Alternatives to giving money to panhandlers?

outstretched hand with dollar bill

K emails:

I was in Philly recently and I heard from locals that panhandling had decreased incredibly since programs were set up where individuals could donate to groups that help the homeless. Is there something similar in Albany?
Some municipalities distribute business card type handouts that you can give to a panhandler instead of cash, since the money you give to the panhandler will only "help" them, but if you give to charities or groups that work with those communities your money can help a lot more people.

It feels like there's been an upswing lately in people asking for money on the street. Just the other day we encountered three people in downtown Albany doing so all within the span of a block. And it's rare to not see people asking for money at some of the major intersections near the interstate exchanges. (Whether there actually has been an upswing -- and if so, why -- is a good question. Perception is not necessarily reality.)

So we're interested to hear how people handle these sorts of situations. Do you give the person money? Do you offer other sorts of help? And more directly towards K's question, are there better ways to go about helping people?


Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless is the local org that comes to mind, though I'm sure there are more. They also have a shelter in Sheridan Hollow but I'd suggest contacting them before starting any kind of outreach and/or directing people their way, as expected they have limited resources.

I know a few people who keep a cooler in their car stocked with bottled water/gatorade, or simple snacks like granola bars, to hand out to the folks standing near streets, most report that it's well received but who knows.

I know some of us have bleeding hearts. In the big picture, people panhandle because it works. Saying no does not necessarily make you a bad person.

I never give anyone money on the street. If I'm approached, I just keep walking and reply "so sorry, I don't have any cash." and keep walking. Which is usually 100% true.

We have a wonderful program in Albany called Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless (IPH). They offer a safe haven that provides an array of services for chronically homeless, at-risk individuals and families and low-income residents of the community.

Services include: Daily meal, showers, laundry facilities, case management, life skills groups, mailbox, lockers, clothing pantry, access to telephone, computer and fax and opportunity to meet regularly with onsite providers.

It's a little more complex than that. The situation in Philadelphia has changed because the mayor has been telling people not to give to panhandlers any more. This was accompanied by a "Text to Give" campaign where if you text a word to a certain number, you donate $5. The idea is that if you feel guilty/concerned you can donate directly to homeless services rather than giving to a panhandler. As people started giving out less cash, panhandling became less effective and fewer people were doing it.

Yeah, tell the Mayor of Larkstreet you, "gave at the office."

You could instead offer them cab or bus fare and give directions to the local shelter. Walking them into a close place for food for a quick bite is nice also, that way you know they are getting a meal.

Last time we were in troy a suposidly a newly homeless woman grabbed our ear/heart. We offered her a meal and took her into Flying chicken and bought her a meal. She then pleaded for more cash to get into the shelter. Was she legit? We will never know. We saw her again that night after having a brew at Rare form.

I always wondered if any towns outlaw begging as i always see someone begging at the light leading to western ave and also infront of home depot/mc donalds on washington ave ext.

I've handed out $5 McDonald's gift cards in the past, seems to be appreciated by those truly in need.

Does anyone truly believe the people at the highway on/off ramps begging with cardboard signs are actually homeless?

I usually don't have physical cash on hand (curious how panhandling will hold up in the digital economy) so often politely can't offer anything. Typically, I'm getting asked when I'm not far from the cafe or other food establishment I'm head to and will offer to buy them a bite. That way they are at least getting some nourishment. There are also a few non-profits/shelters in the area, which I'll refer them to, most seem to appreciate it for I feel like a lot of them may be new to the life and don't know how to pull themselves out of it, especially with the heroin epidemic raging on.

I lived near Skid Row in Los Angeles for a number of years. I never give money to panhandlers. Off the cuff, this discussion falls into a common trap - equating homelessness with panhandling. They are not the same and in fact, are often not. Pandhandlers are frequently like con artists - preying on guilt and sympathy, while people who are chronically homeless are often unable to solicit donations, for reasons of mental illness for example.

If you care about supporting services to end or reduce chronic homelessness, give to a shelter or one of the other service organizations, and don't be fooled by pandhandling.

