How Panhandlers Spend Money

A reporter for the Canadian newspaper The Star handed out five pre-paid credit cards to panhandlers, asked the panhandlers to return the card when finished, and tracked their purchases. Of the five cards, two were returned, one was stolen and used by the panhandler’s boyfriend, and three were never returned (one remained unused). Purchases included food (McDonald’s was a favorite), cigarettes, cell phone time and LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) purchases. [%comments]


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  1. Tom says:

    Wow. Panhandlers buying beer and cigarettes? I’m completely shocked.

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  2. Ian Kemmish says:

    Did they ask why they were being asked to return the cards? What were they told? Wouldn’t the mere fact of being asked alert them to the existence of the experiment and thereby alter their behaviour?

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  3. Eric M. Jones says:

    Gee….! The US government handed out $800 billion dollar cards to Wall street panhandlers who invested it in government securities so we get to pay them twice, except for the bonuses they paid themselves for doing such a fine panhandling job.

    Hey mister…Got a dime?

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  4. Traciatim says:

    @Tom, LOL. . . I was thinking the same thing. You would think they would buy some clothes, or a jackknife, or some nutritious food . . . but no… empty calories, cell phone minutes, booze and smokes top the charts.

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  5. Kim says:

    Obviously this was an experiment and not an outreach effort, but I’ve often thought that if people are so concerned about what panhandlers are doing with their $$, they could do to McDonald’s or similar, buy a bunch of gift cards, and hand them out as they see fit. Generally the signs I see here in SoCal say something about being hungry, true or not, and a $5 card can (if you’re careful and don’t load up on soda) buy enough food for a day.

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  6. Katie says:

    I work with a welfare based program in a very poor area. During many interviews my claiments state they will be going to fast food restaurants after leaving our meeting. We also notice a lot of the funds are used for gambling. There are many people who make my job worth while. However in our system a lot of the ppl below poverty have the basics needs provided for them: health insurance (medicaid), food (foodstamps), subsidized housing.

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  7. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    Another reason to shun street panhandlers and beggars. Give to established charities with a presence and track record of service to the poor.

    This type of occassional intermittent reward produces a gambling type conditioned response that makes the behavior more persistent and addicting.

    Do you want panhandling behavior to persists for decades and even generations? We must be strong.

    NO CHANGE TO BEGGARS. Give them fruit.

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  8. Matt says:

    Panhandlers spending money on beer and cigarettes? Wow. They sound a lot like everyone else.

    It takes a particularly disgusting form of self-righteousness to think that someone with a home and a well-paying job should be able to drink or smoke but someone who is on the street should not have the basic dignity of being able to decide for themselves what to spend money on. If I can drink, why can’t they?

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