I cannot tell you how many times I have walked passed a homeless person asking for change without so much as looking in their direction. I would notice one a few meters ahead of me and immediately move to the other end of the sidewalk, quickly walking past. I have done this for years. Probably most of my life actually.
About a year ago, I noticed this tendency. One day a panhandler approached me and I murmured something along the lines of, “I do not have any change,” and walked away as fast as I could. I felt guilty immediately after because on that particular day, I had cash in my wallet. In that moment I was anxious and maybe a little disgusted that this dirty lazy person was asking for my hard-earned money.
My guilt for lying about not having money prompted me to comb through my emotions and my regard for the homeless. I realized I was not even sure he had asked me for change before I responded. I also discovered that my brushing them off and running was a defense mechanism for my limited knowledge and understanding of the homeless. I decided to be different. That incident prompted me to reconsider my interactions and responses to the homeless. I also took the time to learn more about homelessness in Canada and globally.
I started to pay more attention to them. I realize now that even though I may not be able to help at a particular time, I can afford a smile. I actually listen to them now. I make sure my interactions are respectful and kind. When I have change or food items, I give it to them. The homeless are normal people just like the rest of us. They simply fell into bad times.
I have heard comments like when you give a homeless person money they will use it for drugs and so, by giving them cash we are supporting their habit. While that might be true for some, it is not the general case. Yes, there may be people who spend it on drugs but there are also those who are genuinely starving. We have no way of knowing who is who. My response to that is this: If you are worried about giving cash, how about keeping a few granola bars (or other snacks) in your vehicle or bag to offer instead. I have actually done this a few times. I simply let them know I do not have any cash but I have a granola bar. If they are interested, they will accept it. There are many ways to skin a cat.
There are many myths out there about homelessness. Some believe that the homeless are lazy people who do not want to work. Others are convinced that they are on drugs. Many assume that they are uneducated or that homelessness is a choice.
Homelessness is not a choice. Even educated individuals and people who have at some point, had prestigious jobs have ended up with nothing. It could happen to anyone. It is also difficult to find or maintain a well paying stable job without an address or contact information.
Homelessness in most cases does not happen overnight. A person might loose their permanent job, then start working odd jobs, loose their house, move in with family or friends temporarily, sleep in a motel or shelter every so often and so on until they become absolutely homeless.
We are fortunate enough to have systems in place in Canada that assist the homeless. These include homeless shelters and soup kitchens that solve that immediate need. But how much better would it be if we also had ways to identify those who are struggling before they fall into relative or absolute homelessness? If we could provide them with support to reverse their situation, and provide the homeless with permanent solutions, then perhaps our staggering numbers would gradually decrease.
Some movements such as the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (http://www.caeh.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/A-Plan-Not-a-Dream_Eng-FINAL-TR.pdf) have started this remarkable journey. We as a population need to acknowledge that homelessness is not a problem of the homeless but a concern for our nation as a whole. Emergency aid is great but long-term it is very costly. We all
need to support the idea and the steps towards creating permanent solutions. While we work in that direction, let us treat the homeless with the same kindness and respect we demonstrate to clean looking well-dressed individuals we encounter.
(Please note that this is not to say that every homeless person also panhandles. Some do, not all.)
Written by: Valerie Nyamori for BeTheChangeYYC Blog
Twitter Handle: @valeriechela
Blog URL: https://herebyhangsatale.com/about-valerie-the-author/