Ian Gordon

Couch Surfing

This conversation is closed.

Where social welfare is provided by the government, people should not give money to beggars.

No-one wants to see beggars on the street. These people need help and there should be organisations, whether public or private, that deal with the problem compassionately and effectively.
If individuals give money to beggars, it perpetuates the practice of begging and does not handle the root problems that need to be addressed.
If someone is concerned about homelessness, they can petition their government representative, or join an organisation that provides shelter. But to had over cash to beggars just means the beggar will be there tomorrow. Also, more often than not, the money is spent on alcohol or drugs, so it is not helpful. Sometimes, a beggar has a hostel place and uses begging for extra money - I've seen it first hand.
So, don't give to beggars, direct them to the relevant organisation so they can get proper, sustained help. If there is inadequate support for destitute people, campain to improve this, but again, don't give cash to street beggars.
As a final point, I've seen parents using their kids to go begging. This is even worse. What a terrible message to give to kids, but people give them money for just holding their hand out and looking sad. In wealthy western countries, it's unnecessary and actually harmful.

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    Aug 4 2011: What about the Buddhist monks? Do you make a religious exemption
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      Aug 7 2011: Oh, just realized I haven't answered this question yet - apologies for delay. If someone wanted to support a buddhist monk on a spiritual journey, I wouldn't have a problem with that. Although I question such religious behaviour, I don't think the monk, or perhaps nun, considers himself or herself to have a problem, but actually welcomes the mendicant life as a means to explore other realities - but I'm no expert on this. In this case, I wouldn't see the donation as causing the perpetuation of a problem, but rather aiding someone to complete a journey. I'm cautious about this, as one exception can lead to justification for others and so on, but more importantly, I'm not advocating a rule to never give money to anyone for anything, but rather suggesting that if one wants to donate money to something, donate to something you consider worthwhile, after consideration of how the money will be used and the good it will do. If giving to beggars solved their problems, I'd be all for it, but I'm sure it doesn't. Besides, what some people call giving is really just easing their conscience by shedding a bit of loose change they won't even notice. If someone wanted to help, I'd suggest choosing a worthwhile cause and setting up a direct debit to give, say, 10% of their income to it - that's what I would admire. There's a big difference. Or even get involved, hands on.
  • Aug 2 2011: I don't think the $2.37 take home is much of an incentive to perpetuate the practice of begging. No one is in a hammock sipping rum punch on that. Perhaps there is a segment of the European begging community different then the urban American version. Many of the homeless we see begging on the street are literally crazy people. There are plenty of shelters around where they would be much better off for a variety of reasons -- safety, cleanliness, resources, etc.. And yet, they don't seek them out.

    I consider these folks on the street a failure of both the mental health system in America as well as of Government social welfare. On the other hand, I don't give to the large majority of them. My take isn't that I don't give because I think it's counter productive, there's simply too many. You tend to see the same person over and over if its near your home or workplace. If you already pay taxes, and give your money and labor to charity in one form or another, you've done what you can.

    I will give occasionally when someone seems particularly downtrodden or worthy of unusual consideration (I'm a sucker for unkempt dogs), but even if I'm being duped, I'm not going to lose sleep over the $0.50 I give them. Even if he's a shyster, he probably needs the $0.50 more than I do.
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      Aug 3 2011: The dogs can be adorable, but I have to stick to my principle. Even 50 cents at a time can add up over a day. I agree that the welfare systems need to improve in the ways already mentioned, but lets not perpetuate this begging phenomenon. If they're begging, it's because they think it's worth it, and while they're begging, they're not trying to do anything positive, they're not getting the help they really need, and your money will more often than not buy drugs and alcohol - not what they need at all.
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        Aug 4 2011: Ian, the reason for my snarky response below was not because I think homelessness is not worth talking about, but because I think there are better ways to address it than by focusing on people who try to help by giving change to panhandlers. In the scheme of things I don't think they are the real problem.

