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Europe’s New Beggars

Recently my wife and I walked along the fashionable shopping street Avenue Montaigne, situated between Place de l’Alma and Champs Elysées in one of the most affluent Parisian districts. Passing the elegant window fronts of Chanel, Givenchy, Jimmy Choo, Luis Vuitton, Prada, Valentino, and YSL, we noticed a woman and child half-lying on the pavement in tattered clothes, appealing to passersby for money. While it was a particularly appalling sight in this prosperous setting, it was not an anomaly in the urban fabric of Paris. Such expressions of extreme poverty and deprivation have, in fact, become sadly familiar features of most Western European cities of late.

Indeed, as a result of the European Union’s eastward expansion during the previous decade, and the principle of free movement of persons within the E.U., thousands of rough sleepers, mostly ethnic Roma from the ex-socialist countries Bulgaria and Romania, have arrived in the streets, parks, and playgrounds of the E.U.-15 countries.

Contrary to the purpose of free movement, most have not come to work or study, but to beg in the most abject manners. France is perhaps the most notorious country for child begging in Western Europe, but even in more child-friendly societies in Scandinavia, we see children of 13 and younger being used for begging by adult family members. Other beggars display, or, more often, simulate, physical disabilities to evoke compassion. For instance, a beggar encountered in Hamburg by the German Der Spiegel magazine “learned how to be a good beggar on his first day in Germany. […] At the beginning of his lesson, he was told to put on two old sweaters and was given a blue crutch so that he could practice walking with it. He would throw his left leg further forward than his right, causing his hips to buckle as he stumbled across the grass.” Depressingly, the same feigned convulsing can be observed in Barcelona, Rome, and almost any other Western European city.

It is important to understand that this behavior is not mainly an outcome of labor market discrimination in Western Europe. For some, begging is instead the very point of migrating. As observed in a recent article in the journal Migration Studies: “In many rural Roma communities, transnational migration for begging and street work has now become an institutionalized practice, constituting the backbone of the local economy.”1 Or as a Romanian woman found begging in London’s West End explained to the Daily Mail: “I don’t beg at home. But I need money. We have a very small house and my children and three nephews all live with us. I can’t afford it. So here, I beg.” Fieldwork conducted among Cortorari Roma in Italy even suggest that the very notion of traveling abroad, for some, is associated with begging.2

For others, often including the very young, the elderly, and persons with mental disabilities,3 begging is a consequence of coercion and deceit. In the particular case that Der Spiegel describes, a Romanian family had lured people from their village to Hamburg under the guise of a better life in Germany and then forced them to beg.

Similar examples of trafficking for the purposes of forced begging are abound. In Norway, a state television investigation two years ago exposed a large Romanian trafficking ring of 140 individuals in the city of Bergen, whose leaders regularly posted pictures of the jewelry and luxury cars that their activities (extending to using begging as a front for prostitution) afforded them on social media. More recently, seven Bulgarian citizens were prosecuted in southern Sweden for running an organized network of over 30 beggars, who were abused and starved when they did not “perform” satisfactorily. Nevertheless, it remains uncertain to what extent the begging phenomenon is due to coercion. According to a scholarly chapter on begging in the Routledge Handbook of Human Trafficking (2018), there is “no generalized analysis that applies to all begging situations”—and, ultimately, there are more critical aspects to be considered.

First, the social disintegration that the continued presence of beggars creates. As observed by political scientist James Q. Wilson, who together with criminologist George Kelling conceived the “broken windows” theory that visible disorder in public spaces causes a decline in social capital and a rise in criminal behavior, in Thinking about Crime (1985), the “unchecked panhandler is, in effect, the first broken window.” Moreover, the constant exposure to the deception involved in begging, such as pretending disabilities or other personal difficulties, is detrimental to social trust and reciprocity.

Secondly, but not least important, there is the debasement to the beggars themselves and the risk that the daily sight of people kneeling and sleeping in the streets will cause a mental separation of certain populations from the rest of society in the minds of ordinary citizens and teach our children that the dignity of the poor simply matters less. It has been estimated that approximately 70 percent of beggars in Oslo sleep outdoors.4 Victims of trafficking to Western Europe have also reported living in disused buses, abandoned houses, and other makeshift shelters lacking electric heat and running water.

Yet despite the fact that begging is associated with these social hazards and degrading conditions, almost all Western European states, excluding, most prominently, Denmark, have hesitated to impose or strengthen the enforcement of national blanket bans on begging as a response to the influx of foreign vagrants. In 2018, the Swedish Supreme Court allowed local municipal bans, but even that measure was intensely controversial, and thus far only a handful of rural municipalities have declared that they will take advantage of the change in legislation. The political majorities of the country’s largest municipalities have continued to defer to the public debate, in which a potential ban on begging is falsely described as “banning poverty” and withholding legitimate income from a group of people with few other means of making a living.

While such rhetoric, used by many journalists, intellectuals, and, incredibly, employees of human rights organizations, may sound appealing, it is, in fact, an example of cynicism masquerading as compassion, as we can learn from an insightful book by social thinker Myron Magnet, The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass (1993).

Magnet offered startling insight into the social unraveling and poverty of 1980s and 1990s urban America, strangely coinciding with the boom years of U.S. capitalism. As in today’s Western Europe, the contrasts could be stark even within the same city block:

In New York City, directly under the windows of the treasure-crammed five-million-dollar apartments that loom over glittering Fifth Avenue, for instance, sleep the homeless, one and sometimes two to a park bench, haggard, usually ill, huddled in rags turned dead gray with dirt and wear. […] As for the urban parks and pillared train stations that speak of a once-confident civic pride and prosperity, how often are they now—graffitied, vandalized, reeking of human waste—but dreary gauntlets of beggary?

In Magnet’s judgment, these and other social pathologies, such as family breakdown in the African American community and the rise of a non-working urban underclass, were not due to lack of economic opportunity, which was greatly expanding at the time. Instead, they were an inheritance from the 1960s counterculture. In particular, Magnet pointed to the counterculture’s ethos of uninhibited individual freedom, its rejection of civilizing bourgeois norms and virtues, and the era’s celebration of victimhood mentality. Handed down by an elite of opinion makers, these new values “withdrew respect from the behavior and attitudes that have traditionally boosted people up the economic ladder” and encouraged those already on the margins of society to lead calamitous lives in the nation’s cities.

