The Best Street Corners for Panhandling

Written tongue-in-cheek in an effort to get people to examine their assumptions and take a closer look at their fellow humans who are holding the signs.

Panhandlers, unemployed and/or homeless individuals who solicit donations from passersby, are a common sight in my city.  Some of them routinely stand on the same corner, apparently having staked their claim.  We know several by name and make it a point to stop by and donate a dollar or two, a paperback novel, or just to chat.  Most are men, some claiming to be disabled veterans, some traveling and looking for gas money, others out of work and soliciting jobs.  There is the occasional couple – generally young travelers and the even more infrequent woman, either by herself or with a child or two squatting at her feet. 

I’ve never reached the point where I’ve had to solicit donations in this fashion, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t considered it and thought about the courage and strategy it would require.  What, I wondered, would be the best corner for panhandling? 

You would need an audience that is both temporarily captive, but also changing.  I think an intersection with a stoplight might prove more profitable than one with a stop sign.  People don’t need to stop long for a stop sign and even if they are compassionate and willing to pause to dig out a buck or two, there’s a good possibility the traffic lined up behind them might not be as kind.  At a light people expect to sit and wait- they can’t fault the driver in front for not moving against a red light, and they have more time to wrestle with their conscience and break out their wallet.  The panhandler can walk up the row of stopped traffic to make contact with more potential donors and drivers seeing others giving money might be more inclined to do the same.  You would want an intersection with a fair amount of traffic – that’s obvious.  And I think you would do better if your intersection was near a place where people go to shop or eat.  Wouldn’t you be more sympathetic to a poor, hungry person after you’d just blown $20 on fast food?  More so than if you spotted that same person near your office building, I’ll bet.  Then you’d probably find yourself thinking ‘just go get a job like me!’ 

Having a dog or other pet (we know a homeless man who has an iguana and another with a parrot) might make people more sympathetic.  Maybe they’ll be willing to shell out some money for dog food even if they are reluctant to give money to a down and out person who they suspect will spend it on alcohol or drugs.  I’m not sure if having children with you is a good thing or not.  While some people might be more sympathetic others might want to report you to child services or the police. 

I’d recommend staying out of rich neighborhoods.  Billionaires who pledge to give away part of their wealth notwithstanding, numerous studies have shown that poorer people are more charitable.  Probably because they can really empathize with the ‘there but for fortune’ aspect of your situation – a thought that would never cross the mind of a wealthy person! 

Once you’ve located a corner that has all these qualities, and hopefully isn’t already occupied by someone else, you need to consider the best time of day to work, your attire and the wording of your sign.  I vote for mid-day – people are less rushed and are more likely to be traveling in areas where there are restaurants. In the morning they are getting kids to school and themselves to their jobs and in the evenings they are tired and probably stressed.  Not the best time to ask for money.

As for attire I’d recommend against dressing up for this job.  Business casual is probably not casual enough.  Go for worn, but not filthy if you can.   If you look too good people will think you don’t need money and if you stink they won’t want to get close enough to hand you any!

In most communities you can’t actually speak to people and ask for money – that’s usually against some sort of harassment ordinance – but you can hold a sign.  That’s part of your first amendment right to free speech (odd how actual speech isn’t included in that right).  The generic ‘Hungry, Out of work, Anything Helps, God Bless’ sort of sign is fine but (like a great book title) I suspect that a catchy phrase will generate more income.    They certainly draw more attention. A Google search of catchy panhandler signs turned up a ton – for example:

  • Homeless – Need Money to Buy a Home
  • Need $$ for Alcohol Research
  • Help Fight Hobophobia
  • Obama Aint the Only One Who Wants Change
  • Shitty Advice, Only $1
  • I’ll Bet You $1 You’ll Read This

And others – many rather obscene and therefore limiting themselves to a particular market segment!

