If you don’t do anything else, check out this link, titled: “How should we respond to people begging?” by a friend who works with the homeless in another part of the country, facing many of the issues. The advice is sound and backed up with facts. It is a recurring theme in my own local situation (Southend) for many have shared their dilemma of what to do when faced with a person who is begging.
My experience is that some homeless people beg but many don’t, those who do often use the money they get to feed an addiction; many who beg aren’t really homeless; those who beg are prey to unpleasant people who will abuse them, sometimes physically, etc. and increasingly liable to be moved on by the police when they are discovered (some do this zealously). With many of the folk we come across sitting in shop door ways etc. (and incidentally not all are begging), I find personally that I can cut to the chase as I know many of them, and can simply pass the time of the day if that is what they want (some do and some don’t). Increasingly, I am coming across many I don’t know, and that is a worrying trend.
Even if I don’t know the person asking for money, I can and I do do something along the following lines (and you will do well to adapt this or soften the words to match our own character, experience and intentions etc. and of course the situation you happen to be in at the time): I might start off by saying “hello, my name is John” … offer to shake hands and ask “what is yours” and with that over say “hello Bill” (or whoever), “I’m please to meet you – I don’t know you but my experience is most people who beg are cons and I haven’t the time or inclination to find out exactly where you stand on this. The bottom line is I don’t give money as I can’t be sure it will be used as intended. Therefore I won’t give you money today, not that I am obliged to anyway”. I then listen to their story if time and if appropriate and continue … “I can buy you a cup of tea though and might I suggest that you go to xyz (i.e. wherever they may be able to get help that is appropriate, bearing in mind some but not all, especially if they are new to the streets, will know what is out there). “I wish you well and without wanting to patronize you I want you to know you are a valuable human being. because you are made in God’s own image God bless you” Most are ok with this even if is not pc these days and not the sort of response they are used to. I shake hands again and go on my way – this need only take 2-3 minutes, depending on the situation and the circumstances of the beggar.
While there are times I walk by on the other side for all sorts of reasons, including I’m in a rush or don’t feel up for the challenge or worn out, I have found that simply acknowledging them as human beings goes a long way. If I have one on me I give out one of my where to go for help if you are a rough sleeper leaflet or at least relay the pertinent details if that is appropriate. I might even offer to get a tea or burger, but never money. I might make mention of our local Suspended Coffee scheme and suggest they go to the Utopia or similar and have a coffee on me (yes, I buy some from time to time and can say that). And as for getting these folk into a better place, that is a huge subject and why I blog on various aspects from time to time, and get involved with all sorts of stuff that tries to do just that!
Of course, begging can manifest itself in all sorts of ways. I know how as a church leader, some gravitate themselves to churches with plausible stories of some desperate need confident that ministers tend to be soft touches. I suggest similar principles apply regardless of setting and while the inclination will be to give in, I would say it is normally right to take a line that is kind yet tough. The right thing to do is treat all folk as human beings, invariably needing help of some sort or other, which we may feel we can give but often we can’t (and that is true regardless of whether the person begging is genuinely homeless of not) and to bear in mind the sound words my friend has written. As a final thought, might I suggest the following words of wisdom (not all I agree with but most of it represents sound advice).