Giving money to street beggars.

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Giving money to street beggars.

#1 Post by Capetonian » Tue Nov 01, 2016 4:50 am

I've certainly always been opposed to giving money to street beggars, for the reasons outlined below, but the article is thought-provoking, although it certainly doesn't change my view, specially since I recently saw beggar with an I-pad on the ground next to him! Particularly despicable are those who use dogs as a 'prop' for sympathy.

I will make an exception for those who are trying to do something, for example last week in Chester there was a young man outside the Grosvenor Hotel playing the violin, quite beautifully and with skill, and I dropped a couple of pounds into his case, and clearly so had other people.

Is begging just a scam, or a lifeline for those most in need?

David Barnett asks whether it is ethical to give money to street beggars. Will they only spend it on booze as the cliché suggests – and if so should that even matter?

Most local authorities discourage people from giving money to those on the street, and instead advise donating to homeless charities.

You are walking through the town or city centre where you live when you see a figure huddled under a blanket in a doorway, eyes downcast, an empty disposable coffee cup at their feet containing a smattering of small change. What do you do? Avert your gaze and briskly pick up the pace? Or maybe fumble in your purse or pocket for a pound coin to drop into the cup?

The smart money says you should keep your cash where it is. And that’s not just the harrumphing of Middle Englanders who read with satisfaction headlines – all genuine ones from the UK press – such as “Half of all beggars on streets of British city own their own home”, “Street beggar makes £500 a day” and “Police in beggars crackdown after claims one urinated in front of pupils”.

Indeed, not only do most local authorities and police forces actively campaign against giving money to street beggars, but the vast majority of charities and organisations dealing with the homeless adopt the same approach.

Sometimes, though, they can be a little overzealous. Last month the Advertising Standards Authority reprimanded Nottingham City Council for a poster campaign over the summer that saw five different notices pasted up around the city suggesting that beggars were frauds, junkies and drunks.

The ASA upheld complaints on four of the five ads, saying they “reinforced negative stereotypes” and “portrayed all beggars as disingenuous and undeserving individuals that would use direct donations for irresponsible means”.

To be fair to Nottingham City Council, they weren’t maliciously targeting beggars for no reason. The ASA accepted that the city had an issue with “aggressive begging”, and that the point of the campaign was to funnel well-meaning donations into reputable charities who work with the homeless.

But at the heart of this row is the nub of the whole debate about whether we should hand over our cash to people on the streets. Ignoring the perennial urban myths about beggars doing a shift outside Boots for eight hours and then jumping into their BMW parked round the corner and heading back to their mansions to count their takings, the fear is that when your neighbourhood vagrant has amassed enough shiny pound coins from bleeding heart liberals like you, they’re just going to go and blow it all on drugs and booze.

And perhaps the possibly rather controversial response to that is… so what?

Before we unpack that a bit, let’s hear from Thames Reach, a London-based charity which works with homeless and vulnerable people in the capital and has the ambitious goal of ending homelessness through trying to get the people it helps into accommodation. They are in no doubt why begging exists: “Overwhelming evidence shows that people who beg on the streets of England do so in order to buy hard drugs, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, and super-strength alcoholic beers and ciders. These highly addictive drugs cause an extreme deterioration in people’s health and even death.”

Where is this overwhelming evidence from? “Firstly, Thames Reach’s outreach teams including its London Street Rescue service, who are out and about on the streets of the capital working with London’s homeless 365 days of the year. They estimate that 80 per cent of people begging do so to support a drug habit.

“Secondly, when the Metropolitan Police did some drug testing of people arrested for begging, the figures indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

“In a police crackdown in Birmingham on begging in autumn 2013, every single one of the 40 people arrested failed a drug test.”

Thames Reach isn’t alone in this. Here’s Manchester-based Change4Good: “Unfortunately, through our own work and overwhelming evidence it has been indicated that a large number of those who beg on the street do so in order to fund their drug habit, namely crack cocaine and heroin. These highly corrosive and addictive narcotics cause serious problems to their health when continually abused, including amputation of limbs, and can lead to death.”

