A Psychological Understanding of Street Begging

Ever wondered why people beg on streets when they can be looking for a job? Ever think why are there so many people begging for money, it seems to be like these numbers are increasing rapidly. Just the other day, a saw little, meek white boy probably aged 10 at the traffic light begging for some money to feed his tiny body in the midst of a wintry night. A road away from this boy, I saw a little black girl also around 10 years old, begging for money at a traffic light. At times I feel much emotion for these little ones and other times, I feel nothing, I have become immune to the normalcy of beggars at street corners, whereby I can easily look the other way and continue with my life. However, due to the increase of these beggars, I wondered what society is doing about these people, what is the government doing to help them. Who is responsible for looking after these people and why are they are not receiving help to get off from the streets and into a proper facility to take care of the homeless. So burdened by this conviction, I had to start somewhere and make a change somehow, so I decided the first step would be researching and finding a solution this dilemma.

Firstly for the purposes of this post, we need to define who is a beggar. According to various dictionaries, a beggar is an person who is typically homeless and lives by asking for money or food. Currently we have 100 000 going up to 200 000 (including rural towns) of homeless people in South Africa. In the Gauteng province, we have 300-3500 street kids and 6000-12000 adults living on the street. Begging is problematic to society and beneficial for instance, beggars can become violent on the road when drivers refuse to give them money, they can resort to crime due to their poverty however, others turn their begging into useful methods like conducting traffic or being “Mr Bins” to allow drivers to throw away their unwanted trash in waste plastic bins which the beggars use to create a positive image in order for drivers to give them alms.

According to Stones (2013), there are several reasons people beg such as welfare benefits whereby begging provides quick cash income for immediate needs for survival, it is a more acceptable means to gain an income than resorting to criminal activity, it results from earlier life experiences such as mental illness, social exclusion and homelessness, many prefer not to work because they have become complacent with their begging lifestyle, some have a lack of skills, some have lost their identity documents and cannot find a job and many have not received formal education.

However, in psychology, the social learning theory can be used to best describe begging (Reda, 2011). The Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1976) can be understood that as human beings we learn our behaviour before we attempt to try them ourselves. Learning results from observing the behaviour of others by imitating their behaviour. People learn their action, feeling, attitude and their behaviour by observing others being reinforced or punished and they will imitate that behaviour therefore, street begging as a behaviour is learned by human beings as they see the positive response from others supplying the beggars with alms which they use as a model to imitate instead of the negative response of being imprisoned due to theft as a behaviour. This theory can easily be applied to South Africa especially with the increase of beggars observed. Perhaps the beggars are using the social learning theory and increasing in number.

So now that we have come to terms with why people beg and how to understand them psychologically according to the social learning theory, we can move on to begin to understand what is being done to help these street beggars. According to an article (Prince, 2008) the city council of Cape Town, Non-governmental/profit organisations (NGOs/NPOs) and other civil society groups have joined forces to reintegrate Cape Town’s homeless back into society. The article goes on to state that the “network of care” can be used to take responsibility for street dwellers. The article suggested a community involvement initiative take place to gain responsibility for destitute people. The South African Police Service, NGOs, community workers, field workers, civic associations, community policing forums, faith-based organisations and the education department became involved. This proves that community networking helps street beggars in South Africa and people are taking initiative to solve this dilemma. Another approach I found useful was the power of social media to promote change in street beggars lives for instance, Pamela Green and Joseph Phukubje’s story went viral creating a job for Joseph through Pamela sharing Joseph’s story on Facebook.  Lastly, another organisation closest to my home in Pinetown is Street Wise South Africa; this organisation is involved in offering humanitarian aid to children living on the streets and helps to re-integrate them into communities. (Please contact them to find out more information on 031-7032666 or view their website at www.streetwise.co.za).

Overall, this post helped understand why street beggars are growing in numbers continue to beg, it also promoted awareness on ways people can solve street begging through NGOs, social media and community networking.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and share it with others to create awareness on street begging as we all take initiative to try to make a change in South Africa.


For further reading click the ffg links:

http://www.southafrica.info/about/people/phukubje-070715.htm#.VeIN7SWqqko (Pamela and Joseph’s Story)








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