Beggars choosing creativity to beat the GFC
A SIMPLE message scrawled on scrounged cardboard used to be enough. Basic signs like “Hungry, please help” or “homeless – need $$$’’ would help eke out a living.
But in these tough financial times, scroungers are ditching generic pleas and getting creative to maintain their cash-flow.
Faced with stiff competition – including an army of charity muggers, talentless buskers and ambush windscreen washers—society’s have-nots are polishing sales pitches.
Beggars it seems, can be choosers—at least when it comes to selecting a unique selling point.
Some rely on humour to keep their coin collections topped up.
A friend in Adelaide saw a ragamuffin holding up a sign saying: “Won’t lie, I want $ for beer.”
Some tug the heart strings.
On a bridge over the Yarra River a shivering teen sometimes holds a placard penned: “I’m 15 and pregnant and have no family for support.”
Others portray a work ethic, such as this effort from Sydney’s streets: “Need money for petrol to get to job interview.”
The innovative approaches aren’t confined to signs.
As times get tougher, canny cadgers are honing unique spiels to differentiate themselves from others down on their luck.
In recent months I’ve had beggars offer to sing songs, read poems and even draw pictures in return for cash.
An entrepreneurial bloke who knows specifics make a story resonate stopped my friend the other day to ask for “exactly $4”.
“I only have $1 in coins,” she apologized, handing it all over without hesitation.
Spotting a fiver in her purse, he implored: “I really need $4. Can I have that note, and give you change?’’
You guessed it. He handed back as change the very same dollar she’d just donated.
It could have been worse.
Walking in Vancouver a decade ago, a friend felt a tug on his sleeve.
“Got any spare change for starvin’ Marvin?’’ the panhandler asked, palm out-stretched.
“Sorry, mate, all I’ve got is credit cards,’’ my friend said.
With that, Marvin produced a portable credit card swipe gizmo and said through decaying teeth: ``Marvin takes AMEX.’‘
Just as beggars are getting creative, governments are brainstorming solutions to move them along.
The Alice Springs Town Council is looking at introducing $130 fines for people caught begging.
In the US , a Cincinnati council has proposed panhandlers should pay a registration fee - plus a 2 per cent tax on their “earnings’’.
The councillor who suggested this reportedly also wants panhandlers to ditch their cardboard and carry a standard sign issued by the city that would say how much money the state has spent on agencies that help homeless people.
Meanwhile in Florida , authorities are considering making it illegal to ask for money outside of special blue rectangles painted on the footpath.
Back in Australia though, the increasingly entrepreneurial approach of some beggars adds new layers of complexity to the “should I give or not’’ debate.
Every time I see a beggar an internal wrangle erupts: “Will they spend the money I give on drugs and alcohol? Would it be better if I gave the money to a proper charity?”
I feel guilt if I don’t give - and almost as much guilt if I do.
For a while I resolved to hand over only healthy snacks, but gave that experiment up after a peach and a muesli bar were thrown back at me without so much as a thank-you.
Another time I foolishly pressed money into the hand of an obvious addict with a comment I regretted for days afterwards: “Please don’t use this to drink or shoot up.”
As soon as I uttered it I knew it was entirely inappropriate to attach strings to what is supposed to be a kind gesture.
If the recipient wants to gamble, smoke, get drunk or otherwise with the cash, what right do I have to stop them?
Since then I’ve kept a few coins in my pocket ready to hand over – without judgement, and with a genuine spirit of giving - if asked.
It’s not always easy - especially when the recipient appears to be a junkie or is already holding a bottle in a paper bag.
But why not give them the benefit of the doubt?
Anyone desperate enough to be throwing themselves at strangers on the street, and to be dreaming up elaborate schemes to elicit donations, has clearly fallen through society’s safety nets.
Boiled down for a cardboard square, my marker pen missive would simply read: “Be kind.”
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