On the streets of Halifax, there huddle a fair number of panhandlers, extending their Tim Hortons cups and repeating “Spare change? Have a good day,” like a mumbled mantra, over and over. I walk past, saying “No, sorry,” if I’m in the mood, or nothing, if it’s been that kind of day.
I don’t give change on principle. First of all – I don’t have a lot of money. Sure, I could part with my loonies now and again, but if I gave change to one person, it would be difficult to say no to the next. Secondly – I know it’s a generalization (and perhaps an unfair one), but I’m concerned with where that money is going. My own tea money could be buying coffee or soup from the nearest and cheapest shop, but it could also be going toward a mickey of rye or a box of cigarettes. While I understand that for some people, smoking is their one, final tendril of joy, I take issue with supporting that.
But donate or not, the journalist in me wonders how these people got where they are. Are they literally homeless, hoping to up their meagre take before slinking into the alleyway best keeping the wind at bay? Are they on social assistance, just enough to pay rent in their waterlogged and peeling-painted apartment, hoping to subsist on more than just rice this week? Or are they either of the above, coupled with some heartbreaking habit or disability, and for whatever reason overlooked – and ultimately failed – by the systems put in place specifically to help them.
I won’t know, unless I go around asking, and even then the factuality relies on general human honesty. It doesn’t matter, in the end. Each of those options describe someone deserving of assistance. Unfortunately, it’s not assistance I feel I can give, at the moment.
Yesterday, a youngish man approached me, seeking spare change for bus fare. I use a pass, so I could quite honestly say I had none. The kid next to me answered in suit but, perhaps because this second option was of the same gender, the applicant was a bit more insistent, adding it was for coffee, actually. He moved on upon receiving a firmer negative, and I rummaged in my bag until I found the Tim Horton’s cup rim I’d won a coffee on few days ago. I had been holding onto it until someone asked me for change. It wasn’t that generous of me – I don’t drink coffee, so I would never have used it.
The man wasn’t terribly grateful – either he wasn’t sure what I’d given him, or he had wanted real money for something else – but I’d done something, and that felt good. Maybe I’ll walk around with a thermos and cups some chilly day, or cheap umbrellas on an evening like this one. (I saw a man on my way home from school, cup out, resigned to the rain. They probably get their lowest amount on such days, when everyone’s watching their feet.)
Someday, when I have money, I’ll donate to a worthy charity. Someday, when I have time, I’ll volunteer at a shelter or a soup kitchen. Someday, we’ll all do something to help those in need.
Procrastination is a disadvantaged person’s worst enemy, I’d imagine.