Having worked in the Sydney CBD for 17 years or so, I have come to know many of the beggars that work the crowds. I know who has what patch. I know which ones are really barking mad, as compared to those that are play acting. I can sort the useless drunks from the scammers.
My work has taken me to just about every corner of the CBD at one point or another, so I have seen the full spectrum of begging in action. There are those that sit in a slumped and forlorn condition; there are those that stand with their hand or hat out, and there are those that walk up and down pestering the pedestrians.
My favourite is the woman who used to dress the part, and who hung around the southern end of the Pitt St mall, doing walk-ups and cadging change off people. A mate who was going home on the train sat opposite her one day as she counted her takings, and he followed her to the car park, where she hopped into a nice looking newish car for the drive home. For some, it is a career that provides a steady, tax free income. He was astounded when his count of her takings came to over $200 - not bad for a day's work, especially with the ATO nowhere in sight, and Centrelink welfare payments arriving once a fortnight.
Another long time beggar is a bloke that looks a tad like Bryla, who hangs around outside the David Jones store. He always has a hand printed sign on a bit of cardboard. Until today, I had not seen him for a few years, but I noticed that his sign had changed. It used to read that he was having legal problems, as in he was suing BHP for some nastiness, and needed money to fund his legal case. Today, it appeared that his legal problems had been resolved, but a family member had been struck down by health problems, and he needed money to pay their bills.
My favourite begging story comes from when I was in London many years ago, walking throught the tunnels from one tube line to another. There was a barefoot woman sitting on a rug on the floor of the tube, and she had a baby on the rug in front of her. The sign read that she was homeless, shoeless and needed food for the baby. I walked past just at shift change time - another woman turned up and took off her shoes. The shoeless one on the ground stood up, and it turned out she had been sitting on her shoes. She put her shoes on and walked off without a second look at the baby. The newcomer took her place, and assumed a look of dejection and need. God knows who the baby belonged to, but I doubt either of those two women bore it.