Today John and I went out for a walk as part of our new regimen that has one rule: move as much as possible outside training. It was a lovely, sunny day but still cold; yes, in the UK we still seem to be in winter. However much we like talking about the weather though, in this post this is just a backdrop.
We are very fortunate to live in an urban area that masquerades as nature; fifteen minutes walk from our house is ‘the river’ – a proper, authentic river (the Mersey) on which ships sailed during the industrial revolution. Today, there are only ducks and nice riverbanks overlooking the golf course. But to get there we pass through ‘the village’ – the hub of this part of Manchester where there are many restaurants, coffee shops and supermarkets.
On the way back from our walk we were passing the Mark & Spencer’s food shop. In front of it, covered in his sleeping bag, looking slightly under-nourished and haggard was a homeless guy; begging. It so happens that we had nothing to give him – we didn’t take any money with us; no food, nothing.
I felt guilty; I still do. But more importantly I had an impulse to go home, take some cash and go back to give it to him.
“John, I wish I had £20 ($30) to give him.” – I said.
“Why £20 ($30)?” – replied John – “And why money? It is always better to give in chunks and probably not money.”
This got me thinking; is it really better to give smaller amounts and possibly not money?
One of the direct effects of the austerity programme of the UK government (and not only the UK government but this what we are discussing here) is that the number of homeless people has increased. I can tell you that currently the estimated number of people sleeping rough in England is 2,309 (this is only part of the statistics for homelessness on two counts: it doesn’t capture people in homeless shelter and temporary accommodation and it doesn’t include Scotland and Wales).
But we can also see the increase in homelessness on the streets; just need to take a walk.
There are two principal ways to deal with the matter: a) giving to charities working with homeless people; and/or b) giving directly to the homeless people. Whilst I am all for giving to charity, I also believe that it is our duty to give to individuals. Which brings me to the questions ‘how’ and ‘how much’.
We, as people who have never been on the streets, tend to work by stereotypes. We give these people small change because ‘they probably make quite a bit anyway’. We often don’t give anything because ‘I didn’t have anything but money on me and if I give him/her money they’ll spend it on drugs anyway.’
Guess what? We may be wrong on all of this. The other day, in front of the same Marks & Spencer’s food shop we saw a woman begging. Before John knew what is happening I gave her £2 ($3) – it isn’t too much but it is more than people would usually give. Then we went into the shop, got what we needed and joined the queue. When I looked behind the woman was behind me with a bottle of milk; and she was smiling.
As to giving small amounts, I am not convinced either. You see many homeless people are caught up in a Catch 22 kind of scenario: they need an address to get social security (and stand even a slim chance of getting their life in order) and they need money to get an address. How does one break the cycle?
So I am asking myself, how much money is necessary to change one’s life? What do you think?