A handout is something given freely or distributed gratis (without compensation). It can refer to materials handed out for presentation purposes or to a charitable gift, among other things.
During the Great Depression, many people lived entirely on handouts of one kind or another. The term became especially popular among hobos, who developed a system of signs and symbols to describe the nature, quantity, and availability of handouts.
In more recent times, the perceived ineffectiveness of simple welfare schemes has given the term a negative connotation. "Give a hand up, not a handout" is a common remark among proponents of workfare or other welfare-to-work systems. As the issue of homelessness has become more visible and controversial, handouts to panhandlers are more often frowned upon by those who believe the behavior encourages homelessness. The term "government handout" is often applied to both welfare systems as well as corporate welfare or pork. The implication is that a handout is unearned and undeserved, unlike a "donation" or "contribution".