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Why I'm considering giving to beggars. (jordanvisco.com)
19 points by jordanvisco on Dec 20, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments



The fundamental assumption here is that:

1 - A beggar will use the proceeds from begging to improve his/her life in a semi-permanent way.

2 - The beggar is capable of "recovery" in the way most lay people perceive the homeless.

Given that, in North America at least, homelessness goes practically hand in hand with substance abuse, #1 is far from a safe assumption. More often than not the proceeds of begging go straight back into booze and drugs.

Now, there's a certain school of thought where that doesn't matter - these people have shite for lives, who are we to judge if they choose to numb themselves in their hopeless situation. If I was to be homeless for the rest of my life, with no hope of anything else, I probably would start drinking. masterzora pretty succinctly summarized it elsewhere in the thread.

Which leads to point #2, which is something I don't think a lot of people really get. I don't claim to be an expert in this issue, but I've worked at shelters and kitchens in the past - and the way I see it, a lot of these people really are hopeless.

The second factor that goes hand in hand with homelessness in America is mental illness. That's something some people don't seem to be aware of. Conservatives see the homeless as lazy good-for-nothings. Liberals see them as simply people down on their luck. Both are based on the presumption that becoming "normal" again is an option that is on the table. For a large portion of the homeless population, this simply is not true. Even if you resolve the substance dependencies, you still have a litany of mental health issues that will prevent the bulk of these people from being "functioning" members of society - functioning in the way that society normally expects of its citizenry anyhow.

To circle back to the blog author's question:

> "What if EVERYONE gave to beggars?"

Then you will see an explosion of begging, but not a proportional reduction in homelessness. The ratio of genuinely homeless/needy folk on the street vs. profiteering "fake" beggars will become horrifically skewed. The extra noise will mean greater difficulty in necessary social services from reaching the people who need it. All in all, the genuinely poverty-stricken homeless folk will suffer more than they already are today.


There are many ways to give to the poor and giving to the poor on a regular, consistent schedule is in my humble opinion, a moral imperative.

However, giving handouts to beggars is a terrible idea. You are encouraging loitering and more importantly, depending on the location, they can pull in more cash than a menial job would. While that may leave a bad taste in your mouth, that's not the worst of it. Keep in mind that when it comes to begging, location is key. This invites competition and since the police nor the courts will step in to resolve disputes between beggars claiming a corner ... well, that will simply breed violence.

Please, just give money to a local organization that assists the poor, like a soup kitchen.


Please, just give money to a local organization that assists the poor, like a soup kitchen.

Or even better, give money to a charitable organization that assists foreigners who are vastly poorer than every single person in the US.


I really like the article because it frames the situation well and looks at both sides of the coin. There are a good deal of people that look on the unfortunate with disdain, as if a large majority of them choose to live a life of poverty. That they are just so lazy that they care more to fulfill their lazy desire than to feed their stomach.

Reality is never so cut and dry, from schizophrenia to getting on drugs as a child, to mentally escape the realities of their situation, few poor actually choose their lot in life. The problem with giving to beggar is not that it reinforces the behavior it is that it generally so insignificant that it does little to help them pull out of their situation. Let's face it $10, $20 even $300 bucks is not going to help change that persons life. They are so stuck in a pattern of habitual poverty that it takes more than money to help them correct their course. They have to unlearn being poor, because poor is not a marketable skill. Some are even too far gone for that, either through mental deficiencies, or habitual behavior some may never be able to be rehabilitated.

But one thing is certain, not given them a couple of bucks, is not doing them any favors. Even if 10 of them use it for booze and drugs, that 11th one that you give to and feeds her kids for the night is worth every penny that the others use to chemically escape their realities. I can't say that if I where in a similar situation that I would not drink and drug myself out of it. Which goes to show, that not even they want to be in their situation. Anybody that critically analyzes the situation would come to a similar conclusion.

