I found myself in this situation yesterday and it started quite a commotion.
First, a little background. I live on an island devastated by a 200mph hurricane. Hundreds, if not thousands of families are still without roofs on their homes. The tourist-based economy is in serious trouble and won’t recover for a couple of years, unemployment is high, crime on the increase and we are going into what we call the low season when traditionally there are fewer jobs and less money around. On the Dutch side of the island, there is no benefit system.
The following happened when I walked out of a car parts store and into a man of indeterminate age dressed in rags. He was filthy, he stank, he was shoeless, his feet were calloused and most of his toenails gone. He hit me with a lie and then asked for 75 cents.
Our lives couldn’t be more different. I’m employed, happily married, keep myself clean, sleep in a bed at night under a solid if somewhat shaken roof, occasionally eat in restaurants and enjoy a drink. We have electricity, running water, Internet.
The man never came close, he wasn’t threatening, he asked for 75 cents. I gave him a dollar.
That’s when the sales clerk stormed out of the parts store. She started haranguing the beggar and then turned her ire on me.
I pushed the dollar bill into the beggar’s hand and told him he best leave. He shuffled off as the sales lady shouted at him never to return.
“You shouldn’t do that, you shouldn’t encourage them. We don’t want his sort here,” she told me angrily. “You know what he’ll spend that dollar on, don’t you?”
“Probably,” I said, “but now it’s his money to do with as he likes. Why would I take that freedom from him, he’s lost everything else. Look at him, look at the state he’s in.”
“He made the choice to live like that and you aren’t helping him at all.”
I pointed to myself and then pointed at her. “Look at us,” I said. I just spent money in your store on something I probably don’t need and you are angry because I gave a beggar a dollar.
Her voice softened. “You could have bought him some bread,” she said.
She smiled for the first time and looked down at the ground.
The door opened and another member of the sales staff stepped out, this one a big guy.
“She’s right, you know. You really shouldn’t do it, it doesn’t help them.”
“Come on, I said, don’t gang up on me, I’m just trying to be charitable here.”
The woman put her arm around my shoulder. “I know, love, I know.”
So, how do you deal with beggars? Was I right in doing what I did?
Answers below, please.