        You make some statements which I think you should try to back up with research. For instance:
        "If they're begging, it's because they think it's worth it, and while they're begging, they're not trying to do anything positive, they're not getting the help they really need, and your money will more often than not buy drugs and alcohol "


        "If individuals give money to beggars, it perpetuates the practice of begging"

        Are you sure your generalizations are accurate? Can you be more specific? For instance what percentage of those who receive money continue soliciting because of it compared to those for whom it's a temporary fix?

        Here are a couple studies that paint a different picture: panhandlers seeking jobs or recently out of work. Generally the soliciting is a move of desperation to meet basic needs "out of dire financial necessity." Many are working, but minimum wage is not enough to cover expenses especially since many report that health problems lead to their financial issues.


        I don't mean to be so negative toward your post here, and you are right we do need to talk about this, but I've heard this view of the homeless from so many individuals while every study I've read describes a much different situation. And please don't misunderstand me—I'm not suggesting that giving money to panhandlers is the solution, I just don't think it's as large a problem that this question suggests.
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          Aug 4 2011: Hi Mark. Thanks for elaborating on your earlier points, and for providing some data. I agree that the giving of change to panhandlers (a term that perhaps better includes the craft involved, as there are tactics to begging) is not the core problem. However, to give or not to give, is a regular dilema in many peoples lives, and a question I've asked myself in the past. To debate everything, such as causes of homelessness and economic failings is, I think, too much for one debate; I wanted to concentrate on just one specific question for the time being.Looking at the research you indicated showed me some interesting points about begging being constitutionally protected, and the idea of service vouchers that could be given in lieu of cash. I don't think service vouchers are a good idea. Everyone who needs the service should just go and get it, not have to wait for someone to give them a voucher. I don't think criminalising begging helps either, as punishment is just going to exacerbate the problems of the poor. I didn't see anything that said that giving cash to beggars is useful. For me, it doesn't matter if the money keeps the same person on the street, or is the incentive for a new person to become a beggar, I don't think any research is necessary to know that if no-one ever gave any money to beggars, they wouldn't spend time begging. My argument is that, as a society, we don't want desperation and extreme poverty. We want real solutions. Giving money to individuals on the street is an antiquated and ineffective way to try to help, and it distracts all participants, both giver and recipient, from looking for solid solutions. I see people giving, on the metro for example, just to get the person to go away. In some places, like South Africa, it can be more intimidating, and verges on robbery. But I'm not trying to demonize beggars, who of course represent a whole range of humanity, I want to end begging. As long as people give, others with beg.
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    Jul 28 2011: I agree with all you have said. Minimal government help and intervention not life times on the welfare and more education and minimum works jobs that rebuild the nations infrastructure. Not turtle tunnels, and bridges to islands that have perfectly good alternatives that the local people use. I would say that anyone who wants to can make it out of poverty but it will never be easy. It was not for me and it will not be for them but if they get together they can support each other and make it through.
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    Jul 27 2011: I came from poverty. I was eating one meal a week because that was all I had. But I worked hard, made sacrifices, did without and never never took a government hand out. It can be done but it takes an iron will to do it and getting free handouts does not develop that. Third World countries are getting tons of money from the U.S. and it is squandered on the leaders. There are many companies out there helping third world nations at the cost of jobs here in the US. Compassion does not mean giving everything for free. It means a helping hand when needed and a kick in the seat when required. I know from personal experience it can be done but it takes work, and changes in mindset and a desire to get there. I know poverty from experience and bad times from living them and overcoming them. I help those who are willing to work to overcome those times and have no sympathy for those who think they are entitled. Try living like I did for many years and see of you still feel the same way.
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      Jul 28 2011: It sounds like you had a lot of determination and grew from the experience. This is great, but not everyone can, or should have to, live on one meal a week. You must have suffered, and I don't think people should suffer unnecessarily. I agree that people should not get handouts for nothing, but if the system was well conceived and managed, it would get people working again fast. Maybe this would involve some minimum wage public works. If you spend most of your life paying taxes, it's ok to accept help sometimes too. This is what social policy is for. It just runs badly and wastefully at the moment.
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    Jul 26 2011: I agree and hunger is a great creator of products and business. Look at Micro businesses in many African Villages today. Really great products can be made and are sold in the US and other countries. Teaching them about micro businesses was a great help on the way to productive lives. Every person is born with the need to be productive and they are taught to be helpless by misdirected charity and government handouts that have no end date. Just look at 24 million people on welfare in the US. I have those welfare kids in my classes. Latest Iphones, MP4, $100+ shoes and no jackets for the cold and no paper, pencil, erasers, or back packs for school. Unlimited texting paid for by govt hand outs. We need jobs not govt hand outs and limited charities not the monsters we have like united way etc.
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      Jul 27 2011: Yes, the welfare system is another good example of good intentions being badly executed, and it becomes a self perpetuating problem. A path to productivity rather than dependance is right.
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    Jul 26 2011: You need to pick your fights. We live in a world of perpetual war, one where large multi-national corporations have immense influence on politics, one where the middle class is quickly evaporating, one in which we are constantly on the brink of an energy and environmental crisis, one with only a vestige of a free, independent press, one with an almost unfathomable disparity between rich and poor. And you are making a stand on giving a few cents to a homeless person because it won't make them go away? I'm sorry, I think there are more important things to be indignant about.
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      Jul 26 2011: calling your quest against corporations a "war" is disrespect to all who have been in a real war. your "enemy" is serving you with the chocolate bars you so happily pick in supermarkets. you are the very middle class that is allegedly "quickly evaporating".
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        Jul 27 2011: Two points Krisztián:

        1. You've misread my comment. I never said anything about a war on corporations. They are two separate points: we are always at war (real wars), and corporations have too much influence on politics.

        2. You presume to know more about my finances than you do. You don't know which class I am in the very middle of.
      • Aug 2 2011: Spare us the guilt trip about the sacrosanctity of the word "war". People use war metaphors all the time, it's a rhetorical device, get over it.

        That said, while what the processed foods industry pushes on us is atrocious, that example is pretty benign. There are certainly multinational corporations like Raytheon, Lockheed, and Northrup Grumman that are, in fact, engaged in war profiteering. There are others like health insurers and tobacco companies, who may not be involved in actual war, but are no less complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people yearly. There are still others, like big oil, big pharma, big banks, who don't deal directly in death, but are certainly responsible for the financial ruin of millions, and have become such a force in politics that there influence is self-perpetuating at this point.

        I thought he made his point pretty clearly. I'm still trying to figure out what yours is -- assuming you have a legitimate response to the substance of his argument and not just a silly criticism on the use of the word, "war".
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          Aug 2 2011: yeah, we usually start with the excuse that it is only a metaphor, so chill down. then when the opponent is thus shut down, we start to say things like: "who may not be involved in actual war, but are no less complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people yearly". this is a trick older than dirt. we could call it the solidification of the metaphor.