Putting it all of the poor is just a way to walk away and feel good about ones choice of doing so. There really is more honor in just admitting that they can't be bothered to provide for the poor. They earned their money and have every right to use it how they see fit, but those that hide behind justification and villeinization are particularly contemptuous, because the attitude is infectious and poisons the mind of others that may have given.


Even if 10 of them use it for booze and drugs, that 11th one that you give to and feeds her kids for the night is worth every penny that the others use to chemically escape their realities.

To be honest, I think it's worth those pennies for helping the first 10 as well. To steal a quote from Sports Night:

Isaac: Danny, every morning I leave an acre and a half of the most beautiful property in New Canaan, get on a train and come to work in a fifty-four story glass high rise. In between I step over bodies to get here - 20, 30, 50 of 'em a day. So, as I'm stepping over them I reach into my pocket and give them whatever I've got.

Dan: You're not afraid they're gonna spend it on booze?

Isaac: I'm hoping they're going to spend it on booze. Look, Dan, these people, most of 'em, it's not like they're one hot meal away from turning it around. For most of 'em the clock's pretty much run out. You'll be home soon enough. What's wrong with giving them a little novacaine to get 'em through the night?


In this day and age even if you are afraid they're going to spend the money on booze you can buy them a gift card to a nearby restaurant...


...which promptly can be sold for cash money.


On the beggar black market? :) I guess so... Seems like most of them would probably just use it for food, though.


Thanks for the insights KLS. Whatever the solution I just wish we could all get on the same page about it.

Whether we all give to everyone or we all give to no one, or maybe well all do more than just giving I think if we could all be consistent in our behavior as a society that would really help out. I think the randomness of some people helping sometimes really hurts the situation.


Maybe it’s not about the self and one’s “philosophy”. When I see a person begging (or otherwise doing something needy or disruptive), I ask the most practical question possible:

Has this person had a harder day/week/month than I have? In another phrasing, am I more privileged than this person, as a matter of luck?

The truth is, I know very little about the person except that they are (ostensibly) suffering. The idea that my “encouragement” is going to affect their behavior is terribly ignorant and self-centered.

They might be a wife-beater, or someone who’s simply been dealt a terrible hand and can’t take care of themselves. Or both.

The idea that my giving money will have a substantial negative impact on this person is small and unknowable. It’s outweighed by the likelihood of a positive impact.

This doesn’t mean I give a lot, or often. But I consider that a shortcoming, not a philosophy.


"The idea that my “encouragement” is going to affect their behavior is terribly ignorant and self-centered."

This is why it would be nice if we could all be consistent in our encouragement one way or the other. If we all did the same thing we might actually make a difference.


Lots of beggars use drugs to cope with the fact that they have no homes. Shelters are disgusting, in most cities, generally. If you don't believe that, watch the documentary Streets of Plenty, or visit a few. Sure, there are a couple nice ones here and there, but most are lurid.

With that said, I will give a beggar money and do not care if they use it to buy drugs and alcohol. The only reason I wouldn't give a beggar money is if they were the confrontational type that runs after you or ambushes you as you open your car door. That is an instant no.

Finally, a great reason to give a beggar money is that many times charities can't be trusted either. If you give the beggar money, you know you are going direct. Cut out the middle man. Comedian Steve Hughes said it best here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXpUwBJ2SS8


This related article in which the reporter gave out prepaid charge cards to beggars on the street helped change my ideas about the people who are panhandling.

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/854018--how-panhandl...


The truth of the matter is that witholding kindness is rarely going to cause that person to hit rock bottom because there will often be another person that will be kind. Given that fact, this tactic is appears ineffective. So what is the most beneficial action in the situation?


An idea I'm going to start doing now that I have savings and an inclination to share my fortune:

1. Donate to a local food bank / soup kitchen / church, etc which serves the homeless.

2. Hand out cards to beggars with the street address of the locations you've donated to, and tell them you already bought them a meal.

