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Do handouts help the homeless?

The charities extend support to those whom no one else seems willing or able to help. Those voicing criticism from their positions of comfort ought to demonstrate a great deal more compassion.
Dave Spinjks, UK

Charity does not help but perpetrates the problem. If people want to work they will. If they want to stay outside society then no amount of charity or "help" will change their minds. They have to do that themselves.
Lorna Pistell, Germany

These are just two contrasting opinions on the question of whether handouts can help the homeless. Why don't you join the debate?

Background ¦ Vote ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

The Vote:
Do handouts help the homeless?
Yes No

Background ¦ Vote ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

The Background:

There is no sign of an end to the problem of homeless people forced to beg and sleep on freezing streets.

And as Christmas approaches, charities are gearing up to raise awareness and encourage those sleeping rough to move into shelters.

But charity may be making things worse, according to the UK Government's "homelessness czar".

Louise Casey says charities "service" the problem and encourage homeless people to stay on the streets.

"With soup runs and other kinds of charity help, well-meaning people are spending money servicing the problem on the streets and keeping it there," the head of the Rough Sleepers Unit told the Observer newspaper.

The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people who keep some of the profits, is also accused of "perpetuating" the problem.

The charity Crisis has said that providing a roof over people's heads does not solve homelessness. Instead, social problems need tackling, like the break-up of families, alcohol and drug addiction and mental health support.

So what do you think? Does charity provide an important lifeline for homeless people, or is it a quick-fix which does little to encourage them to help themselves?

Background ¦ Vote ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

Your Reaction:

Homeless people who clog up honest law-abiding citizens' doorways are a nuisance. They should be clamped like illegally-parked cars and only let free if they pay a fine. We have a pilot scheme here in Philadelphia to do just this, and it has cleared 90% of homeless off the streets within a few weeks.
Kim Wilde, USA

Every couple of weekends I help out on the clothing run with Crisis in London. We give out clothing, footwear, toiletries and sleeping bags. Sometimes we even give out suits for people who have job interviews (proof that homeless people are not just the "layabouts" a lot of people think, but are actively trying to "better their lot"). A few weeks ago I was out on a very cold Sunday evening delivering clothes when somebody came to our van in bare feet and wearing just a thin t-shirt and pair of jeans as all his other belongings had been stolen.
How can anyone say that by giving him socks, shoes, a jumper and some of the other basic essentials most of us are lucky enough to be able to take for granted we weren't helping him? The causes of homelessness are not straightforward and the solutions are not easy either. A concerted effort by those agencies with the money and power to do things is what is needed.
Kirsty Lord, London, UK

I think we need to consider handouts from two points of view: Those people already on the street, and those considering it. In the first case, they may be the only life-line available to these people, but in the second, they don't help to provide a "disincentive" to anyone thinking of leaving for a life "on the streets". By stopping this help, we endanger the people already out there, but we may discourage others from choosing this as a way of life.
Alan, UK

I can't believe these attacks on homeless people under a Labour administration. There is an increasing authoritarian, penalising and anti-democratic tendency in New Labour reminiscent of the worst of Thatcherism. Where is the help and support? Where are the decent flats for homeless people can go to? Where are the improvements to welfare benefits to help these people? It's all stick and no carrot as far as I can see.
Barry Tregear, England

Yes, Graeme of England, I agree with you absolutely. We live in a society where an economic Darwinian survival of the fittest is practised by governments of the so-called left as well as the right. All human beings have the right to live. For those of you who say that the poor just spend their money on drugs and booze, well if I was living on the streets I'd probably take something that would help me to "escape" from the misery of my life as well.
Susannah, Australia