And here’s Stephen Bell, the chief executive of Newcastle charity Changing Lives, speaking at the launch late last year of a campaign in the city to dissuade people from giving to beggars: “We are amazed by the generosity of people in Newcastle in giving to people who seem to be in need. But we know that many people who are begging have accommodation, and the money will often be used to buy drugs or alcohol, not food or shelter. There are better ways to help people who are genuinely homeless, including volunteering or donating money to one of the homelessness charities in the city.”

The last sentence is the crux of the whole issue. The prevailing wisdom is that if you want to help the homeless you’re better doing it through one of the charities who work with them directly – in that way you know you’re not just fuelling someone’s addiction.

Here’s an anecdote for you, from 20-odd years ago. I am in, I think, Manchester, and stop to toss a handful of change into a small cardboard box set out by a beggar. “Don’t spend it all on Special Brew!” I quip frivolously. He looks at me. “I probably will. It’ll be the only thing that’ll get me through the night.”

It was a brief exchange, but one I never forgot. I still wrestle with the conundrum. Addiction to alcohol and drugs is bad, is terrible. No one wants to encourage that. But what if he was right? What if he’s so alcohol-dependent that he can’t live without it? What if he’s not got access to help? What if I don’t give him the money? Where will he get it from? What might he do?

But nobody else thinks like that, certainly not the charities whose business it is to help the homeless. Well, perhaps not nobody. Here’s Hayley Smith, owner of her own PR company but also founder of a charity called FlowAid which provides free sanitary products to homeless women. Smith also works directly with homeless charities in London including Acton Homeless Concern, St Mungo’s, and Ealing Soup Kitchen.

She also gives money to beggars on the street. But why, when we’re told we shouldn’t?

“It does make a difference, it can determine whether someone eats that day or not, or it can be the extra £2 needed to get a room that night, or even sanitary products,” says Smith. “You just never know the situation. However, it doesn’t just make a difference physically, it makes a difference mentally and emotionally. It makes them feel noticed and not invisible, and cared for, even for a split second. And this can make a world of difference.”

But they’re just going to blow it on drugs and booze, aren’t they? Smith says: “This is a huge stigma, and I see it all the time. People refusing to give monetary donations due to assuming it will go on drugs and alcohol. Though this may be the case for some people, it is unfair to tarnish everyone with the same brush.”

In fact, she says, there are a host of things that beggars might spend their cup of change on, and they aren’t all necessarily to do with addiction: “Many homeless people that I have worked with save the money, and spend it on shelters and rooms, which aren’t cheap, as well as internet cafés and phone top-ups. Things which we shouldn’t be denying people, yet we take for granted.”

Wait. What? Phone top-ups? Isn’t this just bringing us back to the idea of beggars raking in the cash and laughing at us mugs for handing it over? Or maybe… are we saying that just because someone’s at rock bottom we shouldn’t expect them to give up everything?

“Contrary to popular belief, many homeless individuals want to better themselves and change their situation,” agrees Smith. “And being homeless isn’t cheap or free, they still need food, support, shelter and access to resources in order to help themselves. And they rely as much on your donations as you do on your boss paying you every month.”

While Smith accepts there is “a large and amazing support network” for the homeless, especially in larger cities, she says that many charities and official initiatives are bound by red tape and running costs. “Percentages of donations are divided into support costs, charity growth and admin, so not all of your money goes where you think it does,” she says. “What makes me laugh is that people won’t give directly to the homeless, because they don’t know where their money is going, yet they don’t know where their money is going when giving a charity donation. But with charities, there is some sort of security blanket. I’m not saying that charities are hiding where the donations go, as reports and statistics are readily available, and it has to be made clear – I am just thinking it’s a very hypocritical situation.”

I knew where my handful of change was going all those years ago in Manchester – straight in the till of the nearest off-licence. Should I have not given it then, or asked for it back?

