Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted how lucky we are.
For example, I live in relatively safe environment (we’ll ignore the standards of driving on the M27 for a moment) and I can afford to eat a varied and nutritious diet that includes the odd treat. Plus I get to go home to a warm house at the end of the day.
I don’t get to see many of the bad situations that people around the world are in because I don’t read the papers of watch the news. So, it often takes seeing someone huddling in a sleeping bag on a cold pavement asking for loose to remind me how lucky I am.
Unlike some people, I’ve never been one to get chatting to people who beg. I’ve certainly never given them any money.
I always felt a bit guilty about this, especially if I encounter them next to the cashpoint as I take out a few notes to spend on an evening out. The guilt is particularly strong this time of year with Christmas on the horizon.
However, it turns out that I’ve been doing the right thing all along – sort of. This is because many people who beg do so because they need cash for drugs or alcohol.
It’s a similar story in other cities across the country. In one police initiative in Birmingham, all 40 people arrested for begging failed a drugs test. (Of course, there are some people who don’t spend the money they get on drugs and booze.)
There’s also evidence that not all beggars are homeless as we might assume. Councils in Southampton and Winchester say that some so called “professional” beggars in these cities do have somewhere to live.
This had led Southampton City Council to propose the introduction of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) in certain parts of the city. This would give police – or even private security firms – the power to prosecute people for activities that aren’t even crimes in areas where PSPOs don’t exist.
Not good news for people who are genuinely in need of help.
If we do give money to beggars, there’s a high chance that they wouldn’t spend it on food or shelter.
So what can you do to help beggars, without giving them cash?
Donate to support charities
The best option is to donate money to a charity that helps homeless and disadvantaged people.
They can then use the money you donate to support people who need it. For example, by helping them with drug or alcohol issues or by providing them with clothing, food and shelter.
Donating to food banks is another option – this can help people who use the money they get from begging to feed themselves.
Buy them something
Just because you’re not giving a beggar money it doesn’t mean that you can’t buy them something instead.
A hot drink, a bottle of water or some food are good options. If they’re currently sleeping rough, they might also appreciate some warm clothing or toiletries.
Help them get support if they’re homeless
Many people on the streets know that help is available. But they may not know how or where to access it.
If you’re concerned about someone who may be sleeping rough, you can contact StreetLink. This UK-wide charity will then work with the local authority to put the person in touch with the relevant support services.
You don’t have to speak to the person you’re worried about if you don’t want to.
Over to you
Do you give cash to people who beg? In what ways do you help them? Do you think we should we help them at all?
Image credit: Flickr/tantek