A strange world, where you go on facebook and find people warning you not to give to the homeless.
Here’s the initial message, “Do not give any money to the so called homeless people outside Asda and around the town centre as they are not really homeless use the money for drugs and booze and also have mobile phones.”
That grammar isn’t my fault. I can understand readers who might try to link the poor grammar and the shitty attitude and conclude, well, people who hold those views must be dumb, cruel bastards, but its too early to make that assumption. One dumbass comment does not a trend make.
Can you imagine the heavy misery that must come from reading something like that as a homeless person while you grab a little charge in the local Starbucks?
Some other comments:
Wonder where they charge their phones up if they’re homeless?
I saw 2 of them getting out of a car last week
Definitely well fed because I work in Asda cafe & LOADS of people buy hot drinks & food for him!!
The subtext here, if you haven’t spotted it, is that these people are fakers and even if they aren’t fakers (because homeless people, when they lose their house, also have their phones confiscated and no longer ride in cars) they’re well fed anyway, so just leave them to it.
This is some of the attitude locally. How about nationally?
The government pays to have spikes put down—you know, like they do to stop pigeons gathering on ledges in multi-story car parks and around old statues–so that the homeless can’t sleep in those areas. (1) (2)
Local councils put bars across public benches so people couldn’t sleep there. (3)
Sprinklers are fitted to soak the homeless when they try to take shelter in Bristol. (4)
The government hires advertising space telling you not to give to the homeless. (5)
In the UK, public opinion toward the poor and homeless has been declining. This seems to be an indirect result of austerity, where now those accepting or requiring government subsidy are victims of negative propaganda campaigns. This is touched on, in an indirect sort of way in my Jaywick series, an area most known to the rest of the country for its appearances in Benefits by the Sea. It’s a common feature and probably not just of the modern era; when we have to tighten our belts, we are taught to blame those at the bottom rather than those at the top. How different we treat the well dressed crooks and criminals that set the course and agenda.
Part of this particular branch of homeless-scepticism is the result, as best I can tell, of a recent Daily Mail article. The claim is that, a lot of homeless people aren’t homeless, they’re just beggars. Just beggars. Maybe there are a few people that leave their houses then go hang out on in town centres asking for change, although, frankly, it’s hard to believe that the cost-benefit analysis for most people that actually have houses would come up pro the go out and beg idea. I suppose you’re self employed, so you can take the day off and finish when you like, but you also have to commute to your spot either in a nearby town or the town centre.
While I’m not saying fake-homeless people are impossible, I am saying it’s so improbable and return so little, that I doubt its a systemic problem. Although you might think it was if you heard some people discuss it or if you saw certain posters that showed the government approach to the Homelessness problem.
The Mail is careful to portray the entire story as, ‘Sarah Craig, responsible for promoting shopping and tourism in Dundee, claims that…’ It’s opinion as headline news, but the headline has already done damage by the time the opinion part is established. The headline is, ‘”Career beggars” often make hundreds of pounds a week but the “vast majority have homes and receive benefits.”‘
It’s actually darker than that. She says later in the article, ‘Sadly, our experience dealing with beggars in the city centre tells us that the money is not being used to buy food or a hot drink. It is being used to fund drug and alcohol habits. The reality is that this misplaced act of kindness could kill.’
Not only shouldn’t you give money to homeless people or beggars, if you do, you might actually be killing them.
Why we should listen to Sarah Craig, essentially the head of tourist advertising in the area, isn’t clear. She works for the council and so, through some vague study, this is what she says has been found. It is interesting how much easier her job becomes if the problem of homelessness is a ‘lifestyle choice’ as she describes it.
The homelessness nuisance, where some people’s financial fortunes and mental health problems have the temerity to impact in some small way the spinning wheels of capitalism. You can be homeless, that’s fine. Just not here, not around my shop.
But, for sake of argument, let’s assume the lady is right. I’m pretty sure a thorough analysis would find that most of the beggars in Dundee don’t have homes and benefits, but that really isn’t the point.
If they have homes and they’re begging, what does that tell you? They’re desperate, they have psychological issues, probably drug problems. It’s inconceivable that a fully cognisant and sane person, who has a house and a benefit stream, would go onto the streets, pretend to be homeless in cold conditions, to raise, over the course of several hours, days and weeks, a couple of hundred quid. When you see the people that you suspect may fit into this category–the messy looking guy by the betting shop with old clothes and an alcohol smell following him–they’re so dishevelled, so beaten already, that really, do you feel that resentful of their con, if you can even call it that? You don’t have to give them money, but why you’d feel compelled to tell others not to is more mysterious than me.
Do you think these broken people, houses or no houses, are nefarious and ill-meaning leeches or are they lost and desperate, at such a low point they compromise their dignity and well-being for a little cash to buy a drug that there’s a very good chance you enjoy occasionally yourself?
It’s not all pain. It’s not all miserable bastards. There’s still some hearts out there. My response to the initial facebook comment was liked a lot more times than the negative ones. I guess more people resounded with my feelings than his. If nothing else, that means the ongoing hate campaign against the urban poor hasn’t gotten as far as it may seem if you go by newspaper headlines. That doesn’t change the fact that a modern nation where the citizens have to go around removing cross bars from benches designed to stop the homeless from sleeping there, is a sick one.
There is a lot of hypocritical thinking about homelessness and poverty in general. It’s interesting that the head of marketing for a region describes begging as a lifestyle choice. It’s interesting that we judge the way a person might spend their money, knowing full well we would very likely spend it in the same way. Is it okay to get fucked up and wasted if you have a house but if not then…? It’s interesting that we look at the rough sleeper with contempt or disgust and the banker with respect, where its often the rough sleeper who finds himself in that position because of the work of the banker. It’s interesting that all this is going on at the same that we have the highest number of vacant houses in history and 11’000 of them have been vacant for ten years or more.
Here’s late comedian Greg Giraldo discussing some of the absurdities of modern culture and touching specifically on the homelessness issue this post has been about.
Header photo courtesy of Decision Marketing News.
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