Jeremy Swain, the chief executive of Thames Reach, a London based homelessness charity (can you believe it) told the Sun that people should stop giving cash to homeless people as it is "estimated" that 80% of beggars will only use it to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction. He also said:
"Handing money to people in the street is not a benign act. In fact it could have fatal consequences for them."
Well of course, dodgy drugs and overdosing can potentially kill the homeless like it could kill anyone. That's if homelessness doesn't kill them first.
The charity's London Street Rescue Service estimates 80% of beggars are doing so to support an addiction to drugs like heroin and crack. The fact that people could be begging to fuel an addiction is obviously tragic. Yet this rhetoric perpetuates the view that homeless people are sub-human and stupid. People look down on them enough. Do we get to make a decision for a homeless person, or judge their decisions? What about the 20% of people who are not using the money to fuel a substance addiction? I guess we should just stop walking and interrogate? Of course not. Can we really understand that life of drinking or getting high, not for pure enjoyment, but just to make it all go away? Because this time last year when I was in University, I wasn't using my last £5 on booze. Of course not.
We need to ask less questions about what the homeless spend their money on and more questions of what it could be that creates such a desperate need for escape. I want to know what is fuelling that desperation and how I can help stop it. Judging them will not stop the hopelessness, it will fuel it. What do I need from the chief executive of a charity? I want to be reminded of my own humanity, I want to feel that unbearable consciousness when I see a homeless person on my travels, I want to feel like I haven't been doing enough. If you want to tell the public that there are better ways to help the homeless, you can start by not making "beggars" the bad guys.
This gets even better. It was claimed by the Sun that only one in five beggars is actually homeless. Disgusting! The cheek! Imagine the hefty wage that person is making begging on the street in the middle of January. Again, should we interrogate? Should we ask them to provide proof of homelessness? You don't smell, you look too clean... you're drunk. We don't need to demonise an already marginalised and chastised group, we need to promote kindness. For some people, that flippant handing of £1 is their sole good deed of the day. The bombast of disingenuous patriotism glittered with words like "big-hearted Brits" and "costing taxpayers" make those small acts feel worthless and they are not. We can always do more but it is important to maintain that humanity that forces you to give away that £1 - and take it further.
Imagine that person that asked you for 30p yesterday is not in fact homeless but they actually have "accommodation." (Thanks Jeremy, sounds luxurious.) I actually can't recall the last time someone asked me for money and said they were homeless. I've heard someone needs to get back home, I've heard someone needs something warm to drink and I've even heard someone needs money for petrol. It was the boldest lie! We should be asking what it is that makes someone lie in order to get that 30p. What actually makes someone stop me, make me take out my headphones and tell me they are hungry? I present a lot of questions because I do not know the answer or solution. I know the real problem in the issue of homeless is the societal structure that keeps people on the streets and so desperate. It is not that someone is going to spend the money I was saving for a glass of wine on a drink of their own. Starving people of whatever substance they may be abusing can kill them too. If a homeless person is an addict, they need to be weaned off safely. You cannot be weaned off a drug through starvation, eye rolls and bad attitudes.