A question that often leads to confusion and some debate is; should give homeless people on the street money? This question can lead to inner turmoil. On one hand there is the instinct to alleviate suffering but on the other hand there is the concern that by giving you could be supporting self-destructive activities. Then there is the argument, that we have no right to judge how a homeless person chooses to spend the money given to them.
I have read debates saying that giving cash to cash-needy people is the most efficient way to spend it. The truth is though, that community organisations can provide more than just money to the homeless and assist vulnerable individuals far more than we can with the change in our back pocket.
The danger is that we can’t give to everyone on the street. There’s just not enough change in our purses. This means we choose to donate money based on the level of perceived need. Beggars known this which provides an incentive on their part to exaggerate their need, by either lying about their circumstances or letting their appearance visibly deteriorate rather than seek help.
Giving to people on the street also means the 94 per cent of homeless people who aren’t sleeping rough but are still in desperate need for support (both financial and non-financial) miss out.
There is also the fact that begging is a criminal offence in Victoria pursuant to section 49A of the Summary Offences Act and is also prohibited by various local laws made by local councils under the Local Government Act. Similar provisions exist in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
So what should you do?
Buying food or coffee instead of giving money is something that a lot of people ask about and it comes down to individual choice. If you are giving food it is important to put yourself in the position of the person you are giving it to. Take the time to ask what they would like before buying it. This ensures that it something they can eat and enjoy.
Whether you’re not giving money or food or not, remember to treat the person with respect and acknowledge them. It may sound simple, but the fact is, many people who are begging are routinely ignored, sworn at, harassed, robbed and assaulted. Having someone look them in the eye and recognise them as a person can be very affirming.
If you are still keen to help here are a few other options:
- Give the money to an organisation working with people experiencing homelessness.
- Buy a street newspaper like the Big Issue
- Use the money to donate food to a food bank.
- Volunteer your time to an organisation that provides services and assistance to people in need.
- Simply stop, smile and have a chat. Taking the time out of your day to have conversation can mean the world to a person who may feel isolated and marginalised.