Is the helplessness of those who beg an actual condition or merely a portrayal? When a beggar accosts you in front of a gas station he may take the part of a helpless motorist with a broken down automobile who finds himself in very temporary distress and just needs a little boost to get himself back on the road to prosperity. Often his hygienic condition belies this pose. Sometimes the beggar will give you some version of truth in the hope that this honestly painful sharing of his sad and helpless condition will induce feelings of pity and hopefully generosity. I want to get to the bottom of this whole thing. What makes a beggar tick?
Someone commented on one of my blog posts the other day. He said: "truth is most beggars we see have mental problems..." He's taking the position that beggars are truly helpless. They can't live in a home, work at a job, pay bills, buy groceries, cook food, perform daily hygienic maintenance, operate a motor vehicle, and function as a productive member of our society in any meaningful way. All they can do is wait for someone to take pity on them.
First and foremost the thing that leaps out at me, is that I instinctively get the feeling that they're all a bunch of liars—both the bums and their apologists. I'm just going to put it out there. I see these people with their "will work for food" signs, and I don't believe they will work for food. I hear these people tell me their car is out of gas and they just need a few dollars to get them home and I don't believe they have a car in which to put gasoline or a home to drive it to. Is it cynicism or just common sense? I believe they're liars as well as beggars. When they tell me they haven't eaten in three days I just want to tell them that maybe they need to find a new career because obviously begging is not paying off. Look, if you're a fisherman and you haven't caught a fish after three days of fishing maybe it's time to try something different. Likewise with begging. I don't believe them though. A beggar will say whatever he thinks will get a person to take pity on him. If it's true that he hasn't eaten for three days it's probably because he spent up all his money he got begging on whiskey or cheap wine.
We already have a complex and incredibly expensive "safety net" in place to provide food and shelter to the homeless. For this reason right off the bat, I wonder why they don't make use of one of the myriad programs available at local churches, the Salvation Army, homeless shelters, the Department of Human Services, HUD, the Social Security Administration, etc. The only two reasons that make any sense are that either they can't or they won't. They can't because they have "mental problems" or they won't because they're afraid of what may happen if they allow themselves to be identified. Maybe they have mental problems or maybe they're running from the law: pedophiles, arsonists, rapists, murderers, etc.
I don't know who they are and I wouldn't believe them if they told me. I've said it before and I'll say it again...it's not their fault. They wouldn't be begging if do-gooders never gave them money. Here's a thought: go to the Salvation Army, or the DHS or HUD, or any of the variety of places that are there to help those who choose to be helpless. Pick up a pamphlet or a business card, and when a beggar holds out his hat drop in some valuable information instead of spare change. Giving them money isn't helping them. It's keeping them on the street out in the cold and in the dark. Remember also, that they're not begging for food money but for drink money.