In one emblematic example, Magnet showed how the widespread homelessness among the mentally ill could be traced back to the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the influential works of writers such as Thomas Szasz, Erving Goffman, Ken Kesey, and R.D. Laing. According to Magnet, these authors maintained that sufferers of mental illness were a kind of political prisoner to an unjust social structure and that they were “really just marching to a different drummer and should be free to do their marching in the streets,” and so paved the way for the wholesale deinstitutionalization of mentally ill individuals in the U.S. When many of them ended up homeless and alone, posing a danger to themselves and sometimes to others, civil liberties activists “snuffed out any lingering possibility that the state hospitals and the community mental health centers might treat the vast majority of the seriously mentally ill” by reinterpreting their condition of homelessness as a state of emancipation.

As I have already suggested, something similar to what Magnet described is at work in today’s Western Europe. Here, too, an elite discourse condones destructive behavior and reinterprets a denigrating hand-to-mouth existence as an alternative lifestyle, ultimately discouraging governments from taking the necessary measures to maintain human dignity and alleviate the social costs of begging, such as imposing a blanket ban. The intent is to be tolerant and to do good, but the result is that the poor and marginalized are kept in their place at the bottom of society. Inadvertently, such discourse is frequently also dehumanizing. Consider, for example, the following quotations, which suggest that the function of beggars is to provide moral instruction for a complacent, affluent society.

In a long essay on the phenomenon of begging in the Swedish Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, journalist Helene Gustafsson recalled Charles Baudelaire’s poem “The Eyes of the Poor,” which chronicles the transformation of Paris in the mid-1800s, and wrote:

In Stockholm in the 2000s, Baudelaire’s poem is frighteningly current. It is no longer the boundaries to the rough quarters in the heart of the city that have been blown away. Instead, unequal terms between East and West, North and South, have been exposed, and the pleading, demanding, or empty gazes remind us yet again of our privileges, and our prosperity, the insignificance of our own concerns.

Writing in the Guardian, columnist Dawn Foster argued:

Passing a beggar who asks for money causes discomfort—and so it should. The act of facing and acknowledging human suffering and hardship on this scale ought to imprint itself on a society that has such glaring divides in income and comfort.

In similar fashion, Thomas Steinfeld, a former culture page editor of Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, stated in an article published in Svenska Dagbladet that begging should not be banned partly because encountering beggars shocks us into acknowledging the “thin veneer of civilization.” However, as only a morally confused society would need to come to terms with, begging is not edifying for anyone, not least the beggar whose plight we “open-mindedly” ignore. 


Johan Wennström has a Ph.D. in political science. He researches education and other social policy areas at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) in Stockholm. Follow him on Twitter @johanwennstrom.

Feature photo taken on Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris by Andy Ngo.

References

1 Friberg, J.H. (2018). Poverty, networks, resistance: The economic sociology of Roma migration for begging. Migration Studies. https://doi.org/10.1093/migration/mny038
2 Tesăr, C. (2015). ‘Begging—between charity and profession: Reflections on Romanian Roma’s begging activities in Italy,’ in Tauber E., Zinn D. (eds) The public value of anthropology: Engaging critical social issues through ethnography, pp. 83–111. Bolzano: University Press
3 National Agency against Trafficking in Persons. (2013). Trafficking in persons for begging—Romania study. https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/sites/antitrafficking/files/trafficking_in_persons_for_begging_-_romania_study_0.pdf
4 Friberg, J.H., and G. Tyldum. (2019). Migration for begging from Romania to Norway. A human trafficking perspective. Tidsskrift for samfunnsforskning, 60(1): 30–49.

97 Comments

  1. Marc Domash says

    The author quotes approvingly:

    In Magnet’s judgment, these and other social pathologies, such as family breakdown in the African American community and the rise of a non-working urban underclass, were not due to lack of economic opportunity, which was greatly expanding at the time. Instead, they were an inheritance from the 1960s counterculture.

    I disagree. Economic opportunity has been diminishing in this country since the 60’s. For example, in Los Angeles in the 1960’s there were tens of thousands of jobs in auto assembly plants in place such as South Central Los Angeles. There are now none. Similarly, blue collar work in the US has been diminished in both its availability and remuneration–part of what lead to Trump’s election.

    Similarly, the author references James Q. Wilson’s “broken windows” theory as an explanation for the increase in urban crime. But while the actions suggested by this theory was applied in some places (New York) and crime dropped, other places it dropped also without the mass incarceration concomitant with this theory (see https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-other-side-of-broken-windows).

    • har says

      Our elites deliberately created policies designed to harm our working class so that they could play World President. It wasn’t some kind of natural phenomenon, it was enemy action. More on this: https://youtu.be/MIdUSqsz0Io?t=6m03s

    • northernobserver says

      If you want to help the AA working class you need to support a zero immigration policy. Nothing will elevate the incomes of the bottom 40% than labor scarcity.

    • Anonymous says

      These two explanations are not mutually contradictory. They could both be true -as well as other explanations not mentioned.

  2. Andrew Worth says

    I’m puzzled by the claim that “there is the debasement to the beggars themselves . . .”

    Beggars have the good sense to earn a living doing very little, not selling themselves into the slavery of wage earning where real work is expected in return for income. They have no bosses to appease and can head off to the beach or take a long weekend whenever they choose, beggars have achieved the ultimate in freedom and deserve not pity but admiration, especially those who’ve perfected the art and earn incomes that place them in the higher tax brackets – without the tax.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says

      “They have no bosses to appease”? You’re being remarkably naive. Did you even read the article? The begging that is the focus of the article is essentially a kind of organized crime – many beggars do answer to a boss (or clan chief), have to hand in a share of their income, and I expect manners to be less-than-gentlemanly if the income doesn’t meet the boss’ expectations.
      Also, if you think that sitting out there in the cold in shabby clothes asking strangers for money doesn’t corrode the soul… again, you’re naive.

