Social Question

Mariah's avatar

How often do you see homeless or other beggars and how do you react?

Asked by Mariah (25883points) February 19th, 2016

I used to live in a sheltered small town and never saw homeless people until a few years ago. Now I take public transportation every day in a major city so I see them every day.

I’ll describe some of my interactions in the comments. What about you?

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53 Answers

ibstubro's avatar

So, you think the homeless are all beggars, or you think the homeless problem is represented by the beggars that you can see?

Honestly, I don’t see how you come to equate being homeless with being a beggar.

NerdyKeith's avatar

All the time. I think it’s very sad that there is so much homeless on the street. If I have money on me I will give them some spare change (if they ask for it).

But you have to be careful, some people pretend to be homeless so they can catch you off guard and mug you and possible become violent.

But all in all, my heart goes out to them. This is what the recession has done.

Mariah's avatar

@ibstubro WTF? I never said that. Why the hell are you harrassing me in every fucking thread now?

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I used to see them daily when I lived in a small town in Florida. Where I live now, there are none that I know of. The population here is small and the government has an intimate relationship with it’s people. By this I mean that it is not unusual to run into the Prime Minister or other top government official at the grocery store or theater. I see them having serious conversations with individuals at the checkout counter or a coffee shop. It is an island of small villages inhabited by extended families. When someone becomes homeless or gets into trouble of some sort, somebody they know or are related to is always there to help.

Mimishu1995's avatar

I don’t see homeless people in my place, or at least not the conventional types of homeless. My city has a strict policy of putting every homeless and beggars in sight to “special institutions”. They encourage people to call their hotline whenever anyone sees a homeless or beggars, with very good rewards. They have been doing that for a long time and they are very efficient, so today there are hardly any homeless/beggars in the street.

I think the homeless/beggars have put on a disguise of “street sellers”, or maybe they figure out that they have to give people something in return for money. But street sellers are notorious for being sleazy; the mildest trick they can pull out is selling things at ridiculous price. Because of that not many people want to buy their things, let alone giving them any money. I myself have to be wary of those people too. I have to ignore them. I know they may be in serious need, but then again too many of them are bad now.

zenvelo's avatar

I see the homeless multiple times a day, especially in downtown San Francisco and driving through Oakland. But also in the comfortable suburb where I live.

ibstubro's avatar

“How often do you see homeless or other beggars”, @Mariah, seems pretty insensitive to me, is all.

Your topic is “homeless” and your question is about “beggars”.
You don’t see the insensitivity of that?
That somehow the homeless among us are only visible as “beggars”? How do you know “never saw homeless people” in the sheltered small town you used to live in?

Obviously, the implication is that homeless people bear a stigmata of some sort.

Mariah's avatar

And you were lecuturing ME about looking for offense in words? You twisted my words so completely that my head is spinning.

JLeslie's avatar

Where I’m living now I don’t see them often, but I have lived and spent time in places where I saw them regularly. I worry about them and feel bad for them. I sometimes give money, I’ve given an umbrella on a rainy day. I have given food leftovers. Sometimes I pass by and give nothing. I feel like it can happen to any of us. Life is precarious. Many of them are mentally ill.

I’m reminded of this recent story about a young man giving his shirt and hat to a homeless person on the NY subway. Watch the video, the beginning is a commercial.

@ibstubro Lay off. I think Mariah has made it clear now she doesn’t classify all homeless as beggars.

ibstubro's avatar

What did I twist?

“How often do you see beggars?” is listed under the topic, “homeless”?

Mariah's avatar

SOME homeless ARE beggars. I NEVER said ALL of them are. Get off my ass.

ucme's avatar

Coming from a wee small town, I never see homeless people. Obviously when I venture into the larger surrounding cities I come across a few.
I react to them with sympathy & feel so sad for the plight they find themselves in, sometimes the thought lingers with me all day & I tear up a little.

jca's avatar

@ibstubro: @Mariah said “or” in her question. Implication is not all homeless are beggars.

ibstubro's avatar

Why the defensiveness?

