Should I give money to people who are begging?

The term ‘begging’ is loaded with negative connotations, so for the purposes of this post we’ll use the term ‘asking for money’ in order to minimise any prejudice while reading.

This is a question most people have asked themselves at least once, and we at CHP get asked quite a lot. Recently we conducted a short survey of 20 people asking how they responded to people asking for money, and answers ranged from always through to never giving money for a variety of reasons. There is no right or wrong answer – it’s really up to you. However, if you decide to pass on giving money making eye contact and talking respectfully to the person who is asking is a must. Sadly, many people who ask for money on the streets are verbally abused, robbed and humiliated.

Although the decision to give is yours, once you hand the money over you have no control over how it’s used. For example, when you tell your local coffee shop to ‘keep the change’ you can’t dictate how the staff members use it. And the reality is that most people wouldn’t dream of telling the barista to keep the coin on the condition it goes towards food or rent. Once the money changes hands you have no say in what it’s used for.

If you would like to help but you’re concerned that the money will be used in a way you don’t agree with, here are some options:

  • Donate to organisations that work with people experiencing homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction or domestic violence
  • Buy The Big Issue or another publication that is sold by people experiencing homelessness
  • Buy a gift card to a local coffee shop or supermarket
  • Donate food or money to an organisation like Foodbank Victoria or Second Bite

Buying food is something that many people think is a good alternative to giving cash, which in some cases it is. But it won’t always be appropriate – for example it might be the third piece of food they’ve been offered that morning, they might not like what you’re offering, they might not be hungry and have nowhere to store the food, or they might have an allergy. This is why food vouchers are handy because they can be stored easily, and the person can choose what they buy, when they need it. 

Some background on begging

In 2010 the Homeless Persons Legal Clinic (HPLC) surveyed people who were asking for money in the Melbourne CBD and discovered that nearly 90 percent were sleeping rough, in a squat, refuge or rooming house. They also found that:

  • 73% were long term unemployed
  • More than 50% had a mental illness
  • 23% had experienced domestic or family violence

So next time you come across someone asking for money, consider how you engage with the person. Even a polite but engaging ‘no’ can be affirming, which is better than being ignored. Inspiration for this post came from regular questions and from Canada’s Homeless Hub