One Mom’s Approach to Panhandling


There are many ways to respond to the homeless person asking for money. The key as a parent is to have a thoughtful plan about your response and your approach.

“What does that sign say?” A question I often hear from the backseat as we’re stopped at an intersection. I’m aware of the person standing on the corner asking for money, and I know my passengers’ questions are inevitable. I read the sign aloud, and then the more difficult questions are shot my way, those that center around the “Why?” And the why can be complicated.

“Anything helps.”

“Rent needs to be made.”

“Children to feed.”

Once we have readers in the car the questions get more direct, “Mom, why aren’t you giving her anything?”

Because of my husband’s work, providing long-term, permanent housing to those coming off the streets, the concept of homelessness is not new to our children. Nor are the actual people, because every cause centers on real, living, laughing, grieving people. My girls have regular interactions with friends in the brave process of rebuilding their lives. Just in our house we call these interfaces “going to Daddy’s office.”

And because of my husband’s work, we are often asked by other parents how to handle the panhandling situation with kids. By loving people who have their needs met: food, shelter, safety. And who want to model to their children charity and caring for the poor. In many of our families, it is a top value, one we want to pass to our children.

In fact, for Derek and I seeing those that others look beyond is everything about our faith and our life we want to convey to our kids. People matter. They matter to us and they matter to God. People who are cast aside by the world are especially close to God’s heart. We believe that with every fiber of who we are.

And yet as a general rule I don’t give money to panhandlers. Why? Because I believe regardless of how a person spends the money you give them, it is helping maintain a lifestyle on the streets. That may seem harsh, but as a family we have a plan, a way we support the heroes of our everyday lives, those working on sobriety, honesty and healthy relationships, despite what the past has brought, through how and where we give.

Am I saying giving someone a dollar or two is always a bad thing? No. There are a whole host of responses to the homeless person asking for money. The key as a parent is having a plan ahead of time about your response, so when those questions come from the backseat, you are comfortable with your family’s thoughtful approach. 

Questions to consider when making your plan:

  • Will you give in that moment? Why or why not?
  • Is there a place you can give your money that you know is part of the solution in people’s lives? Might you give there?

I can with full honesty say to my back seat question askers, “We aren’t giving that person any money because we are giving to Daddy’s work.”

This summer my plan includes a ‘Spencer Jar’ for my van. You see, Spencer Nee is one of those friends, heroes, I mentioned. A man who decided death was at his doorstep, though he didn’t actually have a door to claim. Homeless, young and an alcoholic he did the hard, hard work of piecing his life back together. Now an ER nurse, he is taking the summer to ride his bike across the country to raise awareness and money for young men and women just like him. Our family is going to follow him on his journey.

On his map, we will watch as Spencer moves day to day from May through August cross-country, and we will cheer him on as we follow on Instagram (#SpencersRide). And every time we are at a stoplight and a man or woman is standing with a sign asking for money, I will put a tally mark on a paper in the jar committing to give to Spencer’s fund.

I will look that real person in front of me in the eye with a story and a soul, acknowledge their humanity, and smile. I will not pretend them away and divert eye contact immediately. I determine to show people I see them. I often pray right there at the stoplight for the person right outside my car, and my children and I will contribute to a place that I know is giving young men and women a new start. Will you join me with your own Spencer Jar?

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