“homeless or other beggars”
“never saw homeless people until a few years ago. Now I…see them every day.”

JLeslie's avatar

@ibstubro Oh Lord. Why do jellies have to be so strict about how things are written. @Mariah wrote “or” but technically since she wrote or other beggars, the word other can imply that the homeless are all beggars. When I read the question at first I didn’t not interpret it as if @Mariah meant all homeless are beggars, but I see how the particular sentence can be scrutinized. However, at this point @Mariah has clarified her intention, and we should all believe that was her intention and belief, that not all homeless are beggars, and accept it. There is no reason to not believe her. We have all known her a long time and to question her intention is not nice after she explained what her intention was.

You’re badgering her. Leave it alone.

ibstubro's avatar

It’s a social question on a Q&A answer site. I’m just speaking to the OP’s insensitivity toward homeless people.
(I FINALLY found yesterday’s NPR story I was looking for!)

In Rural America, Homeless Population May Be Bigger Than You Think
There is a homeless tally in America in January, and the story describes luring homeless people out in rural areas.

jca's avatar

OP is not insensitive. She has clarified. It’s been repeated.

ibstubro's avatar

Five myths about America’s homeless
3. Homeless people don’t work.
According to a 2002 national study by the Urban Institute, about 45 percent of homeless adults had worked in the past 30 days—only 14 percentage points lower than the employment rate for the general population

ibstubro's avatar

”“...never saw homeless people until a few years ago. Now I…see them every day.”

How do you know?

Mariah's avatar

I figured that the majority of Flutherites’ interactions with the homeless would be with the ones who are begging. I know that is the case for me. That’s why I asked about that particular subset in the question title. If you’ve had personal interactions with the homeless, begging ones or not, feel free to ANSWER THE ACTUAL QUESTION I ASKED.

You purport to know about the town I grew up in? Unless there were homeless among me somehow disguised in expensive preppy clothes, nobody there was homeless. It was also a tiny nosy town where everybody knew everybody else’s business. I knew everybody around town. None of them were homeless.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I see homeless people every day, and it makes me sad.

ibstubro's avatar

I posted a link to a piece about the rural homeless populations in America, @Mariah.
It ran yesterday, and was the first thing I thought of when I saw the question.

I live in a small town in the rural Midwest and no one ever believed we had homeless among us until some man moved under the overpass of the interstate at the edge of town. The overpass was visible from the place I worked, or I probably wouldn’t have been unaware of him, either.
Not only was he not a beggar, he refused all outreach, including offers of meals, housing and work. After a few years, he disappeared.
Now when I drive by the tiny parks downtown I realize that those aren’t just old men hanging out, they’re homeless.

Sorry if you feel raising awareness of the homeless you don’t see didn’t fit within your question.

Mariah's avatar

Feel free to raise awareness elsewhere, that wasn’t the point of this question and I’m tired of you lecturing me all over the site.

Darth_Algar's avatar

“My small rural town has homeless, therefore all small rural towns have homeless.”

As to the question – Being a a major metropolitan area (Chicagoland) and going into the city fairly often, I do see my fair share of homeless folks and beggars (who may or may not be homeless. How I react depends on the vibe I get from them.

ibstubro's avatar

Damned if I do…

There is a link to the challenges of reporting the homeless in rural America above, @Darth_Algar.

Darth_Algar's avatar


Yes, I’m aware of that. No one’s denying that there’s a problem with homelessness in rural America. Yet you seem to be discounting entirely the possibility that @Mariah did indeed grow up in a small, rural town where there were no homeless folks. And you insist upon badgering her about it to boot.