          but sorry, i'm not buying. tobacco companies are not killing anyone, nor they cooperate in killing anyone. people who smoke, kill themselves. and your other examples are stinking even more. actually, it is older than dirt too. clueless people and the government are working together to blame all the problems they cause themselves on big corporations.
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      Jul 27 2011: I think poverty and social exclusion is a big enough issue to discuss, and the inequality that you mentioned is part of my concern - beggars are one of the more obvious symptoms of this. I intend the debate to be more about solutions for poor people, not making them disappear - I'm not heartless you know. By the way, have you commented on all the other debates you don't think are worth any time, or was mine the only one?
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    Jul 26 2011: Interesting idea but why should government even help them at all. I hate taxes and think they are an intrusion at best. No take the money I had to struggle to earn and give it to people who are lazy, stupid, or criminal? The US has about 24 million people on handouts and the economy is going to heck quickly. The insane and the helpless need private help I agree no government hand outs and any nation that continues to give handouts will fail if history is right just look at the Roman Empire. People got lazy on government hand outs and the Huns, and other more self sufficient people kicked them out. Stop all hand outs at every level and expect work for payment of some kind. Even cleaning streets can be an honorable job and working for the money gives a person a sense of accomplishment and self esteem. Get rid of government handouts and governments that give handouts and the world will be a better place for all.
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      Jul 27 2011: I think you're lacking in compassion, although I also know that it is important to be strict and firm so that social welfare is not abused. However, if there is no help for the destitute, we will have deaths or severe exploitation of the poor. You say the private sector should help, but why should they? No private organisation wants to help any more than you want to pay taxes. It's a problem of society, and the government of that society has a responsibility to deal with the problem. You have a narrow view of poor people being lazy, stupid or criminal. There are many reasons people fall on hard times, and it can be a temporary phase if handled intelligently. Look at someone in a 3rd world country working for next to nothing -they are desperate and trapped, not full of self-esteem. Ruthless companies, anywhere, will soon take advantage of the poor, as used to happen, and still does in many places. Helping people is a good thing to do. You can't just say someone else will deal with it. But you are certainly right when you say we mustn't become weak. The kind of help I would like to see would make people stronger, and if someone really is too lazy to co-operate, well then we can be more severe.
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    Jul 21 2011: Ian, I agree with your points but not with the title of your post.
    We should not give money to beggars. Period. Regardless whether the government provides welfare or not.
    Given to a beggar is, in the best case, a short time treatment of symptoms, but doesn't help in any way tackle the underlying problem.
    If we want help, then we must help people to find ways to help themselves.
    This is btw, also true for charities. It's not enough to build wells in Africa. The resources would be much better used to teach people how to build wells.
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      Jul 26 2011: Why build wells when you can get some other person or country to do it for you. We have churches that build houses in Mexico and people get free hand outs from the US. Land lords let churches build houses and then turn them into rental units. We need to stop doing for others and as you say help them to do for themselves.
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        Jul 26 2011: Yes, that's a real problem. It's charity misunderstood. If everybody gives money to a beggar on the street then where is the incentive for this person to ever become a productive member of society ?
        Help to self help is the only kind of help that makes a lasting impact.
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      Jul 27 2011: Yes, I agree. Giving to beggars should only be a short term fix until real help is made available, and I think, in western Europe at least, there are already enough safety nets, so giving to street beggars is wrong. I'm sure also, that there is much more that could be done so that the would be beggars don't just join the welfare population.
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    Jul 21 2011: Hi Krisztián, thanks for your comment.I'm not sure you read all of my proposition, beyond the title. I didn't suggest doing nothing, or not caring. I'd like to draw your attention to the points I made earlier about campaigning for improvement, or joining an organization (or you could start one). It's about putting your effort somewhere that will get positive results. You didn't say you agree with handing over cash so I don't know what your opinion is of that. What is your solution?What appears to be begging is all too often a deceit. I was homeless in London years ago. Does this mean I went on the street begging - no! I went to the relevent authority and got a nice hostel room, food and was put on a training course and then got a job again. Admittedly, for me, it was just a situation, whereas for many, it's a mental health or addiction issue. Either way, the thing to do is get these people back into productive society, not try to ease our conscience by giving 50 pence and then going home to the reality TV thinking we're such good people for helping that one person buy another can of lager.
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    Jul 21 2011: yeah, it pretty much sums up the mindset of the masses. why do anything, if i pay taxes? the government should do it! why give to charity? why care about the beggars, homeless, sick? why care about banks being honest? why care about clean streets? why care about what happens in congo? i just want to see reality shows and eat popcorn, and let the government do anything else. we see the world fall apart? not my problem, show me a paper, i will sign it, but otherwise, leave me alone with that! surely, sarkozy (obama, etc) will solve it!