It is the classic Venn diagram: not everybody who is homeless is a beggar, and not everybody who is a beggar is homeless. Rough sleeping is different again: rough sleepers are a small proportion of homeless people; some of them beg and some don’t.

So what is the right reaction when someone in need asks you for money on the street? In an interview with an Italian magazine last month, Pope Francis suggested the answer was to give without hesitation. But many charities beg to differ.

Thames Reach, which supports homeless people and rough sleepers in London through its Street Rescue service and in hostels, is adamant that people should not give cash to beggars. It cites “overwhelming evidence” that people who beg on the streets in England do so to buy hard drugs, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, and super-strength beers and ciders; it estimates that 80 per cent of people begging do so to support a drug habit.

Prevention is better than cure. Dr Paul O’Reilly is a doctor (and Jesuit priest) whose patients are all homeless. His GP practice is between Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster. In his experience,

“homelessness is always a disease of relationships — it is what happens when no one in the world will give you a bed for the night”.

More than half of homeless people report having no family ties. So a sensible way to give is to support homelessness charities and charities which specialize in preventing relationship breakdowns. They include family services, couples counseling, support for carers (whose burden is often heavy) and bereavement counseling.

Charitable money can powerfully change the legal system around homelessness.

Read the source article at Giving Evidence