Give To Homeless People It’s Human!

Recently, as a friend and I passed a homeless person on the street and gave her a handful of coins from our pockets, my friend asked: “Is it OK to give to homeless people on the street?”

water fund

It’s rare to walk more than a few minutes in London without someone asking for spare change. People tend to make one of three decisions: rummage in the depths of a coat pocket; smile apologetically and say they have no cash; or harden their expression and look away. Many charities warn against giving money to people begging and advise, instead, to give regularly to specified charities.

That approach may make sense on a macro level but, as my friend pointed out, we’re human and, faced with an individual explaining they’re in need, it’s difficult not to give. It’s for this reason that Nottingham city council has come in for harsh criticism in the past few weeks. Around the city, adverts funded by the local authority have popped up on bins and bus stops warning people not to “give to fraud”; that homeless people are often alcoholics, drug users, or not as needy as they seem.

Framework, a charity and housing association that works to prevent homelessness in Nottingham, described the campaign as “provocative but accurate”, pointing out that many people begging in Nottingham are known to them, lead chaotic lives, and often refuse accommodation because they can make more money begging. But many residents point out that the campaign contributes to a growing stigma against homeless people and comes at a time when homelessness services are being cut in Nottinghamshire. Framework has reported that it will be forced to close some services because Nottinghamshire county council has not renewed funding.

The rate of homelessness has rocketed in the past six years: the government’s most recent rough sleeping statistics report 3,569 people sleeping on the streets in England in autumn 2015, up 825 (30%) from the total of 2,744 in autumn 2014. At the same time, homelessness services around the country are facing cuts and closures. Homelessness charities are in crisis and, in turn, homeless people are suffering. Adding to the stigma does nothing to help this, but rather confirms the suspicion that many homeless people wouldn’t be homeless if they “took control” of their lives.

GB_Latrinen_KQ1B7897_606x330px_0

Not everyone who begs is a drug addict, an alcoholic, or a fraud, and even if they are, we must not lose sight of our common humanity. A psychiatrist I know speaks to homeless people outside supermarkets, and offers to buy them anything they’d like from inside. She’s never been asked for a can of beer or cider, but the requests floor her. Some people ask for a sandwich, but mostly it’s requests for hot chocolate, specific chocolate bars, something to provide a small fleeting pleasure. “I just want something nice for once,” one man told her.

Unless you know your spare change will go straight to propping up someone’s habit, then giving it to a homeless person is a small act that can provide that fleeting escape for people in truly miserable circumstances. A hostel may be better, but their doors are closing and beds are often taken. You can give someone the change in your pocket and still set up a monthly direct debit to one of the many homelessness charities around the country: it’s not an either/or decision.

If I’ve had a gruelling day I’ll pour myself a glass of wine when I get back to my warm, stable home. If I were homeless, that small stab at release and happiness would be no less important, emotionally. Giving to homeless people is an act of empathy resisting the tide of opprobrium hitting them. Occasionally giving away your change shouldn’t be a source of guilt. But without government funding, homeless people’s lives will only get worse, and their chances of finding a home dwindle even more. If I were in that position, I would definitely need that glass of wine.

Source: theguardian.com

Sign up for Updates

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of new posts by email.