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Why you should give money directly and unconditionally to homeless people

A homeless man.
Photo: Getty

Who are you to judge what they do with that cash?

Give your cash directly and unconditionally to homeless people.

Don’t just buy them a sandwich from Pret. They’re not four. They have the right to spend their money as they choose – and it is their money, once given. Don’t just give to people performing, singing, or accompanied by a cute dog. Buskers deserve a wage too, of course. But homeless people are not your dancing monkey and they shouldn’t have to perform to earn your pity.

Don’t second-guess whether people are “really” homeless. Those who think begging is a shortcut to easy money should try humiliating themselves daily in front of thousands of total strangers who won’t even look at them or acknowledge their existence. It is gruelling, soul-destroying work. If people are desperate enough to beg, they need it.

Don’t just give to people who ask you directly, but to the guy with his head in his hands and a Styrofoam cup on the ground in front of him. Give to the woman who’s blind drunk. Give to the guy with meth-rotted teeth. Give to the spice addict who can’t look you in the eye.

Many street beggars are addicts, yes. Do addicts not deserve food? Wouldn’t you want to drink if you were in their position? Don’t you get drunk every weekend to cope with work stress anyway? Who are you to tell them what to do with their bodies?

As the founder of User Voice, a charity led and staffed by former homeless addicts, says: “If your money funds the final hit, accept that the person would rather be dead. If your act of kindness makes him wake up the next morning and decide to change his life, that’s nice but not your business either.”

Of course, it is true that your drinking habit and theirs are fundamentally different. Addiction is rooted in material circumstance – alcohol is the obvious example, but think how many skiing accidents end in courses of opiates far stronger than anything you’d find on the street without any long-term compulsion developing. It can only be tackled by raising people out of poverty, and a brute-force severing of cash flow is not going to starve people into seeking help from authorities they know will not, or cannot, help them.

Yet this abject morality, which says we must push people to rock bottom before we are able to help them, is seized on by austerity governments always greedy to do less. In fact, studies show begging emerges in the “middle-late stages” of homelessness, once people have already exhausted other options. The rock bottom has already been reached.

Eighty per cent of homeless people in the UK experienced no support or advice the last time they were moved on by police or council workers. When the government claims that most people begging on the street are refusing better help, what they mean is the help on offer is not adequate.

Homeless people need free, state-provided housing and fully-funded psychological care. What they get is £538m annual cuts to mental health services and austerity measures driving them into arrears with private landlords and on to the street.

The average life expectancy of a homeless man in London is 47. For women, it is 43. This is lower than the general life expectancy of any nation on the planet. These lives will be improved by systemic, not loose, change.

In the absence of an adequate government response, charitable giving and hostels remain lifesavers to many thousands of people. But big homelessness charities are already receiving millions yearly, while those deemed impossible to help die outside. When I speak to rough sleepers, it is local communities, squatters and grassroots organisations like the London-wide Streets Kitchen which they credit with keeping them alive.

“There is no need to beg on the streets in 2017,” leading London homelessness charity Thames Reach claims. “Hostel rent is covered through Housing Benefit [and] it is an urban myth that if you have no address, you cannot claim benefits.”

The charity, which is primarily funded by the government, makes no mention of the many gatekeeping barriers vulnerable people must cross to secure benefits and a stable hostel place.

Most damningly, they do not mention the fact that the foreign nationals who make up over half of London’s rough-sleeping population cannot claim benefits to access the hostel network at all. Rather, Thames Reach and other top charities shop homeless foreigners to the Home Office to be deported.

It is those same government-funded charities that push the narrative that “kindness kills” as they tout for your donations. Do not believe them. Apathy and austerity kill. Your kindness saves lives.

Matt Broomfield is a journalist and activist. He tweets @hashtagbroom

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4 Responses to Why you should give money directly and unconditionally to homeless people

  1. Paul says:

    Addiction is seen by many as a legitimate excuse for doing nothing. Similar to the demonising of foreigners during wartime, if you can reduce a human being to a non-human state, then any atrocity is easier to carry out. This policy is government led, if they can cause people to view whole nations or religious beliefs this way, how much easier for them to turn people against benefit claimants and the homeless.

  2. Aneta says:

    The writer is looking a bit naively at the whole thing here. As the money giver, I am potentially fuelling or supporting a drug addiction or alcoholism. I think it’s better to talk to a homeless person directly, to ask what they need. It might be sometimes something simple as hygiene articles that are so natural for us, but not accessible or too expensive for homeless people. While I think this article was written to encourage people to look a bit beyond the first impression, you cannot tell people to actually not feel uncomfortable about giving money, when they might have already given money to others or had bad experiences in the past. I can tell you from my own experience that I sometimes forked out that pound (although I never really carry around cash) and the person was looking at me as if I am cracking a joke and should rather shove that pound up where there’s no sunshine. Or I have been verbally abused as the money that I gave was apparently not enough. Of course you should not just generalize and not let bad experiences affect your decision to give money, but we are all human beings and bad emotions are not entirely avoidable due to bad encounters.

    • Paul Ernest says:

      More than once I’ve had homeless people cry when I’ve given them a note – these are deperate people to whom society is turning a blind eye. Rosie Boycott did this programme on TV where she slept out and begged (‘played homeless’) and even knowing it was a temporary game after 24 hours she was cold, depressed, miserable, tearful, ignored and shattered. Give or don’t – but do realise we are treating our brothers and sisters like the dregs of humanity!

  3. jezdobbs says:

    “Who are you to judge what they do with that cash?
    Give your cash directly and unconditionally to homeless people”
    – who ru to tell me what ta do with my money

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