Before I was homeless, years ago, I used to give money to people on the street if I had it. I then grew tired of that and stopped. I used to wonder how people were approached for change in the city where I lived at the time. I suppose the frequency of approaches would depend on how near you were to the bus station, or other important landmarks, and the pace at which you moved. But I reckon it would be every three minutes in a busy city, unless you got yourself off the street.
Nowadays I don’t give money unless I know the person. There are only a few that I would help. Some of the beggars are intimidating. Some of them are liars who repeat the same story again and again. They may say they need two pounds for something they desperately lack, as if it’s an emergency. If they get the two pounds they will turn on their heels without saying thank you and try to find someone else who’s good for another two pounds. They will size you up and guess how much they should bid for. If it’s a Friday or Saturday night, they may try for the price of some cigarettes, or even more than that if someone is all dressed up (after all, people are paying five pounds a time for drinks all night). They just want whatever they can get.
People with real and ongoing needs usually go to the agencies designed to help them. They are assessed for level of need, and they get help. Others sit and beg, making twenty pounds an hour on a busy night. They do it time after time, long after the crisis has passed.
It takes a certain kind of greed to beg so persistently, I think, and a certain level of nerve as well as contempt for the people they beg from. Aggressive beggars give homeless and vulnerable people a bad name and I think they should be stopped despite the fact that they are seen as more or less inevitable, dotted here and there around city streets. They make walking around a city quite a miserable thing to do at times – laying guilt trips on people who often have less money than themselves, people who, unlike the beggars, would “go without” until things got better, rather than ask someone for money. The beggars often look thin and haggard, but they get through much more money than they actually need. There are people bringing up children on less than a beggar gets and they wouldn’t dream of making up some story to tug at the purse strings of the public who are often far too kind.