I usually walk by homeless people and others who are on the street asking for money. Sometimes I don’t want to take the time to dig into my wallet. Often I don’t think it’s the best thing to give them money, because I judge that they’re going to use it to buy drugs or cigarettes. Occasionally I share a dollar or two.
Today I decided to go for a walk and give away $25 to homeless people. I planned to have the money ready and to give at least $1 to every street person who asked for money, without questioning how they were going to use it.
Why? To see what I’d learn- and to offer a LITTLE help.
So I went to Canada Trust and exchanged $20 American for twenty-five loonies ($1).
Then I went for a walk, on a sunny day in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.
In the first block, I encountered a man with a can in front of him on the sidewalk and I dropped in $1. He stood and looked at me- and I asked if I could take his picture- to document my adventure, I thought. He said no, and got angry.
I felt like an ass. What would a homeless person have to gain by having me take his picture?! “What an out-of-touch ass I am,” I thought. “I’m off to a bad start on giving away money.”
I apologized. He scolded me. And I walked away, past another man on the street- whose picture I subtly took- to help tell my story.
I stopped at the hostel, where I’m staying, to make sure I had locked my car, and then restarted my walk. The unfortunate man was still lying on the sidewalk, with people and cars passing by.
I chose a different direction to approach the man who had scolded me. From a half block away, I noticed he was smoking a cigarette, had three dogs and was reading. What a mix!
Putting aside my feeling like an ass 30 minutes earlier, I stood behind a sign 30 feet away and tried to take a picture. He looked up from his book, jumped up and angrily approached me. “No pictures!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and offered him $1. He accepted the money- and scolded me some more.
I gave him another $1- and he softened.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “No pictures.”
“I don’t even want pictures of my dogs!” he added.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated. He softened some more…and I walked away.
Within a block, I gave $1 to a homeless woman, who thanked me.
A couple of blocks later, I ran into a man and deposited $1 in his cup. I noticed his “I love culture” button, and asked where he got it.
“I bought it,” he said.
“Could I take a picture of it?” I asked, trying to learn a lesson.
“Yes,” he said.
“May I include you in the picture?”
“Sure,” he said, and he smiled.
I said thanks and continued walking…past another person sleeping on the street, and I cautiously snapped this picture.
I continued wandering…
And then I walked on, with my phone newly charged.
I continued in a relatively high rent district, and then I gave $1 to a woman less than 20 years old, who I saw being confrontational in her style. I surprised her by giving her $1 before she asked me. So she asked for more, but I left it at $1 (and now I wish I’d added $1 or $2).
Then I heard this man playing “Stairway to Heaven.” I gave him $1, listened some more, asked if I could take some photos…and gave him another $1 before moving on.
A block further I saw a woman in a wheelchair, one leg bandaged, assertively asking a couple for money. They ignored her and she swore at them repeatedly, louder and louder, wheeled around and started in the other direction, still yelling. I wound my arm in front of her, showed $1, and she turned to me and smiled.
“Oh. I thought you were the police. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said.
She was almost crying and added, “I’m trying! I just want a meal and a warm place.”
“I believe you,” I thought, and I walked toward the waterfront.
past Steamworks Brew Pub…
And when I came back to to the area in which I met the woman in the wheelchair, I saw her aggressively begging for money. I gave her another $1.
She said, “You already gave me some. I’m trying.”
“I know you are; here’s one more $1. May I take your picture?”I asked.
“I look terrible!” she said. “But OK.” And she smiled.
I had been out for almost three hours and was almost back to the hostel. I dropped $1 into the can of another woman in a wheelchair and looked across the street to see a man I had given $1 to almost three hours ago, still sitting on the cold sidewalk.
I deposited my last $5 in his bowl, next to his sign that read:”You don’t have to give me money if you don’t want to. Thank you. :)”
I let myself get a tiny bit closer to some homeless people today- closer than when I walk by in a hurry, without time to get out my wallet . I felt their pain-and then I went home to my warm room and fell asleep.
I suspect that most of the people I interacted with on the street today are still out there. 😦