The social nature of being human
The social nature of being human

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The social nature of being human

3.3 Understanding campaigns about homelessness

So far in Section 3, you have focused on your individual experiences, their intersection with some public meanings and the impact these may have on the act of giving. What you will look at now is yet another aspect of the interface between the individual act and public meanings: the involvement of charities.

Some charities suggest that instead of giving money to people who ‘beg’ on the streets, members of the public should instead donate money to them – allowing them to support people experiencing homelessness. The intricate issue these charities need to address (indeed, navigate around) is that they both need certain attitudes and need to change the same attitudes. That is, they need people who are favourable to homeless individuals and to the idea of donating money to them – yet who would not actually give money to the actual such individual they may encounter on the street.

Activity 6 Understanding charity campaigns

Allow about 30 minutes

Below, you will find an example of a charity campaign. It comes in the form of an extract from a charity’s website:

What is the argument of this extract? How does it try to persuade its audience? Try to think of three points and list them below.

Most people begging are not individuals in temporary difficulties, but people who are dependent on a begging income. This is almost certainly to fund a serious drug habit.

There is no need to beg on the streets in 2017. It is an urban myth that if you have no address, you cannot claim benefits. This simply isn’t true. Meanwhile, there are many day centres where homeless people can get food, clothing and support.

Assessment centres in London offer support to people who are new to the streets in London – 75 per cent of people no longer spend a second night out sleeping rough.

That is not to say that there are not many people on the streets needing help and support. Thames Reach’s outreach teams are out every night, in search of the isolated rough sleepers who are missed by other services, helping them into accommodation and to find a way out of homelessness.

Many people asking for your money are caught up in a desperate cycle of begging from the public, ‘scoring’ drugs from a dealer and then taking these drugs. There are many services seeking to help people sleeping rough. Please work with them, not against them.

(Thames Reach, n.d.)
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There are a number of points that you might have considered. You could have mentioned:

  • the notion that there is no need to beg in 2017
  • the claim that, in the majority of cases, money provided is used to buy drugs
  • the idea that it is irresponsible to give money to people who are ‘begging’.

Overall, the important message is that while a man or woman on the street may be a homeless person, it does not actually represent ‘homelessness’ as such, in the way to constitute a deserving subject for charitable giving. It is a mere appearance that giving money to the actual person on the street will help: it in fact exacerbates the problem that it tries to alleviate. This is how, to reiterate the title message of the poster ‘Your kindness could kill’: because this kindness is directed at the appearance of the solution.

You can now see how public meanings engage with (and thereby attempt to form or alter) individual attitudes and acts. The meaning of the act of giving, in this context, becomes socially constructed. What might have originally appeared as an act of kindness now looks as something harmful; and other possibilities of acting magnanimously are opened.


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