I live and work in central London and I've travelled to many European and US cities. I'm always struck by how few homeless people there are in those cities compared to London. There is definitely a culture of acceptance here and people do see it as a way of life. I've overheard beggars boasting about how good they are at their "job" and listened to all kinds of stories. I refuse to believe that the woman I often see dragging her children around with her is not eligible for a council flat and benefits.
The majority of homeless people I pass seem to spend their cash on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. I just don't believe that if people stopped giving cash to these people, they would suddenly wither and die. No, they would be forced look for official help to get out of the desperate situation they are in.
At the moment there is no shame in homelessness and no incentive to get out of the situation when you're making an income and you know where your next meal is coming from. I realise that all people on the streets have been through some crisis and may have addiction problems, so charities must work to get these people back into homes and jobs. I am delighted to see that the government has finally awoken to the problem many of us in London have known about for years. With the best will in the world, many homeless people don't spend their cash wisely.
James Jackson, England

There are simply not enough hostel places - or jobs - for the numbers of homeless on our streets; most of them do not have homes to return to. The woman who made this appalling statement (that they should not be given handouts) should be instantly sacked.
Julia Taylor, England

Oh yeah, handouts don't help the homeless at all. We'd be doing them a service if we let them starve. All I know is this. Helping the homeless costs the fortunate relatively little, These "handouts" help many poor people. Are there others who abuse the system? Perhaps. But since it costs the fortunate so little and helps the poor who genuinely need it, so what?
Brian Farenell, USA

I would suggest that yes, sometimes, handouts do help the homeless, and at other times handouts do not help the homeless. It depends on the individual who's receiving the handout. I would also suggest that, having been on both the receiving and giving end of the 'handout', I saw and still see a benefit from it. Fact is, I wouldn't be here today but for the kindness of others. But that's just me.
Robert Rocheleau, USA

So many mentally ill people are amongst those sleeping rough that withdrawing help would be inhumane. Many cannot adjust easily to living any other way, and would simply die.
E Rosen, UK

There used to be a perfectly workable system of welfare for the homeless (or workshy vagrants as they are more properly known) in this country. They were fed, housed and put to useful work. It was called the workhouse. But the lily-livered liberals did away with that and instead of gruel in an institution homeless people are handed out carrot and coriander soup for living on the streets! We should go back to the old days. I volunteer to be a beadle.
Martin Wolf, UK

Homeless people do not help themselves, no amount of care or charity can make a change, it is a way of life for these people.
Ed, UK

Homelessness is a pressing problem as we approach the millennium and to ameliorate it would require undue help from the public. No longer will it be confined within the barriers of the government. There is an increasing need for those of you out there to stop being so callous. Cease your flippant remarks.
There are thousands of people out in the world who have dedicated their lives to charity work to eradicate this urging headache in society and the least you, as a member of the human race, can do is participate. Lose that "I don't give a damn" attitude! Who knows? Your children might be the very people in need of compassion in the future.
Kenny, Singapore

I have been horrified by the lack of compassion & experience exhibited in recent days. It reminds me of the Labour Camps mentality of the ruling classes during the 20's/30's - are we to return to such barbarity? This isn't the Labour New World fought for, & starved for, by my grandparents (blacklisted for voting the 'wrong way' & then means tested by those very same blacklisters - bastions of Church & Society). No-one relishes freezing to death. Heaven help us all if Blair's Babes are the good guys, supposedly...
Karen Alexander, Wales

Many homeless are not lazy at all. At least in the USA, the problem is usually that the homeless are mentally ill and unemployable. Our goal should be to lessen the misery of these people without rewarding slackers.
Rath Andor, USA

Charities are necessary to help those living on the streets survive. Do they help? Of course. Allowing people to stay on the streets without help would lead to terrible results, especially in the winter. However, aid can also allow people to stay on the streets. Perhaps, we really need to address what sort of aid is given to the homeless so that they can eventually get off the streets. Problems arise, as they do in unemployment welfare issues, when there is enough aid being given so that some people would choose to remain as aid recipients. Organisations like the Big Issue should be praised for their attempts to help without simply handing-out. People have used that route as a way off the streets. We need programs that do more than just hand out, but need ot bear in mind that if no-one gives out soup in the winter, people may die on the streets who need not have.
JT, Brit at UNICEF/New York, US

