Should you give money to homeless people?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
There is a homelessness problem in the UK, and it is getting worse each year. More than 300,000 people in Britain are officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate housing, according to homelessness charity Shelter. That's one in every 200 people in this country, and that's up by 13,000 over the course of a year.
The problem is the biggest in London where one in every 59 people are homeless, according to the Guardian. There have been year-on-year increases in Britain's big regional cities: in Manchester, one in 154 people are homeless (up from one in 266 in 2016); in Birmingham it is one in 88 (from one in 119); and in Bristol, one in 170 are affected (compared with one in 199).
There are at least 9,000 people sleeping on our streets at any given time, increased by a staggering 134 per cent in 2011. There also also 79,000 households in temporary accommodation, a rise of 65 per cent since 2010, the Independent reports.
The problem is not going away any time soon, so what can you do to help homeless people on the streets? Is giving money directly to them a good option?
The Salvation Army, which offers emergency accommodation on a night-by-night basis, advises against this, saying it risks "trapping" people in the "endless cycle" of homelessness and rough sleeping.
A spokesperson said: “We applaud the generosity of the public in wanting to help people directly, but we recognise that providing cash can keep people trapped in the endless cycle of homelessness and rough sleeping, particularly for those who are also battling drugs and alcohol issues.
"Many homelessness charities, including ours, focus on looking at the root causes of homelessness and offer practical support – donating can help us with our work."
London-based charity Thames Reach even suggests that handing money can have "fatal consequences". It estimates that 80 per cent of people begging in the capital do so to support their drug habit. Communications manager Mike Nicholas told the BBC: "Most people begging are not individuals in temporary difficulties, but people who are dependent on a begging income. This is almost certainly to fund a serious drug habit.
"As an organisation that has worked with people on the street since 1984, we have seen many lives damaged by hard drugs and alcohol misuse. We have even lost people through overdoses in situations where a significant portion of the money they spent on drugs came from members of the public giving loose change.
"Giving to people who beg is not a benign act. It can have fatal consequences."
However, not everyone agrees with their assessments. Writing for the Guardian, Tamsen Courtenay, author of Four Feet Under - a collection of 30 stories of homeless people in their own words - argues that "no one in their right mind thinks it's a clever scam to sit on a freezing pavement suffering the humiliation of asking people for a few coins". In her work, she has not met a single person who enjoys begging.
"Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice of the criminal classes, despite efforts to convince you otherwise. It is barely a life at all," she writes. Should you give them money? Absolutely, she argues.
This view is supported by the New Statesman - they argue that you should "give your cash directly and unconditionally to homeless people". They note that 80 per cent of homeless people in the UK experienced no support or advice the last time they were moved on by police or council workers. "When the government claims that most people begging on the street are refusing better help," they argue, "what they mean is the help on offer is not adequate."
There are alternatives to giving money to the homeless, especially when you consider the high temperatures we have been experiencing. Water is extremely important during the hot weather, but bottled water can be an expensive commodity for those living on the streets. "The bigger the bottle you can buy them, the better," the Yorkshire Evening Post advises, "A two-litre bottle they can fill up from public taps or cafés would be perfect." Food with high water content is a good suggestion - fruit and vegetables will help people keep hydrated as well as fuelled.