Begging for money (and Making it through Out of My Comfort Zone Month!) – PART ONE
I kept putting this one off. This is beyond out of my comfort zone. I was taught as a kid to work really hard, save money and only ask for help when you really need it. I worked full-time while doing a full-time Honours Bachelor of Arts. When I wanted to take my grad degree in Australia, I worked two jobs, seven days a week for a year so I could afford to go. The thought of asking someone for money makes my skin crawl. But so many people suggested I do this to put myself in the place of what it is to be homeless, that I knew I had to.
It was one of the most difficult things I tried to do this month and I felt horrible doing it. I tried to approach people for money, but I just couldn’t. I asked one lady for change for the phone. But that’s as far as I could get. I just couldn’t do it. I felt so degraded and sad. I tried sitting down with a bag in front of me, but I don’t look homeless. Maybe if I had brought a sign…
I walked the streets for an hour in search of panhandlers to sit with. There weren’t too many people begging in downtown Toronto on a Wednesday afternoon – a few street performers, some homeless people sleeping on park benches, and a couple of different men sitting with signs in front of them. I gave everyone money and spoke to some of them.
I observed one man without a leg and a sign that read “please help an amputee”. It was interesting how the people who were obviously rich gave no money and ignored the man, like he was a piece of dirt on the sidewalk. The people who were middle to lower class and workers were the ones who gave money and stopped to smile at him.
He was from somewhere in Eastern Europe, but spoke very clear English and was obviously an educated man who had lost his leg. I asked him if he could make a living sitting with his sign on Yonge Street. He said he needs $500 more a month to pay for housing and food in order to have a permanent residence. He can’t get disability or a job until he has an address and he can’t get an address until he has disability. It’s a catch 22. Therefore he begs to try to get enough money to find a permanent home so he can sort out his life.
It’s interesting how everyone has a story and how sometimes circumstances in life can turn in the wrong direction to make you end up somewhere you don’t want to be. There are those homeless people begging who are on drugs and try to get change from you while you’re coming off the highway in your car. I met one man who made the choice to live on the streets because he liked the lack of rules. And there are those like the man who I speak to frequently at the end of my street who is mentally ill and wanders around begging for cigarettes. But, there are those like the man above whose life has gone in a bad direction out of his control and he is trying to fix it.
I admit I get frustrated with those people who don’t work and ask me for change when they choose to be homeless. But this experience made me realize that you really do have to hit rock bottom to get to the point where you need to beg people for money. Getting out of that downward cycle is hard, and a little boost like money or food would make a world of difference in their lives.
PART TWO – “Making it through Out of My Comfort Zone” (and an intro to what I’m doing this month) will be posted later this evening.