Posted: November 25, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m not one who happily patronises the homeless.

“Get a bloody job!”

Well, don’t mean to be pedantic, but you kinda need a bank account to find legitimate work…

…and you need a fixed address to attain a bank account. Oh bugger.

Still, the idea may hold some water. Assuming the said personage has not lived on the street long-term, they may well have an inactive bank account.

Now let’s deconstruct the offending phrase for a second. What is its concrete meaning? Well, the general consensus seems to simply suggest that the person delivering this concise request would like the recipient to stop ‘sponging off of the system and get off their lazy arses and find themselves a job’. Sound familiar? So if we can generally agree that this is the meaning behind the less-than-courteous prompt, then we can begin to analyse the logistics of such a suggestion.

‘Sponging off the system’. Okay, sponging what exactly? I don’t believe you get housing benefits for sleeping in shop doorways.

Sponging medicinal aid perhaps? Well, all-you-can-eat prescription drugs seem a small consolation for exposure to the elements come mid-December.

Sponging Job-Seekers Allowance? Again, do you not need a fixed address for this?

Moving on to: ‘get off their lazy arses’. I don’t think the homeless generally spend all day every day wrapped in a blanket waiting for enough cash to move from that spot like a ride-on fire truck that springs to life when you stick the right coins in the slot, but I could be wrong. Working to keep yourself healthy tends to be quite laborious with no income, shelter or family to lean on. Does not having paid employment determine your ‘laziness’? Lack of a house to keep clean? All that filthy bed linen, surely they could get off their arses to the laundry? Oh wait.

‘Find yourself a job’. It’s over there! No you missed it. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Most employers expect basic hygiene and a suit or shirt and tie to an interview. Oh that’s fine, I have one in the rucksack. Now all I need is a trouser press.

Of course I have oversimplified, but when you read stories about homeless people being spat at, pissed on and set on fire, it clarifies a simple point. In a world where we are told first impression is all important, we deny others the privilege of even this, relying instead on facile pre-judgments, usually garnered from a combination of television and some inbuilt sense of superiority.


From the other side of the fence, aggressive panhandlers are a monumental pain in the backside, usually colouring people’s perceptions of all beggars for the worse. The cardinal rule of begging is not to alienate those you are trying to solicit aid from.

Of course it would be ludicrous to pretend that none of these are drug addicts, but then addicts pervade all walks of life (granted the street ratio is far higher), but aside from these, when I chance upon a vagrant, my mindset is usually: what have they done to deserve my charity? If you get in my face, I’m not digging. If you mutter inaudibly, I’m not digging.

Of course we are all aware of the potentials of busking, but not every homeless person is going to have musical ability. I know I don’t.

But if the wonders of capitalism have taught us anything, it’s that any man, woman or animal has the potential to sell themselves. This does not have to mean prostitution.

You see a girl across a crowded bar, looking like she’s alone. You walk over and demand a date. Would this work? I will shake the hand of any guy who answers in the affirmative. No of course not, because the girl is quite happy with her status quo. You need to convince her that you offer something unusual, something exciting that she wouldn’t want to miss out on. You’ve only got a tiny window of opportunity, so you must prepare a ‘pitch’ of yourself in this unforgiving climate. Thirty seconds maybe, and you’ve lost her interest.

This analogy applies doubly to begging. If there’s one thing people hate to surrender more than their solace, it’s their money. They might work six days a week chained to a desk in a job they despise for their cash, so why the Hell would they want to offer you a slice? They’re demasculinized enough at work, so the last thing they want is your aggression squeezing the last drop of testosterone out of their world-weary body.

So dipping back into the dating analogy: grab the punter’s attention in a non-aggressive manner, let’s say myself. Be witty, self-deprecating perhaps. Show me something unusual: a horrible scar; a hat you made from stray dogs; your second head. Tell me a great story. Show me a party trick. Performance art, breakdancing, Latin poetry, just open my mind, and I promise my coinage will be yours.

And what’s more, you will be a proud man, my son.

  1. sam leverton says:

    This one was quite entertaining – I like the way you deconstructed the phrase and explained that as a phrase its generally an impossible one to action. 🙂

  2. Brit Miller says:

    I don’t know if you’re being sarcastic, but surely that is really not taking in a homeless persons perspective. Homeless or not, people still have dignity. A homeless person simply has to ask me politely, and I’ll give. I’d never expect a homeless person to jump through hoops because they’re a victim of an endless cycle of street life, something which is incredibly hard to get out of. Especially with drink/drug addictions thrown in.

    I’m always of the view that one pint to me is three quid a homeless person will appreciate a hell of a lot more.

    • I tried to levy the sarcasm to both sides equally, it was a critique of both more fortunate people’s disparaging attitudes to those in dire straits, and those of the homeless aggressive. Sorry if you felt that it suggested they should jump through hoops, my intention was the opposite.

      Basically in some countries, begging is actually a career, and although this initially sounds horribly capitalist, it is actually a method of instilling some pride into people who, through a combination of circumstance, have potentially lost theirs. I am the same as yourself, if i feel someone is genuine and polite then it is not a huge deal to help them out. Of course, the obvious issue is raised, and someone told me about a friend of theirs who seemed to find a solution, which was apparently to take a man they suspected to be a drug addict out for a meal, thus ensuring the money went where it was needed, and also reclaiming the dignity of shared human experience. Not sure if i’d have the confidence for this though.

      • Brit Miller says:

        Ah, I see. Well from your last paragraph, I couldn’t tell if it was sarcasm or not.

        To be honest, I’d give £3 even if they wanted to go a buy a 4 pack of special brew. I can’t imagine how incredibly shite it must be to be in their position, because as you’ve pointed out, it’s a horrible cycle. It’s not as if the government effectively helps them out at all.

  3. Have you ever read ‘Stuart – A Life Backwards’ by Alexander Masters? We read it on my course and i really felt like it tackled the issue well. If you haven’t read it, basically Masters is a privileged middle-class writer, and he meets and offers to tell the story of Stuart, a terminally homeless, recovering drug addict. It’s written very genuinely with anecdotes and a ‘real-time’ exposition of their conversations and activities together. The book also tactfully takes the mickey out of both the privileged middle-class and homeless, without trivialising their situation. The tragic part is Stuart was killed by a train shortly before the book was finished, adding to the poignancy of this legacy. As Masters himself says, although Stuart can be an unremitting arsehole, he is also a remarkable man in hugely difficult circumstances, illustrating that there is a functional and interesting human being behind the image of hopelessness.

    Anyway, i’m with you on that, it seems like Government don’t like to deal with issues which have complex layers of issues bubbling beneath, though i’m sure they throw some ‘resources’ at the ‘problem’. I also don’t subscribe to people who tag all of the terminally unemployed with the tag ‘lazy’ but that’s another story.

  4. Brit Miller says:

    No I haven’t, I’ll have to keep my eye out for it. Sounds like an interesting story. I’ve actually been hearing a fair amount on the subject at the moment. I’ve been speaking to a journalist who writes for the Guardian. He was brought up in an upper-middle class family, had his own house, job etc. Lost the whole lot, went behind on his mortgage and ended up on the streets with an alcohol addiction. Interesting listening to a guy who’s lived the whole shabang. Though he still does have a drink problem, it shows how hard it is to get out of a downward spiral.

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