Begging is the practice of imploring others to grant a favor, often a gift of money, with little or no expectation of reciprocation. Beggars may be found in public places such as transport routes, urban parks, and near busy markets. Besides money, they may also ask for cigarettes or other small items.
According to a study in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, "(70%) [of beggars] stated that they would prefer a minimum-wage job, typically citing a desire for a 'steady income' or 'getting off the street.' However, many felt they could not handle conventional jobs because of mental illness, physical disability or lack of skills."
Beggars have existed in human society since before the dawn of recorded history. Begging has happened in most societies around the world, though its prevalence and exact form vary.
Ancient Greeks distinguished between the ptochos (Greek: πτωχός, "passive poor" or "beggars") and the penes (Greek: ποινής, "active poor"), with the latter being accorded a higher social status. The New Testament contains several references to Jesus' status as the savior of the ptochos, usually translated as "the poor", considered the most wretched portion of society.
A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursitors, vulgarly called vagabonds was first published in 1566 by Thomas Harman. From early modern England other examples are Thomas Harman, and Robert Greene in his coney-catching pamphlets he titles of which included "The Defence of Conny-catching," in which he argued there were worse crimes to be found among "reputable" people. The Beggar's Opera is a ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay. The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew was first published in 1745. There are similar writers for many European countries in the early modern period.
According to Jackson J. Spielvogel, "Poverty was a highly visible problem in the eighteenth century, both in cities and in the countryside... Beggars in Bologna were estimated at 25 percent of the population; in Mainz, figures indicate that 30 percent of the people were beggars or prostitutes... In France and Britain by the end of the century, an estimated 10 percent of the people depended on charity or begging for their food."
The British Poor Laws, dating from the Renaissance, placed various restrictions on begging. At various times, begging was restricted to the disabled. This system developed into the workhouse, a state-operated institution where those unable to obtain other employment were forced to work in often grim conditions in exchange for a small amount of food. The welfare state of the 20th century greatly reduced the number of beggars by directly providing for the basic necessities of the poor from state funds.
Many religions have prescribed begging as the only acceptable means of support for certain classes of adherents, including Christianity, Hinduism, Sufi Islam, Buddhism, and Jainism, typically to provide a way for certain adherents to focus exclusively on spiritual development without the possibility of becoming caught up in worldly affairs.
In Buddhism, monks and nuns traditionally live by begging for alms, as did the historical Gautama Buddha himself. This is, among other reasons, so that lay people can gain religious merit by giving food, medicines, and other essential items to the monks. The monks seldom need to plead for food; in villages and towns throughout modern Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and other Buddhist countries, householders can often be found at dawn every morning streaming down the road to the local temple to give food to the monks. In East Asia, monks and nuns were expected to farm or work for returns to feed themselves up.
Begging has been restricted or prohibited at various times and for various reasons, typically revolving around a desire to preserve public order or to induce people to work rather than to beg for economic or moral reasons. Various European Poor Laws prohibited or regulated begging from the Renaissance to modern times, with varying levels of effectiveness and enforcement.
The province of Ontario introduced its Safe Streets Act in 1999 to restrict specific kinds of begging, particularly certain narrowly-defined cases of "aggressive" or abusive begging. In 2001 this law survived a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law was further upheld by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in January 2007.
One response to the anti-panhandling laws which were passed was the creation of the Ottawa Panhandlers Union which fights for the political rights of panhandlers. The union is a shop of the Industrial Workers of the World.
In May 2010, police in the city of Boston started cracking down on panhandling in the streets in downtown, and were conducting an educational outreach to residents advising them not to give to panhandlers. The Boston police distinguished active solicitation, or aggressive panhandling, versus passive panhandling of which an example is opening doors at store with a cup in hand but saying nothing.
Begging is illegal under the Vagrancy Act of 1824. However it does not carry a jail sentence and is not well enforced in many cities, although since the Act applies in all public places it is enforced more frequently on public transport.
Law 61 of 1991 forbids the persistent call for the mercy of the public, by a person which is able to work.
In Portugal, panhandlers normally beg in front of Catholic churches, on semaphores or on special places in Lisbon or Oporto downtowns. Begging is not illegal in Portugal. Many social and religious institutions support homeless people and panhandlers and the Portuguese Social Security normally gives them a survival monetary subsidy.
Begging in Luxembourg is legal except when it is indulged in as a group or the beggar is a part of an organised effort. According to Chachipe a Roma rights advocacy NGO 1639 begging cases were reported by Luxembourgian law enforcement authorities. Roma beggars were arrested, handcuffed, taken to police stations and held for hours and have their money confiscated.
Use of funds
A 2002 study of 54 panhandlers in Toronto reported that of a median monthly income of $638 Canadian dollars (CAD), those interviewed spent a median of $200 CAD on food and $192 CAD on alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, according to Income and spending patterns among panhandlers, by Rohit Bose and Stephen W. Hwang. The Fraser Institute criticized this study citing problems with potential exclusion of lucrative forms of begging and the unreliability of reports from the panhandlers who were polled in the Bose/Hwang study.
In North America, panhandling money is widely reported to support substance abuse and other addictions. For example, outreach workers in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, surveyed that city's panhandling community and determined that approximately three-quarters use donated money to buy tobacco products while two-thirds buy solvents or alcohol. In Midtown Manhattan, one outreach worker anecdotally commented to the New York Times that substance abuse accounts for 90 percent of panhandling funds.
Communities reducing street begging
Because of concerns that people begging on the street may use the money to support alcohol or drug abuse, some advise those wishing to give to beggars to give gift cards or vouchers for food or services, and not cash. Some shelters also offer business cards with information on the shelter's location and services, which can be given in lieu of cash.
- Bampfylde Moore Carew, self-styled King of the Beggars
- Diogenes of Sinope
- Gautama Buddha,the founder of Buddhism accepted alms from people to survive
- Gavroche Thenardier in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables
- Nicholas Jennings in Thomas Harman's Caveat for Common Cursitors
- Shabkar Tibetan itinerant monk
- So Chan, Chinese folk hero of Drunken Fist
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- Aggressive panhandling
- Begging behavior in animals
- Begging letter
- Child Begging
- Internet begging
- Mendicant Orders
- Poor law
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