Now that you are all set to go to work don’t forget to put on a positive attitude. People giving away money like to feel like they are making a difference and that they are appreciated.  Be polite, even if they just give you the address of the nearest soup kitchen or unwanted advice. Keep it short, smile, and move on to the next customer. 

Good luck.  Let me know how you do!

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18 Responses to The Best Street Corners for Panhandling

  1. Kate says:

    @Vicky–do you happen to know a person named “Carmen”? So angry.

    I don’t feel bad about not giving to people who panhandle because I know that I give in other ways. There is nothing to be angry about people asking you for money–“sorry, I can’t give at this time” is all you have to say. If that ‘can’t’ is because you don’t feel they deserve it or because you don’t have the money, doesn’t matter.

    This type of post really gets the conversation flowing!!!

  2. Nota says:

    @Vicky – you’re right that you should be able to walk down the street without being bothered and that you should be able to feel safe. But so should everyone else – and that includes this human vermin you refer to. People who live on the streets should be able to walk around safely too – and without being treated like filth. Remember when you stand in judgement of others, that they are looking back at you as a reflection of your own compassion.

    On to other things,

    When I worked downtown, I used to go cash my check and on the way to the bank I would give whatever was left in my pocket from my previous check to a person that was sitting on the corner across the street. Obviously down and out. I barely made above minimum wage – which was $4.25 at the time. I kept this policy for several years until one day it dawned on me that I’d been giving money to the same 3 people the entire time. Obviously my contributions weren’t helping them get off the street and all I’d done was train them where to be on Friday at 11am to get a $5 or a $20 from me. I promptly stopped and started donating to shelters instead.

    I recently sat at a stoplight in my car and watched a woman holding a ‘give’ sign sending text messages from the cell phone she had stashed behind her sign. Another night my husband & I went to a baseball game, and I was shocked in walking back to our car at how many homeless people were settling into doorways and on benches for the night. Last week, I met friends for dinner and a man asked me for change as I entered the restaurant. I was early and went to the bar. Not 5 minutes later, the man came into the bar and asked how much the cheapest beer was. I hadn’t given him any money, and I was grateful when I found out how it would have been spent.

    Honestly, I don’t know what the best thing is to do. There are some people panhandling for nefarious reasons – there are some doing it to survive. Shelters may give you food, money and clothes – but how do you get off the street for more than a day without money to pay for a roof? And if you can finally get enough for one month or week, what about the next? Highly educated and capable people are having horrible times getting jobs right now – it’s not as simple as just saying ‘get a job’ to someone without a functional education and battling substance abuse or mental illness.

    Now I actually clip coupons and try to take advantage of sales at stores so I can make my $5 or $20 stretch farther in goods to give to food pantries. And the rest of the time I rely on my conscience to tell me what will help me sleep at night. I think looking someone in the eye, you can feel whether they need help you are capable of giving. But I think some people find it very hard to look someone in the eye and see that pain, so it’s easier to call them vermin and look away.

  3. Vicky says:

    I don’t appreciate ANYONE accosting me when I’m walking down the street, minding my own business. This applies to ALL SALESMEN, PETITIONERS, PANHANDLERS OR PEOPLE WHO WANNA SAVE MY SOUL FOR JESUS!

    First of all: LEAVE MY SOUL ALONE!

    Secondly, I don’t wanna be guilt-tripped into buying girl scout cookies! I’ve already been hit up 20 times today at the office, by my neighbors, relatives,etc. for an overpriced, tiny portion junk food product which I do not want or need! Same goes for aggressive Mary Kay tactics. Same with political agendas. Same with beggers in the street. Same with those who want me to sample their hand cream or talk about my cellular phone options.

    The amount of bums in the streets have REALLY gotten out of hand – especially last holiday season. Not only were they on every street intersection, but they actually tried to ask me for change WHILE I AM GASSING MY CAR, & EVEN IN THE GROCERY STORE (I brought this to the attention of the grocery manager who promptly had him removed from the store.)

