We’ve all seen them – pitiful wretches on our streets as we come and go from wining and dining in restaurants or a cultural night out at the theatre, writes Louise Jew.
Often with a poor mite of a dog in tow, they hold out their hands to ask for a few pence.
Sometimes you may reach into your bag and hand over 50p or a quid – at others, you try to avoid the embarrassment of eye contact at the sight of abject misery and the thought you may be about to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to it.
The thing is, how do we know they are genuine?
Might they be seeing this as an easy way of earning money – and then just heading straight to the nearest late night supermarket for super strength lager or to their drug dealer to score using your hard-earned, taxed cash?
And, even if they are genuine, giving to them piecemeal is never going to solve the problem – for them individually or as a group living in the shadows.
Most of us are generous-hearted and give liberally whatever we can afford to charitable and worthy causes.
But it is a tricky matter when we come up sharp against stark poverty, often looking unsavoury, huddled in doorways, usually near the night spots in our cities where the relatively prosperous go out to play.
I did hear a recent discussion on the radio in which a caller said he had offered one beggar a shift helping out in his business warehouse in return for a donation – only to be turned down, rather rudely.
I usually dip my hand into my pocket if I enjoy hearing a busker’s performance, as at least they are trying to earn their donation.
But most of those living on the streets, I am sure, are homeless because they are suffering from real mental illness, albeit that some of these issues may have been caused by drug or alcohol addiction – and giving to them now and again is never going to be the answer.
Find out what the rest of Lou’s Women do when they come across beggars – and have your say – below.
West Bromwich vicar’s wife Amanda Robbie says: “We get people knocking on our door asking for help - it's not just about encountering beggars on the street if you live in a vicarage! We always say 'we never give money, but can I help you in another way?' Sometimes people genuinely need - and want - help. But others are looking to fleece you or support a drug or alcohol habit. Helping someone in a way other than giving money takes more time and effort than a couple of quid, but could also be the way back to a more settled life for someone who has fallen on hard times. Many folk on the streets are also lonely because of their circumstances, so establishing a relationship with them can also be a boost. If you're regularly encountering beggars somewhere it might be worth finding out about local services available. For example, Sandwell Council have an excellent rough sleepers team, the ever-growing network of Foodbanks are always willing to help and many churches have soup kitchens and other support available to those who are struggling on the streets.”
Bilston mum Gail Millard says: “I think it’s a sad fact that there is going to be more beggars on the streets in the future. I feel embarrassed for beggars, they are short of self respect and confidence to have to beg from the public. If I have donated in the past it’s been my lunch or afternoon biscuits or cakes to beggars by Wolverhampton train station. I would never ever give them money.”
Willenhall social worker Stacey Senior says: “I always give to the people selling the Big Issue as you know they are genuinely homeless and it’s not for me to judge how they got there or how they might spend the money. Forget that it’s money- showing someone a small act of kindness could go a long way to restoring someone’s faith in people and life. They stand outside from dusk 'til dawn in often poor weather conditions and my experience is that they are always polite to people and wish them a good day. I do believe that if someone is begging, even if it’s not always completely genuine, then they probably need it more than you do. I never take a copy of the Big Issue either as they only have so many to sell and I believe charity should start at home; within our own communities.”
Student Alice Durant, from Shenstone, near Kidderminster, says: “I think that they can be very sly sometimes. I never know what they are wanting the money for, so I'd rather give them a sandwich or something rather than giving them alcohol or drug money! I appreciate that some of them are genuine people, but you can never be too sure, so I choose to politely say no to them.”
“Llama Lady” Chris Armstrong, from Enville, says: “I also feel very uncomfortable about giving to beggars as I know many of them use the money purely for drugs. My philosophy is only to give to Big Issue sellers or buskers as I feel that at least they are doing something for their money.”
Health and safety trainer Elaine James says: “Unfortunately I can't save the world and although it’s very sad and it would be great if people didn't have to beg, I feel that by giving to them I'm not really helping at all. I recently had a discussion with a doctor who worked with the homeless and went out on the streets to treat them. He told me that about 90 per cent of homeless or beggars are there because they're heavily into drugs or booze, so do I really want to give to them to feed the habit even more. This probably sounds a bit harsh but I can only do what I feel is right. I just wish it was a perfect world.”
Zumba teacher Lou Thomas, from Kinver, says: “I don’t give to beggars but I do give to people trying to earn their keep through street entertainment or by selling the Big Issue. I like to support people who are making an effort in some way. I recently read ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ which encouraged me even more to support buskers. It is a very moving story about a London busker – makes you realise busking is more like working than skiving.”
Julie Wilson, from Stourbridge, says: “I don’t come across beggars very often and do not give, partly because I’m mean and am not sure if they are genuinely in need but also sometimes because I feel vulnerable stopping and opening my handbag and purse. I do however sometimes give to buskers if I like their performance.”