Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why I Give Money To Beggars

This is inspired by David Hingsburger's post Cider, about giving a bottle of cider to a beggar who said he wanted a drink to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I give money to beggars.

Not every time they ask for it, because I don't always carry enough spare change for that, and I don't think I'm obligated to give. But often, when someone asks, I will give them money.

I have been told this is a bad idea. The argument goes that many beggars have addictions, and while you might be wanting to help them get food or a place to stay, what they might actually spend the money on is whatever they're addicted to. I've been told I should give food or these coupon-thingies that can be redeemed at homeless shelters for a meal and a bed for the night, not money. That way, I can make sure my gift is used in the 'proper way'.

Well, long before I knew I had executive dysfunction, I knew I couldn't do that consistently. I carry change a lot more often than I carry food, especially shareable food. And I have no idea where to get those coupon-thingies, and doubt I could remember to keep up a regular supply. So, in many circumstances, my options are to give money or give nothing at all.

And so, I asked myself - what if they do spend my money on an addiction? Well, if that's what they were going to do, they'd have spent money from others for the same purpose. Or if they couldn't get any money begging, they might have hooked or stole to earn their drugs. And it's not like an addict doesn't also need food and a warm place to sleep. If enough people give them money, they could get those needs met as well as satisfying their addiction.

Plus, would an addict seriously decide to quit just because I disapproved of their lifestyle? When even family members or an inpatient stay at an addiction ward generally can't convince an addict to quit, what chance does some random stranger have? If they're going to quit, they need to decide to quit for their own reasons, and not because someone tries to force them to quit.

And what about the beggars who aren't addicts? You can't always tell who is or is not an addict. And you can't entirely anticipate what their needs are, either. Maybe they want food or a place to stay, sure. Or maybe they want to get some Advil for their aches and pains, or a bus ticket to another town, or some new clothes, or a pool pass so they can get cleaned up in the changing room showers. Or maybe they want to get something nice for themselves or someone else - something that isn't technically needed, but would brighten up their day and help them forget their troubles. How could I possibly carry enough coupons to guess all of those possibilities? And what if they don't want to explain themselves to a complete stranger?

But most of all, it was the thought of looking someone in the eye and them realizing that you assumed they'd spend any money they got on drugs, and that you felt you had the right to tell them what they should do with your gift to them. I'm not going to ask if you kept my Christmas present or regifted it, or what you spent that gift card or $20 on. So, if I give a gift out of empathy instead of as a social convention, shouldn't I offer the same respect along with my gift? Help should not come with strings attached.

So, I give money to beggars. Some of them might spend it on addictions. It's none of my business if they do.


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