Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't Give Money to Panhandlers

Finally, a newspaper confirming what so many already know. From The Guardian:
But Thames Reach is citing "overwhelming evidence that people who beg on the street do so to buy hard drugs, particularly crack cocaine and heroin". Outreach team members estimate 80% of people begging do so to support a drug habit. The research is corroborated by the results of drug tests by the police on a group of people arrested for begging in Westminster; 70% tested positive for crack cocaine or heroin.

"Giving to people who beg is not a benign act without consequences," said Mike Nicholas, a spokesman for Thames Reach. "As an organisation that has worked with people on the street for over 30 years, we have seen many lives damaged by hard drugs and alcohol misuse. We have even lost people through overdoses in situations where a significant portion of the money they spent on drugs came from members of the public giving loose change."
Thames Reach is a London-based charity that works with the homeless. Here's how they help:
She escaped her addiction when Mark Smith, an outreach worker, persuaded her to stop living rough and get medical help. It was a huge breakthrough for someone whose life was a cycle of begging, prostitution and addiction and who had spent almost two decades living in office cupboards, a tent on marshland and in a cardboard box under a railway bridge.

"Mark won my trust, he didn't talk down to me," she said. "He was very patient and I used to look forward to seeing him, sharing his fags and having a burger."

After Mark had asked her "14 or 15 times" to think about coming off the streets, Tracy relented and is now off heroin and on methadone.
I'm certainly not trying to encourage you to not be generous with your time or your money. I simply want good intentions to be met with good results. We all desire to do good, but don't let the guilt of not giving lead you to donate to the detriment of the receiver. Here are some suggestions I've gathered:
  1. The goal in helping is to move the needy towards less need.
  2. Don't give cash, gifts, or even groceries (anything can be traded).
  3. Relationships are the best and hardest way to change.
  4. I'm afraid often we pay beggars not out of mercy, but so they will leave us alone.
  5. Work is inherently good for society and the worker. Finding them a job can be a great place begin for them and your relationship.
  6. Know your neighborhood so well that you know what it needs and can decipher between hustlers and the needy.
  7. Donate these organizations that help the homeless. Won't make you as warm and fuzzy, but they have a better track record at making others feel warm and fuzzy (or at least warm).
  8. Find the local resources in your area (churches, charities, government services). Keep their card and contact information on you.
  9. If your area doesn't have a satisfactory resource, make one. 
  10. Live in a neighborhood that allows you to help your neighbors. Remember we need to live with those we help.
These suggestions scare me because they require more of me than I am currently giving. Most people agree that we are at least partially responsible for those around us. Starting with family, then community, and so on. We are not only responsible for how and how much we give. Like in the personal example above described, change is hard, change is exhausting, but positive change is worthwhile.

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