    No, these aren’t nice ladies on the street with children.
    These were all drunk, smelly, filthy, HIGHLY AGGRESSIVE men BOTHERING ME!



  4. zelda says:

    I’m entering the last leg of graduate school. My husband and I support out grandchildren, and last year, he lost his job. So, I teach at two universities to get enough money to keep us afloat. We are not floating well; in fact, in October, I doubt we will be able to pay all of our bills.

    In spite of my on poverty, I have to say that panhandlers and the likes irritate me, especially around the holidays. I am really sorry that so many people are having a hard time, but I hate being asked for money. Being put on the spot either by a homeless person or by a bell-ringing salvation army person just gripes my rear. I don’t think it’s guilt. I don’t have any reason to be guilty. I live way below the poverty line, and I am working toward a degree and working two jobs. Plus, when my husband lost his job, I immediately began cutting corners: we make our own detergent, we bought cloth diapers for our granddauther, we buy cheaper cuts of meats and never, ever buy unnecessary items. My grandchildren have learned that snacks do not come pre-packaged but are homemade.

    So, what happens with me is I think seeing the homeless makes me realize that my husband and I are one paycheck a way from being in nearly the same shape. But also, I think I want to ask how many are doing every single thing they can to stay afloat.

    Which begs the question: Would I stand on a corner or even have a blog in which I stood on the corner? I don’t think so. I know what social services offers, and it’s more than a spot under a bridge.
    Just my two cents.

  5. Vicky says:

    I’d gladly pay $2.50 for an Ocean Beach “Please don’t feed our bums” bumper sticker.

    People need to take personal responsibility for their own addictions, poor judgement, poor decisions, complete ignorance in regard to lack of birth control.

    • Laura says:

      Could we please take personal responsibility and stop victim-blaming? You can decide not to donate to the homeless without becoming cold and judgmental.

      I, too, tend to donate to food shelves and crisis centers, but if I see a mom out there with a young child, and she is clearly trying to make it as pleasant as possible for the kid? I will stop and donate. I probably contribute to the problem, but I just can’t walk away without trying to help.

  6. Tiffany says:

    I also wanted to mention that those who panhandle may be denied service at their local soup kitchen. My friend the homeless outreach worker is also responsible for documenting those panhandling and passing that info along to the city’s homeless center and soup kitchen. She usually warns panhandlers first so that first time offenders won’t miss out on meals. Repeat panhandlers are photographed and denied meals and/or lodging.

    I though this policy harsh at first, but listening to my friend’s daily experiences helping the homeless I’ve come to see that this is necessary for the best health of the homeless. Food is freely available in most cities and towns (soup kitchens, churches, food stamps, etc.), so the reason most people choose to panhandle is NOT hunger. A lot of the money collected by panhandlers goes towards drugs, booze, and smokes, which doesn’t help the homeless at all.

    Also panhandling is often used as a ruse to prostitute women and girls. You might see what looks like a panhandling “couple” or perhaps a “mother” with her “daughter”, which in reality is a pimp prostituting a woman or girl. He or she is hoping that men will come up and proposition the woman or girl. It’s difficult for the police to intervene in situations like these because the person will claim he or she is just panhandling. Again, not a great situation for the homeless.

    You wouldn’t want to accidently support sex slavery or drug use, yet this may be what happens when you hand out money to panhandlers. Please donate to local emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, etc. to truly give aid to the homeless.

  7. Jay says:

    “We know several by name and make it a point to stop by and donate a dollar or two, a paperback novel, or just to chat.”

    That is wonderful.

    I give cash to ONE panhandler in my city, and like you I know him by name. And I know that he does not use drugs, or drink to excess, or smoke. I’ve known him for over 16 years, and know where he tends to hang out, and if I am in that area I keep an eye out for him.

    His name is Glenn, and he has a double doctorate, one from MIT in Astrophysics. Before you call me niave, I have seen the degree, and the pictures of him at graduation, and even read some of his papers… well as much as I could understand, lol. It is his degree. But he couldn’t handle the stress of academic life – publish or perish – and now plays the tin pipe on street corners to supplement his disability cheque.

