How to tell a Panhandler from a Truly Homeless person.

How to tell a panhandler from a truly homeless person.

Living in the city has been an education for me.

Homelessness has always bothered me, but I’ve never been able to get my hands around the presence and problems of homelessness.

This led me to become involved in the homeless ministry in downtown Alexandria, Louisiana.

I’ve also learned to differentiate between a genuinely homeless person and a panhandler on a street corner holding a cardboard sign and trying to catch your eye and pity.

These street corner frauds aren’t homeless. They’re panhandling for money, and some, surprisingly, are making a decent tax-free living.

Here’s how I tell the difference. A truly homeless “unhoused” person will always have a large backpack, rolling suitcase, or several large grocery bags. They’re carrying everything they have and guarding it closely. They have a deep fear of their meager possessions being stolen.

Secondly, a homeless person will . . .. look homeless. They’ll be somewhat disheveled and shabbily dressed. I don’t mean that as an insult. Try sleeping on the street for a week or month, and you’ll look like that.

So when I see four younger men on each corner of Jackson and MacArthur, I give them the eye test. Most have no luggage, just a Big Gulp at their feet , and a hand-scrawled cardboard sign. They’ll be wearing what I’d call street clothes or clean t-shirts, a long way from shaggy and unkempt.

They’re panhandlers. They take innocent money all day before returning to their old car or a nearby run-down hotel.

Please don’t give them money.  They’re milking the system. Don’t let them milk you.

My downtown homeless friends have never asked me for a cent.  That’s certainly not true of the panhandlers

Many groups and churches are doing good work among the homeless, providing food, clothing, and some shelter.  Check out Church on the Levee, VA for Homeless, Manna House, Food Bank, Main Street Mission.

Invest in them, not a con artist.

A final word on the genuinely homeless: They’re on the street for a dozen reasons. Many of their wounds are self-inflicted. There’s a long pile of real wreckage behind them.

Many are mentally ill; others have addictions. Believe it or not, some choose to be homeless. They prefer this lifestyle and community instead of the rigidity and responsibilities of real life.

Go figure.

They are truly unhoused. They don’t have a roof over their head, or as my Grandpa would’ve said, “They don’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out.”

That’s an apt description.

Why do I choose to work with the homeless? God has put them in my heart. I’m attempting to be part of “The hands and feet of Jesus caring for the least of these.”

I have no illusions. Many will die on the street. That’s their bleak future. Sadly, others have a hard callused outer shell toward the Lord.

My calling is simple: Show up, pray with them, and give them something they seldom get: a firm handshake, a hand on the shoulder, a kind smile, and a listening ear.

There but for the grace of God, go I.


The words of Jesus Matthew 25:



34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’


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