Elsewhere in the thread, potatolicious points out that mental illness (anecdotally) is a big factor in homelessness. I am fortunate enough to not have any visible or debilitating illnesses and I had some great advantages in life (globally-speaking).

It's tough walking a fine line between condescension and genuine sympathy. But that's kind of a first world problem, isn't it?


In the UK, especially in London the situation suggests I shouldn't give to beggars, I should give to the homeless charities.

There are reportedly more hostel places than homeless people and those hostel places are 'free at the point of delivery' to the homeless that use them.

There has been research done, supported I think by the homeless charities, that suggests that the money given direct to some homeless is used to fuel drink and drug addictions and may help cause a higher rate of death or serious disease.

The recommendation (According to Radio 4 at least) is to give to the homeless charities not to the homeless.


"Would it be possible to be a beggar if everyone who passed you on the street did their utmost to help you out?"

Absolutely. It would become so lucrative to be a beggar that we'd see a veritable explosion of beggars in no time.


You don't think you'd stop begging at some point and try to do something useful with your life if EVERYONE was nice to you and tried to help you out? I know I would but maybe I'm different. Maybe I have too much confidence in mankind and not enough respect for incentives.


Or maybe you just make the common mistake of assuming that everyone else thinks the same way you do.

I'll share a little story about a friend of mine. His son came crying to him one day because his homework wasn't done, so his wife did the child's homework (to ensure that his grades didn't drop as a result of his negligence). 3 months later, both parents were doing ALL of this child's homework, because he'd realized that if he didn't work, someone else would do the work for him. He could sit around playing video games all day (yes, that's exactly what he did) and anything unpleasant or difficult was handled by other people (his parents).

That is, until his teacher figured it out. While his homework was always done impeccably, his performance on tests were abysmal. The teacher rightfully berated the parents, and not a moment too soon.

A second example comes via an old co-worker of mine who spent a large part of his career under communist rule, but was absolutely disgusted at his co-workers. Everyone did the bare minimum because there was no incentive to perform or excel (everyone got paid the same regardless). And so naturally, anyone aspiring to greatness and having some ambition left for a country where performance was rewarded.

You see similar effects in well entrenched union jobs.


Or maybe you just make the common mistake of assuming that everyone else thinks the same way you do.

And you're not doing the same?


I'm definitely not doing the same. I know that different people think differently, and responses to the same stimuli will be all over the map. This is why there's no such thing as Utopia, and why I take any one-size-fits-all solution with a mountain of salt.


Are you sure you're not? The thread pretty much looked like this when I posted that:

"This won't work because people will react the way I think."

"No, it will work because people will react the way I think."

"You can't just assume everyone will think the same way as you. Here's some anecdata to prove everyone thinks the same way I do."

Please help me here, because I'm failing to see the difference. (Granted, I think in both cases it's not so much "everyone thinks the way I do" as it is "sufficiently many people think the same way I do", but all the same.)


Getting back to the original discussion, you were arguing in favor of the amount of beggars going down if everyone helped them out. Beggars are already a tiny minority in the population (around 3.5 million people will be homeless in a given year, and only around 25% of those turn to begging, out of a population of 300 million). In order for begging to quadruple, only 1% of people would have to think like those in the examples I gave before. So if 10% of people think like that (and I suspect it's much higher than 10%), you'd get a 40x increase in begging.


I think you should read the names of posters, but I am more than happy to take the position you stated so we'll call it good.

I think what you are leaving out of your analysis is that, in this scenario, there is no compulsion to help the beggars. Thus, if everyone actually is helping they are doing for their own reasons: that it is good, that it is right, that they want to help. I find it hard to imagine that a significant number doing so would then take advantage of the same system in the manner that you describe.

"But", you say "it is ridiculous to even assume that everyone is going to willfully give as such in the first place." This much is obvious, so trying to comment on the above utopian ideal has its limits. I am inclined to believe, however, that if everyone who actually would be willing to help beggars of their own accord to make things better did help that it is likely that this would only be done in such numbers that the beggars could be helped but not such that it would become such a lucrative market as posters have described.


