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Ian Gordon

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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 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 "

        and

        "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.

        http://www.mlf.org/assets/articles/2-1-x-a-study-of-public-solicitation-in-austin.pdf
        http://www.mlf.org/assets/articles/2-1-x-homelessness-panhandling-and-the-public.pdf
        http://www.mlf.org/assets/articles/2-1-x-homelessness-in-texas-results-of-a-statewide-survey.pdf

        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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