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Is our society too harsh on the poor?

By August 9, 20103 Comments2 min read

Sound advice? - View in large

If you were dropped in our society (western, specifically the united states) with zero support system, zero money, zero job, nothing. You have absolutely nothing at all but the clothes on your back and your wits. What would you do?

I was hanging out with my dad driving around Miami the other day, and I noticed two important things that were occurring: There were more people shopping at the mall than a year ago, and there were more homeless people asking for money in the streets nearby than a year ago. It made me wonder: is the gap between the rich and the poor expanding even faster than ever before?

Is our society designed to make it impossibly hard for the have-nots to compete with the haves?

Malcom Gladwell wrote a fascinating essay in 2006 about the apparent cost differences between managing a problem like homelessness and solving it.

When I first started writing this post, I thought, maybe there are deeply rooted reasons we rationalize this divide between haves and have nots. My thoughts jumped from religiosity to classism to bigotry, but in the end I don’t think we can point a finger at any one cause and make it our scapegoat. All we can do is see what little things we can do across the board to improve everyone’s situations. This isn’t a socialism or communism issue, this is a people issue. So please don’t get this confused. This is about helping our fellow man, something I’d hope transcends political and theological boundaries.

I’m very curious to know what you think, and what you would do in the situation at the beginning of the post.


  • jdelsman says:

    To answer your initial question, I'd probably fight to get back to where I was, no matter how hard it was. That's pretty much what I did in the first place, isn't it? No one handed me a job or my social status on a silver platter.

    I don't know what it is about homeless people that keeps them precisely where they are for the foreseeable future. I live in downtown Miami, and I see the same group of homeless folk walking around and sleeping outside my apartment each day. I say “hi” to them when I walk my dog and they ask me for money, but that's about it.

    The common response to homeless people is: “I'll give them a dollar or two. That will help them!” Well, that's the wrong response, and I'll tell you why. Sure, there are some genuinely deprived individuals living on the street, but I have to say, that's not generally the case. I have lived in both the US and UK, and in London, the situation is much worse than it is here. There are **career beggars** in the streets, who will sit and panhandle outside of a market for two hours, then once they feel they have milked enough money from that location, will move on to the ATM down the street — out of sight of the original location.

    Then, you have the people who will accept your money, but once you try to offer them food, water, or even clothing to keep them warm, they spit on your feet and ignore you. What is that about? None of this helps my view of homeless people whatsoever.

    I'm all for helping fellow man, but think that it should be the job of local governments to handle the problem. The real question should be: “Why isn't there more of a push to help these individuals clean themselves up and get jobs, and if such a push exists, why do the homeless people not want the jobs?”, and not “Why do people with iPhones and $300 grocery bills not care about the lowly homeless man?”

  • Interesting response Josh.
    I agree the govt has to do something, they are put in place to protect all of our citizens interests. Much of the problem seems to be rooted in either mental health issues (we aren't treating these folks), and spending $ on band-aids rather than treating the problem at its root.
    I've never seen a cop stop someone for begging (isn't panhandling “illegal” in many places?).

    I've heard stories in nyc of beggars pulling in 30-50k/year each, and living in apartments. they get a group of them to share rent, and live comfortably, but use begging as a career, tax free career.

  • jdelsman says:

    Yeah, career beggars are a large part of the problem. I think that mental health institutions/professionals should maybe be tasked with helping people on the streets for a portion of their time each month in order to receive local, state or federal funding.

    You're also right about the police not stopping people. Perhaps it has become so engrained into society that its just expected that the police won't stop them? I think that's a pretty poor excuse, but could very well be true.