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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Just another day on the street...

A few days ago, the kids and I were headed for an afternoon out and about. We were standing in the bus shelter, chatting; Eldest right in the corner opposite the entrance, Youngest standing next to her while I stood directly in front and facing them. A woman, whom I've seen panhandling at this stop before, walked into the shelter, zeroed in on Eldest, almost pushing me aside, and started giving her spiel and a slurred and mumbling voice about wanting 75 cents for whatever. I cut her right off, telling her to stay away from my kids. If she wanted to, she could approach me, but NOT my kids.

Then we got on the bus.

Normally, the girls like to sit in the back corner of the bus. Once corner was occupied, and the other had the sun full in their faces, so they soon moved away. I was sitting in one of the sideways seats near the back, next to them.

The woman in the corner was clearly in rough shape. She seemed to be falling asleep - or passing out - and having a hard time keeping herself upright. I watched her, concerned. It was difficult to judge her condition, though, as her face was hidden almost completely by her hair and a pair of black sunglasses. At one point, she lifted her head up, looked around, and groped for the pole next to me. She staggered up, using the pole to move to a seat directly across from me. She started asking me something, but it was hard to understand her. Eventually, I figured it out.

She was asking for bus fare. On the bus.

She was thoroughly confused about where she was - it seems she'd slept through the stop she meant to get off at. I asked if she was all right and she told me no, and that her "old man" beat her up the night before. She then went back to the corner and seemed to try and sleep again. Before getting off the bus, I talked to the driver, telling him I thought she needed medical attention. Turned out he'd already made a call in to have security to meet him. Before we got on the bus, he'd observed her taking... something. He was guessing crack.

Later on, as the girls and I were walking around the streets, we were accosted by yet another panhandler, begging for money. The other panhandler heading towards us veered away on hearing me say I had no change (I don't normally carry any cash, so I've nothing to give even if I wanted to).

We ended up being in the area long enough to meet with Dh when he was done work. As we were standing at the bus stop, I was telling him about these incidents when, sure enough, another panhandler walks past and starts asking us for money! Dh, already pissed that we'd been harassed so many times in one day, had a rather angry tone in saying no.

It's getting to be that we can't go anywhere on the streets or walkways without being hit up for money by street people. After a while, it really starts to irritate.

On the one hand, I'd love to be able to help people who need it, but I have a hard time with the idea of panhandling. Buskers, I enjoy and will gladly give to if I can (like I mentioned earlier, I rarely have cash of any kind). They, at least, are doing something to earn any money they get, and some are remarkably talented. One can make a decent living as a busker, and I can appreciate that.

But what of the panhandlers? Are they really in need of help? How can you tell the genuine need from the con? One of my former employers, a devout Christian who struggled with what he felt was his duty as a Christian to help, and his desire not to be fleeced or contribute to someone's possible addictions, was approached by a panhandler while he was eating his lunch outside. It just happened that he was there because they were opening a new retail location and he was working on the interior in preparation. So when approached for money, he instead offered the panhandler a job painting the floor.

The panhandler objected, going on about how he had a degree. It seems painting a floor was beneath him, and that he deserved to be paid more than offered. My boss again offered him the job. The panhandler said he'd think about it and left.

He didn't come back.

What can we do?


  1. Good question... I wish I had a good answer but you're not alone in your concern(s) about this.

    My wife and daughter went to the Science Centre recently. After a couple of hours of fun, they decided to take lunch at the McDonald's across the street. As they approached the restaurant, a woman was panhandling, asking for money for food. A departing patron brought the woman a Big Mac and a drink.

    My wife and daughter went inside, ordered their food and sat down to eat when they overheard a ruckus. The woman was at the till, trying to exchange the food she'd been given for money and the cashier didn't comply so she raised the volume. The manager eventually told the woman to eat her food or depart.

    The woman sat across from my wife and daughter. A young mother with a toddler was at the table next to the woman, so the panhandler started telling them her life story. My wife saw the young mother was uncomfortable but unwilling to ask the woman to desist.

    The panhandler ate about half of the burger and then brought it back to the cashier and began to loudly demand a new burger because the one she had was cold. Rather than deal with her, the cashier gave her a new burger.

    The panhandler came back to the same seat and started up with the young mother again. My wife approached and told the panhandler to stop pestering the mother, eat her burger and stop being a nuisance.

    The panhandler laid on the waterworks and accused my wife of picking on a homeless person. My wife told her to get over herself. The manager came out and told the panhandler to finish up her food or depart.

    When she got home, my wife was still pissed off... at the manager for not taking control of the situation.

    I was reading recently about a number of towns in Canada which are passing "don't feed the panhandler" laws. It's a start.

  2. Yikes. What a story! Good for your wife to stand up to this woman.

    I hadn't heard of the "don't feed the panhandler" laws before. It sort of makes me wonder how much good it'll do. I think a lot more people are "calling their bluff" and actually giving panhandlers food, rather than money that they claim is for food. There have been times when we've given food ourselves, and it was obviously appreciated by the person we gave it to.

    One of the things I've noticed a LOT lately is that panhandlers have moved away from the streets and into the parking lots. The grocery store I worked at had some problems, though not anywhere near as bad as the downtown branch. Staff members have been assaulted, and customers harrassed. I remember some guy actually passed out in front of the exit. The shift manager tried unsuccessfully to rouse him to get him to move, but no one wanted to actually touch him. In the end, we just kept a close eye on the guy and customers had to walk around his feet. Management tried to make it very clear to any customer that they were welcome to ask for an escort to their vehicle, if ever they felt uncomfortable.

    A sad state of affairs.

  3. My hubby and I went back east to his hometown in Pennsylvania to get married---hell, it was almost 11 years ago!

    My brother and his wife were there, taking charge of my young sons from my previous marriage while hubby and I did all the obligatory wedding stuff his mom had planned.

    They took the guys to a McDonald's, and passed a number of homeless people panhandling outside the door.

    My 5-year-old son said "hi!" to all when they walked past, and a woman followed them in to the store and into line, sort of ranting at my son (I wasn't there this was all second-hand).

    My brother asked if he could help her, and she grabbed my son around the throat with one hand and started shouting. She was obviously mentally ill.

    Brother knocked her down on the floor, police were called---it was a huge mess. The police simply gave her a ticket (for all we know she could have used it for toilet paper), and warned my brother "not to engage pandhandlers".


  4. Wow, Attila! That's just scary!

    And your brother got "blamed" for it? Bizarre!

  5. Hope everything is going ok---haven't seen you posting for awhile!

  6. Things are well, thanks for asking. I just haven't been home much, and any posts I've been doing have been on my home school blog instead of here. *L*



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