“This is a huge discussion point, and I think sometimes it isn’t considered, and jaded by judgement,” says Smith. “Though I would never condone drug or alcohol abuse, and I don’t think it should be used as escapism, in the case of the homeless it is important to think a little differently.

“There are lots of programmes to help homeless people get off drugs and alcohol, but it is a longer-term project, and it isn’t that simple. Living on the streets isn’t easy, especially for women, and the problems that these people face on a daily basis are something we can’t even imagine.

“It is one thing becoming homeless, but dealing with life on the streets can be terrifying, challenging and risky. If getting drunk makes you survive another day, or helps you get through the night, then so be it. You can’t judge a situation until you are in it.”

It’s to be hoped none of us ever are in that situation. But here you are again, walking through your city centre, seeing a figure huddled in a shop doorway, asking for change. You have heard some of the arguments about giving, or not giving, money to beggars. What do you do?
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#2 Post by Magnus » Tue Nov 01, 2016 11:33 am

I saw a report asserting that in the study area (Kennington in London) 85% of cash given to beggars in the area went straight to their dealer.

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#3 Post by Slasher » Wed Nov 02, 2016 12:42 am

Well what about buskers then? All the same to me except they play a guitar or flute or something and are a little better dressed.

I don't mind giving something to bums, but not money - I'll give 'em a chicken sandwich instead.
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#4 Post by Magnus » Wed Nov 02, 2016 6:54 am

Buskers sometimes entertain me, and don't wave coffee cups at me, unlike some of the aggressive beggars who are brought by minibus into Edinburgh city centre from their Council-funded (i.e. taxpayer-funded) flats around the city. My nephew, now a successful professional musician, started out by busking. His only dealer is the dealer in organic fruit, vegetables and other victuals since he started his health kick.

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#5 Post by Pinky the pilot » Wed Nov 02, 2016 6:59 am

I don't mind giving something to bums, but not money - I'll give 'em a chicken sandwich instead.


You got that right Slasher! :-bd

Back in my taim bilong PNG when walking around Boroko or Port Moresby itself, I would always be confronted by beggars, mainly children!

I'd always refuse money but offer to but them something to eat. It was nearly always refused!! :-? X(
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#6 Post by Ex-Ascot » Wed Nov 02, 2016 4:01 pm

There used to be a 'blind' busker outside the airport here. He even used to sell CDs of his dreadful performances. If his young minder wasn't with him he would bump into chairs and pillars. He could however be seen discreetly glancing right and left before crossing the road.

Don't give to any of them.
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#7 Post by Capetonian » Wed Nov 02, 2016 4:49 pm

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#8 Post by Rwy in Sight » Fri Nov 04, 2016 7:42 pm

I have a policy of only helping people selling something a pen, a lighter, paper tissues , the Big Issue... rather just giving money to a beggar. I feel helping a beggar is like encouraging them to join a bad championship on who can show most suffering.

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#9 Post by OFSO » Sat Nov 05, 2016 8:11 pm

Exceptionally last week I dashed a couple of quid to a chap outside Euston Station - but he was playing the solo part of a concerto on his violin to canned backing - and he was SUPERB.

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#10 Post by Wodrick » Mon Nov 07, 2016 9:07 pm

Busking that innit, not really begging. The local beggers outside supermarkets have just had a rotation different faces

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#11 Post by OFSO » Fri Nov 11, 2016 4:13 pm

Busking that innit

True. And the money I gave him were wages for playing his violin so well.

Used to be a chap here begging outside the Basilica in Castelló every Sunday morning. We always used to give him a euro. One day I was late, the last service was over, and at a distance found I was following him down the street. He looked over his shoulder in a manner I can only describe as furtive. Back at the car park he got into his car - recentish model, good condition, Barcelona numberplates. Drove off and parked near his next pitch by Lidl in Empuriabrava. No more money from us, although I did think of asking him for a loan when I was short one day.

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#12 Post by Slasher » Sat Nov 12, 2016 8:00 am

Yeh it's tough sometimes to work out the rich beggars from the poor ones, which is why I just offer food. If they refuse it I know they're full of sh!t.
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#13 Post by frostbite » Sat Nov 12, 2016 5:54 pm

America seems to be full of them, judging from the numbers I see on the webcams.