    I don’t give money to the other homeless person I know by name, but I do buy him bus rides, and occationally food when he will take it. When he is sober he is one of the most amazing artists, but he was badly abused in an Indian residential school, and can’t seem to cope with the memories for long when he is sober.

    In this day and age it is important to remember that no matter how little you have someone else has less and needs it more than you do. And there is always a story behind thier being on the street, and it is almost never “too lazy to work” no matter what the general public may think. As your post points out there is a great deal of thought that has to go into finding the right place to panhandle!

  8. Vicky says:

    Remember what happened when those cheapskates – The Smart Family decided to pay a homeless man a few peanuts to work on their roof at their mansion instead of getting a licensed contractor? (All in the “good” name of charity of course.)

    That’s right! He kidnapped their daughter, Elizabeth Smart!

    Don’t let random strangers work odd jobs at your house!
    You’re inviting them to see the lay-out of your home as well as showing ’em the goods – valuables, electronics, access to children’s rooms!
    Geez, there are so many random, derelict workers that drift in & out around neighborhoods to come back & rob the place….OR WORSE!

    Right now in LA there is a man-hunt going on in the Hollywood Hills for a homeless man who killed a new bride in her own home & then torched the place to destroy the evidence. He’s still at large.

    Don’t let these con-artists talk you out of your own safety!

    • V's Herbie says:


      You’re equating homeless with dangerous.

      This is simply not the case. There are plenty of dangerous people with homes, and non-dangerous people without them.

  9. Vicky says:

    I think they are vermin and should be estinguished!


    But they don’t see it that way.

    Why should I have to reward bad behavior?

    I just keep on walking, down make eye contact don’t break my stride, and refuse to engage in a conversation with them.

    This includes petitioners, girl scout cookies, Mary Kay consultants, salesmen, etc.


    • boxcarkids says:

      Perhaps you’d like to live in San Antonio where a councilman wants to make it a crime to give money to a beggar or homeless person on city streets. Those who open their wallets would be fined. “If there’s no money for the panhandlers, the panhandlers will go away,” said Councilman John Clamp.

      What would Jesus do – roll up his window and speed on by? Make it a crime to help ‘the least of these’? Personally in my life I reflect on these passages for guidance when confronted with those in need.
      ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25: 31-46.
      Be kind to widows, orphans, fatherless children and strangers. Share whatever you have with them. Deuteronomy 24:17-21

      Plus my mother raised us to be compassionate.

      Does that mean you have to let strangers into your house? Or put your safety or that of your family at risk? No, of course not. But with more people living below the poverty line now than at any time in fifty years, with more people unemployed, with more people having lost their homes, do you honestly think every homeless person is a bad person looking to do wrong to you? That’s a lot of people! And I’ll bet if you volunteered at a soup kitchen or food bank and sat down to break bread with some of them you’d discover individuals with interesting stories, their own strengths and failings, and maybe even make some friends.

    • Donna says:

      Girl Scouts? Really? Young people learning how to make money (not asking for handouts, they are selling a product) to pay for their own trips and activities? Young girls learning how to be self-sufficient, work hard, and help others? Really?
      I assume you don’t work, because if you do, then you are asking someone to pay YOU for a product, in some form or fashion. Talk about bad behavior.

  10. Anna says:

    How did things work out for you on Friday w/ your unemployment benefits? I hope things turned out OK and that your unemployment benefits were not decreased!

  11. jill says:

    the best sign I’ve seen so far- ‘only need 27 cents more for 1 taco’…my husband gave him a dollar, and he kept on moving down the line- I think I might want more than one taco, too.

