When you see a panhandler out on the street, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Many see panhandlers as lazy people, alcoholics perhaps, and definitely a freeloader. What if everything that society thought about panhandlers happened to be wrong?
In a recent survey, 94% of panhandlers use the funds that they get from the donations of others to simply purchase the food they need.
Some panhandlers do have the ability to make upwards of $80,000 per year, but those are the exception instead of the rule. In San Francisco, for example, the average daily intake for a panhandler is just $25 per day and some people have been living this way for 5 years or more. Many must opt for the cheapest food options available, which mean high fat, low nutritional content foods so that they can stretch their money further.
Three Fast Facts About Panhandling
1. Only 3% of panhandlers don’t want some form of permanent housing that would help to get them off of the street.
2. 48% of panhandlers are African American.
3. 1 out of every 4 panhandlers in the United States has served in the military at some point in time.
Takeaway: There will always be people who try to take advantage of others and panhandling is no different. The problem is that an uncaring attitude toward all panhandlers because of the actions of a few creates future problems that will ultimately create even more panhandlers. When more than 60% of panhandlers make less than $25 per day and when more than 60% of them are disabled in some way, that is not a life that anyone would wish on their greatest enemy… yet there is an expectation that panhandlers should crawl up out of the mess unassisted and contribute to society because a few take advantage of others.
Drug Use Can Be Problematic in Panhandlers
1. 44% of panhandlers admit using part of their daily take on drugs or alcohol at least once per week.
2. 1 in 4 panhandlers meet the clinical definition of being an alcoholic and another 32% are addicted to at least one drug other than alcohol.
3. 82% of panhandlers are homeless.
4. The average panhandler asks people for assistance about 6 hours per day. The average panhandler will ask for help every day of the week as well.
5. The average person on the streets who is asking for assistance has been panhandling for 4.6 years.
6. Some panhandlers look for other forms of secondary income as assistance. This may include plasma donations, selling drugs, or collecting food stamps.
7. A vast majority panhandlers who utilize local community services have at least one mental illness that may or may not have been clinically diagnosed.
Takeaway: Panhandlers may be difficult to take seriously when you see them out on the street drinking a 40 and asking for spare change. That image, however, is not always reflective of what people do. Some panhandlers ask for just what they need to pay for lodging that gets them off the street. Others simply want money for food and quit asking for change when they can eat for the day. Although alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are seen as being purchased and marijuana is often the most popular drug used, either legally or illegally, there’s no denying that living on the streets is a difficult experience. If it is fine for someone to have a couple drinks after a hard day at work, why isn’t it fine for someone to have a couple drinks after a hard day of life?
Who Is The Typical Panhandler?
1. Most panhandlers are men and the percentage can exceed 80% in many communities.
2. Up to 80% of panhandlers have spent time inside of a jail and more than 20% have likely spent at least one stint in a state prison.
3. Most crimes that are committed by panhandlers are poverty related, with most being accused of trespassing or theft.
4. Up to 80% of panhandlers choose to sleep outside full time so they can have a cash reserve for food if they don’t get help during the day.
5. 36 of the 50 largest cities in the United States have made public begging a criminal offense.
6. Single city surveys show that up to 40% of the homeless population may engage in panhandling activities at least one day per week.
7. Panhandling is more likely to occur in urban than suburban areas, while business centers are the most likely targeted place.
Takeaway: The reliance on panhandling data is on single city surveys and then bringing that data together, so it can be difficult sometimes to see a full picture of what is going on. Small communities throughout the country also have panhandlers and some of these communities may not even be counted in the data. The issue, however, is that people are continually encouraged not to help panhandlers. Why? Because “official” data always states that the top uses for panhandling cash is alcohol, tobacco, and drugs despite the fact that 9 out of 10 panhandlers in almost every city survey state that food is their top priority.
What Are The Costs of Panhandling?
1. In large metropolitan areas, it is believed that over $4 million per year could be going to charities that can make the money stretch further in services.
2. 50% of panhandlers in a 1993 survey stated that they had been mugged within the last 12 months at least one.
3. Business owners are the most likely demographic to contact the police when panhandlers are outside of a business.
4. Outside of the US, the children of a family will commonly beg in order to support themselves and their families.
Takeaway: Does a dollar here and a dollar there help? Maybe… or maybe not. No one can really know. The point is that whatever someone can do to help within their own power they should do. That’s part of the human experience – lending a helping hand up when they can and knowing that there will be a helping hand available when it is needed.