There's all those in Times Square, dressed in Disney etc., costumes, plus that strange chap in Bourbon St New Orleans who just strikes an odd pose. Can;t imagine what he's about or why people give him money.
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#14 Post by flynverted » Mon Nov 14, 2016 3:00 am

Try Flamingo road in Vegas! Thousands of em.

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#15 Post by 4mastacker » Tue Nov 22, 2016 7:55 pm

I don't give money to those "beggars" who sit in shop doorways trying to look pathetic. I do, however, give them advice of a directional nature if they ask for "any spare cash".
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#16 Post by Capetonian » Tue Nov 22, 2016 10:10 pm

Here we have white beggars who stand at traffic lights looking pathetic and usually with a placard round their neck saying : "I'm hungry and have 4 children to feed please help me."
They can Foxtrot Oscar. I have more time and sympathy for the black guys who at least try to do something, selling bits and pieces, making some effort, however small, to supply or entertain.
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#17 Post by FD2 » Mon Nov 27, 2017 9:56 pm

Magnus wrote:Buskers sometimes entertain me, and don't wave coffee cups at me, unlike some of the aggressive beggars who are brought by minibus into Edinburgh city centre from their Council-funded (i.e. taxpayer-funded) flats around the city. My nephew, now a successful professional musician, started out by busking. His only dealer is the dealer in organic fruit, vegetables and other victuals since he started his health kick.


Mrs FD2 and I were back in Edinburgh (her home city) last year for a couple of months and were amazed at the number of beggars in Princes Street, George Street, some around Leith (only the Water of Leith shops part!) and quite a few around the shops in Morningside and Bruntsfield. The 'business' seems to have expanded a lot since we lived nearby about 5 years ago. That, coupled with the hordes of tourists traipsing around who were more intent on fiddling with their smart phones that looking at all the brilliant things Edinburgh has to offer, made the visit we had looked forward to pretty tedious. Several were nearly run over by buses, others by people who were fed up with dodging around them. ;;)

The begging has started to reach annoying levels in Christchurch NZ now but some pinko legal person has said that it would be an infringement of their 'basic human rights' to stop them asking for money, so the newly rebuilt parts of the city already start to resemble a third world country. If I come across someone who obviously has a problem I'll try and help but get annoyed that the authorities haven't got a safety net to help them. The rest can get washed and earn a legitimate living.

I agree about the busking usually being worth a donation. We were in Lille a few years ago and there was a man and his son playing their guitars near the street cafes and when we stopped to listen, sounded as good as the great Django and his brother and definitely worth a few Euros.

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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#18 Post by Ex-Ascot » Tue Nov 28, 2017 6:59 am

Matron, wife of the House Governor (Headmaster) at Chetham's School of Music (Wodders and my training ground) supported some charity or other. Save the left handed mentally retarded dwarfs or summat. Every year we were bamboozled into raising dosh. One lunchtime four of our number were escorted back into school by a rozzer, they having pocketed oodles of dosh for said good cause. These budding top concert hall musicians had formed a quartet on the forecourt of Victoria railway station. Pat on the back from matron and a hats on bollocking from the House Governor. :-bd
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#19 Post by Woody » Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:57 am

Magnus wrote:I saw a report asserting that in the study area (Kennington in London) 85% of cash given to beggars in the area went straight to their dealer.


It was also a bit of a war zone between the dealers from Brixton and Elephant when I lived there :AR!
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Re: Giving money to street beggars.

#20 Post by Pontius Navigator » Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:05 pm

Some years back in London a Bosnian Beggar Master was found to have an income IRO £150k.

At the time I used the Heathrow's Express quite often. Beggars used to travel the last stretch to and froe. I recognised the note, written in pencil on a piece of torn fag packet. Same note, different beggar.

Also there was an English woman who would play a guitar. She would enter the carriage, play a bit and then demand cash from everyone. Then she would move to the next coach.

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