Can you spare a little change?
RON BULL/TORONTO STAR
The proposed ban on panhandling in Toronto is just another way of marginalizing our city’s poor and homeless. If the police have the audacity to give tickets to our society’s less fortunate, many of whom do not even have a place to live or sleep at night, I would like to see a panhandler respond by saying, “Sure, go ahead, fine me $1,000 — tell you what, why don’t you make it $1 million?” That’s how ridiculous the notion is of giving fines to people who are literally penniless, obviously unable to pay a fine or anything else for that matter.
Do politicians and others who willingly jump on the bandwagon and agree that panhandling should be made illegal think that panhandlers enjoy doing what they do? In throwing their hats down to beg for spare change, panhandlers are also surrendering their dignity and self-respect. Most of them do so because they are desperate for money. It could be argued that some panhandlers use their daily profits to buy drugs or alcohol, but how many among us who are legitimately employed do the same with our paycheques? Who has the right to judge what anyone does with their money?
People fall upon hard times. Circumstances often lead people into homelessness and panhandling. Some panhandlers do feel badly, at least when they get started, about for having to put aside their pride and ask people they know look down on them for money.
Certainly, it can be off-putting to finish a long day at work only to come outside and be asked for money by someone we think sat around all day while we were working. That may be so. But if that person was sitting around, they were doing so on the sidewalk, on sometimes damp, cold pavement. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trade my chair at my desk for one of those spots on the dirty sidewalk for a few coins. I venture to say that many who solicit for just a little spare change once had jobs of their own. Perhaps they, too, wish they could make themselves presentable enough to be able to go to a job interview.
As for panhandlers harassing pedestrians, for the most part, that is a gross exaggeration. I believe the general phrase panhandlers use is, “Can you spare a little change?” They are merely asking if you can afford to part with a small amount of change. How anyone make something like that illegal? Panhandling may bother some people or make others uncomfortable, but surely that’s not enough to make it a crime. The mere thought of putting one of these people in jail is nothing short of cruel, not to mention pointless. Trying to enforce yet another nonsensical law and pretending homelessness and poverty in our city don’t exist won’t make them go away.
We may not be able to spare a little change, but we can certainly spare someone who is so badly off that they have to beg for money on the street from facing more unnecessary stress in their lives. Talk about being harassed. Besides having to deal with police, fines and the risk of being thrown in jail, they face being tossed aside by society, just so people won’t have to look at them.
The next time you see someone panhandling and feel unwilling or unable to offer any change, rather than getting angry, just try to remember that the panhandler is still a human being. At the very least, it costs nothing to offer a smile — that is, if you can spare it.
Andrea Freedman is a Toronto writer.
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