09 January 2016

The Drunk and the Homeless

If you spend some time in Berlin's public transportation system, sooner or later you'll come across these people who are selling tabloid newspapers in the metro and the S-Bahn. They are typically homeless people, and they are selling these magazines and newspapers since they get a cut from the sale. If you don't want to buy newspapers, then you could also give them a small donation, and they will not hesitate to tell you that, and receive it. Most of the time, they are harmless people who simply had a rough patch, but sometimes, they have characteristics that would make you do a double take and think.

See, the other day, I saw this man, sitting on the bench on a station platform. He was smoking, even though it was clear that smoking is prohibited in station platforms. I wanted to sit at the bench too, but because I am not a big fan of cigarette smoke, I opted to simply stay away and stand far from him.

Then the train going to the other direction came, and as he finished his cigarette, he boarded the train. As the train was leaving the station, I saw him inside the train, selling these magazines, indicating that he was begging for money as he was homeless. And here I thought, really, he needed money and yet he has the money to spend on cigarettes?

It's not only about cigarettes. I came across other magazine sellers who were clearly drunk, or at least had a very strong smell of alcohol around their person. Talk about priorities.

See, while I have nothing against cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking per se, I do think that this isn't or shouldn't be the first priority of people who don't have plenty of money to spend. As far as I can see, cigarettes and alcohol aren't necessities, and I find it a little cognitively dissonant when I see people who don't even have the bare necessities and yet they can afford to smoke or drink. Why would I subsidize these people's habits?

Like I said, I have nothing against cigarettes and alcohol. I am not being a prude here. Everyone has the freedom to do whatever they want with their bodies, as long as they can afford it. But I simply think that these people sometimes have their priorities wrong. So instead of helping them get off the streets, what happens here is just a vicious cycle of people who are being enabled to subsidize their habits by strangers.

I already have more than a third of my salary automatically taken away from me by the German government, and in turn, the government uses it to further its own programs, among them, social welfare. I already think that I am contributing enough, so why would I give small change to these people begging in the metro, when sometimes I clearly see them mis-using the money that strangers give them?

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