Street Begging Dilemma

Homeless man begging on street at night (B&W)

Homeless man begging on street at night (B&W)

What do you do?

Up until a few years ago, Perth was relatively free of people begging. The occasional approach from a teen at the train station was all I had to deal with, nowadays it is a very different story.

I first came across people begging using signage, in Florence 24 years ago, back then, they were few and far between and the majority seemed to be migrants to Italy, with no access to social services networks.

Here, the rise in numbers (at least in the city and inner suburbs) seems extreme. It is not uncommon to see people in shop doorways, writing about their circumstances onto pieces of cardboard, the addition of the words, “God Bless” seeming almost standard and a token plea to those of us with a faith. 

I am not talking about the “Working Poor” here, the beggars (what a demeaning title that is) we have in Perth are not employed, not couch-surfing and not living in their cars. having recently viewed “99 Homes” and seen the effect of the Global Financial Crisis on homelessness in the USA, I am certain that none of the people I see begging fit into the Working Poor demographic.

I don’t give out money. Our government and non-government services in Australia are good for the homeless and those who are on hard times; in the past however I have given away my lunch and bought meals and drinks for the less fortunate, nowadays I am starting to rethink this.

My brother has recently become a member of the Police Service and he is a real softy for the hard luck story. These days however he has a different take on people who beg. The use of methamphetamine (in the form of “Ice”) has skyrocketed here (apparently) and with it, the numbers of people with social problems and homelessness. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He has implored me to never give money to someone begging, he smiles indulgently and says if I want to give them food, then go ahead if it makes me feel good (makes me question if I am patronising them by doing so???). He also says, that the amount of food available for and given to the homeless is vast and that there is no reason for people to go hungry…unless they are more interested in the drugs (including alcohol) which are ruining the majority of their lives.

Recently, a young woman who occupies a space at my local train station (sign states, “homeless and hungry”, wants to go home to New Zealand but hasn’t any money to pay for an airfare) was looking very ill. She was obviously in pain and was distressed, she had a friend trying to help her. I felt very bad not asking her what the problem was, but she looked liable to lash out and clock me one. I walked away, my mind festering with shame over my self-preserving attitude. I later found out that she was withdrawing from ice and ended up in hospital. A few days later she was back at her place with her sign looking okay-ish. She has been offered all number of resources and she is not interested in a warm bed, decent food or going home to New Zealand, as every cent goes to feeding her habit.

I don’t want to be hardened top the plight of people less fortunate than me, I don’t like not helping those in need but what do I do?

What do you do?

What can we do?

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5 thoughts on “Street Begging Dilemma

  1. I make sure that I am regularly giving some money in a steady, boring way (EFT!), to charities that I think are making the world a better place.
    I used to respond in a similar way to what you’ve said, although in a far less informed manner. Now I’m more aware there’s a decent chance the money goes somewhere unhelpful, but my views have changed. I give whatever small cash I’ve got because the act of giving is good for me, and there’s also a chance the money will go somewhere helpful. I don’t know the odds or the statistics, but I force myself to trust in the person just that little bit.
    I don’t come across many people begging simply because of where I go, so it’s something I don’t experience very often. I used to buy Big Issue much more when I was in the city more.

    • Ah yes, I forgot The Big Issue! My brother recommends buying and giving a $15 dollar tip to the seller. I like it these days, as a bit of a magazine afficionado it has become a lot more interesting over the years 🙂

  2. I like to buy the Big Issue from a guy in my local shopping centre, he has been there for years and is lovely to talk to. I grew up in a country where begging was a profession and children were deliberately maimed to become beggars so I am naturally hardened to it. I will never give money to a person on the street, but I do like to sew for charity and I support some favourite charities, including the charities my late father supported.

    • I support charities whose aims appeal to my want for justice and opportunity for all, but street begging is just so in-your-face. Are you talking about India Sue? I hope to go one day and be assailed by the sights and sounds, but I think I will have to harden my heart first.

      • India have pretty much cleaned up the begging, but that wasn’t where I grew up – it was in Cyprus. I was attacked by a beggar when I was 10 and had to fight him off with a chair!

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