      • Andrew Worth says

        Actually you’re the one being naive, do you really think that more than a tiny fraction of beggars work for others? On occasions when they do have a beggar pimp it’s almost certainly due to legislative persecution by the state.

        Prostitution and begging have much in common, they’re the two oldest professions and both suffer from populist social stigma, with the resultant calls for legal measures to control or eradicate the professions. I’ve just watched this video, the lessons of which on prostitution can be easily seen to apply to begging.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJRBx0JjM_M

        • Asking for and receiving free money isn’t a job. I think we’re being a little too loose with the “profession” criteria, these are much closer to the opposite of a profession. It’s not poetic or whatever, it’s just ridiculous.
          They also did a study in NM if I recall where they offered beggars like $9/hr tax free to clean up trash and 50% declined and chose to keep begging.

      • Chris Mathan says

        It corrodes the soul of you if know it. I’m not sure they know or care anymore. I lived in NYC —on the Bowery, in fact in the 90s…this kind of begging — appealing to other people’s kindness or guilt was already well established.

    • Heike says

      I got an unexpected lesson in the profitability of begging one night. It was Halloween, and I had the idea to dress up as a monk. (I was living in Asia, there was a monk supply shop right next to the temple, and I was always lazy choosing costumes.) I got my hair close-cropped but not tonsured, and even had the barber make the little dots into the top of my head. It was a great costume and lots of people took photos with me (the real measure of how good your costume is). Since monks beg, I got a begging bowl, as a joke of course. A prop, just like the “cigarette burns” on my forehead.

      Boy did I get a surprise. People gave me money. At first I tried to give the money back but people refused. After a couple of hours, I had a lot, enough to pay for my drinks for the night. I was spending directly out of the bowl to the bartender, it was great. I also got a lesson about how people feel about beggars after giving. Afterwards, the natives had the attitude of “I gave you your coin, now disappear.” People even offered to put their cigarettes out on my head so as to make the dots permanent, which I declined.

      One guy even tried to give me the equivalent of a twenty in local currency, but that I didn’t accept. It’s one thing to jokingly take coins but another to take folding money. A soft-hearted man, to be sure. He has plenty of money and he’ll be damned if he’s going to walk past a needy person without giving generously. He’s just that kind of person and he feels strongly that he’s a good person, which he is. He’d feel terrible if he didn’t give. He felt so strongly that even I, a fake beggar who he had known for a while, triggered his compassion circuitry.

      I was only in costume for a few hours, and I wasn’t actively begging. People just threw coins into my bowl as soon as they saw me. If I had been an actual beggar actually begging, I would have had a good income for the night, and not a word to the taxman I got a great lesson in the profitability of begging which I have never forgotten.

      • E. Olson says

        I’ve seen documentaries from Norway that find organized begging where people are assigned street corners and work shifts and can earn approximately $25 per hour tax free, which is certainly better than most retail/cashier type jobs do after taxes. And when their shift ends they pull out their new iPhone to arrange transport home.

        • Blue Lobster says

          I have personally observed many instances of apparently cooperative begging/swindling in the area where I live.

          The less harmless groups typically spread out along a series of nearby intersections which guarantee them a captive audience of motorists stopped and waiting for the traffic signal to change. It becomes clear that they are engaged in some kind of profit-sharing or otherwise collaborative scheme when they finish their “shifts” (after they’ve collected enough loot to purchase their daily fix) and head off together to congregate in barely concealed camps located in adjacent wooded areas which are filled with garbage, excrement, stolen property and various tarps.

          It’s not entirely clear to me if their scamming would properly be considered organized begging or if they simply prefer to cluster together in order to defend prime territory from other groups or individuals with similar lifestyles.

          The more malignant brand of such persons often cruise the parking lots of big-box stores or supermarkets in search of ideal targets to accost: senior citizens, usually, or sometimes college-aged young adults whose personal space they invade while thickly laying on some made-up sob story or other. When rebuffed, they will like as not throw a bit of a tantrum in a last-ditch bout of aggression designed to coerce the mark.

          These people are rarely active when the weather is unpleasant.

          Again, what I’ve related above is simply what I’ve observed over a period of less than a decade living in a city which for all intents and purposes actively courts these dregs of society. The scope of the permissiveness with which homelessness is treated here is such that the police are forbade from opening the fly of a tent which has been set up on private property because that tent is “a private residence”. Property owners are, of course, free to remove such intrusions but law enforcement is effectively hamstrung from preventing the occurrence of crime associated with the homeless and are primarily relegated to the cleanup of such encampments as described above where, if a victim of theft is lucky, their property may be recovered and returned if identifiable.

        • Conner M Steacy says

          Here in the province of Ontario Canada a woman beggar was followed after a days “work” in Toronto. She promptly drove home to the suburbs in a fairly new model car into the driveway of what could be called an upper middle class home.

      • Antiochus of Olympia says

        I guess people just make up whatever they feel like making up and try to pass it off as a legitimate comment. Quillette is not going to survive much longer with readers who submit and believe such drivel.

        • Heike says

          Was that directed to me? I assure you it happened. Somewhere I even have the photos of myself with the begging bowl and cigarette burn hairstyle. Why is it some kind of unspoken gospel that comments had better improve to please the far left otherwise they’re going to deplatform the site? This is a common refrain from the non-mainstream radicals here and I wonder who exactly they’re trying to persuade.

          • Sydney says

            @Heike

            I’m NOT agreeing with @AntiochusOfOlympia when I ask YOU: What do you mean (below)? I’m genuinely confused:

            “Why is it some kind of unspoken gospel that comments had better improve to please the far left otherwise they’re going to deplatform the site? This is a common refrain from the non-mainstream radicals here and I wonder who exactly they’re trying to persuade.”

        • NoSpam says

          Says ‘Antiochus of Olympia’. Fortunately, I had already unplugged my irony meter.

    • David of Kirkland says

      @Andrew Worth – Like everything, if there are such “wealthy and happy” beggars, then we stop treating beggars as people in need. Lying to get free money is not laudable, but it does show that some think their “compassion” is real while often enough they are just chumps.
      But that’s mostly true for only a small number of beggars. Most are dirt poor and have little to enjoy. Those fake ones ruin it for those really suffering. We used to answer our phones until some decided to ruin it by selling over it. Same with answering a knocked door, or email, or social media, or….

