Helping Panhandlers

Being panhandled can be perplexing. Most of us don't want to turn a deaf ear to someone who truly needs help. At the same time, we worry about whether the money we give to a panhandler will simply be used to buy drugs or alcohol.

Listed below are a few sugguestions to consider when encountering panhandlers.

Memphis Union Mission Coupon Books

Memphis Union Mission provides "Coupons for the Homeless", which are available for a suggested donation of $20.

These coupons can't be converted to cash, and they can be exchanged at our Men's Shelter for a nutritious meal and safe lodging. This allows you to guide a panhandler to services that will truly help them.

You can purchase coupon books by donating online or downloading an order form.

Other Suggestions for Helping Panhandlers

1. Don't give cash.
In most cases, it's best not to give money to panhandlers, especially when they're within walking distance of churches and service providers that have established programs to help them. Too often, well-intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol - even when the "hard luck" stories they tell are true. If you must give, it's better to give coupons, gift certificates, or other items that can't be converted to cash.

2. Talk to the person with respect.
Taking time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a sense of civility and dignity. And besides being neighborly, it allows the person to fight the isolation, depression and paranoia that he or she may face.

3. Share God's love whenever you can.
If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would certainly spend time with the homeless. He would speak with them, heal them, and help them. Today, Jesus chooses to work through those who believe and follow Him.

4. Pray for the person.
Exposure to the elements, dirt, occasional violence, and lack of purpose all drain years from a person's life. God can use your prayers and the brutality and the futility of life of the street to bring many of the broken to Himself.

5. Take precautions for your own safety.
Some living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Always be prudent while talking with street people. Stay in areas where other people can see you. Don't take unnecessary chances.

6. Support service providers like Memphis Union Mission.
Your gifts to local service providers like the Mission will help provide homeless Memphians with their basic needs, as well as opportunities to escape the cycle of of poverty and homelessness.

"I need Money to Stay at the Mission."

Panhandlers frequently use a line that sounds something like this: "Can you give me some money so I can stay at the mission?"

This causes a fair amount of misunderstanding, including the misperception that Memphis Union Mission doesn't provide free shelter.

To clarify, our policy for overnight guests is as follows:

  • Overnight guests who are not enrolled in our free recovery program receive four free nights every month.
  • After guests use up their monthly free nights, they pay a $6-per-night program service fee. This includes their dinner, overnight stay, breakfast the following morning and access to other mission services. (Lunch is always free and open to anyone.)
  • Guests who are willing to help with simple chores around the Mission can stay free.
  • Overnight guests always stay free on nights when it is 32 degrees or colder.
  • Even after using up their monthly free nights, guests can still use Mission coupons, as well as vouchers from various churches and other service providers.
  • We provide work and day-labor referrals to guests who are willing and able to work.


In a year's time, approximately two thirds of all overnight stays at Memphis Union Mission end up being free.

And this doesn't even include Memphis Union Mission's residential recovery programs, which are provided free of charge to men and women wanting to overcome substance abuse and become self-sufficient members of the community.

We operate the way to do because our goal is to encourage responsibility and address our guests' needs without becoming enablers.

Furthermore, it's our experience that the majority of panhandlers don't use the money they raise to stay at the Mission - even when claiming that as their purpose.