Here2_4's avatar

I believe the question does ask for input regarding the experiences of others here, not what do we think of the poster’s situation. I don’t see why all replies should be funneled into the small, narrow view of one town, when it clearly asks for our various experiences.
If @ibstubro has experiences in his life and environment which differ so greatly as to give him a different take on the question than others here, I don’t see how that is bullying. He interpreted the question as his environment would leave him perceiving it.
I am sure @Mariah lives in a town which must have sheltered her from experiences which would leave her understanding the differences between homeless, and beggars. Whereas, @ibstubro is likely to have lived in such an environment lending him to be incensed when the definition of either is so loosely tossed in together.
A question was asked. Someone was offended. Can we be nice jellies, and say, “I had no idea your experiences were quite so minimal”, and “I am sorry my use of terms offended you.”
I too saw the two words thrown together as being intended synonymous, however, also seeing that she claimed her experiences with such as quite rare, I thought she had an excuse for what appeared at first crude. I see there is a battle here between two worlds, each innocent in their own ways.
Can we all view ourselves more aware of something new at this point?

stanleybmanly's avatar

If you’re on foot in any area of the city zoned for commerce, there’s no avoiding them. They are stationed at the doorway to any commercial enterprise accepting cash and issuing change. Freeway on and off ramps, major intersections, all of the entrances to the Bart & Metro stations, sidewalks in front of civic buildings. Negotiating the downtown & financial district streets amounts to running a gauntlet. Places like Walgreens or Safeway have regulars that probably do quite well, because anyone shopping those place regularly knows & recognizes them. It only shows that you can adjust to anything.

Anyone conscious before 1980 can remember when there weren’t armies of homeless folks infesting city streets. Every neighborhood might have a derelict, wino, punch drunk ex fighter, or mildly neurotic bag lady that the local neighbors and merchants looked out for & kept tabs on. Remember how alarmed we all were at the appearance of legions of homelesss people in the early 80s? Today they are just fixtures of city life like traffic lights and pigeons.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I had reason to go to Wichita several times over the last couple of weeks. I actually lived there until 1995. There are homeless people, or people who appeared to be homeless, EVERYwhere. never saw that during all the years I lived there.
What changed?

Mariah's avatar

@Here2_4 “homeless or other beggars” means that the question is asking about your experiences with people who are homeless, some of whom are beggars, or people who are begging but are not homeless. I cannot see how anyone is interpreting this as me saying “all homeless people are beggars.” My harsh reaction is less about this particular incident with @ibstubro and more about the fact that he is seemingly following me around the site and has been giving me a hard time in multiple threads and I have had enough of it.

Jak's avatar

I give my cash to anyone who I see who is “on the road”. I’d like to buy some land and put up some tiny homes. I’d like to be able to start a self-sustaining community for homeless people and convicted felons. that’s a dream I have any way. and if @ibstibro want to quarrel about phrasing and words, the correct term is stigma, not stigmata.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

I hear there are quite a few homeless here. I don’t know how to identify homeless people. I sometimes see people who look to be indigent. There is no big city where I am now so there really is no gathering place for them like warehouse districts or bridges under which they might find shelter. I’ve asked about it and people say they live out in the rural areas away from town. This is an unincorporated area with over 50,000 population. There is no “down town.” So the answer is yes, I’m sure I do; I just don’t really know who they are.

ibstubro's avatar

The surge in homeless during the 80’s was largely blamed on the Reagan administration’s policy on mainstreaming the mentally ill, @stanleybmanly, and I think there’s a lot of truth to it. However, The National Coalition for the Homeless found in 2007 that the explosion was due to an increase in poverty and a decrease in affordable housing [PDF warning].

How long had it been since you were in Wichita, @Dutchess_III? Do you think the mild winter effected the homeless migration, or did it seem permanent?

Do you know Tiny Houses @Jak? Or even housing modules?

A lot of time and effort is spent trying to find those rural homeless, @MollyMcGuire. My living area is much the same, but with a small downtown. Did you see the Rural Homeless link above?

