How should you respond to begging?

HOW do you respond to strangers asking for change? Is it wrong to say no? Do you feel intimidated to give? Leon Saw ponders the delicate issue and gives his two cents worth.

Photo: Chris Samuel via flickr

Whenever I’m out, my bunch of personal keys are always securely fastened to my pants or trousers with a karabiner. The practice was inspired by the unfortunate episode of me getting locked out of my place in the middle of the night, after the contents of my rather shallow pockets had decided to give me the slip while I was out earlier in the evening. So after multiple earfuls from the parents over the ensuing month, I swore to have my keys under, well, lock and key. Except now in Melbourne, this has landed me in rather awkward, if not interesting, situations.

Because of the peculiar manner in which these small pieces of metal, loosely attached to my waist, jingle, as I go about on foot, everyone seems to think that I have a rather large bag of coins on me. Often, I get approached by strangers whom I can only assume are homeless, jobless, needy, or a combination of any, asking for spare change. And upon confessing to not being in possession of any, their earnest, hopeful demeanours mutate into death stares or dirty looks, usually reserved for Wall Street investment bankers, before they walk away.

Now, hailing from Singapore where such activity is considered criminal, it was initially, mildly confronting to witness poverty so openly displayed. The first time such a person asked me for money, I actually entertained the possibility of being mugged should I not accede to the request. But thus far, my encounters have been, thankfully, cordial and polite.

They’ve mostly been normal people who, for whatever reason, seemed to be experiencing a financial rough patch, and could use a bit of help. And they’ve generally accepted rejection, or expressed gratitude for a little of whatever that could be spared. The most one such person did was haggle over the charity, asking for another cigarette, in addition to the one my friend had already given him. My friend didn’t accommodate him twice.

Photo: Albert Pujol via flickr

The Melbourne City Council website actually does have some information briefly explaining the situation here, and how one should go about dealing with it.

It offers possible reasons on why people beg, from waiting for or not being eligible to receive welfare payments or income assistance, to wanting to support gambling or drug habits, and acknowledges that certain individuals may be placed in a difficult position if approached for financial assistance by them.

The information on the website then advises if the person begging is “acting aggressively – for example, is intoxicated, intimidating, violent or placing people at risk – you can report the matter to the police by phoning 000”.

However, if that person is “begging in a passive, non-threatening and non-violent manner and you want to help connect them with appropriate services, the City of Melbourne produces a free booklet called Helping Out”.

The booklet, available here, offers “a comprehensive list of free and cheap services including food, accommodation, health services, drug and alcohol services and legal advice from more than 70 organizations throughout the City of Melbourne”.

It’s probably a stretch to have multiple copies of the booklet on hand, whenever you’re about, to present to anyone who asks you for money. But it’ll be good to have a few contact details of some of the aforementioned organisations’ at your finger tips so you can point people in the right direction.

Have you been approached by a person begging on the streets of Melbourne? Share with us your experiences, stories and dilemmas in the comments section below.

There are 3 comments

  1. Marcella Purnama

    I just had lunch on Lygon St with some friends and I had zero money in my wallet, literally. I even asked my friend to pay for my lunch first just because… well, I forgot to take out money out of the ATM (again), and it was a ‘cash-only’ restaurant…

    I was running late for class, and when I was waiting for the traffic light, a woman in her 30s or 40s asked me for money. If I’m not mistaken, she needed money to go to the hospital or something, but as I was (1) running late and (2) having no money at all, I apologised to her and said I couldn’t help her. She looked so sad but immediately walked away from me.

    I still don’t know how to respond to begging, but I think each case is different, and I will always follow my gut feeling on when to give or when to not…

  2. Jo of GC

    Have visited Melbourne numerous times and there seems to be increasingly more beggars on the streets of the cbd during the day now. Was accosted several times by men asking for money. I know times are tough but with a good welfare program and places to get discount food begging isn’t the right way to go about it! It just makes everyone feel uncomfortable!

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