      • Angela says

        As a former heroin addict I know from personal experience that tons of people are about to beg for about 100 bucks a day. It especially helps being a young woman.

        • Angela says

          I mean sure lots of people just throw loose change at you, but youd be shocked by the number of people who cheerily hand you a twenty dollar bill. This was back in the 90s though. I imagine it’s harder now that so many people rarely have cash on them.

          • As we become more of a cashless society, which is rapidly happening in northern Europe, will the beggars get iZettle or similar mobile merchant services? I am just waiting for this to happen but somehow it feels like that would be the end of the road for begging.

    • Nancy says

      Here is Britain’s Child Beggars (BBC Documentary)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJRGC8pMQU8

      It exposes the professional begging rings operating in the UK. They are well organized and operate not only in the UK but in many parts of Europe.
      Where the tourists go there you will find the professional beggar dressed up in rags holding the hand of a child. Giving money to ease a feeling of discomfort or guilt only exacerbates the problem.

  3. Viktor R says

    @Andrew Worth
    The picture you paint is one of free souls finally unburdening themselves of the shackles of society, but you ignore the protections society provides for children, the elderly, and for people with mental or physical disabilities. Wennström mentioned three cases, in Hamburg, in Bergen, and in southern Sweden specifically.

    • Andrew Worth says

      Viktor R, sorry, you’ll have to clarify your point, yes society does provide protections for various people, beggars often collect such benefits and earn an income from their street business as well, I guess that’s well done them x 2.

      • Carl Craven says

        @Andrew Worth, you’re not alone in that way of thinking.

      • Shamrock says

        I remember a program on UK tv in the 90’s. In it the reporter decided to stake out some beggars and follow them home at the end of the day. One man wore rags and the reporter estimated he collected about 120 pounds through begging. The ‘beggar’ then walked a few few streets away where he got into his latish model car and drove to a semi detached home where he lived. This was on a Saturday. A couple of hours later he emerged all dressed up and went out to a nightclub.
        It seems for some, begging is a lucrative way of life.

      • Just Me says

        The fact many people, like you, believe this is actually worthy of admiration instead of disgust is precisely what is meant by “inheritance from the 1960s counterculture.”

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  5. Heike says

    It’s important to note that beggars are not begging, per se. What they’re doing is selling a product. The product is the approval of your own conscience. Are you the kind of person who can walk past a needy person in a welfare state and fail to give money?

    I didn’t understand this until well into adulthood. I always thought if we all agreed not to give money to beggars they’d disappear overnight. I was right. There are soft-hearted people out there, high in the personality trait of openness, who will always give money to beggars. If they don’t, their personality will hurt their mind. I didn’t reckon with this. I didn’t understand it until a friend hissed at me for telling him he was making the problem worse by giving money to a beggar. Boy did he get angry. I got a lecture about how could I be such an uncaring monster. Pointing out that there were plenty of charity organizations to feed the poor fell on deaf ears, and I understand why now.

    If you want to actually give money to deserving people, try this one simple trick. Take a banknote of your choice, put it inside an empty clear plastic water bottle, and discard in any garbage can. The recyclers that go through the trash will find it. This gives your money to those who are working and need a leg up, instead of people who regard begging as their job.

    • Andrew Worth says

      Heike, you’re absolutely right about them selling a product, that product is to make their clients feel better, or better about themselves. I very rarely give to beggars, the exception being when they can put a smile on my face with a cheerful comment or a smart-ass line, for other clients the feel good often appears to be to impress the beggar, their girl or themselves with their generosity.

    • Mark30339 says

      H, yours is by far the most gripping comment. It accurately simplifies the motivations at hand, yet fails to properly honor our human dignity in its suggested solution. A study of the Christian scriptures suggests rampant retail begging, but individual encounters with beggars seem to portray a stunning boost in dignity time after time. Let us not condition ourselves to disregard the tugging at our hearts.

      • Heike says

        Mark30339 I can’t help but detect the thinly disguised contempt for the Bible and bad faith argument. They didn’t have welfare states in 30 AD.

        • John says

          Heike, RE Mark30339: Leftists suck at Turing tests. Such typical comments from people like Mark serve only to reinforce how little the left understands about anything outside their small minds

          • David of Kirkland says

            Which is it? A social safety net or charity? Charity was an expression of kindness, taken over by the coerced taxation and “rights to benefits.” The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions…

    • Anonymous says

      On the train one day in Boston this guy came running in and started wailing about how he needed money to get on a train to go back to Worcester to see his dying mother. He went around and collected money and then got off at the next stop. A guy then spoke up after he left and informed the crowd that they’ve all been used because that same guy was on the train the previous day and had a different sob story (that one about his need to get to a clinic for some debilitating disease).

      People are used for their charity all the time and that is one case I’ve seen but you were not heartless to think that person was lying because there are people out there doing that exactly. Now I’m going to sound like the Italian stereotype from Family Guy but If I were in your shoes I would have told your friend off with the exact story I just wrote above. Money once in hand can only be used once and it is better it not go people who deceive for their living. The money he collected would have better been served by being donated to a homeless shelter or food pantry so there is at least some reassurance the money was actually spent helping someone in need.

      Your friend was a jerk for trying to guilt you into helping people who didn’t deserve it.

      • Andrew Worth says

        Anonymous, that person was more a conman than a beggar, an honest practitioner in the noble art makes no false claims and promises nothing, you get bent mechanics and cowboy builders as well, they’re not representative of others in their industries.

        • Anonymous says

          Andrew Worth
          I understand the point but I think my points still stand. In Heike’s story his friend berated him for not wanting to give to someone who he could not possibly know anything about nor if they were being truthful. In all likelihood we will never know. In my encounter with a beggar I have a better view since someone later spoke up about that guy’s abuse of charity.

          Resources are scarce and sometimes cannot accommodate all. I could turn back to his friend with that point and ask why they don’t consider these cheaters and charlatans a potential threat? His friend obviously does not have and endless stream of money and cannot give to all so why wouldn’t they want their money to go towards doing the most good without the threat of it being used for illicit substances or just being taken in by cheats?

