A Beggar SHOULD Be a Chooser

Beggars can’t be choosers.


So the saying goes, if someone is in need, they should not have a choice in what they receive. This is firmly rooted in the DNA of most charitable giving. In this approach there is a moral righteousness: I, as the charitable giver, have decided to make my money/resources/time/knowledge/networks available to you, and you should just be grateful that I did so…those in need should be seen, but not heard. Burman, in his great (albeit remarkably dry) book Poverty’s Bonds teaches us that lasting social change starts not with charitable giving or bureaucratic responding, but rather by conducting a needs assessment in order to align services and resources to needs. It is about empowering the person that has a need to have a direct say, in their own words, and on their own terms.

Why would we want to do this?

The recovery literature shows that people have improved mental health when they are empowered to have a direct voice. From a trauma informed perspective, transparency is critical, as is building community connections in a safe way. Telling people they have no choice and should just be grateful they are getting any resource at all is not trauma informed. What we know about person-centered approaches to services also tells us that people do better when they have a direct voice in determining what is going to be best for them, and their circumstances, as they see and understand them. We are more likely to help reduce harm in a person’s life when we liberate their self-determination in making decisions and using services and other resources. Plus, reviews of housing support programs have consistently demonstrated that when people have choice and a direct input on where they live and type of dwelling they live in, as well as the type, duration, frequency and intensity of services they are more likely to stay housed, have a more favourable view of the support program, and have a more hopeful outlook on the future.


Nothing about us, without us.

High five to that.

This phrase comes from the mental health consumer survivor movement. If we want people to succeed we need to give them a direct voice. We also need to respect, expect and support mistakes being made and people living their life different than how you would live your own life. There is no greater expert than people living the experience that you are trying to support them through. Through knowledge transfer we can help people explore options and make the best choice for them. Through motivational interviewing we can help people take action on the decisions they are making. Through excellent supports in housing, we can help people reclaim and recover what they have lost in their life by being a person who needed support from others in the first place. It is a privilege to serve others; not the other way around.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

2 Responses to “A Beggar SHOULD Be a Chooser”

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  1. For me to say, “Well, I don’t like these restrictions, but my options are pretty limited. I guess beggars can’t be choosers,” is sad. For the person placing the restrictions on me to say, “I don’t care what he thinks or feels about it, I’m set in my ways and unwilling to compromise. He should just realize beggars can’t be choosers,” is mean-spirited, judgmental and disrespectful.” Using scarcity as an lever to impose your values on others is ultimately counter-productive and a tacit acknowledgment that your values are either irrelevant or ineffective.

  2. udjibbom says:

    I’d like to know what communities should do when people refuse to accept the supportive housing programs available in the community, the ones that have federal, state and local restrictions regarding smoking which many of the local chronically homeless refuse to comply with? (to name only one example… there are plenty of reasons why people refuse placement which have nothing to do with adherence to Housing First.)

    What if the client has no income and the local housing authority won’t accept them because they have a criminal background and there isn’t enough rapid rehousing funding to pay private market rent without a contribution from the client?

    What response are we to provide a client who refuses to accept any of the subsidized units they are eligible for because they want a jacuzi?! (That is an actual complaint.)

    We all know supportive services and adequate case management time are the key components necessary to stabilize someone who has been chronically homeless, right? But rapid rehousing funding from ESG and SSVF cap the amount of staff time at 30% and are focused on providing rental assistance, not case management services… so how do we pay professional, highly trained people a living wage sufficient to retain them in difficult, extremely challenging jobs without constant turnover and retraining?

    This is a difficult job and the people doing the actual work associated with ending homelessness aren’t helped in any way by a series of hectoring blog posts criticizing their very real efforts to make meaningful changes in the lives of the people they work with. Would you give up your current position and compensation to take on the challenges and the wages most of the people working in this field are paid?