Having worked with the homeless and needy for several years, I can tell you that governmental control of helping the homeless and poor perpetuate the problem rather than solve it. The reason is because the government cannot demand accountability or address moral issues, which lie at the root of most social problems. When private, (esp. religious) organisations are doing the work, they can deal with the root. Unfortunately, many "clients" will ignore church based help that demands accountability, and go to the government, which demands very little.
A. J. Coffman, USA

Perhaps what Louise Casey was trying to say is that giving handouts on the streets, whilst undoubtedly a lifesaver, does not do as much for a person as providing a warm place to stay overnight. I cannot believe anyone would be so heartless as to suggest that we should simply allow these people to freeze and starve on the streets. Given these good and well meaning words perhaps she would like to contribute by providing a 365 day a year hostel for such people with basic facilities such as warmth, food, beds and showers.
Nick, The Netherlands

It's really sad, the plight of the homeless. Some of them are down on their luck, some are terminally stupid, some are winos, others are lazy and shiftless. It's difficult to separate the grain from the chaff. At the same time, I read the "Want Ads" in the paper, and see so many jobs offered. Most of these jobs require real work, but they all pay real money. Begging, on the other hand, is clean and easy work. That's probably why it's so attractive.
Jim Hubbell, Texas, USA

While charity is not a long term solution to the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities it behooves us to assist those less fortunate than ourselves. So long as the supporters of the free market system insist on monetary policies designed to maintain slack in the economy while preventing the adequate production of goods, such as affordable housing, which are not adquately supplied in a market economy than ordinary people have no other ethical choice but to attempt to fill the gaps.
Robert Ages, Canada

Handouts sure help the homeless more than a new $1 billion Wembley Stadium will. How many flats would that build? Where are your priorities?
D.Soleil, Canada

I bought the first edition of the Big Issue in Edinburgh and I ask my brother in London to send it to me regularly now I'm in the States. Giving either food or money to people or charities who are in in need is right. Unfortunately many beggars abuse the trust of donors but those that don't ARE deserving - noone knows when you, too, may be in their situation. Have some compassion - it appears the government don't know what to do so maybe we should show them by our good example!
Anita Gilbey, United States (UK originally)

What a shame for rich societies to have homeless people! Capitalism is the end of human dignity.
Michel Egger, Switzerland

Yet another breathtakingly crass New Labour WAGI (what a good idea). A mark of a civilised country is that it does not allow its citizens to die of starvation or lack of shelter. I have a highly-paid job in the City something clutches at my heart when I see the homeless trying to survive. Frankly, I don't care whether they are "deserving" or "undeserving" poor. These people need help not judgement and I commend the charities for the work they do and all those who give to these unfortunate people.
Chris Klein, UK

Maybe we should reframe the question and ask whether short term as opposed to long term charity intervention helps. In my view the answer is Yes in both cases.
Greg, England, UK

The charities that take homeless people in at Christmas are making a huge effort to provide information, counselling and support for the homeless to provide them with a chance to rebuild their lives. I don't know why it is being made to sound as if these charities just hand out money to the homeless. The best way to help the homeless is through the charities rather than to give cash to people begging. At least that way one knows that the money will be used in a constructive way, to provide life's essentials such as food and warm clothing, medical care and professional support, instead of on cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs. How can anyone put down charities that dedicate their time to making Christmas a little happier for those who aren't so fortunate as us.
Amanda, UK

Louise Casey should be sacked, thrown out of her home and denied welfare benefits. After a few weeks she will have a totally different perspective and point of view. Her comments are a disgrace but unfortunately reflect the prevailing political view of her paymasters that the poor are poor because they are an immoral underclass. They are to be de-humanised and punished to appease the souls of their moral superiors. If there is a god, then thank god for charities!
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland

It depends on what you mean by "help the homeless". Handouts certainly do help the homeless keep up their drinking and smoking habits. Like so many others, I too have seen beggars asking for money (on one or two occasions demanding money) whilst smoking or holding a can of beer. With all of the con men today, people should be discouraged from giving money directly to the homeless. Instead, money should be given to a reputable charity who can supply food and bedding to the homeless people.
Dr S., UK

