I learned something valuable in Yosemite that I’m applying to life in San Francisco: Don’t feed the bears. Or in my case, beggars. Almost every major intersection in San Francisco has at least 1 beggar with a cardboard sign. I’ve been contemplating, since I moved here, the best approach to take with them. On one hand, my first instinct is always to help someone in need. But I’ve been bitten more than once. A beggar will mistake friendliness with generosity, for example, and expect something from you, or sometimes they will be rude when you decline to help when you’ve already given them help days or weeks before.
I would go broke handing a dollar out at every intersection, and there are a million other justifications for not giving hand-outs. But I like the way the park rangers look at the bear feeding problem: If a bear learns there may be food in a car, they will be more likely to approach it, and occasioinally they will become violent and will have to be put down. So park visitors are required to keep all food in bear-proof boxes. The bears go back to hunting berries and are discouraged from the easy food finds.
I like to think of the beggar situation the same way. It’s not like we are living in a third-world country with no government or infrastructure for the homeless and downtrodden. These people have resources they should be taking advantage of, yet they are choosing to beg on the streets. I try to put myself in the position of someone who is forced to beg for money, and I just can’t imagine the scenario in which our system would fail someone so badly that that was their only option for survival. Please correct me if this is generally not the case.
Beggars seem to me to be like bears that have left the woods for the campgrounds in search of easier food targets. And giving handouts just encourages them to come around more often, and to be more and more aggressive with their demands. The difference between human beggars and bears is that humans have agreed to be bound by laws against hurting or killing someone for resources, wheras the bears aren’t intellectually burdened by the consequence of jail time or death, so we have to take more precautions with bears than with human beggars.
Anyway, we’ll see how long my beggars as bears theory holds up in real-life.