The Homeless

Giving money to the homeless is an economic crisis of the heart. An act to relieve our guilt rather than to fix the underlying crisis of poverty. It is a tug-of-war between the instinct to alleviate suffering and the knowledge that a donation might encourage, rather than relieve, the anguish of the poor. Studies on homeless income from the Department of Housing and Urban Development show that the average beggar who dedicates his time overwhelmingly to begging can make between $600 and $1,500 a month. However, studies also find that 60% of the homeless respondents admitted to using all the money earned within the next 24hrs. Given the likelihood of self-reported bias, the given number could be even higher. Panhandlers often have no way to save their money, being incentivized to spend their daily earnings quickly. Thus, creating a tendency to spend on short-term relief, rather than long-term needs, which can feed on their dependency on alcoholic and or drug relief.


Giving to beggars induce bad long-term incentives. As example, when traveling to an LEDC, many beggars can be located in tourist attractions (as tourists are better sources of income to these people). However, giving to the needy does not make these local beggars richer, they only multiply. An economist Tyler Cowen once wrote “The more you give to beggars, the harder beggars will try. [….] which again limits the net gain to beggars”. Many homeless charities, with support of researches and surveys, suggest that the best way the public can help the homeless is to make donations to a homeless charity. This allows the homeless to be benefited with the proper necessities rather than the risk of spending on short-term relief when they’re to be given cash.


It is an inevitable fact that people who beg are often the most vulnerable in our society, and many will be struggling with relative poverty. However, the most visible aren’t the only ones that requires support. There are more “invisible” homeless who are actively seeking jobs rather than to be a “career panhandler”. “I hit the streets looking for work, my only resume a stint in a factory, vestiges of an incomplete education, and an immaculately starched waitress uniform” (Patti Smith 2010, 35). Like Patti Smith and the other active unemployed seeking jobs, it may be more productive and ethically right to provide help for those who seek change that are less visible to the public’s eye than those who are more visible. Like Henri Matisse once said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them”.

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