Homeless people often come from broken homes: are victims of abuse: are mentally ill: are drug and/or alcohol addicts - not a crime, but an illness. They deserve our help.
Janet, UK

Well now I've heard it all. Micheal J Sullivan from Canada blaming the current homeless situation on "wanton Socialism", as if north America ever had any left of centre let alone Socialist policies. It is the totally selfish, self-centred policies and attitudes of our right-wing, capitalist completely materialistic society (N. America & W. Europe) that is the primary cause AND the potential solution to this problem. There are simply not enough homes or jobs for all the people in our countries, that is a fact. It is the sign of a civilised country if it takes care of all it's citizens and rejects the economic/social Darwinism that currently pervades.
Graeme, England

These days the consensus seems to be that feeding the starving is only a stop-gap, giving them the means to feed themselves is the only long-term solution. If you apply this logic to the homeless then indeed, feeding them and putting them up for the night is not the answer. As for that subsection of the homeless for whom it is a lifestyle choice, why should they receive any public or private help?
Murray C Park, UK

I was a homeless person living in an old shed until a charity got me into a flat. I was so grateful I decorated it myself out of my meagre earnings. Now I have a decent job with a company car and responsibility and am earning lots of money. So I think charity handouts do work.
Mark Verth, UK

I'm sick of seeing 20 people within the mile it takes me to walk from the station to work each day. I fully support helping the homeless, but when you see a man lying there in a quite nice sleeping bag covering a pair of Yves Saint-Laurent jeans in excellent condition you really start to wonder just how many people are conning you. Help the homeless find a place to live and a job to pick themselves back up - don't give them money on the street, because 10 out of 11 of them are lying to you.
Paul Charters, England

Yes, They help. But they need to be handed out carefully. I have seen too many Big Issue sellers using the cash to buy drugs and booze rather than food.
Jules, UK

Handouts don't help people rebuild their lives, they just help them survive from day to day.
GO Jones, England

It is one more example of the total lack of critical perspective of the BBC toward New Labour that it would use headlines such as "Charities 'promote homelessness'". The news and the headline should have been "Ms. Casey has lost it completely". What should we expect next? That heart surgeons are encouraging smoking because they operate on those smokers with heart disease?
Thanos Mergoupis, UK

Yes, I think the charities do encourage people to remain outside the system. However, if people wish to opt for that sort of lifestyle, why shouldn't they? Giving is good, but to give, you need a recipient. I'm locked into the system, I choose to be, feeling the rewards are worth the commitment. If others choose to live differently, I'm pleased for them that it isn't against the law, yet.
Tom, Australia

Giving rent subsidies does not help the poor. It helps the landlords. What is needed are not hand outs but systemic solutions.
Marie, Canada

I think it's disgraceful to blame organisations that help homeless people when the government does so little about the empty homes in this country. If you talk to the young men selling The Big Issue they tell you that their goal is to get off the streets. There's no way they'd stay there any longer than is necessary. Most of them are saving up for depositis for flats, learning how to get back into the world of work, and doing their best to make a fresh start. For goodness sake, have some humanity and support those who are trying to help themselves. It even says 'a hand-up NOT a handout' on the front cover of The Big Issue.
Anita Lewis, Stockport, England

Many of the homeless are not capable or have the social or educational skills to "help" themselves. Would anyone choose to live that way? In a country with socialzed medicine for all there should not be homeless people. It is tru that many of the homeless are categorized into one category - undesirables who borought their lot on to themselves...not always the case, but a much easier way to deal with indifference to the ends of another. In addition, the donor as well as the recipient perhaps receives that immediate fix that buys a meal or whatever.
Helen Krsyiak, USA

It is almost irrestible not to help those in need. However, does it do any good? The Christmas drive around charities as it is as much an exploitation as the commercialization of Christmas. San Francisco and Vancouver, Canada, attract most people primarily for the climate. The acceptance and socialization of these people is the primary question. They are the result of the wanton socialism of the 60s and 70s. People dependent on the state, the experiment failed and we see the outcome today.
Michael J Sullivan, Canada

