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I was a recent visitor to San Francisco and, although I had been prewarned about your homeless people, was not prepared for the approach I received last Saturday (28th March) evening.

On my way to Chinatown to enjoy a meal, I was suddenly aware of a gentleman who, as it turned out, litteraly 'begged' me for some money. Within seconds I was reduced to tears for the pitifull way in which he asked for help and I could no more have eaten my meal then without choking on every mouthful, than fly to the moon without a kite!

Suffice to say, I gave into the begging and wished him well. He subsequently walked into the nearest Starbucks but came out again quite quickly. I'm not sure if he was just doing that for my benefit and then went on to spend his gain on alocohol as my husband suggested or was refused service.

We have a large homeless community in England but they are able to register as such and receive help by way of helping themselves without doing such demeaning things. (I don't wish this to sound snobbish or holier than though in any way -it's a genuine heartfelt concern for these people). We never know what life will throw at us and some of these people need to feel useful. They are able to purchase a magazine called 'The Big Issue' which they then sell to passers by. Everyone in the country is well aware that these people are homeless and can choose to support them or not. They are tought how to speak to customers and I find their conversation extremely polite and cheery and it obviously gives them a sense of worth for people to come up to them and puchase a good read. On almost every occasion I will pay more for the magazine than necessary, which means they will have a little extra something in their pocket.

I'm not sure if you have a similar arrangement in the States but it might be an idea for someone to start up if not. Having had a quick look at some of your websites, I beleive they already receive a lot of available help but wondered if they could perhaps help themselves this way?

Alison Minns - aminns@mdfcubed.com


Thank you for visiting San Francisco. I’ve also been curious about how the homeless and poor are treated in England. When I visited 10 years ago I noticed many signs that prohibited panhandling. I’ve also been told missionaries who preach in London are not allowed to be on streets, but must go to special parks. I think the US and England have a different perspective as to how people are allowed to live and act on the streets, and what freedom they have being in public. I also hear that England has a very high tax rate, and those taxes are used for social services. I can’t comment on the availability of services for all who need it. But in San Francisco we depend on government not to cut the slim services there are, and we depend on the charitableness of foundations, corporations, and people to support services. Unfortunately there is more poverty and unfortunate circumstances than the services can provide for. Way more. Therefore people are forced to beg sometimes. It is true that many people beg for drugs and alcohol. There is a myriad of responses to that situation, from not helping at all, to my approach and that is getting to know the people in your work or home neighborhoods and helping them. That’s one of the reasons for this wiki SFHomeless.net, so that those who are motivated can do research and try to help, and if they find that service doesn’t exist, they can become part of the debate to increase funding or charity for that service. For someone in your situation, it is a hard call whether to donate to that man. Personally I feel tourists are ethically exempt from becoming too personally involved in trying to help because I believe the local community needs to get to know the people in need and help them. For what it’s worth, that’s my opinion. As for selling magazines, we have a Street Sheet monthly newspaper produced by the local homeless advocacy group where people sell papers for $1 instead of begging. However the market for newspapers is not enough for people to survive on, and not enough for all people to do that. Begging is the only solution for some, and that will be the case until we live in a more understanding society.

Thank you for your concern!

DavidBeall 18:48, 4 April 2009 (UTC) (e-mail copy sent too)

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