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Beggars - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Jul. 7th, 2004

04:35 pm - Beggars

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Here I repost a lengthy diatribe about homelessness and begging that I posted to hssst's journal as a comment.

Sometimes people need money for something other than food. There's plenty of leaches out there who just turn begging into a lifestyle/career. But you never know the circumstances.

Maybe they have psychological problems and our society has turned it's back on helping them directly. So they can't hold down a job, they can't behave rationally or consistently enough to do anything other than go into basic survival mode, begging for money on the street.

Maybe they are trapped in a situation where because of the employment situation and the welfare situation they've been unemployed for so long that they can't collect and unemployment, they can't collect wellfare, and they can't get a job because their employment history has huge gaps and with everyone looking for work there's always someone more qualified than them.

Maybe they're just going to take your money and spend it on booze and drugs. But maybe that's all they've got. Maybe they're horribly addicted. Maybe they can't hold down work because of their addiction. But maybe they couldn't hold down work before they got their addiction and so they turned to this for an escape. Maybe they can't afford or don't understand rehab. Maybe a little booze helps them to fall asleep where they have no bed, no safety, no warmth, no quiet, no darkness.

Maybe they have some dietary problems and have to watch what they eat. Maybe they're afraid someone will try to poison them (either because they are paranoid schizophrenics or because there really are anti-homeless vigilante psychos who would hand out poisoned food) if they don't get food straight from a vendor.

Most of these people, regardless of their circumstance, whether they are con artists or whether they are legitimately fucked by life, will lie to you. No one wants to give money to people with a simple story "I'm mentally ill and can't keep a job", "I'm an ex-convict and can't keep a job", "I'm a shell-shocked veteran and can't keep a job", "I'm a heroin addict and can't keep a job". People give more money for complex sob stories so all beggars learn to be con artists, whether they started that way or not. I try not to analyze the stories.

I figure out in advance how much "street tax" I can pay and I pay it. Some days I can't pay any and I politely say I don't have any money to give and am generally left alone.

Anyway, I give money when I can. Mostly, I give more money when I'm traveling though. It's hard to afford giving money to the person that you see EVERY DAY when you go to work.

Ironically, I got the distinct impression that Chicago people were much more tolerant of the homeless than Los Angeles people. In Los Angeles the cops sweep the homeless off the streets every morning and truck them to the outskirts of town. You don't see beggars (not even street musicians busking, which Chicago downright embraces and encourages) at all. The sidewalks near buildings are all purposely built on a slant so that you can't sleep on them without rolling down into the middle of the walkway. LA is agressively anti-homeless whereas Chicago seems much more tolerant, even if grumpily so. Chicago people peacefully coexist with the homeless population even if they bitch and moan about them.

Comments:

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From:mrscake
Date:July 7th, 2004 09:56 pm (UTC)
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It sounds like Chi-town isn't especially tolerant of poor people; I heard that Daley was closing down some of the housing projects in an effort to force them out. At UI, we get told not to give money to street people, but I'm not sure. Someone else pointed out that there had been a move to move people out of mental institutions, and they tended to end up on the street. I'm thinking about volunteering at the Catholic Worker House, which apparently helps people like this.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:July 7th, 2004 10:12 pm (UTC)
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Yah, the Reagan era really did a lot to significantly reduce the resources available for schizophrenic people. Some huge percentage of all the homeless people out there are schizophrenic.

If you do stuff with the Catholic Workers, I'd love to read about it in your journal. I've always been tangentially interested in that movement and that group of people. They seem to do a lot of good and important work.
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From:extatosoma
Date:July 8th, 2004 02:07 am (UTC)
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I read an interesting novel a few years ago, and have not forgotten it. It's a Senegalese novel (quite short, only about a hundred pages) called The Beggar's Strike *or* The Dregs of Society. It was written by Aminata Sow Fall.
It's a creative, if not comforting, look at beggar culture. It's a piece of fiction about how the beggars in a particular town are consistently looked down upon and degraded by the rest of the population. The local government keeps looking for ways to get them off the streets (like your description of LA), but it doesn't work. Finally in response to all of this, the beggars band together and go on strike. They refuse to show themselves in the streets, and all leave town.
What the local politicians thought would be a blessing turns out to be a curse, as the beggars actually fulfilled an important role in that society.
I might be out of print, but if you can find it, it's worth reading.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:July 8th, 2004 03:25 am (UTC)
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sounds interesting.

Hey so, I know all of your friends. Do I know you?
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From:extatosoma
Date:August 4th, 2004 12:52 am (UTC)
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Ya know, we may have met at some New Year's festivities in Chambana. I've known Chia, Sweeney, Eva, Sam and various others for many years now. Surely we've crossed paths at some point. I've never actually lived in Chambana though, I've just made the pilgrimage many times. :)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 4th, 2004 01:00 am (UTC)
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Huh. What is your name? (If we met in the drunken haze of one of Chia and Emily's New Year's parties then I'm sure I won't remember...)

Anyway, here's to livejournal social networks.
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From:extatosoma
Date:August 4th, 2004 07:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm Carolyn. And I'm sure I was also plenty drunk and hazy at any New Year's party I've attened in recent years. :)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:July 8th, 2004 03:26 am (UTC)
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Have you read anything about the IWW's (sometimes successful) attempts to create a union of the unemployed? I thought that was brilliant.
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From:arohanui
Date:July 8th, 2004 04:09 am (UTC)
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A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

   -- MLK

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From:dsjones
Date:July 8th, 2004 08:10 pm (UTC)
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I remember the time we went to Chicago for 'Phantom of the Opera' with Ducky, Erica and Dustin. The scene at the Burger King before the show when the black gentleman came up trying to sell us necklaces out of a paper bag he had...ERica Freaked. Then again AFTER the show when we were waiting for a seat at the restaraunt, that homeless guy came in and we pulled our money and gave him like $10? She got pissy because "He's only gonna spend it on booze and drugs!"

So? If it will keep him warm on a cold night, so be it. Maybe he'll see that people REALLY do care and will turn his life around. It's not for me to say HOW they should spend it...I consider it a gift to my fellow man...to do with as he sees fit.
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From:dsjones
Date:July 8th, 2004 08:22 pm (UTC)

On another note...

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Arizona, in my mind, is becoming the bastard little brother of California as of late...Whatever they pass as law slowly leaks into the political arena over here...Two years *or so* ago, In Tucson, they passed a law that prohibits panhandling...they can actually get put in jail for doing it. You used to see homeless folk out on the medians selling newspapers *a program of the AZ Daily Star* making an 'honest' living, but with the new panhandling laws, that quickly disappeared...It's sad...out here, they pass out or even DIE from dehydration or sun/heat stroke, they are getting sick from drinking the water from irrigation systems since they've started the CAP water program...It's truly sad
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