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Spotlight: Should I Give Money to Panhandlers?

With homelessness an issue in communities across Illinois, including Sangamon County, the question often arises, “Should I give money to panhandlers – those people on the street corners holding a cardboard sign?” The short answer is it’s up to you. But, giving money directly might not be the best way to help the person holding the sign. Unfortunately, many of these individuals have drug or alcohol issues and will just use the money you give them to support their addiction. That doesn’t help them. We need to work towards a long term solution not a short term fix.


Fortunately, there are several community organizations that help people in these situations. These organizations can provide pathways to long term solutions. Helping Hands of Springfield provides shelter, support, and housing to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.  Heartland HOUSED is another local group working to help the homeless in our communities. St. John’s Breadline, a part of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield, located at 430 N 5th St., has been serving the community since 1928 and provides hot meals 365 days a year. Instead of giving money directly to an individual on the street, consider giving money to one of these organizations. If you do feel compelled to give the people on the corner something, make it a meal, a snack, or maybe a gift card to get food. Avoid handing out cash that could unfortunately be used for drugs or alcohol, perpetuating the problem.


Says Josh Sabo, Executive Director of Heartland HOUSED, “To help people end their homelessness, the best thing we can do is provide housing and supportive services by supporting local organizations. This is a better investment to make sure there is support to provide for people’s basic needs in our community.” Giving cash to someone holding a cardboard sign reinforces the panhandling and does not lead to a permanent solution. Also, many of the individuals on the street corners are not homeless and divert money that would otherwise help the homeless. Many panhandlers have mental health issues, and they don’t get the help they need making money on the street corners. The money given to them keeps them on the street and keeps them from seeking and receiving the treatment they need. Their mental health conditions and their physical health get worse in this unstable environment.


We have such a giving and caring community. For many the first reaction when they see someone on the corner holding a sign is to help them. But, please think twice before handing over cash. There are better ways to help the person and work towards long term solutions.


Helping Hands of Springfield, helpinghandsofspringfield.org, (217) 522-0048


Heartland HOUSED, heartlandhoused.org, (217) 801-9033


St. John’s Breadline, cc.dio.or/programs/st-johns-breadline, (217) 528-6098



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