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[22nd January 2016]

Should we give money to on-street beggars?

It's a dilemma many of us face on a daily basis, as we travel into town - or through some of the suburbs - should we give cash when asked 'can you spare any change?'

We contacted a number of professionals who work in the homelessness sector, and a few others too, for their advice. Here's what they had to say:
Giving money to street beggars simply encourages people to beg! Giving street beggars a list of accommodation and support providers would be more beneficial to the genuine people who require help and guidance. We have an ever growing list of projects and groups supplying food to the homeless people of Hull, nobody should be feeling hungry. It's a proven fact that most if not all money gained by begging is used to fund either drug or alcohol use. The issue of begging needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity.
Tony Norrie - Turning Point Hull.
As a Street Angel and Methodist Minister I spend a lot of time meeting people on the streets. It is a fundamental Christian principal to help the poor, so when I meet street beggars it is a moral dilemma. Hull is well served my numerous organisations providing food and shelter for the homeless. The vast majority of street beggars in Hull are not homeless (fact I know them). They leave their accommodation at key times when they know they can earn the most money. Don't kill someone with kindness by feeding a habit. If you want to give, give direct to one of the many charities working in the city, or take the time to get to know the person offering a hand up rather than hand out.
Deacon Jill Taylor - Hull Central & West Methodist Church
My response to this with a large number of experiences on this issue in and around my project would be no. We cannot always be sure the exact situation of each individual receiving money through begging. People may feel intimidated and no doubt have good intentions however this may not actually benefit a person or give them the opportunity to develop the skills required to improve their situation. There are a large number of agency’s/ outreach services, volunteers in place to offer support, signposting, advice and guidance to people who find themselves street begging for a number of reasons.
Danny Allman - Manager, Humbercare
My view - I think when an individual feels the need to ask for money from the general public in this way it is a very sad statement. It also concerns me that across the city we have a vast amount of services delivering front line support to eradicate poverty and crisis and yet this is still prevalent. My own view is to offer something instead of money, whether that be a conversation or a hot drink. Money is often one of many needs to an individual on the streets and not the only need. I think because of my work within homelessness what come to mind for me in the first instance is where the individual will be sleeping that night, and if indeed they have shelter. When I support those directly on the streets its with food, drinks, a smile, and conversation. I think The Big Issue is different, this should be actively promoted and supported. Anyone wanting to support vulnerable people can do so in a multitude of ways, and the smallest of gestures are always appreciated. I do not make a judgement on how others choose support people on the streets, I simply have personal and professional preferences.
Kelly Thompson - Emmaus Hull and East Riding
Personally, I will give money to beggars, if I feel I’ve got enough and depending on how I’m feeling that day. Although I also give money to Shelter and Centre-point on a monthly basis and give extra at Christmas, and am lucky enough to feel I can contribute through the work I do as well. If I had to choose one way only to donate, it would be on a regular basis to a charity, as that is the most likely way to make a difference to people in the long-term.
Detty Tyler - East Riding Voluntary Action Services
When I was Chaplain to the homeless in Leeds diocese I was always told never give money because often we had professional beggars to contend with. So offer to buy a hot drink and a sandwich, if they accepted then they were more likely to be genuine, if they refused the offer then they were not that needy. I have found that this method to be the most effective or selective.
Steve Dye - Christ Church Bridlington
This whole issue presents a huge moral dilemma. As Christians we are called to help the poor but I've personally come to the conclusion that handing money over on the street is not doing that. It can often continue to make things worse. Offering food, a hot drink and shelter is a different matter and can help meet immediate needs. But surely we need to be putting our resources into a more long-term strategic approach?
Revd Matt Woodcock - Holy Trinity Church, Hull
I think giving food or warm clothing would be better as some - though not all - have alcohol or drug addictions, therefore we are helping them feed their habits by giving cash.
Kay Chambers - Tenancy Support Officer.

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?