Has that woman ever been on the streets? I have never, thank God, had to sleep on the streets, however, when my child was a baby, I was living in a bedsit. The landlords wanted all us tenants out so that they could sell the block with vacant possession. I came home one Sunday evening from family friends and found the locks on the door had been changed and my few belongings were in boxes and bags on the landing. I had nowhere to go at all. I had been brought up in a children's home, and had no relatives to help. Luckily the family I had spent the evening with had a son at college and managed to arrange for me to sleep on the floor at a communal house some students were sharing. I was lucky, very lucky. I spent the night on the floor with my baby in his carry-cot by my side. How dare that woman be so heartless. Has she a swinging brick in her chest? I now have a nice house and all the above is a long time ago, but unless you have been there you cannot and should not judge. By the way, if any of those students who gave me a roof over my head for the night all those years ago see this. THANKYOU ALL.
Isabel Clark, England

Why does one even have to ask this question? In fact, the idea that helping the poor somehow harms them not only ignores the realities of mental illness and other blameless reasons for poverty and homelessness, but was, in fact, invented in an American think tank as supportive propaganda that enabled US conservatives to cut social programs and transfer the money to corporate welfare.
James Cronin, USA

In the States, a great many of the charities that help the homeless also offer many programs and counceling services to help get them back into mainstream society. Notice the word help. As long as the charities are not expecting cooperation on the part of the recipient, it is considered a handout and therefore does not help anyone in the long term. Getting people the help they need before they end up on the streets is where the money needs to be invested. There is a saying over here that most of us are one paycheck away from being homeless.
Sharon, United States of America

I don't think it's right to say selling a magazine on the streets like The Big issue is a handout. Those guys work for a living. I've got a regular vendor and he tells me he's getting help to find a job as well as a home. He even says The Big Issue people keep pushing him to get sorted out. I'll miss him on the streets of Manchester once he's housed and gone, but at least I'll know he's doing better than he has been for the last few years.

It is sad that we live in a society that even a change of government has done little the allievate the suffering of these people. We have a benefits system where if you have children the state will house you, but if you are single, you are left to freeze.
Gary Kilminster, England

What else can one do initially when faced with someone in need, but give them something? That is a short term solution. Personally, as I don't know the needs of a mendicant in the street, I give to the Salvation Army. The government ought to provide (from our taxes) simple acommodation and give the charitable agencies an opportunity to provide a bridge back to ordinary living. But there will always be some who don't want it.
Robert Kibblewhite, England

Definitely not! I live in San Francsico, the city with the worst homeless problem in America. Every day we are accousted by beggars, vagrants, drunkards, lunatics, those down on their luck, and those who have fallen through society's cracks. The stench is unbearable in the city streets here. Human waste, excrement, and animal waste fills the alleys and footpaths, and the lack of medical care for these people is revolting. Anyone wishing to see what the rest of America is going to be like thanks to Reagan and Bush, come to San Francisco. And the worst thing is that the City government is doing not a damned thing to help these people. The state doesn't care and the federal government couldn't be bothered unless there was an intern involved. At least in Britain, you have the NHS. We don't even have that. And you have fair dole laws. We don't have that. Be grateful you don't live in this cesspit of humanity! And the worse thing is that if you give the homeless in America money, they will buy liquor or drugs with it.
Ian McClosky, United States

Having spent several years on the streets of major European cities as a teenager I can assure you that eating is a good thing. If you see someone who is hungry you would be much better off giving that person a few pennies (or a sandwich...!!) than trying your hardest to use some twisted excuse for not doing so. Only those who have never lived on the streets use the pathetic argument that somehow by not giving a hungry person money for food you can help them. The real reason many people don't give money to street people is that it means interacting with them in even a very basic way and that makes a lot of people feel embarrassed.
Daniel Elmes, UK (living in Canada)

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Do handouts help the homeless?

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