If you look at the top comment, I was originally responding to "Would it be possible to be a beggar if everyone who passed you on the street did their utmost to help you out?", and the answer is clearly "yes". Furthermore, if everyone who passed a beggar on the street did their utmost to help out, there would be an explosion of beggars, as I demonstrated in my previous comment.

Also, it does not require everyone to think the same way for this to happen; in fact, very few people have to think this way. Therefore, in response to your first post, I am not making the common mistake of assuming that everyone else thinks the same way I do.

I don't mind other people giving to beggars, but one thing I have noticed is that beggar-friendly cities tend to attract far more beggars (San Francisco and Vancouver are two that come to mind).


If you look at the top comment, I was originally responding to "Would it be possible to be a beggar if everyone who passed you on the street did their utmost to help you out?", and the answer is clearly "yes". Furthermore, if everyone who passed a beggar on the street did their utmost to help out, there would be an explosion of beggars, as I demonstrated in my previous comment.

I still fail to see how you demonstrated that. You have failed to take into consideration important variables that I have attempted to address. In particular, you have applied a type of thinking that some people have today to a situation that would necessarily require them to have a different type of thinking. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to simply transfer it over as such. Granted, we don't have a whole lot of experience with a society where everybody is individually motivated to help, but I think you'll find at the very least that the people who are altruistically inclined to help the homeless or what have you these days don't really decide to swindle everyone.

Also, it does not require everyone to think the same way for this to happen; in fact, very few people have to think this way.

I'm not sure I agree that 1 in 100 is "very few", but point taken.

I don't mind other people giving to beggars, but one thing I have noticed is that beggar-friendly cities tend to attract far more beggars (San Francisco and Vancouver are two that come to mind).

This point is simply irrelevant unless you mean to suggest that the increase is due to people trying to take advantage of the lucrative beggar market rather than working.


"In particular, you have applied a type of thinking that some people have today to a situation that would necessarily require them to have a different type of thinking."

… Which would require everyone to think the same way, which doesn't happen in reality, which is why I've deliberately ignored the absolute extreme. The OP was referring at worst to a utopia, at best (and most likely) to a "near utopia" using imperfect language to communicate such, while I was bringing that utopia down to earth by showing that it only takes 0.25% of the population taking advantage of kindness in order for the problem to become worse than it already is. We already know that all people do NOT think exactly the same, and so arguing with absolutes is pointless.

"This point is simply irrelevant unless you mean to suggest that the increase is due to people trying to take advantage of the lucrative beggar market rather than working."

That is precisely what I suggest. Any time a power efficiency is discovered, people move in to take advantage of it. This has been happening since the dawn of life. In this case, it is an efficiency for acquiring money. The more people give to beggars, the easier it will be to live off the proceeds of begging, the more people will consider it a better use of their time compared to what they're doing now. Quite obviously, efficiency won't be the only factor in the decision (other factors, such as pride, come into play as well), but each factor will be weighted differently by different people. It is often said, every man has his price. And though that statement is technically absolute, I do not believe it absolutely, nor is it meant to be taken that way.


which is why I've deliberately ignored the absolute extreme

You are a confusing individual. I try to discuss moving away from the extreme and you insist you were commenting on the extreme. I try to meet you there and discuss the extreme and you insist you are avoiding the extreme. If you're going to keep pushing the goal posts back and forth like that I don't know why we're bothering to discuss anything at all.

That is precisely what I suggest.

I won't deny that a few people are likely taking advantage of the situation, but you need to drop the notion that anything resembling a significant fraction of beggars are doing so by choice. Said notion is disgusting, offensive, and untrue.


We're talking across each other now.

