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Giving it away for free

“I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark.”

Dick Gregory

You know what I never do?  Give money to panhandlers. I know some people do and I guess that’s awfully nice of them; but I just don’t trust that they aren’t going to buy drugs with it.

Also, to be quite honest, a lot of them are fairly nasty characters you don’t want paying attention to you. So yeah, I have my reasons; some of them intellectual, others more visceral.

So this week I thought it would be interesting to take a day to see how many panhandlers I could give money to, the nice ones and the scary ones.

My first opportunity comes as I’m walking up Granville street, on my way work. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked along Granville in the early morning but there’s always plenty of people crashed along the store fronts and this morning is no different. That’s where I find my first subjects, a young couple sleeping in an embrace, all but their ratty little heads hidden beneath dirty blankets. I look around, not sure where I can leave money so they’ll be sure to see it but it won’t be stolen (an odd concern in retrospect) and am happy to spot their shoes up by their heads. I drop a loonie in one shoe for him and a loonie in the other shoe for her. I like the idea of them finding it there.  A mirthful feeling creeps up my spine. It’s Christmas and I’m Santa Claus as I make my way down the street, tucking coins into shoes.

Walking home after work presents further opportunities. First there’s shirtless man with his sign that reads:  “Homeless and Hungry on my 54th birthday”; a fellow who is apparently stuck in some sort of time looping vortex where he is forced to relive his same shitty 54th birthday day after day, year after year. (I’ve been seeing him with that sign for at least 5 years now). As my coin drops into his cup he gives me a sincere “thank you” and I smile a little.

The next girl I come across, a sullen looking teenager, appears displeased when I try to hand her money and insistently points to her cup instead. I feel suddenly ashamed; have I committed a faux pas?  Is “hand to hand” against some sort of etiquette?  Chastised, I drop a coin in her cup, which she barely notices, and I carry on my way. Can’t enjoy them all I guess.

There are others, some grateful, some oblivious. At the end of they day I manage to give away most of my $20 in coin.

So what does it all mean? Am I going to start giving out money? I doubt it. My objections still stand. But it was kind of wonderful to actually seek out panhandlers, and be excited to find them, rather than avoiding their gaze. I can’t deny that I deeply enjoyed tucking coins into the shoes of sleeping street kids.

Whatever it means, that’s another week and that’s something I’ve never done before.

Do you give money to panhandlers?  Why or why not?

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