          I drove to school in Boston and there is a run down area near the highway called Methadone Mile which is near a methadone clinic, homeless shelter and food pantry. People around that area have major problems in their lives and just giving them money is not going to help them. I’m reminded of the story of many lottery winners where if they have pre-existing issues in their lives, just introducing money won’t solve their problems and has the potential to make it worse: https://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/tragic-stories-lottery-winners-article-1.2492941

          From the article

          Edwards — a former drug addict and felon — won a $27 million jackpot in 2001 while unemployed in South Florida.

          He quickly blew through the money by purchasing a $1.6 million house in Palm Beach Gardens, three race horses, a fiber optics company, a Lear Jet, a limo business, a $200,000 Lamborghini Diablo and a multitude of other luxuries.

          Edwards and his wife returned to drug use and had numerous run-ins with police for [possession] of crack cocaine, pills and heroin.

          He lost of all his money in just a few years and ended up living in a storage unit surrounded by human feces.

          By just giving the beggars money in that area I have a suspicion that many of them are using it to support their drug habits, slowly destroying their lives from within. I see the homeless every so often when I take the train early in the morning. I can have unbridled compassion for them but I’m not about to think that I’m the one who can save them with a $5 donation. They need far more help than that and I think only community organizations are able to accomplish that sort of goal.

          What Heike’s friend did in denigrating his suspicions and lack of giving was perverse in my view. Heike’s friend should either donate their time or money to the community organizations that deal most closely with the desperate and dejected rather than assuaging some internal guilt and then seeking to impose the same morality onto others.

    • ga gamba says

      If they are selling a product – let’s call it Clear Conscience – then either the same regulations applicable to businesses ought to be applied or reduce regulations on conventional businesses to those equivalent for beggars. I favour the latter to get the commercial dynamism back in the streets, but I reckon many leftists will howl with indignation if such commercial freedom were granted to all. Only preferred people are permitted preferences, after all.

      As it is presently for businesses, beggars would need a solicitation licence, have to apply and pay for a permit to use public grounds for commercial activities, obtain liability insurance, comply with any relevant sanitary standards, and, of course, pay tax. I’m sure there are other fees to pay and regulations to abide, and perhaps even a government mandated training course or two.

      One way or the other, apply the law uniformly.

      • Andrew Worth says

        GG. I agree, above I drew parallels with prostitution which is also a business. Though I think income tax should be scrapped and replaced with a simple assets tax as the complexities of business income tax is a disincentive to starting a business, especially for the low skilled.
        But that’s another story.

        • ga gamba says

          Every tax regime has is faults. The problem with an asset tax begins with what is defined as an asset. Do we go as far as France has done in the past to include furniture? How about books, artwork, collections of any type, clothing, jewelry, etc.? Imagine the army of assessors needed to visit each tax payer to verify compliance and assessed value. What this did in France was knock many of the rural retired and working poor out of their homes after they had gone through a few cycles of selling off all their other assets to pay tax.

          Business income tax is one of the lowest disincentives to start a businesses – raising seed and sustainment capital, complying with regulations, and many other aspects of ownership are far more burdensome. And let’s not ignore the need for a money-making idea. Anyway, you pay tax on profit. Not difficult to understand. An asset tax would have the business owner pay tax on his tools, facilities, inventory, and any other qualifying thingamajigs irrespective of profit.

          • Andrew Worth says

            An asset would be anything that can be bought or sold with money, wouldn’t include shares which represent assets. I’d go with Bob Heinlein’ s idea of letting people value their own assets but the state could buy at that valuation and onsell. An assets tax would dovetail with insurance and the property rating system used in many countries. If retired people can’t afford the tax that would be a social welfare issue, maybe their benefit should be higher or maybe they should be expected to move to a smaller house.

        • Saw file says

          Unless one has of a simple ideological mindset, contributing to a beggar is simply enabling anti-social/addiction behavior.
          In almost all western countries, there is no real need for it.
          I could offer scores of anecdotes, as examples of offered opportunities in labourer positions to earn a way out of such situations.
          Rarely interest is forthcoming, to such offers…..

  6. Andrew Mcguiness says

    A shallow essay – I would say ‘poorly argued’ but ‘not argued’ would be more accurate. Cherry picking examples of professional begging guilds in order to imply that the people who sleep in the streets are just to lazy to work.

    At least come out and make your position plain.

    • Heike says

      It’s not that they’re lazy – begging is a job just like any other. It has working hours and you have to get dressed right. People who beg make the rational decision it pays more than unskilled labor – and they’re right.

      A welfare state has plenty of resources for the needy. There’s no better place to be on Earth. You’re one of those high in openness people who gets offended at the idea of walking past a beggar and not giving.

  7. scribblerg says

    This article is quite confused. The issue with Roma is quite different from the problem of “homelessness”. Roma is essentially a criminal organization that is also an ethnicity. It’s a culture and way of life that depends not only on begging, but also fraud, theft and other crimes. They are a parasitic culture that should be suppressed in every legal way possible.

    Conflating such people with mentally ill homeless people is confusion. We certainly need civic containment laws and facilities to care for such people, some indefinitely.

    Then we can get to the issue of homelessness as a lifestyle choice. For people who aren’t wracked by serious mental illness or raised inside of a parasitic criminal culture. I encountered some of these folks while rock climbing in Joshua Tree national park for the first time. There is an entire subculture of such folks who are otherwise capable people, but they have simply decided to not work and live by begging, stealing, and loafing. They live in parks and on streets and are also petty criminals who steal to survive.

    These are people my father told me were “bums”. I remember this moment clearly. We were in our car, driving into Manhattan to see my grandmother and I was like 5-6. I saw a guy in rags on the street begging and asked my Dad, “Why is that guy doing that?” Answer, “He’s a bum. He’s given up on life and is a loser. Don’t ever help them, you just keep them on the streets that way.” Hmmm. Seems he had a better approach than the entire ’60s counterculture.

    I love that this article does mention the counter-culture of the ’60s and how is led to this moral confusion about homelessness though. He’s correct. We do need to parse the problem out a bit though, as there are more than one type of homeless person. The mentally ill need treatment. The criminal organizations living off our societies, like Roma, need to be crushed. The merely lazy? Need a good kick in the ass.

