Saturday, April 27, 2013

Street Scenes

While our city is prospering and growing lately (with  new building projects going on everywhere), we are also getting “the flipside of the coin”…

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They come here from Eastern Europe: Not to live, not to stay, but to beg. As members of the European Union they have the right to stay three months as ‘tourists’ (or whatever). Technically they are not breaking any laws (because there is no law against just sitting in the street hoping that people will drop some coins in your paper cup). But being neither citizens nor refugees seeking residence, they fall outside the normal social welfare systems. From what I’ve read in the papers they also sleep rough – in spite of the hard winter we’ve been having. In a town this size there are no charity shelters to cover this kind of situation.

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I can’t imagine that these beggars are here, doing this, for “fun” - especially not in winter. But at the same time it can’t be ruled out (as some suggest) that it is “organized” (meaning some of the money might go to a boss somewhere who does not actually have to sit in the streets himself). But until someone can prove that, or some new law is introduced to prohibit begging… It seems we have to live with it. (The beggars who are here just now won’t be here forever. But no doubt there will be others.)

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Meanwhile, the rest of us continue running in and out of shops as usual, buying new spring clothes or colourful scrapbooking items or whatever. (I mention scrapbooking because a new hobby shop opened in town on Friday, and I popped in to have a look around… And yes, spent some money too.)

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So we shop, and manage to put the beggars out of our minds for a little while... But as soon as we get back out on the street - there they are again (or still).

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I have no more idea than anyone else how to handle it. For years, my personal policy has been to only give to charity through established organisations or churches – not to any anonymous collector that happens to wave some list in my face in the street.

But these silent people with their paper cups sitting bundled up in the streets in the freezing cold all winter long... The same faces in the same street corners, day in and day out… By their presence alone, they bring world poverty uncomfortably close. Occasionally I break my own rules and drop them a few coins. Do those coins make any real difference? Probably not much. Does it make me feel any better? No. It just makes me think I need a new (or renewed) policy. (Actually I feel the town needs a policy. Or Sweden does. Or Europe. Or the World…)

Any thoughts, experience, advice??

19 comments:

  1. A much more lucid rant than I ever manage.

    I for one ignore beggars. I don't feel good about it......I pay the poor and distressed to wash my van. If they want to give something in return then I feel duty bound to use them. They get twenty sterling for a quick camper wash. Which tax free is okay for half an hours work.

    I hate to think what the long term solution is. I suspect civil unrest will rear it's ugly head again but not I suspect in Sweden. You are a pretty law abiding lot.

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    1. In an international perspective I suppose we are, Adrian... But even here, social and economic differences in society are increasing, with the usual problems and antagonisms in tow.

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  2. I have been taking stealth photos of our beggars holding signs, too. There are many here! They hold up signs saying "Out of work" "Homeless" etc. They even sit at major intersections and hope for people stopped at red lights to give. Many are on drugs, and to give them money, it would just be spent on more drugs. But Phil likes to help them out and will give them a dollar or five because he says anyone who stands in the freezing cold or heat all day ought to get something for it. You have really done a good job on these pictures! It is a real problem, then I feel bad at even saying it is a problem when they have real ones! Our area churches last year opened our first homeless shelters. Each week a different church hosts it, my pastor was the ringleader in starting it. But it is only open during the winter cold months, when they can get a hot meal and sleep on a it at night. Your post here is done tastefully and very well.

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    1. Well summarized, Ginny: "It is a real problem, then I feel bad at even saying it is a problem when they have real ones!" ... Of course here too we have people with both money and drug problems since before, and there are social services and churches and other charity organisations to help (to some degree at least). You don't usually see those people begging in the streets - not systematically like this. The 'tourist' beggars are a relatively new phenomenon in our city, and thereby taking us all a bit by surprise...

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  3. In my town, every now and then a gang of organized beggars haunt the streets. We know that they are organized - with a boss taking all the money without ever being there on the street himself - because they have been observed, meeting a certain street corners before and after they start their work, and being dropped there and picked up again in a minibus. Every now and then, the police put a stop to it, but some time later, another group takes the place of the first one. I don't doubt that the ones doing the actual work are poor devils, but giving them money does not help THEM - it only makes their bosses richer, and supports an industry that should not be supported.
    Of course, there are others, working alone; some of them are on drugs, some aren't; some have dogs with them, some have a sign saying "homeless", but these are the minority here. Since both my Mum and Dad closely work with and for charity and social organizations in our town, I know that there are numerous possibilities for a person in distress to better their lot. Nobody in this country really needs to starve, or freeze to death on the street. I don't say these poor people WANT this, I am just saying I do not see why I should feel guilty about them. The money I earn each month is earned by honest work, and almost half of it goes off my account and straight into the tax system, which in turn provides for the welfare part of this country's administration.
    Like Adrian and Ginny have said, your post is very well done and should nudge us all into doing a bit of thinking.

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    1. What you say, Meike, seems to confirm that the problem may indeed be more a lot more complex that it might appear at first. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. what did you do to these photos? picmonkey? if so how? i love it. like pencil drawings in PSE but better.
    we have over 3000 homeless in our city, and they passed a law they can not pan handle and beg for money. we have programs for a hot meal once a day and help with finding a job.. it is a huge problem in USA.

