Do You Give to Beggars on the Street?

Portrait of a Beggar

I once saw a beggar who received from an old lady a pack of biscuits. He thanked her, and then when she was out of sight, he gave all the biscuits to a stray dog.

Romania is full of beggars, but I suspect richer countries have them too. They are an old phenomenon, that appeared probably at about the same time when the street was invented.

Why do they sit on the ground dressed in their rags, holding in one hand a cardboard with a pathetic message, and stretching their other hand imploringly?

Why don’t they try to get some work, or at least attempt to kill themselves?

There is no effect without a cause. If you don’t work, you don’t have food, and you don’t deserve to have it. If you live off others, like a parasite, you feel useless.

I understand that finding work is hard, and that some beggars are physically or mentally sick, or have suffered great misfortunes that left them scarred inside. But sitting still and waiting for things to be given to you is a slow and painful death.

My impression is that beggars don’t really want food or money or even sympathy. They crave a little attention. That’s the only explanation why someone would make of show of his wretchedness on the street.

Next time I’ll meet a beggar I’ll greet him and ask him his name and how does he feel, and if he is friendly, I’ll also ask him if he wants to tell me the story of his life.

Maybe I’m young and naรฏve, but I think a bit of attention will do him more good than a coin, or a pack of biscuits…

51 thoughts on “Do You Give to Beggars on the Street?

  1. Hi Vincent. Just want to say that while I understand where your sentiment is coming from and you are correct in saying that for some people begging is just an easier option than getting a job, I think the complexities that surround the reasons around ‘why people beg’ can be more deep rooted and difficult to understand than you suggest. Having spent many years working with the homeless people of Dublin, it still astonishes me how people can find themselves with absolutely nothing left, especially hope. As with all social situations that people find themselves in, sometimes for reasons totally beyond their own control, I don’t think it is fair or accurate to ‘tar everyone with the same brush’. I think your idea to take some time to stop and speak with people is a good idea. I suspect that if you were to actually do it you might be very surprised at what you might learn.

    1. Good points.

      But I still think that even if you are left with nothing, staying on the street and begging only makes matters worse. Especially when the homeless person is in good health.

      1. What I really meant through this post was not to criticize beggars, but actually to say that in my opinion giving them money (and sometimes even food) probably makes matters worse, because it encourages them to keep begging.

        1. But money keeps the world spinning. It would gradually spin them decent accommodation, clean shoes for interviews and eventually money will clothe them with basic needs. Money will help them pick up the threads of their old life, sew up the seams and tie up loose ends.

          I believe that hope can only help when you are at a certain level on the social hierarchy. Hope is hopeless when you’re beneath the foundation, stripped away from your dignity and essential needs. Everything is bleak when you are poor. It takes courage to be poor, to live poor, to not be able to afford anything. It takes mental strength to try to make ends meet everyday. You have no holiday, no break from being poor. It is difficult to be poor. And this is why I feel sorry for them, because I have no courage to give up anything more than a pound and a penny to help them. I hide in my warm room that I didn’t do anything in my life to pay for, and try to defend them. But my words can’t feed them, shelter them, or even comfort them. Beggars beg for money because they need money to survive.

          Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I only meant to say the first paragraph and the rest just sprouted out. I’m not even sure I stand my ground sometimes. Words just flow out of my fingertips, but I can’t vouch for them for I don’t think they are mine.

          1. You’re right spoiled girl! You tweet and blog and study abroad and probably buy fancy clothes while beggars starve around you. How can you live with yourself?

            Dear Patricia…

            Centers for homeless people can save beggars. I think it’s better to give them your pennies.

            The truth is that many beggars are not as poor as they seem. Where I live at least. Some have homes.

            Here they prefer to earn $150-200/month by begging than $300-350/month by working 8 hours a day by working at cleaning jobs.

            Poverty and homelessness are not choices. But begging is.

            I have never seen a healthy beggar who begged for a job.

      1. This is a good example of what I mentioned in my earlier comment regarding the absence of choice that some people have when it comes to begging. About 15 years ago my country experienced a major economic upsurge. It literally felt as though money was falling out of the sky. Banks were throwing massive loans at everybody. It was all like one great big financial party. On the foot of this we experienced a new phenomenon in Ireland – a massive influx of immigrants into a country that had only ever had a history of emigration in the past. A vast number of these immigrants came from Romania and other Eastern European countries (like yourself Vincent) and before long it became impossible to walk down a street without being accosted by or stumbling over these people, always women carrying small children and begging for money. Eventually investigations of the situation proved that these women belonged to ‘begging rings’ with many families living together in cramped rented accomodation. The men in the families were ‘in charge’ of the organised begging and almost on a par with pimps and their prostitutes, the women were expected to not to return home until they had reached their specified amount from begging. As the economy crashed, so too did this practice for the most part, but make no mistake, women and children are frequently found begging in some cultures, the belief being that they will evoke more sympathy from passers by than men will.

