Monday, November 15, 2010

Beggar by choice

For those of us that live in cities, we are aware of a population that is lumped into the term "homeless." I think that is an incorrect assumption. Over the course of the past two years, I have discovered that a better term for this population is "beggar." If you read the Bible or follow the idea of noblesse oblige, you will feel that it is your duty to help these people. They are less fortunate, they are in need—that is what we are taught believe.

However, they are not always those things. More often than not, beggars are not in their right mind, and they are addicted to drugs (or a combination of the two). Instead of giving to them, passersby flat out ignore them. When I was first hired in the city, the recession was going full force and many people were out of work. It was a hard time for everyone and I was only an intern making some odd dollars an hour. 

It was during this time that I met Mike, a younger guy that sat outside of a convenience store near my workplace. He would ask for spare change every afternoon as if it were a full-time job. My mother has perhaps jaded me, but I don't believe in giving money to beggars. Instead, I would save carrot sticks or cookies from my lunch to give him. If I didn't have extra food, I would give sticks of gum. What began as, "Do you have spare change, ma'am?" became "Do you have any more gum, ma'am?" in a few short weeks.

I assumed that Mike couldn't find a job, and I pitied him because even though I was an intern, I had an income. However, as weeks turned into months and years, I have found that there is more to Mike than meets the eye. Like many other beggars, Mike does work. He is recovering from a drug problem, so his performance fluctuates, which affects how much work he gets—and that affects how much money he makes. He has a phone, he has a place to live, and he plays chess (he also has a girlfriend, which is a recent development). However, he needs additional money to make "ends" meet, by which I mean that he wants extra money. 

Perhaps that is what causes me to categorize beggars differently than the homeless. It is because homeless people don't always beg for money. They are the ones that sleep between the doors of businesses to feel heat and cool air. They carry their belongings with them at all times and have a block that they call their stomping grounds. Even if offered a job, they would probably decline the opportunity in favor of the place where they feel comfortable. Being homeless is sometimes a lifestyle choice.

Both beggars and homeless people will accost you as you walk down any city street. Some of them make you feel threatened and others annoy you. Whichever extreme the person falls under, I no longer feel obligated to empty my pockets for them. Oftentimes, giving will find the beggar asking for more (or being picky about what you gave them). Instead, I will speak to them if addressed and continue on my way. When I walk down the street, I don't make a point of talking to everyone I encounter, so I just treat them the same as anyone else in the city. At the end of the day, we all have to live our lives—no one else's. So if you find yourself in the presence of a beggar, don't assume that they did not choose their current situation.

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