Another thought: I often get asked for bus money. It would be nice to be able to purchase single ride CDTA passes or prepurchase a day pass (currently day passes are only valid the day they are purchased) to give away. These have little monetary value but would help someone who actually needs them.

@-B: A while back I had a few CDTA "free ride all day" cards left over from an event, and I would give them out when people asked for bus fare. The response from people was usually positive -- if a little surprised -- especially after I explained the card could be used for free rides that entire day.

@Neighborhood Curmudgeon: I like that idea.

It is ridiculous in Albany they ask for money or have sign stating that they are hungry or need cash because of some other supposed made up shit I have many problems and have done the same stuff but got out of that through programs and drug rehabilitation and mental health help. I do not and will not enable these people when I put in foot work to get my act together. These people mostly get disability and other programs fly through that money or benefits and then expect the public to pick up there slack because THEY choose not to accept help and I know it took until I hit my rock bottom and then finally realized I didn't want to do that anymore for it to work. I give back and make sure people are fed and have gotten many into other treatment facilities. I am just sick and tired of this being the norm in Albany

Watch out for lady at Starbucks who acts like she wants money for food she is a scam artist. Me and my wife felt bad and asked her what she needed money for and if she was hungry like sign stated we offered to buy her food with our own FS and she said "no I want to spend it on what I want when I want." We then explained basically beggars can't be choosers and pointed her to dss and the shelter and let people know that she was a fraud. I mean come on you are asking for help but when offered to take care of something she was stating she needed she balk at opportunities we were offering so we made sure for quite some time by telling people that she was and is not using money for what she is saying it's for and probably gets more money and benefits than I do and I have a disability and have wife and kid on the way and offered my benefits to help her. Watch out.

Frustrated and Mad, it would help to contribute to the conversation if you explained which programs helped you, the process through which you got that aid, and where you give back as well as which treatment facilities you get folks into and how, so the rest of us know where to direct those who really need the assistance.

A friend told me about 'blessings bags' where you make ziploc bags of water, instant coffee/tea, gatorade, applesauce, granola bars, etc. I handed out a few to mixed reviews: on guy got mad I wouldn't give him a ride, another said he'd pray for me. So there's that.

I also love that some areas have little pantries like the little libraries, where if folks are hungry they can grab whatever neighbors drop off. I have only found one over by the 7th Day Adventist church, but keep an eye out. They're less confrontational, but helpful.

I thought the idea of a leftovers shelf was great. I remember there being some around the area for a while, on Lark Street and similar spots. I always have leftovers after going to a restaurant and I've found giving them to people asking for money on the street or at those highway intersections has been appreciated.

Any given day, there are two or three panhandlers near the I-90 Everett Road interchange. It's so commonplace now, in any type of weather!

A lot of suggestions here with good intentions but dubious efficacy. Perhaps even some examples of where doing something that makes you personally feel good doesn't necessarily help.

Maybe what the conversation really needs is some input from City Mission or Trinity Alliance or a service org that can speak from an on the ground perspective?

There are several great area organizations that could use money, time, and expertise in their mission to help the homeless committee. This one in particular:

I don't think I've seen an upswing in number of panhandlers but definitely in the aggressiveness of panhandlers. Which makes me want to give even less.

Panhandling does not equate with homelessness, just as Justin says. Many panhandlers are dealing with issues like substance use disorder and looking for a way to feed a habit, although that is not always true. There are resources in the area for homeless people, including

Homeless and Travelers Aid (,

IFP (,

the Capital City Rescue Mission (,

Equinox (, and many others.

Many veterans are homeless and can receive social services through the VA as well.

For those who are hungry or food-insecure, the Food Pantries for the Capital District ( and United Way of the Greater Capital Region ( are helping meet that need.

The system we have for people who are hungry, homeless, or dealing with addiction is patchy, of course. There are certainly hungry or at least food-insecure people out there who might be asking for your change. Even so, if you are interested in feeding the hungry, volunteer with or donate to these organizations. If you are interested in helping people find shelters, volunteer or donate with one of the shelters. Donating your pocket change may or may not help someone get a bite to eat--but it certainly won't address the larger social issues. For that, you need to act, donate, and call your elected representatives.

