I come from a country where begging is a business. Yes, you do have the odd person who is genuinely down on his/her luck. That person doesn’t follow you around, or pester you till you give him/her something. That’s the genteel beggar. The norm, however, is the career beggar. Often it’s the woman swatting flies away from a sleeping baby, looking at you with eyes so sorrowful you could drown in them. She could possibly find work (most likely manual), but she’s trapped in a network that keeps her at the mercy of others. That baby is probably not hers, and has probably been drugged so that it won’t be nuisance instead of a prop. There are horrible stories of children being maimed so that they can use their tortured bodies to gain the sympathy of passers-by. I have an aunt who recommends that if you see a child begging, give it biscuits, not money.
In the country I live in, begging is illegal. You can report someone to the police for begging. You’re not even supposed to ask for contributions unless you have the necessary authorization. And yet, there are people who approach you of an evening towards the end of the month, asking for help to pay their rent or cover their expenses so they can go home after an unsuccessful job search. Perhaps they have sick parents. Perhaps they don’t know that they can get in trouble. Perhaps strangers don’t report them because they understand their struggles, having also survived them. I have a friend who’s paid for a meal for someone who looked down on his luck, but wouldn’t give him money for his ‘rent’.
In a country I recently visited, in the Caucasus, there were a number of beggars. Many were old people, some bent over so far they couldn’t see the money that was being put in their bowl. There was a war veteran, an older lady walking around the airport tugging at people’s shirts, and a few women with young children. People passed by many of them, hardly registering their presence. A couple of beggars were young, defiant, like it was their right to expect from strangers some token of generosity- and they were given food, a whole plate.
It all comes down to putting something in our bellies. We do what we can, some of us by ‘honest’ labour, some by playing on other people’s religious beliefs, morals or ethics.
Some of us are just luckier.