“Daddy, why is that man sitting on the ground?”
Cross the street and walk three and a half blocks and there he’ll be. Sitting on the sidewalk between the local grocery store and a coffeehouse. My daughter always wants to put a coin in his cup. He is one of two indigent people who seem to have a regular spot staked out in our neighbourhood, but he is certainly the one who seems to be entrenched in his location. I always try to have a coin so that my daughter can give it to him.
Hell, I always give him something when I walk by.
I never really used to be like that. Though I grew up in the sanitized Ottawa suburbs, I always spent a lot of time downtown. It was easy to become inoculated from the pervasive panhandling. Every corner, there was someone else. Every block. Sometimes twice in the same block. I couldn’t give to everybody, so, eventually, I gave to nobody. My givings were directed through charitable organizations, rather than baseball caps on the sidewalk.
Recently, I made a conscious decision to change that habit, and now I do my best to give something to just about every street person I see. I still don’t see so many that it’s a crippling expense. Mainly, I see the man at the grocery store, and over the past few months, I have probably given him about $15 or $20.
I have heard the argument that the best way to help these people is to get them off the street and into a shelter. I have heard the argument that giving money to panhandlers just encourages them to continue living on the street (if that is, in fact, where they live). I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, but I just don’t buy it. Just as Jason argued in regards to voting, my loonie – or lack thereof – will never be sufficient incentive to alter these people’s lives. So, if I can afford to give a little, I will. I won’t expect other people to do the same, in fact – I think the predominant opinion among people I know is to refrain from giving to street people – but this is what works for me. It is how I feel I should live my life.
Growing up in the suburbs, it is easy to live completely oblivious of the suffering of others. Yes, we will see the Sally Struthers infomercials and hear about people starving half a world away, but we won’t always see the suffering in our own community. This man who I see so regularly is as much a part of our community as my neighbours and as much me. I hate that he has to sit on that cold hard cement to get some money and cups of coffee from passersby, but I am far more comfortable living in a community where the indigent are cared for by their neighbours to whatever degree possible. I want homelessness eradicated, but I do not want it covered up.
So I will keep giving my daughter a coin to give the man, until that man no longer needs it.