It isn’t uncommon to see someone sitting on the side of the street in downtown Calgary asking for money. Some people may give spare change, some may smile and say hello, while others will ignore the panhandler completely. But is there a proper reaction or expectation towards panhandlers?

homeless man1Calgary is full of people suffering from poverty or addiction who need help getting back on their feet according to Jordan Hamilton with the Drop-In Centre. While some choose to panhandle, Calgary has many different services in place to help people get their life back. Photo courtesy of Pixabay Licensed Under CC0.

Jordan Hamilton of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre (DI) said it’s a personal decision whether you choose to give money, but the worst thing you can do is ignore the person.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that the person did ask for help and to respect that ask. I think the worst thing we could possibly do is ignore that request and keep walking as if that person didn’t exist, as if that request didn’t exist. That’s really when people feel worthless,” Hamilton said.

Giving money may not be the answer to helping the homeless but there are other ways that you can help them get back on their feet. Produced by Amy Simpson & Jolene Rudisuela

“It takes a lot of courage to sit on a sidewalk and lay your hat down, asking for help. I think we need to recognize it as a cry for help.” — Jordan Hamilton

Hamilton used to give money to panhandlers, but said he doesn’t anymore now that he works at the DI. He believes talking to people and connecting them with services in the city can be more beneficial than giving spare change.

“It takes a lot of courage to sit on a sidewalk and lay your hat down, asking for help. I think we need to recognize it as a cry for help,” said Hamilton.

The DI alone has over 50 programs and services designed to help people who may be struggling and it’s one of many agencies in Calgary.

Because of the available services, many people including the Calgary Downtown Association’s Maggie Schofield say giving to panhandlers contributes to the cycle of addiction. Instead, she and others stress the importance of helping in other ways.

Homeless womanPanhandling is a common occurrence in Calgary and there are many opinions surrounding the best way to respond. Whether it be to give change, buy a meal or connect people with services. Photo courtesy of Pixabay licensed under CC0.

“It’s tough because if you knew someone was going to buy drugs, you probably wouldn’t give them money and quite often they will tell you that’s exactly what they’re going to do,” said Schofield.

However, Alina Turner, leading researcher of homelessness at the University of Calgary, does occasionally give money to panhandlers because she believes everyone can use a little bit of help every once in awhile. 

Turner recognizes that giving in one-off occasions does not solve the greater structural problems, but there is a range of complex issues contributing to the cycle. Though not all panhandlers are homeless, some may be forced to panhandle in order to afford basic necessities.

“Once you make the decision to give away your money, you have given it away, it’s a gift,  so if you’re feeling comfortable giving money as a gift then give it with an open heart and … try to reserve judgment,” Turner said. &

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The editor responsible for this piece is Cassie Riabko and can be reached at 

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