Today, I was having an interesting group discussion about helping people in need. We were talking about people that you see begging on the street and whether or not we should help them.
Living in London, it is an almost daily occurrence to walk past people on the street who are asking for money. There are people with dogs, people with babies, people who look like they are in a really bad way and people that don’t actually look so bad. Sometimes they are sitting next to a sign asking for food, sometimes they are just wrapped in a sleeping bag trying to keep warm. Some people are very vocal and try to catch your eye and just outright ask for money, while others just sit and stare into space like they aren’t really there.
I always find it uncomfortable to just walk on by. Not because I feel threatened or anything like that, but because I feel like I want to help everyone. It’s just unthinkable to be sleeping rough in the middle of winter (or any time of the year) with no food and hardly anything to keep you warm. I just wouldn’t survive like that, I know I wouldn’t. Everyone should have somewhere to live and I find it impossibly sad to see anyone in these kinds of situations. We feel really strongly that everyone deserves to have somewhere to live, although my husband’s opinion on how to help people sometimes differs from my own. We give money to charities but he feels more like I shouldn’t give to people on the street as much as I do, which view point I know is shared by many others. A few years back, I was a very proud wife when my husband took it upon himself to complete a tower run for the charity Shelter and raised hundreds of pounds for this brilliant cause.
During the discussion, I was struck by the difference between my opinion and those I was listening to. Many people were very bold in saying that no one should give money to people on the street. One of their reasons is that we are perpetuating a problem, that people on the street will continue to stay on the street if we give them the means to do so. I get that, to an extent. I see what people are saying but it still doesn’t stop me from wanting to help.
Another reason people were expressing for not helping was that there are a lot of people on the streets who aren’t genuinely in need. Some people beg for money and then go and use it for drugs, alcohol etc, rather than food or shelter. Some people might not even be homeless, they may just want some extra cash and prey on people’s generosity to fill their pockets. I am not naive to this notion. I know full well that there are many people on the street who aren’t telling the truth and that will do bad things with the money they receive. Often, I don’t actually give money anyway. I’ll go and buy some food from a near by shop and give them that instead. I must admit, I have had some snubs from the begging person when I’ve done this as they clearly just wanted cash not food!
My view point on all of this is the following. Who am I to judge these people? I don’t know them, or their situation. I don’t know what they are going through or what has led them to the situation they’re in. I don’t know if they are truly in need or if they are scamming me, but why would that stop me from being a good person? I’m not saying I give to every single person, because I don’t. We aren’t well off and sometimes I simply don’t have anything in my pockets to give. If I do though, then I will give a little here and there. I won’t be worrying about what the person is going to do with it because I have done what I feel is the right thing.
I had an experience with this a few months ago when a young guy approached me near a busy shopping centre. He told me that he had no where to sleep that night and he just needed £20 so that he could go and find a hostel. He seemed genuine and I felt compelled to help him. I didn’t have the money on me but I told him to hang on and I shot to the cash point and got the cash. He was so grateful and I felt so good! Now, £20 is a lot of money to me and way more than I would ever usually give anyone in the street. He may well have been trying his luck with me just to get some money, but what if he wasn’t? What if he really did need that money and I put a roof over his head for the night? I found myself not really wondering too much about what he was going to do with it, but just feeling like I’d done a nice thing.
A lot of people reading this might think I’m super gullible and naive but I really don’t think I am. I want to help people if I can and I don’t feel that I have a right to judge them. I don’t feel hurt or upset at the thought that my offerings may not always be put to good use, I’m going into it with my eyes wide open. I’m doing what I feel is right and for me, that’s the most important thing.
I’d love to hear more views on this. It seemed from today’s discussion that people do feel very strongly about the subject, whether it be to give or not to give. My feeling is though, aren’t we all beggars in some way or another?