    Not a hard problem to solve. We just lack the will and the moral clarity to act due to Leftist insanity perverting every institution of our society.

  8. I’ve always had compassion for the homeless in the States. Living in Europe, I have none. It’s a business, pure and simple.

    One interesting phenomenon is how the gypsies have been supplanted by the Africans, who apparently are under the control of a beggar king in Nigeria. The gypsy gangs are vicious. I can’t imagine how much more vicious the Africans are to take over their spots.

    • Stephanie says

      Benita, I was sure this article was going to be about the African beggars. Roma have been begging in Europe for what, centuries? Not exactly “new.”

      When I was in Italy last year I was shocked at the number of African beggars, always the same guys at the same spots in the historic part of town. Some holding their hands out for money, some offering tissues or lighters for sale, one disturbingly close to my accommodation who never actually begged, but often was talking on an iPhone. Something was definitely up.

      There were occasionally a couple Italians asking for money on the street, but they were talented accordion players or singers who added to the ambiance of the place.

      I can see why Italy has been so adamant about stopping the flow of migrants. They’ve depreciated their historic city centres, harassed their tourists, and rendered train stops hazardous after dark. I see little benefit for Europe in this arrangement, or for the migrants, for that matter. The sense of despair I got from many of them made me think they hadn’t gotten what they were promised.

      Somewhat troubling was one young man I walked by every day (I was there for work), who one day was further down the same street handing out flyers outside a grocery store. He was unusually aggressive and begged me to take a flyer: “please, just take one!”

  9. Pierre Pendre says

    Liberal journalists are correct to say that begging discomforts us which is why criminals twigged that organised begging was lucrative business for the people who run it. If it wasn’t hard to walk past a beaten down woman with a squalling infant on one arm and an oustretched hand, she wouldn’t be there. Saying that we’re discomforted is not an insight, it’s a commonplace you don’t have to be a psychologist to exploit.

    Begging apologists are on unsteadier ground when they claim that the beggar’s ragged poverty endows him with a Christ-like authenticity that makes us ashamed to pursue productive lives.

    Without the wealth creation of others, middle class girls who have been safely shepherded through all the accoutrements of a middle class upbringing wouldn’t be free to write for the Guardian which may be paid but couldn’t be described as productive work. More like moral masturbation.

    People imported from eastern to western Europe to work for the bosses of begging rings are victims whose humanity has been demeaned and we are not “all to blame”. Taxpayers pour billions into social services through government which never seems to reduce the scale of poverty no matter how much is spent.

    Nor can it when new poor populations are imported from elsewhere to swell the numbers of those in want. The Guardian can tell you endlessly that more children live in poverty than ever before but never explains why exponential increases in spending has apparently had no effect.

    Big Poverty is a money spinner which is why the begging rings, and their near cousins in the shadier areas of the charity/NGO industry, are so prominent in our lives, constantly pricking at our vulnerable discomfort.

    • Lightning Rose says

      What The Guardian will never tell you is that the goalposts for “poverty” have been moved exponentially. “Poverty, Level One” from Hans Rosling’s recent book FACTFULNESS used to mean a dirt floor, below subsistence diet, and walking barefoot for a couple of miles each way to fill up a dirty 5-gal. plastic bucket with dirtier water. Know anyone living that way in Europe today?

      Roma criminality has been a problem since they were roaming the land in horse-drawn caravans, stealing everyone blind. A modern solution would be governments requiring proof of employment offers and sponsorship by a respectable friend or relative to enter the country. Begging by these sorts should be grounds for arrest and deportation, full stop.

      Across the pond, in Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC I rarely encountered panhandlers, even on the subway, and the present problems with feral, mentally-ill and drug-addled homeless people soiling the streets and accosting pedestrians barely existed. But that was when “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policing were the norm, and petty crimes like public urination and turnstile jumping were prosecuted. Another little-known fact is that Mayor DiBlasio actively encouraged an influx of “bums” from everywhere a few years ago, by promising them all free housing and health care. You get more of what you subsidize.

      What remains to be seen is how much degeneration of quality of life in both European and American cities the residents are going to tolerate before they either demand change or take their money and leave. The present experiment in permissive anarchy is not turning out well, and cities are becoming unlivable (take San Francisco). The article did not even touch on the “no-go” zones in Sweden, Germany, etc. where even the cops fear to enter the tent-cities of predominantly male, fighting age, unemployed and unassimilable North African and Middle Eastern migrants.

      We’ll inherit the degeneration we keep consenting to, folks.

  10. Aisha O'Connor says

    I remember encountering beggars on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara as a child in the 1980s and 90s. They were mainly women accompanied by at least one small child, and more than once they convinced my mother to give a few lira by appealing to her Muslim sense of fate: This could be your child, but for Allah’s grace (often the child was physically afflicted). These beggars likely had moved from small villages to the larger cities for work and failed, or maybe they were simply professionals. My mom did note at that time that this in fact a real thing among the Romany (she actually did anthropological fieldwork with Gypsies in the US in the 1960s). Either way, it’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s interesting to think about how waves of migration into European countries has influenced the second oldest profession.

  11. Hampton Rhodes says

    Kick the can. If necessary, kick the beggar.

  12. Morgan Foster says

    Headline: “Europe’s New Beggars”

    There is nothing new about Roma beggars in Europe.

    I saw them in France in the late 1970s, using all the same tricks including infants that were obviously medicated into semi-unconsciousness to feign illness.

    Professional begging by Roma has a long history that exists independently of whatever the European economy is doing from decade to decade.

    If everyone would just be sensible and not give them anything they would go away.

  13. Thomas Barnidge says

    Did you ever notice that the Gypsies (excuse me, I mean the Roma) never demand a homeland or their own country? It’s because their own country would have no one to cheat, con, or rob other than other Gypsies. Most ethic groups have a few people that are criminals. The Gypsies on the other hand have a few people that aren’t criminals.