My discussions of the extreme have always revolved around the pointlessness of arguing that way. The OP MAY have been serious in taking the extreme, but it's far more likely that he was using a what-if line of thought to guide his thinking in a less perfect world. However, that what-if scenario lacks reality guards in that it requires that everyone think the same way, which does not happen.

My responses have been designed to push away from the extreme and inject some reality into the discussion. The reality is that some people DO take advantage of kindness. Some people really ARE lazy. Some people ARE con men. So the absolute is disproven by default, which means all that is left is to assume the other person really meant "what if if a lot more people thought this way...". Otherwise the conversation is over already.

"but you need to drop the notion that anything resembling a significant fraction of beggars are doing so by choice. Said notion is disgusting, offensive, and untrue."

No such notion was intended. As I said before, many different factors come into play when deciding whether to beg or not. My point is that making begging more lucrative will make the decision easier for more people. If the returns for begging were to surpass low wage jobs, for example, we'd see a critical tipping point emerge. The end result of more giving to beggars (on a larger scale) is more beggars. The current equilibrium exists as a result of the diversity of the population (both on the potential beggar side and the potential giver side).

My personal belief is that a significant increase in giving to beggars is likely to cause more harm than good. The current equilibrium seems adequate for taking care of most of the truly hopeless who aren't wards of the state.


I consider the social insurance in Germany the price for keeping beggars off the street (among other things).

Just saying that the suggestion in the article is already somewhat implemented in places.


On my last trip to Germany (1998, ~2 weeks in each of Nuremburg, Berlin, and Freiburg with a host family), there was no shortage of beggars on the street.

You're not getting your Geld's worth, if you know what I meine.


I know, it isn't really working :-) But I think most beggars are probably mentally deranged, so that they are incapable of receiving the benefits.

Also there are now proposals to pay a base income to everyone, without fuss, but it is doubtful if it will ever be implemented. And nobody knows what would be the effect.


Really? No one knows what the effect would be of paying people a base income regardless of whether or not they work? I think we've seen ample evidence over the last century of exactly what the effect would be.


Where? Most of the programs you probably have in mind stop paying you once you stop doing irresponsible crap. That has fundamentally different incentive effects than a guaranteed income that pays irrespective how responsible you are or how much you work. For example it would not impose a high effective marginal tax rate on those who work a part-time job (like unemployment benefits or welfare do).

Its effect would be more like that of Social Security (with untaxed benefits, and judged purely from the standpoint of post-retirement).


What are you referring to? Personally I think unchecked population growth might be a result, but it isn't certain. Or maybe the base income would just cancel out (all goods would become so much more expensive that the base income would have little effect).

Also some say that the social security in Germany is in fact equivalent to a base income.

Communism, if you mean that, is something completely different.


In your mythical society I would never work another day in my life.


You are also evil, if my memory of LOTR serves me correctly :-)


systems that only achieve equilibrium in the absence of evil are foolish.


Would it be possible to be a beggar if everyone who passed you on the street did their utmost to help you out? Not for long I wouldn't think.

Actually, you're right, but not for the reason you think. If everyone gave money to beggars every-time they saw one, pretty soon we would have nothing but beggars.


I disagree. If everyone is willingly and of their own volition giving money to beggars every time they saw one in an effort to make things better (note that the post is not about any sort of mandatory giving or a government program or anything else of the sort) it seems silly to conclude that everyone, or even most people, would then become beggars.

On the flip side, "If NO ONE gives to beggars there won't be any beggars!" is also correct, but not for the reason given. Reality is that most beggars would die relatively quickly because they're not there by choice or because they think that begging to live is better than finding a job. Yes, a few are there by choice for one reason or another, but I really hate the world where people choose to let the honest ones dies to spite the few freeloaders.


I suppose that's one possible scenario but I don't think I personally would become one. I think a lot people feel the same.

I think if we were to start over as a society without the social norms of begging like we have now and everyone were to give if they saw the 1st person ever on the street things might be a different and we might not have people who are on the street for extended periods like we do now.

I wonder if there's a way to test this out.




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