Yeah I remember showing my then 12 year old daughter how empathic and generous we should be once when confronted with a panhandler on Lark Street...he was aggressive and pushy asking for money because he was "hungry" and I politely said "I don't have anything for you right now".....we then walked to the pizza shop and a bought a salad and two slices of pizza and walked back to give it to him at which point he pushed it to the ground and screamed at us that he "didn't want no f---king pizza". I've always said we are all just a paycheck or an illness or an bad choice away from similar plight and maybe he really didn't like pizza but I will no longer act alone and I donate to the capital city rescue mission regularly to help in my very very little way.

These are some baroque manifestations of liberal guilt.

many of the "panhandlers' are/were the "heroes" sent away to fight in the never ending war. Think about this when the propaganda machine kicks off in high gear Tuesday. By the way, I don't think that this will be posted as you have not posted previous thoughts.

Please do give anything to these people they are frauds. The girl that hangs out on wash. Ave ext. by walmarts, is in cahoots with the guys on everett road, I watched the girl empty her pockets full of cash into a persons car in mcdonalds parking lot. A couple days later I saw her walking with the 2 guys from everett road together going into the ramada inn hotel. So it seems these folks can afford a hotel room, guess the shelter was to pricey for them.

So many nonprofits in this area and all the begging...seems like our area nonprofits should be held to the light. Why don't we have a dedicated phone number that when dialed connects panhandlers and homeless to social services? And, if we already have a phone number to help whoever runs it should be replaced b/c they failed outreach services. The nonprofits... its time to ask for better results. But, that would mean holding the BODs and the political machine accountable.

I know for a fact that some of the panhandlers who claim to be vets are actually not, but use that claim to gain more sympathy.

A couple of years ago, a panhandler who regularly asks for money around the neighborhood approached my boyfriend's father right in front of my house. My late boyfriend's father, Frank, is a vet - he served in the Army and, later, with the Seabees. He's a good man and very generous. He struck up a conversation with the panhandler, with the intent to get to know him a little and, maybe, help him in some way. The guy's story did not check out. When asked what unit he'd served with, he threw around a few names and places and Frank caught him in multiple lies. Not lapses of memory or mistakes, but outright lies. The guy realized that Frank had seen through him and said, "Well, [expletive deleted] this. If you're not going to give me money, you're wasting my time."

As for gift cards, the intentions are good, but a lot of panhandlers don't want those. A neighbor felt sorry for a young woman who'd been panhandling a lot around Lark and Delaware. She gave her some gift cards for the nearby Panera and Dunkin Donuts. Not even an hour later, I saw the young woman approaching people in an attempt to sell the cards for cash to buy crack.

Another time, a panhandler downtown recognized me because I had called 9-11 for him when he took a bad fall. He handed me a couple o gift cards from Starbucks and Subway. He said people give them to him, but that he had "no use for them."

Last year, there was a pregnant woman panhandling downtown while her boyfriend panhandled up by Target. People offered to take her to get help from Social Services, Catholic Charities, etc.. She said she didn't want help, she wanted the cash.

It's a tough and, sometimes, sad question, but there aren't easy answers.

I stopped giving cash to panhandlers after the same few "veterans" needed the same "bus fare" over and over, and aggressively followed me and my daughter downtown. I can't respect their personal challenges if they can't respect my personal space.

Yeah, this is a tough one. There is a mother and grown son (supposedly) who walk around the neighborhood near my office with a story about having to get to NYC for a court date. Sounds very plausible the first time, but not when you hear it multiple times! However, I have been stuck in places with nothing, and the kindness of strangers helped me make a phone call, get my kid to the hospital, etc. so I tend to be more soft-hearted than I probably should be. There are a couple of people who I give to regularly - I see them often, they are friendly, I do know their life story and know that they live in disabled housing, etc. but sometimes just want an extra cup of coffee or a bus ride.

Working in downtown Albany, I am asked for cash 2-3 times EVERY DAY. Pretty much always the same people. If I had it, I would always give them some spare change until recently when I pointed out a woman's claims of "homeless and hungry" might garner more support if her acrylic nails were not freshly manicured and painted. Now she hurls insults and slurs at me when I walk by.

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