  14. Paul C says

    Please stop describing the gypsies doing these activities as “Romanian”. Romania, the country, and Romanians – it’s native citizens, have nothing to do with Gypsies/Roma. It’s just a very unfortunate naming coincidence, but Romanians are honest, working people, like the neighboring Poland and Hungary.

    • Sparkles And Rainbows says

      It’s a mistake that some make, but it is in fact correct that many of the Roma one encounters in Western Europe are indeed from Romania as well as Bulgaria and other countries in the region.

  15. DiamondLil says

    The self-congratulatory quotes about how beggars and the homeless are instructive and thereby valuable to others reminds me of criticism leveled against Mother Theresa after her death. Apparently, she s reported to have done little to actually relieve the pain or suffering of people in her care, because their pain was spiritually cleansing and purifying. Just as the diversicrats and woke activists in secular society have no interest in promoting actually racial harmony or equality, because constant shaming of others is a cleansing and purifying activity for all. Dare I say it . . . shaming is their begging bowl.

  16. Farris says

    Begging is people not desiring to work asking working stiffs for their hard earned funds. It is parasitic. It’s an affront to all the hard working people who fund the safety net through taxes. Some beggars can be quite aggressive which is blurring the line with strong arm robber. People who pay beggars are enablers. Offer a beggar a McDonald’s gift card but be prepared for a look of disgust in return.

  17. “In one emblematic example, Magnet showed how the widespread homelessness among the mentally ill could be traced back to the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the influential works of writers such as Thomas Szasz, Erving Goffman, Ken Kesey, and R.D. Laing. According to Magnet, these authors maintained that sufferers of mental illness were a kind of political prisoner ……”

    I urge anyone looking for a real, documented example of this insanity playing out (into the late 80s’ no less), look here;

    :Joyce Patricia Brown (perhaps better known as Billie Boggs) was a homeless person who defeated New York City’s efforts to force her into a psychiatric treatment program. Her case set legal precedents for forced psychiatric care which have hamstrung involuntary psychiatric commitments of the homeless in New York and elsewhere. ”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Patricia_Brown

    Basically, the ACLU et al went to court to fight for her right to live subway grate and throw her feces at passerby….surely , civilized and ‘normal’ behavior…..

  18. DivingnFlying says

    I actually had a co-worker in the late ’80’s who would take the train into Chicago every Saturday morning, change into bum clothes, and walk around downtown begging. Then he’d change back for the trip home. He claimed to be clearing $1,000-$1,500 a day. Always think of this when I see someone begging.

    Now, I spend time in Juarez, Mexico, and I’m impressed with the street beggars. They’ll wash windshields, juggle fire, juggle fire on a unicycle… They’re begging, but they’re working for it!

    • Andrew Worth says

      DivingnFlying if they’re working for it they’re not begging, buskers and other street entertainers are not beggars, they’re entertainers.

  19. Tim says

    In London UK, a recent study showed that over 50% of documented homeless people in that city were not from the UK. Of course I can’t find the damn report anymore. Odd how you read news stories like this and then they’re impossible to find via searches afterwards!

  20. Interesting, but not really new. The opening scene of Katherine Anne Porter’s famous novel SHIP OF FOOLS describes how 1930s Mexican children were really crippled by professional experts at such mutilation, to prepare them for lives as beggars.

    The Myron Magnet Amazon book link is broken. No loss, perhaps, since the book sounds like a neo-authoritarian rant.

  21. Michael Jefferis says

    I don’t agree with the views of Szasz and Laing, but I don’t think they are responsible for what happened to long-term mental hospital patients in the 1960s and 1970s. The conditions of care in the state hospitals were not great, but patients were not supposed to be discharged to the street with an anti-psychotic Rx. They were supposed to be discharged to small group homes and the over-sight of a social worker.

    Of course things fell apart quickly. Patients who had lived as state dependents for a long time were in no way ready to take on the challenges of independent living. A bi-weekly or monthly visit from a social worker was far, far short of the structured ward and the oversight of ward staff.

    Unfortunately, the state hospitals were no longer available to the patients. The buildings were closed, torn down, and the land put to other uses. Meanwhile the former patients either learned how to swim or they sank. Many of that first generation of discharged patients aged into their graves.

    These days, acute psychiatric care is in short supply. There are long-term psychiatric care facilities, but they are too few, too small, and not always up to the task. Many mentally ill people end up on the street (begging or not) because they are not valued members of society.

    • Harland says

      It was the ACLU who sued to get the mental hospitals closed down.

      They thought it was against human rights to confine people to the custody of the government. Like they committed a crime! Anyone remember “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”? Mental hospitals were cruel, dehumanizing places that needed to be brought to an end.

      People needed to be free. As long as they could lift spoon to mouth to feed themselves, they should not be confined against their wills. The ACLU sued and they won.

      Ronald Reagan, governor of California, closed the doors on the now-empty institutions and refunded the money to taxpayers. For his trouble, he was blamed for creating the homelessness problem. The media hated him anyway, so where’s the problem in lying? It diverts negative attention from their favored groups (ACLU in this case) so it’s a good thing they misled us.

  22. Fuzzy Headed Mang says

    Where I live unemployment is 3.7 per cent and there are generous social programs. Yet there are many panhandlers and people camping outside. These are mainly people with mental illnesses and/or substance abusers. Because of the generous social programs, the indigent flock here from across the country. The neighborhoods around social housing given to these types of people see a big rise in crime. I think Marx called them the “lumpenproletariat,” and he wasn’t that sympathetic. I know this sort of thing could happen to anyone, a brain injury, addiction to painkillers, severe depression. But any money given directly to them mostly goes for drugs. So best to give to reputable charitable organizations, and also remember you pay through your taxes.

  23. Kevin Herman says

    I almost never give money to panhandlers. It’s much better to give to charities that work with the poor.

  24. thatsmysecretcap says

    Like with most social ills, the solution is simple but requires people to have some backbone. If you want less beggars, stop giving them money. If the money given to panhandlers dropped 95%, they would mostly disappear. There is no shortage of programs and help available to these people, giving them handouts only enables them to continue reducing the quality of life for law abiding citizens.

  25. ga gamba says

    Worse still are the chuggers (charity muggers) who accost people in the street appealing for donations.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @ga gamba

      I find a crisp “No, thank you!” is usually enough to confuse them to the point of silence.