Here2_4's avatar

@ibstubro , cool little homes. I am partial to these.

ibstubro's avatar

I was looking for stacked housing more like my 2nd link, @Here2_4, but didn’t find the one I was looking for. My Tiny House intro almost looks like a homeless village.
I think the reporter of that story had a house much like the one you posted, as I remember it being moved more than once.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Mariah I’ll skip all the drama above and answer the simple question you asked.
I live in Western NY. I never – I repeat – never see homeless or people begging in my town. It is cold where I live.
Rigth now I am in Louisiana and was walking in New Orleans yesterday. It seemed like there was someone with a cardboard sign saying: “Homeless, Hungry please help.” “Anything appreciated.” etc. sitting at every corner. I would define that as begging. There were at least 8 sitting on the grounds near Cafe Du Monde. That was at about 3:00 pm Thursday.

You also asked how I reacted. I walked by with indifference. It is clear this is a bottomless pit and something way bigger than me is needed to fix it.

jaytkay's avatar

We had a nearly identical question a month ago.

Do you see homeless people everyday?

As I wrote then, there are two large highway underpasses within a half mile of my place with about 4 people living under each one.

This photo was taken here in my neighborhood.

$1M homes are also common in the neighborhood,

stanleybmanly's avatar

The true extent of the down & out in the country is almost certainly hidden. For understandable reasons the homeless and panhandlers are funneled into major cities. Take Daly City which borders San Francisco. on the South and has miles of sprawling commercial enterprises, strip malls etc. You NEVER see a panhandler, derelict, or even a wino ANYWHERE in Daly City. And the reason is simple. Anyone seen pushing a shopping cart filled with their belongings or caught panhandling in Daly City is separated from that cart by a policeman, driven to the San Francisco city limits and told not to return. Everybody knows it. And the word has been out for decades.

I was told once by someone even more cynical than myself that the homeless should be viewed as one would a roach infestation—“if you see one, you can bet there are dozens you don’t see”. I would really like a comprehensive estimate of the number of people in this town living in their cars under the freeways or hard scrabbling between homeless shelters

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

@Mariah, I see homeless people whenever I go into my closest major city. I see them when I travel in all big cities. I don’t see homeless people so much in my local area, however, I think I just don’t go to places they frequent.

When I see homeless people I feel incredibly sad that in such a wealthy country, so many people lack a place to live, a job, and are generally uncared for by society. I was in the city the other day. I walked past a man lying on a bench. I felt quite guilty because the thing that I really noticed was how dirty his feet were. I felt bad for judging him. It made me want to put together some packs with soaps, toothpaste and the like and keep some in the car. I’m thinking of doing that. Nothing too expensive. I have lots of hotel stuff here. I figure, if I just took a couple of canvas bags containing toiletries with me when I go to the city, I could hand them out and it might make a tiny difference to someone’s life. I’ve read one of the hardest things is keeping yourself clean and presentable. Everyone wants to have the dignity of being able to wash or brush their teeth and hair.

I think we can all make a difference. We might not be able to change the world, but we can reach out and show we care.

Mariah's avatar

@Earthbound_Misfit I agree that anyone has the power to help at least a little bit. The problem I feel is that I see people in need so often that I can possibly help them all. Then I start beating myself up – why did I give money to that guy but not the guy I saw earlier? Aren’t they both deserving? I know that’s silly though because helping one person is better than helping no one at all.

I don’t really need cash in my day to day life but I’ve thought about trying to keep a few bucks on me all the time to help out the homeless I see. It’s a little tough though because my bank doesn’t let me withdraw money in reasonably small bills.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I hear you @Mariah. As you can see, I’m pretty compassionate too. But no, we can’t help everyone. I guess we can only do what we can do. Sometimes, even just acknowledging a person makes a difference.

When I was in a British city last year I went for a walk with my camera early in the morning. I saw a homeless man sitting with his dog in his lap. They were both resting. I was touched by the obvious friendship and I asked him if I could take their photo. Not because he was homeless, but because of the beauty of the relationship between him and his dog. At first, he thought I wanted the photo because he was homeless. So I sat down next to him and explained why I wanted the photo. I’m a street photographer, but I never take photos of homeless people simply because they’re homeless. That feels like exploitation. So we had a great conversation about this travels and why he was there and his friendship with his dog. He was so appreciative that I cared enough to talk to him and to actually ask before taking the photo!

