How To Not Be Taken Advantage Of By Panhandlers

Reverse Psychologyphoto © 2008 Erin | more info (via: Wylio)

The number one question I get asked by well meaning Christian folks who want to “help the homeless” always centers around panhandlers and being “taken advantage of”. I will tell you how to avaid being taken advantage of by homeless and panhandlers. In fact, how to quit being taken advantage of by anyone.

You ready?

Give up ownership of what you are giving away.

If I give you a sweater for Christmas, and you take and swap it for a toaster, did you take advantage of me? No, because when I gave it to you, I gave up ownership of the sweater.

If I give you money for your birthday, and you buy video games with it, even though you need a new shirt, you did not take advantage of me, even if you did make poor choices.

Likewise, if you give a panhandler a $10 bill, and he buys a beer with it, he did not take advantage of you. He took the gift you gave him and exercised his free will to buy what he wanted to buy with your gift.

When you gave it away, you gave up ownership. At that point, the only way you can be taken advantage of is if you somehow feel that you still have rights over that money. Which means that you think you have rights over the person spending the money.

Which, quite frankly, says a lot about you.

Look, I am not saying you should necessarily give panhandlers money. In fact, I talk a lot about this issue here and here. But I am saying that much of what passes for concern about the wellbeing of the panhandler is in fact our own issues of control.

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Hugh Hollowell

Hugh Hollowell

Pastor & Executive Director at Love Wins Ministries
Hugh is a Mennonite minister and the founding director of Love Wins. He likes peanut M&Ms.
Hugh Hollowell

Latest posts by Hugh Hollowell (see all)

8 Responses to How To Not Be Taken Advantage Of By Panhandlers

  1. Perfection, Hugh! I love how you cut to the chase of ownership over people. Thank you.

  2. Aaron says:

    Can I apply that to the rest of my life or does it only work with panhandlers? 😉

  3. Wendy Schulz says:

    Hey, this is exactly what I learned in visiting people in prison. Sometimes they sell what you give them and do something else with the money. That is their prerogative! Let’s start loving people and let God work in their lives in His way and timing.

  4. Jenn says:

    I hear this argument in my head all this time and it bugs me, but I can’t make it go away. I love this post, it is so true.

  5. Olivia says:

    Hugh, this entry is possibly the most wonderful truth I’ve ever seen. When I hear my friends speaking about how to avoid getting swindled by panhandlers, I tell them this; they are shocked, but later thank me for reminding them of the grace we were once given.

    If you don’t mind, I would like to use your example of giving up ownership in an entry I am writing for my blog, “Scribbler of Dreams, Child of God”, about my journey as a homeless college student. Simply by knowing there are others out there who feel strongly about our brothers and sisters in Christ makes it easier to praise Him!

  6. RLCassidy says:

    Well said & beautiful.

    I am gratefully challenged by this piece, thank you.


  7. UncleBeard says:

    I was reading over at ThinkChristian this morning and noticed a phrase that related heavily to this article. “The Scriptures do not distinguish between caring for the wise poor and the unwise poor.” More food for thought.


  8. Angie says:

    I understand the point you are making. However, the basic principle of wanting to make sure money goes where we thought it would go is engrained in many of us, and all of us have seen examples of the damage that is done when that trust is broken. On a larger scale, as donors that support churches and other do-gooding non-profit organizations, we have the right to expect that our donations will be used by the organization as we intended and as the organization represented. In fact, those organizations live and die by their accountability for the funds entrusted to them by the donors. But I would have to agree, once the money has left our hands, it is really out of control. The options are to give up the feeling of control, or to not give again if we don’t feel our intentions are honored.


  1. Poor People Have Refrigerators!?! - Dancing on Saturday
  2. More on relationships with the homeless: How To Not Be Taken Advantage of By Panhandlers — Love Wins Ministries | Homelessness in Savannah, Stories for Learning
  3. The Daily CAN – 052212 – Yes You CAN Properly and Effectively Help the Homeless and Those Who Panhandle | Alabama Hands & Feet
  4. Help Others, No Strings Attached - Love Wins Ministries

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