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  27. Professional begging by Roma (who take feigning disabilities to an art form) is touched upon in Ruben Östlund’s film “The Square” (2017), a provocative and subversive film (and 2017 Palme d’Or winner) that explores the ramifications of mass immigration upon Sweden, Denmark, etc.

    http://logicalmeme.com/?p=13607

  28. Good article; of course too short to capture the whole topic.

    Perfectly fits my experience in Paris and to a lesser extent Stockholm.

    As a resident of the Puget Sound (greater Seattle), there is a different constituent of homeless. No Roma, or organized clans/mafia, as far as I can tell. Mostly the drug addicted and the somewhat-to-extremely mentally ill. We are good progressives, so we gave them free reign. Surprise surprise, you can barely walk downtown without slaloming through tents. It’s insane. I’ve been shouted at and followed, often with toddler and wife in tow. I actually had a guy walk into a restaurant, compliment my beer, and beg for money before he was given a refill of his water bottle and was on his way. Naive compassion has failed. And no, these aren’t people pushed out by a booming tech scene and high housing costs. They are sick and need institutional care, not a spot downtown to pitch a tent. .

  29. Andrew Melville says

    Beggars are a blight on the landscape. They should not be tolerated – even for a brief time. The authorities should vigorously stop them and move them on.

  30. Joana George says

    I guess I am one of those “soft-hearted” people that have a hard time walking by. I, however, am also aware that more often than not, it’s just a scam…I just feel very guilty and inhuman for thinking that.

    I can hold my own against adults, but children and old people always seem to get to me. I usually use a food/product test. They say they’re hungry? I offer to buy them some food. They say they need medicine/diapers/formula? I offer to buy it for them myself.

    It may sound silly, but it does help to smoke out the cons from the desperate people. For example, kids are always, always either ecstatic or a little scared to get food (I find the implications of that heartbreaking) while old people yell at me for offering food about half the time. It also happened that an old lady teared up with joy when I gave her a whole box of paracetamol because it was gonna last her for a whole week.

    Thinking about it, almost all of those stories are from pre-EU Romania. You don’t really see children and really old people begging in the EU very often nowadays, do you?

  31. Euan MacIsaac (Yabby in Oz) says

    My first experience of public begging was in Central Africa in the eighties, and I learned to harden my heart, because the poverty was overwhelming and the begging constant. If you did give, it not only made you a target for aggressive demands it often made the recipients a victim of standover tactics.
    More recently a junkie demanding money from my partner, a homelessness worker, was told which agencies would provide assistance, so he threatened to assault her. When I told him to fuck off he threatened to return with a gang and rape me, so I
    threatened him with violence and he disappeared.

    Two different sides of a wicked problem. I offer no solutions to this other than to say I agree whole heartedly with the tenor of the article.

  32. DMan says

    It has recently been discoverd that teams of beggars been flying in and rotating out of Northern Ireland 2 biggest cities. Professional Roma beggars.
    Thanks EU!

  33. OLd NiK says

    I believe here in Canada they have stopped allowing refugees from Eastern Europe (Roma) from settling. I had a previously empty building across from mine fill up with them, and they proceeded to make life miserable for me and my neighbors.

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  35. Mark says

    On thing that has stuck with me with begging was the proliferation of beggars around major cities in the role playing game World of Warcraft. This is a game where everyone is essential perfectly equal with exactly the same opportunities. Further, people bought this game to play the contents (presumably).

    A very interesting insight into human nature which I feel sure has a lot in common with real life.

  36. Hestia says

    Indeed, I find begging appalling and I usually instruct my American students to NOT give any money. These beggars are a cancerous growth in Europe’s large cities.

  37. West Coast Cruel says

    I’m not going to waste my time submitting this idea to the SJW’s in charge of the Bronze State: But what about the idea of setting up a 20 or 30 acre “ranch” in some un or sparsely inhabited part of Nevada where a well can be dug for water, handing out a few kilos of farm and truck and permaculture seed, hand tools, livestock, setting up one big “longhouse” to get people out of the sun, and export a few hundred urban homeless to the site? Have the area cordoned off somehow and have each person so sent designated as “previously unwilling to work” or “bum” or something. And let them duke it out. I bet after a few generations, some really capable people would be born in these colonies / districts / gulags whatever, and the second generation young could at any rate apply / seek re-introduction into greater American society if they so desired. I won’t be submitting the idea to Kamala Harris anytime soon.

  38. West Coast Cruel says

    and no cars and no electricity….I left that out…

    • Fuzzy Headed Mang says

      Sounds a bit like the founding of Australia….

  39. J.R. Spray says

    Well… there are beggars and then there are beggars. The so-called ‘Roma’ are in fact gypsies, so try not to sugar coat it. They are thieves, pickpockets and worse. I’ve run an investigation agency for 40+ years and know first hand what this very organized crime outfit is all about. Don’t be conned by Esmeralda and the ‘romance’ of the gypsy… these people are a blight. Google it kids, or pick up a copy of ‘King of the Gypsies’ by Peter Maas.

  40. Morgan Foster says

    @J.R. Spray

    These people could have been shut down decades ago but for the terror in the hearts of every politician, newspaper publisher and TV executive at the thought of being falsely accused of racism.

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  42. P Sermonte says

    Do you know how many people fake they are poor and then get in a fancy car to go home to their gated community. I’m sorry, I want Muslims to starve. Maybe they will go home.

  43. Andy Espersen says

    We are all forgetting to differentiate between people who suffer from human insanity, a genetically based illness – and all the rest of us. A survey of skid-row in San Francisco a few years ago showed that about 60% were insane. In the 19th century all charitable western nations built asylums which schizophrenic people could make use of all through their lives, if they so wished. All schizophrenic beggars disappeared overnight – and only returned to the streets when these institutions closed and all residents there were thrown out to manage on their own. In those days we did not have positioned beggars in the streets either – because they weren’t allowed, We had tramps and vagabonds – these were grudgingly tolerated. You may ask, how did we tell the difference between the tramps and the insane? That is easy – only if you are mentally ill do you choose to remain in a mental asylum!!!

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