'Can you spare some change mate?'

We’ve all experienced it. Around the University campus, in the city centre or anywhere in between, if you’re a Sheffield student it’s likely you will have been approached by people begging for money. Sheffield students are generous, and want to help - but is giving money on the street the best way to do that? 

Finding yourself on the street can happen for a multitude of reasons and bad luck. That means that the people who ask you for money around the city have a variety of complex needs, and there is no single straightforward answer for how to help them. 

Sheffield has a network of services and charities who are experts in providing the practical support and compassionate care and advice that vulnerable people need to help them stay off the streets and live better lives in the long term. 

A recent survey shows that only a handful of people who beg in Sheffield are sleeping rough - most have somewhere to stay and are known to local support services. But the complex circumstances that have led many people to beg, which often include drug and alcohol addiction, make it much more difficult to get away from the street than many people realise. Giving money to people who beg doesn’t help them to get or use the support on offer. 

Many campaigns to support people who beg give a very clear message that giving money is helping someone to die prematurely. This is because the few published surveys on what money from begging is spent on all say that begging funds drug use. At the same time those begging withdraw themselves from medical and rehabilitation support. It is a downward spiral of poor health and low motivation to live a better life.

In Sheffield most agencies working with homeless people and those who beg agree that giving money directly to someone on the street is unhelpful. You can help more effectively  by donating to charities who provide expert support to people who beg, giving your time as a volunteer or spreading the word to help other people think about how they respond to street begging. You can find more information about homelessness and street begging in Sheffield on the Help Us Help website. Or why not get involved with our new student-led group, Helping Hand, who aim engage students with the issue of homelessness and street begging in Sheffield? Follow them on Facebook to find out more or get involved. 

Aaron, who is 22,  became homeless after the breakup of a relationship and troubles with the law. He used to sleep rough and beg for money at the train station. He now lives in temporary accommodation and sells the Big Issue, a magazine which enables people in poverty to earn a legitimate income through selling magazines to the public. 

“Street begging is easy. You don’t need to do anything and you can do anything you want with the money. People will give you food so you don’t need to worry about that and if you want to spend the money on drink and drugs, then you can.

I had no motivation when I was begging. I sat at the station for hours on end and was bored. Now I’m selling The Big Issue I’m motivated and I wasn’t before. I’m here selling from about 9am until 6pm every day and I’m working for the money I earn.It’s much harder than begging but it’s helped me out a lot more than any street begging ever could.”

How do you feel about Aaron’s story? Does it make you think differently about giving money on the street?