While I’m not suggesting going up to anybody, because you have to be cautious of your own safety, I do think there is value in just saying hello. Sharing a smile. Just noticing the person is there can make a difference. Even if you don’t have any cash to give them. I can’t imagine how it feels to be sitting on a street with people looking past me, ignoring me and treating me as if I was invisible all day long.

Mariah's avatar

That’s so lovely. I wish I had the courage to do something like that. I consider it all the time, but I never act. I am too worried about safety. I often wonder if I am balancing personal safety and compassion in an appropriate way.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I usually have dollar coins packed in those plastic 35 mm film roll containers in all the vehicles. The parking meters will take them. When I park, I dump the coins in my pocket, and I’m good to go. Usually anyone who asks will get something. Except for Costco (which doesn’t tolerate panhandlers) I do my grocery shopping at 3 in the morning and am increasingly rarely on city sidewalks in the daytime. But when I must venture downtown in the daytime, I never get used to the alarming numbers of folks down on their heels. Frankly, I’m at a loss for affixing the blame or fault, but you look at that stuff going on amidst the sea of wealth rolling by and you know it just ain’t right. I often wonder if the generation which experienced the Great Depression would tolerate what we witness?

Darth_Algar's avatar

@stanleybmanly ” I often wonder if the generation which experienced the Great Depression would tolerate what we witness?”

If my grandparents (born: 1910 and 1923) and great-grandparents (born: 1905 and 1910) were any example to go by, extremely doubtful.

msh's avatar

@Mariah – Excellent question, and yes, you do need to have a care about who, when, and how. You never know the circumstances or ‘mind-set’ some may be living. Back awhile, my then SO and I went to a drive though for a late dinner. We lived in a section of town that one must be alert, yet not fearful. It was dark and icy with a mean wind. A man was standing at the entrance/exit ramp on a busy street. We saw him while driving in. Was he waiting for the driver’s leftover change, or something to eat? I got an extra sandwich. As we pulled out, I was handing the bag to him and he yelled- What in the hell am I supposed to do with that? That’s not gonna get me a warm bottle! I just said that perhaps he could save it for later or for someone he knew. His whole demeanor changed and he still sounded gruff, but said- No. But thank you!
I Had never seen begging, the homeless, the needy, etc growing up. I went to another continent to live for a bit, at different times – Eye-opener! From those wishing to live outside the bonds of society, to those who lived comfortably on panhandling. Some had pets do tricks. Some had children with them. After talking to this one woman with two raggedy- dressed children and a baby in filthy clothes, she told me that the children and baby were not hers. She rented them for the day. Your money from begging, she said, doubled when they were with her. The parents got a cut of her earnings. But she couldn’t afford them when she panhandled just once a week. Only on the second day in a week. Some countries help, some hide them, some outlaw, while another allows sleeping in the parks for any and all…
Now, with the colder weather, the more I will help on street corners. I don’t need to know what it goes for. I don’t have a lot at this point, but they usually need it more than I. I feel so bad when they cry when you share. I hear; I’m not begging. I worked! I’m just homeless right now and want to get out of the shelter for my kids. It seems so sad—Here! Take it all! You’re crying, and now I’m crying! Do you want my car? :( I’ll stop and give a ride in hot or in crappy weather to someone walking hefting groceries or back from classes. Sometimes people just need a boost. Monetarily or just some of your time.
@Earthbound_Misfit- A true class act. Asking and also talking to the person. I wonder if he realizes that somewhere tonight ( or day!) that his story was shared by so many, everywhere. How cool. :)

Here2_4's avatar

I have a friend who packs gallon sized zip bags with stuff. A few of us all pitch in our hotel freebies. She includes toothpaste, toothbrush, two dollars, a pair of socks, and some sort of snack; whatever is on sale at the time.
We all take part in the supplying, but she spends more time in city environments, so she’s the one to carry them around.

longgone's avatar

[Mod says] Please remember to disagree without being disagreeable. This thread is in Social, but being helpful and friendly is a general requirement on Fluther.