  12. P says:

    I live in a busy city so these are just some of my ‘drivers perspective’ thoughts.
    I drive by multiple people a day in my standard commute and I recognize the regular coner folks. Some of them started to recognize me as well and knowing I didn’t give we’d still smile and wave b/c we knew we were a part of the same community.
    Honestly I don’t give money at the street corners. I feel its dangerous (and feel the same for those selling flowers or newspapers on the corners as well as the people passing out religious fliers) and impedes traffic (the most annoying are the window wipers). I try to keep a tally of how many people I see then donate to a soup kitchen or some such avenue of charity.
    I like to think people are honest but my husband did some brainstorming once and reasoned that if someone picks up a conservative $1 ever few light cycles with a cycle ever few minutes then they very well could have a higher *tax free* salary than I do. (I know more money doesn’t always solve all problems but I’m just saying…).
    As I said, I don’t give $ on street corners. Occasionally if I have some leftover food or a granola bar I’ll pass that on. I feel bad for the chained up dogs b/c it is hot in the summer pavement but they *usually* seem well fed. I was most compelled to give to a woman who had her 3-4 yr old daughter out there crouching under an umbrella with a dirty naked babydoll. That one made me cry. On one hand I know she has need but on the other hand I didn’t want to encourage her to bring her child to such a dangerous place.
    I sometimes feel like a target. As a young female I tend to have people approach my car more often. I drive with my doors locked. My husband was approached very often when he drove a convertable (not as ‘fancy’ as that can sound).
    I appreciate the few that wear a safety vest. I feel sorry for those in wheelchairs or limping but that is even scarier to be so close to a busy road.
    I have also seen people limp on one leg one day and then another the next. We’ve also seen people switch their eye patchs, slings or canes from one side to the other. That adds to my frustration and lowers my inclination to give. My job also puts me at busy intersections regularly and I see people collect money on the corner or try to ask for bus money only to go inside and buy a beer. I don’t want to steriotype or generalize but I see it happen. I know there is real need and thus I give and volunteer what I can but I do that where I can trust it to be used wisely. I understand how blessed I am to not be there myself at this time and I do hurt for those that are. This is just my 2 cents.

  13. Tiffany says:

    I don’t recommend handing out cash to panhandlers, especially if you haven’t much money to spend on your own family. Most panhandlers will be spending the money collected on drugs, smokes, or alcohol. If you want to do something nice for the panhandlers, write up little cards with the address and hours of the local homeless center or soup kitchen. Perhaps draw a little map on the cards to let them know how to get to the homeless center.

    If you should make the choice to try panhandling, most likely you will be approached by a homeless center worker. He or she will offer you pathways to get help. In my city almost every panhandler gets approached by one of these workers. A friend of mine works this job and meets many new panhandlers each day. Expect to defend yourself while panhandling. My friend often meets new panhandlers who have been beaten up by other panhandlers. Expect to receive offers of money for sex. Female panhandlers will often be propositioned, sometimes forcefully. If you choose to panhandle with children, most likely child protective services will get involved due to the dangerous nature of panhandling and the chance of sexual exploitation of minors (unfortunately my friend sees many cases each year of panhandlers prostituting their children or other minors).

    A better approach is gathering up the children and going around to churches and social service organizations. Bring along all your bills. Ask what they can offer. Some might be able to offer clothes, some might pay an electric bill, and others might offer different services. Some might even be able to offer you temporary jobs like yard work that their members need done. Even if an organization says no, don’t be afraid to make another visit in a month or so.

    Another approach is a stop at the local food stamps office. Each food stamp worker may have different insights into the programs available to help you and your family. Again, bring all your bills with you. If you have medical documentation or problems you or your children have, bring that along too. Get everything that you qualify for BEFORE you desperately need it. It’s important not to wait to get on government programs because financial disaster could strike and enrolling in government programs takes time.

    Another way to get money in a safer way than panhandling is to offer a service and go knock on doors. You might try painting house numbers on the curb:
    It requires about $20 worth of supplies, but a person can easily make $100 a day doing it and even more if you bring along your children to help. Plus you will be teaching your children important lessons on how to run a business.

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