A beggar, and a gentleman

You can’t wish a beggar a happy birthday and then do nothing for him.

I doubt it’s a rule, morally speaking, but maybe it should be unless he’s clearly already in the middle of a good time.

If he’s sat where he always is, wrapped in blankets against the cold, and tells you it’s his birthday, and that he awoke that morning to two other homeless people stealing the money he was trying to raise to get into a hostel, what do you do?

If you’re me, you pull a sympathetic face then immediately lock onto the birthday thing, and ask if he’s had any cake.


Sometimes I piss myself off. As if cake is his priority. As if cake is even a necessity for a birthday. As if celebrating his life when he’s living on the streets in abject nothingness, is even a thing he really wants to do?

In my defence, he brought it up.

I think I wished him happy birthday anyway, in my blundering, dull way (that I’ve described to my far more switched-on sister as being akin to a goldfish bomping its nose repeatedly against the glass of the tank).

Bomp. Bomp. Bomp.

Happy birthday Mr Beggar man.

Bomp. Bomp!

I try not to be too stupid, most of the time, but so often I’m in my own little oblivious world, I do (or don’t do) a thing before it even registers that what I’ve done (or didn’t) was, even generously speaking, idiotic.

I do try to notice people who beg, especially when they’re often there, and particularly when the temperature is edging freezing. I don’t usually know extra facts like birthdays, or whether they were robbed (or peed on by passers-by, or had their belongings scattered, or were harangued by the police, or subject to abuse, or any of the other everyday torments they’re vulnerable to), but I do tend to assume if they had anywhere better to be, they’d be there.

Beggar and a gentleman

This chap, I like. He’s polite in asking for change, and isn’t aggressive. He sits, he smiles and says thank you to the people who give to him. He likes hot chocolate. If he’s got enough food, he says he’s fine. He doesn’t come across as grabby or uncouth. He seems sad, but I suppose that’s par for the course. He seems to be quite a gentleman, and hasn’t let hard times erode his good manners.

I still haven’t asked him his name, and that bothers me. Lots bothers me. I want to do more, but I know it’s not my responsibility, and I’m wary of how much I might prove willing to take on. I want to help but I know I can’t fix things for him.

It’s been many years of thinking (and overthinking) on my part to come to a place of peace with giving to people who beg. I’m inconsistent in applying my own rules. I’m guilty of walking away without helping. I’ve been ashamed of the little I’ve given, or feel ridiculous about how much I’ve given. I’ve been upbraided in the street by a belligerent stranger who saw me giving money to someone, and vehemently disagreed with my opting to do as I wished with my own fun (I told him to mind his own business.) I’ve wondered extensively about the pros and cons of giving to charities which claim to help people in poverty, rather than giving directly to them. I’ve given food and items instead of cash. I’ve run the gamut.

“They’re just going to spend it on drugs and alcohol.” Maybe, but if I am part of a culture which celebrates and encourages women who have a glass of wine after a hard day, who am I to judge if a person on the streets wants to get shitfaced and forget their hardship for a while?

“They’re just scammers – they’ve all got houses.” I’ve experienced first–hand the ‘help’ that can be proffered through the government welfare system in the UK. They might well have a room somewhere, and still be unable to afford food or clothes or basic amenities. Four walls and a roof is a start, but it’s a long way from able to manage life, if that’s all it is.

“They all have mobile phones – they’re not really poor. They probably make more than I do.” When you’re on the streets and trying to survive, or get off them, a mobile phone is a life-line. It’s absolutely a priority. And if they made more than you do, they wouldn’t be there. If they had your abundance, and the relative stability of your life, they wouldn’t be there.

In the end, the arguments boil down to unwillingness to help, for whatever reason. I’m resigned to the fact that people of all walks of life will hunker down and act without a shred of compassion for those their actions (or lack, thereof) might influence.

I prefer to err on the side of kindness.

If a person in dire straits chooses to use what I give them for ill, on their own head be it – it ceases to be my business as soon as my donation is made. Of course I would prefer to think they all work diligently to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but I think the reality is rather different, and the situation is more akin to trying to lift two buckets off the ground whilst standing in them.

Having been in the position of urgently needing funds in order to make rent, and having lived under the shadow of counting every penny to ensure all demands could be met, I have a somewhat-maybe-nearish understanding of the misery and terror that penury might hold.

It impacts everything.

It affects everything.

It becomes everything.

I was very blessed by family and friends who put their hands in their pockets to help me out and see me through. I didn’t go under, but spent far longer than I’d ever like to again barely treading water. It was desperately miserable.

Now I’ve got things stable and am no longer desperately miserable, I look on my small abundance with eyes that have seen lack. Now I’ve known people who have lived on the streets, I look on my small abundance with eyes that have seen what it is to live with only what can be begged for or taken. Now I’ve seen abject poverty in Kenya, I look on my small abundance with eyes that have understood the measures to which desperate people can resort.

And having seen all that, and having abundance (despite any ‘but you earned it’ type argument to the contrary), all I can see is the small differences I can make – the small embetterings of lives so impoverished.

I still fail. I still spend frivolously (and why shouldn’t I?). I still enrich my own life first. I’m still largely sensible with my income. But I give, and I will continue to give, as long as I have anything left worth giving…and not only because there but for the grace of God go I.