[Not as a mod] If I go into town, there will be beggars around. Not many (there are about 10 regulars, some who seem to wander), but a few.

I have no idea how many of them are homeless. I’d assume most are. I also, however, know of quite a few people who are homeless by choice. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, and they do work. They just prefer living outside.

When I see the homeless, I feel fine. They live the life they chose, and I’m happy they have the possibility to do so.

When I see the beggars, I feel sad. I am especially saddened by seeing beggars who don’t look German – while Germans have a strong social system to benefit from, illegal immigrants don’t have many options. They can’t (legally) work or rent an apartment, so their situation must be extremely difficult.

I also feel sad when I see people who seem mentally unstable. I worked at a lawyer’s office for a while, and there was one particular woman who just did not know how to deal with people. She walked around town getting into trouble almost daily…harassing people to give her money, chasing others away from “her” spot, taking bus rides she could not afford… Then, when the police were called, she would demand that officers address her as, “Miss Garfield” (not her real name at all), and yell at anyone who tried to cross her.

Predictably, court summons piled up. She was an addict, and had to take care to drink just enough to not be shaking from withdrawal at these hearings – but neither did she want to be too drunk to articulate herself.

It was a horrible situation to watch. She would just self-destruct over and over, and there were no real ways to help her.

That’s another emotion I feel: Helplessness.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@ibstubro I grew up in a small town just a few miles from Wichita. From the mid 70’s on, after graduation, I spent quite a bit of time commuting to and from Wichita.
In 1979 I moved there, and lived there until 1995.

dxs's avatar

All the time. I don’t have a general reaction for all of them. Most times, I just feel bad. Often times I wish there was more I could do, but I don’t have much money myself, and I don’t even have a stable living situation.

I know you’re new to seeing homeless people, so just keep in mind that not all homeless people walk around and beg (and those who do are more than just people who do that). You may think this because ones that don’t beg may not interact with you as much. One example is here at my work. There’s one homeless person who cleans the parking lot and takes out the trash and in change, we give him some food. He’s been doing this since before I worked there and he’s a fun person.

For those that do ask me for money, I say “no.” I know it’s selfish of me, but I’ve been a little bothered lately about certain things. One thing I used to do is split buy-one-get-one-free coupons with people. I haven’t gotten any of those coupons lately though.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My question is, why aren’t those people living high on the hog on government welfare, like the Republicans think is so easy to do?

ibstubro's avatar

I actually addressed that, in part, @Dutchess_III.
Due to mental illness of some quirk of personality there’s a percentage of long-term homeless that are either unable or unwilling to be ‘civilized’. I suspect that there might be a fair amount that aren’t able to apply for services where they are available.

That’s one of the biggest problems with stereotyping homeless. The challenges and needs of long-term and short-term homeless are often completely different. Long-term homeless probably need mental and/or drug counseling to establish a stable lifestyle. Short-term homeless are probably more-or-less used to a stable lifestyle, have lost that suddenly, and need to be steered into services available. If there’s an explosion of homelessness in an area, then the challenge becomes finding the resources to make services available.

As far as Wichita, a lot of the explosion in homelessness probably has to do with Wichita being the largest urban area in Kansas, and rural flight. I still live in the rural Midwest and you can live here on minimum wage. But did you know that Kansas has an incredible 6,000 ghost towns? Rural communities that have just dried up and blown away? Where to go, but toward the city if there’s nothing left of your town and your net worth is under $10,000?

vorg's avatar

I live in a rural area. I have never seen them except for one time, years ago, when one trespassed to steal some of my produce. I reacted by getting my gun, but my dogs were already chewing him up. I called the police. He was taken to a hospital with police escort. Dogs chewed him up good. Over the years I slowly put up metalith walls around my entire property. Haven’t seen a homeless person since.

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