Cathy Dobbs: Begging is a hot and cold topic

They say beggars can’t be choosers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case nowadays.

Last week I went to my local supermarket and a young man was begging on the pavement outside.

I knew it wouldn’t add any time, or much money to my shop, if I picked him up a sandwich for him. So I asked him if he’d like a sandwich – and suggested maybe cheese or ham. His answer: “Can you get me a toasted cheese and ham sandwich, I’d like it hot.”

I was stunned that he’d been so specific and when I got into the supermarket there weren’t any hot sandwiches in the usual lunch aisle.

The restaurant inside the store did toasted sandwiches, but the queue was huge and the cost was more than I wanted to spend. I stood looking at the cold sandwiches for five minutes, wondering if he’d turn his nose up at a simple ham and tomato on white, before I gave up.

That’s when I started feeling a mixture of annoyance and guilt. Annoyance at his request, and guilt that I’d left him waiting for possibly his first meal of the day.

I talked to the lady at the cash desk. She said she once offered to buy a homeless person in Birmingham a sausage roll from Greggs, but he said he’d prefer a bacon sandwich. When she told him that it was a sausage roll or nothing he grudgingly accepted. Once he had the sausage roll he went into Greggs and asked them if he could swap it for a bacon sandwich.

It is said not every person that is begging on our streets is in need – and it seems it can be quite lucrative. Reports claim that, in the right spot, beggars can earn more than the average UK worker. When I was a reporter, I once interviewed a homeless man who said that he’d never want to live in a house as he’d miss what he called his '3D TV'. Being outside, cuddling his dog, people watching and getting paid for it suited him – but at 35-years-old he looked more like someone in their 80s.

West Midlands Police highlighted the plight of homeless people last week by having a huge mural painted on the side of one of their stations. The mural was part of a series of workshops the police held with the charity Crisis, to develop their understanding of homelessness.

It can be complicated and confusing for people who want to help.

Some of those that beg on our streets are in real need. Many have addiction or mental health problems that have pushed them into their situation.

So how do we help those that are so desperate that they wouldn’t refuse the offer of a sandwich and cup of tea?

One sure way is to support homeless charities in our region, such as Good Shepherd Wolverhampton or Stay Telford. That way we can be sure our money is going to help those that urgently need support.

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