“Yeah man, hard times in the Maritimes.” It was a very brief and rare moment when I had an opportunity to talk to a man who was walking the long narrow triangle of concrete separating four lanes at a stoplight. If he wasn’t genuine in his attitude, approach, and humble appreciation, he’d be one great method actor, putting De Niro to shame. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Since the pandemic started there seems to be more people asking for spare change in the midst of busy traffic.
For as long as I can remember, the rule of thumb was to not give them any money. It’s the advice I’ve both given and received. The reasoning was that it would only make them dependent on your charity, and that they’d only use that money for alcohol and drugs. If you have food, give that. But not money. I’m not sure whether that’s the best course of action or not. I really don’t. But I’ve been exploring this issue a lot lately. Some of the ideas I’m wrestling with:
DRUGS. “They’re just going to buy drugs with it.” It’s true that drug abuse is a giant problem amoungst people who are living below the poverty line. For many of the homeless, drugs are either the reason they’re on the streets, or it’s what gets them through being in such dire straits. But let’s remember that drug addiction is a disease. Homeless beggars aren’t frat boys wanting to party so badly that they dress as bums to get their meth money. A disease is a disease and needs to be met with compassion. It would be nice if it was as simple as “get off those drugs.” It would also be nice if people with heart disease could just make their blood flow to their heart better. Having the power to deal with the disease, let alone become cured of it, is something even the best of us would feel helpless in doing.
WORK. For anyone who has a job that requires being on your feet all day, you know how taxing it is. I’d sooner take a job requiring me to give me sore muscles every day than one where I do little work but stand or walk all day. This should remind us to 1) be kind and appreciate to the Walmart greeters, and 2) realize how hard that work can be standing on concrete in the middle of four lanes of traffic (One woman I saw in Saint John was taking a break and sleeping on one.).
FOOD. Whether or not they use the alms for drugs, they still need to eat. Pure and simple.
Again, I’m not trying to convince anyone to give their money to street beggars. I also can only speak for my own community, New Brunswick. Maybe things are very different in cities like Toronto, Tokyo, or Mumbai. I do, however, want to remind myself and anyone else who may care to listen that the people we are seeing are more than likely having a very difficult time in their life.
And the worst of it is that most of us, like me, are not giving actively to charities helping the homeless. We’re not fundraising, we’re not joining the effort in trying to make a difference for people who are struggling to survive. So who are we to say whether or not they deserve our loonies?
Again, these are just musings. I don’t have any answers, but I’ve learned enough in life to know that it’s always a good idea to at least question our own status quo.
Congratulations Slumdog Millionaire. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Cho Yeo-jeong as Yeon Kyo in Parasite
Best Actor: Dev Patel as Older Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire
Best Quote: “Sun is for everyone, beach for a few.” – Luis Otávio as young Rocket in City of God
My top 10 favourite movies that deal with poverty
- The Colour Purple (1985)
- Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
- The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
- Bicycle Thieves (1948)
- Children of Heaven (1997)
- City of God (2002)
- 13th (2016)
- Parasite (2019)
- Capernaum (2018)
- Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Honourable Mentions: Moonlight (2016); Tangerine (2015); The Florida Project (2017); Precious (2009); The Grapes of Wrath (1940)