It’s simpler than that: we’re all human.

We need each other.

Or at least, I need to think we do.




19 thoughts on “A beggar, and a gentleman

  1. Millions of Americans are one paycheck away from financial disaster, and medical expenses are probably the biggest reason why. We certainly are, after all my medical bills. I do believe it is better to give money to an organization that helps the homeless rather than giving money to an individual; a non-profit like the Salvation Army can take a small donation and pool it with other small donations and buy food in bulk and feed many people.

    There are so very many people in need world-wide. I see the horrors in far away places like Syria, and I think international efforts get a lot of media attention, but I feel we should look in our own back yards and see what can be done right there. So many children in our area are hungry! They get free breakfast and lunch at school (around 63% of students qualify for free or reduced meals), but may not get any supper. Or get fed enough over the weekend. The schools send home backpacks of nutritious foods and snacks on weekends for some of the children, because many homes don’t have any food in them. It’s heart breaking. Where do you start?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s easy to become overwhelmed and shut down. I know lines have to be drawn, and no amount of effort or input from any one person/group/organisation will ever be enough. We just start somewhere, where we can, with what we can do. And we do that little bit and try not to feel (because we’re doing *something*) we’re responsible for all of it. It’s like the boy in the story throwing stranded starfish from the beach back into the ocean – he knows he can’t help them all in their thousands, but he can help this one…and this one…and this one. And so can we.


  2. While I was in New Orleans, my nephew pointed out the perpetually pregnant lady who’s been begging for handouts for over four years now, plus a guy in a wheelchair who looks for handouts during heavy traffic, and yet my nephew has seen the same guy up and walking at a grocery store in the neighborhood a couple of times. Those are extreme cases, but even then, it can be rather overwhelming when so many people approach looking for a handout.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. I quite agree. I really feel very uncomfortable when people approach me, and I think the culture of stand-offishness in general in the UK supports my experience of beggars here being largely polite. In Kenya they were brazen and very aggressive. I was advised not to give anything at all, or they all would have come to me. As it was, my colleagues wouldn’t let me go to the beach alone by day two!


  3. I was in San Francisco last weekend and there are homeless people everywhere. I was lamenting that I didn’t have any cash to hand out and my adult son (who we were there to visit) commented along the lines of they spend it on drugs or they are scamming or some such thing–I don’t remember what he said exactly. But I stand by what I said to him–“I am not responsible for what THEY do. I am only responsible for what *I* do.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a wonderful response and good for you for standing up to him. It can’t have been easy. And yes…I get annoyed with myself when I have no change to offer.


  4. Bump. Bump. Bump.

    I am good at that frankly, but your time over in Kenya, it brought home how those living in certain parts of the world, without the right class status or family support, that those are the ones who end up in poverty. Lots of blind people around the world have so much less than I have. I don’t often enough donate any little I can, but I did with that white cane I donated to someone, through you telling me about the need and where and how to lend a hand and an object of some freedom to someone. I do doubt where the money might go, if it is all for nothing, but that’s my negative side showing.

    We are all human. We all need someone, each other.

    Still, I am likely to do the same as you say: bump bump bump.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think as much as anything, we need each other to talk about the needs we notice and the deficits we come into contact with, or we can spend our lives insulated, thinking everything’s fine, when in reality there might be a situation that sorely needs just what we can offer.

      Likewise I think we all need to share the good and boost each other along.

      I have no doubt your cane was very much needed and appreciated. I trust that charity, having met the people involved.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The homeless debate (do we give food or money or walk past or or or or) is so hard, and there are SO MANY people to help, world-wide, and in our neighborhoods. Having walls to sleep in doesn’t mean our bellies are full, or that our children have care, or that or that or that. It’s mind-blowing and knee-bending, and you are so kind, so real, so wonderful that you look at this, and all the things with empathy and compassion and question it all. I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ❤️❤️❤️
      Mind blowing and knee bending is so fit a description. It’s such a huge thing and it ripples an impact into everything and yet still not far enough, and everything we could do would never be enough. There is such lack, and by comparison we have so much, and yet we don’t. It makes everything a tangle, so we just do what we can. I guess I want to remind myself and everyone that it’s okay to just do what we can.


  6. I’m not first, but I’m not last either, so there’s that. 🙂

    You are the kindest of souls and I love you for that, and I love how you ended this. Just a few words (a few bomps on the glass) but so heavily weighted with profound trueness:

    We’re all human. We need each other.

    It’s a simple and as complicated as that, innit? ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heheh I hope you’re not last. I think I missed the ‘best share’ algorithms for today!

      The bomps. Ohmigosh. I am too good at them, but at least I get a few truths in the mix.

      Dead simple. Like life, right 💙💚😘


  7. We do all need each other. That knowledge, that so many work so hard to avoid, is one of the roots of love. Whether or not we know in the moment what to do, recognizing that there but for fortune am I is the wellspring of kindness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is it (great song by the way – so right for this) – this kind of thing potentially could happen to anyone. None of us know the traps and pitfalls set for us, and how we’ll respond to those challenges…but whatever our challenges, we ALL do better when we’ve got people on our side, supporting us.

      Liked by 1 person

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