        1. I know about the financial troubles Ireland faced in recent years. I listen to the BBC World Service. ๐Ÿ™‚

          You mean the Roma people. They do the same thing here. Many Romanian beggars are part of begging rings, which are a big problem where I live.

          That’s not to say all Roma people are beggars though. Some are nice, hard-working people.

          I’m sure you’ve heard of the mischief they did in Italy and France and Spain…

          What I would like to point out is that they are not really indigenous to my country. People refer to them as ‘Romanians’ but they are gypsies living in Romania.

          Even those that are born here are not really integrated into Romania society. Many of them don’t even speak Romanian.

  2. inspiring notion there, hatted boy.
    i’ve always thought that beggars are the unfortunate lemons fallen into the society’s blender of realistic demands. and that anyone of us just might slip and fall off the edge too. i’ve never thought of them as a source of inspiration. next time when i see one, i shall make an attempt to find out what they are made of. thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. ‘iโ€™ve always thought that beggars are the unfortunate lemons fallen into the societyโ€™s blender of realistic demands.’

      Where do you get this stuff from? ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. there is a barter system with beggars, we give money and they give us prayers.I don’t know how much its effective our money and their prayers ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Very complex topic. I have seen families pull their homeless loved ones off of the street, clean them up, feed them, sign them up for services…….and still they ended up back on the street. Drug addiction is huge with this crowd.

  5. Having been homeless myself, in one of the most expensive places to live in the world, I can say that in America there are a great many services available to help people get off the streets, provided that the person is willing and able to work at it.

    I believe that it is, for many people, a lifestyle choice

    1. That’s what I meant to say. That begging is a lifestyle choice.

      In Romania, many healthy poor people prefer to sit still and beg daily to get lets say $200 a month rather than get a low-paying job suited for their qualifications and earn $350 by working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

  6. Your post is very thought provoking. For my part, I prefer to do both. I do occasionally give beggars food (never money), but I nearly always will talk to them and ask their story, as you mentioned. It’s curious – these poor souls are often startled when they’re spoken to as a human being. The other day, I pulled over to talk to a homeless guy. I told him that I was a writer and I wanted to ask him a few questions so that I could know him enough to create a story character based on him, and this character would be the hero of his own tale, and the story would be grand, and everybody who read it would wish for him to be well. He told me, “I’ll have to think about that.”
    I haven’t stopped and spoken to another beggar since then, but I will try again someday.

  7. I love your idea of treating street people with dignity! Our family just has enough money to get by. It is a challenge to pay for dental bills and groceries. Our way of giving is to donate our good used items to Salvation Army store rather than selling them. This way we can share without starving our three kids. My husband and I like to smile and make eye contact with those who seem to appreciate and need it the most. I loved this post!
    Blessings ~ Wendy

    1. Nice of you!

      Unfortunately, we don’t have the equivalent of Salvation Army stores here, so donating things to homeless people is not easy.

      And no worries about your financial difficulties.

      Your kids will soon grow up, no? One will become a lawyer, one a dentist, and one a priest. They will earn well and help you out!

  8. Home in America, We have people who think that sitting still and waiting for things to be given to you is the way to go through life. We call those people Democrats.

  9. My grandma gave some money to a beggar once when we were on holiday and when we drove off just a few metres, he walked into the shop and out with a can of beer. Also, there are more and more women from nearby countries begging outside places of worship here (Singapore). With babies. Whom, many have seen, they pinch when they see a crowd approaching. Baby cries and the crowd will sympathize. I hate that. And these are people who look just fine. Plus, they have the money/energy to travel up and down the causeway each day – they should really just get a job. On the other hand, you have those old, uneducated, physically challenged people who put in more effort than just sitting there with their hands stretched out (beggars here don’t have signs) and instead try to entertain you by singing or playing the harmonica or at the very least, selling packets of tissue paper.

    1. Here we have a class between beggars and merchants who hawk vegetables on the street. These don’t beg for money, but they do look sometimes like beggars. They are for the most part older people and they are nice, though poor.

      But we also have plenty of beggars that ‘spend their money on beer’ so to speak. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. My contention would be that almost all of them have some form of mental illness in the first place and society has not learned how to care for the mentally ill who are indigent and without family.

    1. Carl, here in Romania there are many beggars without mental illnesses.

      I do agree with you though. But I think that applies mostly for American and Western Europe.

      In some parts of the world begging is linked to laziness. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Behind every beggar is a story because I don’t believe anyone would do it unless they had to. Whether it is a crime ring, homelessness, mental health or whatever. What I do worry about for the future of some European countries is the increase in beggar numbers as economies fail to provide, either jobs, welfare, food, or opportunity, and thus, thankfully, there but for the grace of God go I. Unfortunately, we are not all born equal and our life choices are not the same. It’s a big philosophical debate.

  12. Throughout history, there have always been beggars–whether desperation, physical incapacitation, mental illness, substance addiction, aversion to routine or the challenge of conning a sucker out of a buck is the motivation for their lifestyle choice, there will always be beggars. Chat them up if you find it helps–everyone has a story and you may hear some pretty fantastic tales along with the mundane. Doubt your attention will facilitate change.

