Almost every day when I drive home from work I see the same man standing on the corner of a major intersection.  When the light turns red he rushes over to the stopped cars and asks for spare change.  Some people give him something, most don’t even roll down their window.  It doesn’t help that there is a liquor store on that same corner so you know what people are assuming.

Panhandling is more prevalent in the downtown core than the ‘burbs where I live and work.  Our city council in their infinite wisdom has tried to ban panhandling and street artists.  When that didn’t work, they tried to institute a mandatory license.  They must think it’s a pretty lucrative pastime if they want part of the action.  Needless to say, neither one of these ludicrous initiatives panned out (pardon the pun).

Street artists – musicians, mimes, jugglers, artists, etc. – can be a vibrant part of downtown activities and are enjoyable to watch.  But what about the guy just sitting on the sidewalk with his hand out?

What do you do when you see a person on the street asking for money?

Does it matter if:

  • They are male or female?
  • Young or old?
  • Healthy looking, or week and feeble looking?
  • They have a young child with them?
  • They have a dog?
  • Look reasonably clean, or dirty and scruffy?
  • It’s cold, snowing or raining?

There are stories of panhandlers who do it as a job.  In fact, some time ago a reporter in Toronto staked out a corner and spent several days begging.  The article in Readers Digest claimed that he earned more each day than he did at his regular job!

There’s also the question of how the money will be used.  Is it for food?  Or will it be spent on booze or drugs?  Does it matter?

It’s easy to ignore them when we are hurrying to get out of the cold or running to catch a bus while focusing on our phone conversation or iPod tunes.

Rather than tossing spare change into a cap, many people would rather give their money to the many charitable organizations that help the homeless by providing shelter, clothing, food and work skills.  This is probably a better solution for the long term but homelessness is a problem that never seems to be alleviated.

As for my corner guy, now that the weather is getting colder I wonder if he will abandon his post?  Does he get enough money to buy himself some fast food?  Will he now head downtown to spend the night in the homeless shelter?  I don’t know his situation but I hope things work out for him.  I feel guilty seeing him day after day.

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