It is not that my area of the country is especially prone to a heavy begging population. But nevertheless, there is a big enough population of beggars in my neck of the woods that makes this question a tough one to ignore. Here, they stand on street corners holding “Help me” signs in the hopes that a driver will roll down their window and give them some money. A couple of these beggars brazenly puff on a cigarette while holding their cardboard-slated pleas for help.
My question for you: Do you give to beggars?
The tl;dr (Too Long Didn’t Read) version: No.
The longer version: I do not give to beggars. Ever. Putting political correctness aside, giving to beggars encourages begging, and whether we wish to admit it or not, a population of beggars has an affect on crime and property values – though, homeless shelters may have an increase on the value of nearby properties.
Perhaps George Orwell said it best in his first book titled Down and Out in Paris and London when he wrote, “A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honor; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.”
Moreover, while I certainly admit that some beggars are indeed homeless, there are many who are not. In fact, this DailyMail article out of London reports that the “fake homeless” can easily pull in over £20,000 a year, equivalent to the salary of new teachers – tax free. And more than that, many simply aren’t homeless.
But this point is neither here nor there. Whether or not beggars that you see are truly homeless does not play into my decision not to give.
I do not give to beggars because I value every dollar that I spend. I don’t especially like the idea of giving my money to someone or something without having a good idea about where my money is going. Giving money to the government through excessive taxation is bad enough, but unfortunately, that is tough to control while I am still working.
When someone stands on the corner of an intersection with a neatly-written plea for help on a cardboard sign, puffing away on a cigarette, this person is literally giving the finger to society as a whole. That cardboard sign might as well read, “I’m holding a sign while smoking a cigarette. Give me cash.”
I see no value in spending that money.
To many, giving money to beggars makes us feel better about ourselves. And truthfully, helping others should make us feel good. However, giving my hard-earned money through my car window to someone standing on a street corner, and without a clue about what he or she is going to do with that money, doesn’t exactly give me that warm and fuzzy “I’m helping somebody” feeling.
The fact is nobody really knows what they are helping that beggar to do.
Okay, but what happens with those people who truly need the help? Not everyone is a “fake homeless”.
I happen to live in a city that offers FREE bus rides to the homeless so they can get anywhere in the city. Moreover, our city provides the homeless with the opportunity to sell newspapers on street corners and earn cash every single day – and many do. Free transportation and essentially a free newspaper-selling business, ripe for the taking – so long as you’re truly homeless.
Homeless shelters in many areas of the country not only offer a place to stay and food, but also the opportunity to acquire skills to get a job – a real job – like the “First Step Job Training Program” from the Coalition For The Homeless, or these homeless job training services in Boston, or the Adkins Life Skills program, or this wonderful opportunity for homeless teens.
The list goes on. Seriously, try a Google search.
The bottom line is there are a LOT of opportunities available to the homeless in this country. The only requirement is desire. If homeless people are not willing to help themselves, then it becomes pretty darn tough for me to want to help them either. Begging indicates a void of motivation or determination to provide value in exchange for compensation.
How about proudly displaying a sign that reads “Will work for food”? Doesn’t that portray a much more respectable understanding that building skills through work is what provides long term potential? Do good work and that person might keep you around for more. Do GREAT work and they may get recommended to others. Work in exchange for compensation. Skill-building. This is what separates a person who simply wants a handout from those truly down on their luck, but is determined to succeed in our opportunity-rich country.
Like George Orwell said, begging, by definition, is a business. That is one business that I can never bring myself to support.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.