.

This article deals with the question from the title and its conclusion is the following:

The short answer is no [, we should not give money to homeless people]. The long answer is yes, but only if you work for an organization that can ensure the money is spent wisely.

This article deals with a success story related to homelessness and confirms that a more complex approach (not just financial aid) gives the best results:

Initially, critics feared Utah would lose tons of money by giving the homeless permanent housing, and that doing so would just "incentivize mooching," as Minhaj put it. However, state officials found Housing First actually saving the government money over time, especially as it encourages people to become more self-sufficient sooner.

Moreover, Housing First homes are not free: New tenants have to pay $50 or 30% of their income to rent each month (whichever amount is greater).

Between shelters, jail stays, ambulances, and hospital visits, caring for one homeless person typically costs the government $20,000 a year. Providing one homeless person with permanent housing, however — as well as a social worker to help them transition into mainstream society — costs the state $8,000, The New Yorker reported in September.

"Is there any validity to this argument?"

Clearly, taking care in any form about the homeless incur costs and I find the only reasonable argument for denying public funds. But, as already illustrated, careful spending can provide good results.

So, yes, there is some validity, but I would say a little one.

  • If the question was reworeded to state 'joblessness' instead of 'homelessness' (something, in many instances, given to people to the poor for free). It would be 100% valid. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_trap Mar 1, 2017 at 22:16

Now, I'm just gonna go out on a limb and say 'probably not'. I got no hard numbers, but till someone brings any up, allow me to use theory to back up my claim, and provide you with at least some sort of answer:

  1. If it did, wouldn't all the people living 'paycheck to paycheck' catch onto this novel new industry at some point? Thus, flooding the market? Making the local news at least once?

  2. If this practice were happening, and was so consistent as to be a issue, wouldn't a catchy name be coined for it by now?

  3. Wouldn't the politicians pushing this idea jump at the chance to push the statistics in your face 24/7 to prove their point?

  4. Wouldn't its effectiveness vary wildly? Place to place? Time of day? Weather? People's charitable feelings?

  5. If this were happening, why are there still so many homeless people whom, despite being in a industry that pays more then McDonald's, still live on the streets, and not periodically 'disappear' to go off and enjoy their hard-earned cash.

  6. If they spend their money, wouldn't there be records? Couldn't that be used as proof? Wouldn't that potentially be used to bring tax evasion charges upon these so called 'homeless people'?

  7. If this is so profitable, why are there poor people who aren't busy doing this all day? What are they gaining by sitting their all day looking all hopeless and whatnot?

So ya, I can see the down votes now. I think this claim is utter bullocks, a straw-man, nothing more. Hope you at least thought this a neat read lad.

  • 2
    So.... you write a poor answer, knowing its poor... yet still write it because...? I'm happy to give you -1/delete vote. Mar 1, 2017 at 3:34
  • I never called it poor, I merely described as being more of an anecdote. Whats with this sudden hostility? calling for deletion?
    – Tirous
    Mar 1, 2017 at 3:43
  • My apologies, reading it now it does seem sorta silly... but still, I don't get the deletion pate mate.
    – Tirous
    Mar 1, 2017 at 3:59
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    Can you back up any of that with actual empiric research? Answers on this website are expected to back up the claims they make and not just say what the author's intuition and personal observations say is correct.
    – Philipp
    Mar 1, 2017 at 8:43
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    @agc none of these facts are really that obvious. For example, in the city where I live we recently had news reports about an organized "beggars cartel" who were turning street begging into a de-facto organized multinational commercial enterprise. That's why we need a "back it up" policy. If you just argument on "obvious facts" without doing any actual research, you might actually be argumenting from a standpoint of misinformation.
    – Philipp
    Mar 1, 2017 at 12:07

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