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    1. Sandra, I did all the editing here in Picasa 3, combining various tools step by step. First I turned the photos into "drawings", then in some I also used focus zoom and/or vignetting. What I wanted to do was show the situation without exposing the individual people.

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  5. I give to organized charities only, in particular the Salvation Army who deal a lot with the homeless and Second Harvest a food bank. I don't give to individuals on the street, ever!

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  6. Thanks to all for your comments. Put together they confirm that this is not just a local problem.

    Walking into town today on a Sunday afternoon, when most of the shops in the town centre are closed, I made some additional observations. First of all, today there were no beggars in the streets. So I wondered to myself where they go on a Sunday? The shopping mall on the outskirts of town, perhaps? But then on my way home, I took the way through the park. And there they were - not "working", just all gathered! Not just the half dozen or so individuals that I thought we were dealing with... But probably about two dozen. What became clear is that they're definitely not each as lonely as they appear when I've seen them one by one.

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  7. How interesting. We do have people living rough here and we see them sleeping under bridges, in the park in cardboard boxes etc..however, I have never seen this... But I know there are good missions to help. I don't know if it is illegal to beg here!
    It sounds too organised to me.

    Must explore Picasa more .

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    1. Fi, I can imagine Christchurch must have had its own very special share of problems in connection with the earthquakes. At least becoming homeless for that reason is something we don't have to worry about here...

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  8. This post and the comments are very interesting to me. I live in the north of Australia and we have a similar problem. Similar but different.
    We have people come into the city from remote communities because they have been kicked out by their families and other residents. Once in town they certainly do not use hotels or other commercial accommodation. These people are not poor; they actually receive welfare benefits but choose to spend it on alcohol. They do not want jobs; they are usually unemployable. They sleep on footpaths and in parks. They do not use toilets or showers. They steal food from plates of customers in restaurants. They ask people for money. They get meals and clothing and anything else from charities. They are a problem because they are smelly, violent, confronting, and annoying. They drink and fight and use the hospital and the prison as holiday resorts.
    The other group of people causing a problem are young European backpackers. Not all, just some. They usually travel in a small van. They do not use commercial accommodation or camping grounds. They park illegally overnight and do not pay fines. They hang their washing in full sight in our most beautiful tourist places. They do their cooking and other living in recreational areas not designed for it. They are prepared to work sometimes but are more interested in living as cheaply as possible. This group is not violent or usually drunk, just dishevelled, uncooperative, and arrogant.
    What could be done? I know it sounds cruel, but I think we need to stop being quite so charitable. It only feeds into this culture of "Please do everything for me because I can not". Yes, I know that people can be down on their luck and then recover after some help. But, I also know many people rort and cheat the present system. Prison is not the solution. Poverty is not a crime, but deceiving people and preying off the generous is not right.

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    1. Interesting to get a report from yet another corner of the world, Louise. You're right - poverty as such is not a crime; deception however is another story.

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  9. This was a very interesting post for me. A "tourist beggar" is a concept which I'm sure will catch on here quite easily.
    At present we have beggars in certain areas in the city and at various tourist attractions. The police force will try to keep them in check, but sometimes it gets out of hand.
    Most of them are on drugs or alcohol, or gamble a lot, and we refer to them as "paros." Some are really down on their luck, but some are just plain lazy.
    Whenever I'm approached for "money to buy something to eat," I always offer to buy the food items instead. You have to beat them at their own game because they really want the money to buy drugs, not something to eat.
    I sometimes tell them to come home with me and do some gardening to make the money they're asking for, they don't budge.
    There are lots of systems in place to help these folks, but begging seems to be in their blood, while hard work courses through my veins.
    There are some that will wash your vehicle for the money that they're requesting, and this is a win-win situation for both parties.
    Apart from this, I keep my hard-earned money.

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    1. From what I've seen so far of the ones that are here now, they do not seem to be on alcohol or drugs, nor asking for shelter or food "here and now". But not looking for work either. The local newspaper has interviewed a couple of them and their story was they are saving as much as they can to take back home to their families in Romania (or whereever) who lack enough food and proper health care etc. For all I know that may be true, and no crime (as such) involved. But whatever it is, it's a major culture clash...

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  10. Dagens Nyheter has run a very insightful series of articles about the plight of beggars in Sweden. I get so cross when people tell me they are drugged or in the mafia. The newspaper followed many beggars - even home to Romania, where they live in terrible poverty. So poor that sitting on the streets begging is a better alternative.

    i give what money I can and often buy them food. Even if I can't give them anything, I look them in the eye. I talk to them. They are people too.

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    1. I tried to find the DN series of articles Fiona but it seems not to be open to non-subscribers. Our local newspaper has been quite respectful too, though. The reactions I've seen and heard (and felt) are more about how to help and how to handle the problem/situation in the long run.

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  11. Appreciate this post, which addresses a problem that has increased in the last decade. Sadly, with the freedom the East. Eur. countries received, there's a generation who under the old regime hadn't learned to think of creative solutions for themselves. And some just can't because of mental illness or ill health. The problem of homelessness is also in the U.S., only they are not tourists. Even though with so many charities around here, there will be a number of people who don't want to be under any rules, and rather live in the streets.
    The church I attend hands out free food a couple of times a week, and second hand clothes and furniture - it has grown out of the recession in 2008 when so many (much more than you think!) lost their job or house, or both.

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