  13. A thought provoking topic Vincent. I cannot judge for I have been lucky enough not to beg on the streets. I walk past someone who begs, or in our cities one who does ‘busking’ and I shall throw some coins into their hat. I do not ask their upbringing, their predicament, or how or why they have to beg. We have (as in all societies) those that feel sitting on a street corner and asking for money is the status quo and that they don’t have to work to earn a living. What are they choosing? Do they lack the fortitude to change their lives? Are they a victim of circumstance? (ie: thrown out of their home,unable to find work or not have family support).
    People have their life choice..what path they they cope.
    Yes, I have empathy for those that beg..but until knowing why they beg I cannot judge them as a person.

  14. I do give to beggars. Always have. I have cried for some, as I get far too empathetic at times. I’ve never really thought about why, if I see someone begging and I have $1, then it’s theirs.

    Where I live, the separation between the have and the have nots is wide, and I just try to help and not judge. Perhaps its self serving, as I feel better about myself when I do it? I don’t know.

  15. I think it shows kindness that the old man shared with the dog. Dogs starve too and they give unconditional love. some of the beggars especially the old, have medical conditions that keep them from working, there are however (over here) shelters that give them a place to sleep and get food most days. some like being out on the street and then others… (now these are the ones I dislike) will dress in rags, go beg, not take a job if you offered one, and then at the end of they day, get up, go home and change clothes. They live in a decent house and have plenty… it’s just their way to make money) Also, here in the US, we have an inordinate number of people who believe they should be rewarded for doing nothing, they feel it is owed to them by the govt. Where does the govt. get the money? It’s from people like me that work and pay taxes. Yes, I give to beggars after talking to them and deciding if they truly need it or I buy food so they won’t buy liquor.

  16. Well, I’ve learned one thing, and that is, you are from Romania after all (you sly devil).

    As for beggars, there are moments in my life I’ve thought it wouldn’t take much to find yourself on the street. Life happens, sometimes. And when one is cold, hungry and desperate, I can’t imagine you’d have much imagination left to change your fate. But of course, there will always be those who just want easy handouts.

    Where I live, there is a social welfare, so truthfully, I don’t give often, even if I should. The ones I do give to are usually those who offer something of themselves. A song. A piece of art sketched in chalk on the sidewalk. Something other than a sneer.

  17. Oh this topic feels too big for me to have a short answer. I guess I am always a supporter of the underdog. I’ve watched as bags of food I’ve handed to a local beggar are tossed out or traded for cash or cigarettes. For whatever reason I remember feeling a little betrayed, like my help was misused or I’d been duped. Of course, I’m fortunate to come from a place in which I can spare food, watch that food wasted, and drive in my car back to my house. I couldn’t act like I’d been totally wronged. In that situation I was clearly the lucky one. I’m not sure what motivates or keeps these people in their situations, if it’s a craving for attention or an overwhelming feeling that they can’t change their lot in life. I just settle happy that I’ve not had to walk in their shoes.

  18. When we write we hear ourselves think out loud. When we hear ourselves think out loud, we see who we are. When we see ourselves for who we really are – we come face to face with “ugly”. We are all ugly, whether we are beggars or rich men, since the day we were born. However, when we stop to talk to someone, anyone, it is the first sign of something beautiful.
    I’m not sure how a beggar gets there, but those who stand in judgement may wear the greater filth. I am positive relationship will change the world, not a biscuit without “how are you?” Not a passing judgement either.

    I appreciate your honest, Boy with the Hat.

  19. I like this post and this thread. I wish I have time to read all the comments… From where I live, there are different kinds of beggars. Some of them might have been mentioned in the comments above already.

    I like your suggestion. Do something unconventional by speaking with them and discover something new! As for me, I’m too scared to ask especially the scary-looking ones I pass by. But long ago, I have spoken with an old lady who lives and begs in a park and it turned out that she ran away and got lost and didn’t know how to find her way back to her relatives. I tried to look for her son but that was way before there was Facebook and then I was still too ignorant to know how to look someone with just a name and surname.

  20. Vincent, it is interesting subject and I am by no means an expert about it. I spoke to few beggars many years ago and listen to some interesting stories. We are all individuals with some different background and life stories. I could not judge any of them and it is always my choice to give or not. I feel that money at times is wrong and I rather feed someone then feed their bad habits with cash. It is a personal choice and a sore sight to see in our generation such cases in society unless it is organised crime. I have heard that in India they even make young children invalid so they can bag money. I will be the last person to judge those people while sitting in a warm house with food and heating. I think it is our choice to give or not but let us some time respect the others which their story we donโ€™t know. Funny enough these two weeks we have and art exhibition in our town where we donate pictures that are going to raise money for homeless people but it is organise with our council and I am sure that the people that benefit have a good story behind them. To be honest I some time could not care as I donโ€™t think that in our life there will be people sleeping in the street, it is morally wrong! I put a post in my blog about the event and I hope we manage to raise as much money as possible for a very good cause.

If you leave me a comment I will send you an invisible gift.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s