Bit of a belated post here, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.
Every time I travel into a large city, which for most of my life has been once or twice a year, I never fail to be shocked by the homelessness pandemic I always find. Having been brought up in a society where even oficially homeless people have some sort of roof over their heads, it’s incredibly shocking to imagine a life of ‘sleeping rough’.
For years, I’ve never been able to decide on the morality of giving money to those who beg. If they’re selling The Big Issue, or doing some other means of getting money, then fine, it’s more clear cut. But I guess I feel it should be the state’s responsibility to ensure everyone, at the very least, has a house to live in (and ideally a job, too, though that clearly has not been a priority for any government in decades – the cynical side of me would say most modern governments actually want some unemployment, but that’s digressing). However, I have quickly come to the conclusion that, although creating a system in which many people need the charity of others to survive is wrong, to simply ignore someone in such need is also wrong.
However, there has to be balance. It is unreasonable to suggest giving money to every single homelessness person you meet, else you’ll soon be going a similar way (so widespread the problem is). So, I guess, to ease my conscience, perhaps just giving money to one or two homeless people a day would suffice. A quota, if you like. I don’t know. If everyone did this, rather than the majority who are desensitised and do walk past every day, surely their plight would improve?
One issue is that, quite often, homeless people do spend the money they receive on alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. When I was last in Edinburgh I gave one man a small amount of money, and later passed him smoking a cigarette. I don’t judge him for this by any means – in such an empty, purposeless life, you would grasp anything which could provide even the slightest escape. So I don’t see this as a good reason to ignore beggars. There is also the issue of people faking being homeless – although I’m inclined to want to give someone money simply for the mental endurance to sit for so long in the cold, ignored and detested by society for all of that time. I was told the other day that you can supposedly identify a true homeless person by whether they make eye contact or not; someone with experience of the streets will not, because theyre so used to being spat at or otherwise abused.
Indeed, I am increasingly noticing simply how demonized homeless people are in society. “Oh, he’s just a stupid hobo,” is something which would not surprise or even shock me if I heard it casually said. “That coat makes you look like a homeless person LOL!” Because it is a situation so few people can relate to, and don’t expect to ever experience (I do not see myself being homeless in the future, for instance, even though I know it’s possible), it becomes easy to brush off their woes as self-inflicted. I could be wrong, but I believe very few people truly understand the issue of homelessness, or care to try. I certainly don’t.
I think, if I ever see the opportunity, I may at some point volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, or something along those lines which would allow me to actually meet and speak to homeless people, and to better understand them. Or, I suppose, even speak to the ones on the street – show them that not everyone in society despises them, and perhaps help ease even a tiny fraction of the loneliness. We must all do what we can.