Helsinki residents say beggars more assertive than before
Attitudes toward beggars tougher than before
By Anna Kopteff and Katriina Pajari
A man limps in front of the Old Student House in Helsinki. One leg of his trousers is rolled up to reveal scars. A car accident, the man explains.
One hand leans on a cane and the other jungles coins in a cardboard cup. Most of them are 20-cent pieces and a few five cent coins.
“I would like to work. My hands are healthy”, he says.
The Moldovan man suddenly becomes less talkative when another man shows up. He is “just a friend”.
“What do you want from us? Go away! If people wanted to help, we would get an apartment and a pension”, the friend says, gruffly.
Neither of the two say anything more.
Helsinki residents say that begging has become more aggressive and intrusive than before, says Jarmo Räihä, of the Helsinki Social Services Department, who is also the chairman of the Rom po Drom - “Roma on the Road” project.
“Giving money will not solve the problems of the beggars. They should be dealt with as a human rights issue”, Räihä says.
About 30 active beggars can be seen on a daily basis in the centre of Helsinki. Most of them are from Romania.
Tuomo Leinonen, a project head at the Helsinki Deaconess Institute, says that the beggars go where the crowds are - to shopping malls and along the railways.
Street musicians are a separate group.
Previously begging was fairly passive, but now the style has become more aggressive.
“At the same time, the reactions of some city residents toward the beggars have become more severe. People will shout and give commentary more than before”, Leinonen observes.
“Some of those who beg do not visualise the boundaries of the personal space that Finns want to keep, and can come too close”, Leinonen says.
The actual numbers of beggars are about the same as a year ago. however, now there are more young women and girls involved.
Project worker Marjatta Vesalainen says that small children are not brought to the streets, but sometimes there are young people under the age of 18.
Although there was a fear at the Social Services Department of a flood of beggars, the number has remained small. Räihä estimates that the number of people begging is not much more than 100.
Leinonen believes that beggars will be quite conspicuous in the Helsinki urban landscape this year as they were last year.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 16.5.2009
More on this subject:
Mayor Pajunen wants new law to ban begging
Previously in HS International Edition:
Helsinki street patrol tries to improve life of Eastern European beggars in the capital (18.9.2008)
Migrant Roma beggars in centre of Helsinki live in tents under bridge (5.2.2008)
Majority of residents in Helsinki region want to ban begging (7.1.2008)
Beggars on their knees cause consternation on Helsinki streets (21.10.2007)
Finnish Roma and Ministry of Interior knew of influx of Central European beggars in advance (10.1.2008)
ANNA KOPTEFF AND KATRIINA PAJARI / Helsingin Sanomat