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Can you spare your credit card, sir? Toronto Star + comments

Aug 30th, 2010 | By | Category: Campaigns (incl.) Grassroots, Community Board, Health
Published On Sat Aug 28 2010

Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

Jim Rankin Staff Reporter
Joanne Mitchell, 60, and an acquaintance panhandle at a subway entrance at Union Station.Joanne Mitchell, 60, and an acquaintance panhandle at a subway entrance at Union Station.

What would happen if, instead of spare change, you handed a person in need the means to shop for whatever they needed? What would they buy? Can you spare your credit card, sir?

In New York City, an advertising executive recently handed over her American Express Platinum Card to a homeless Manhattan man after he had asked her for change. The man, who had been without home after losing a job, used the card to buy $25 worth of deodorant, water and cigarettes. And then he returned the card.

Concerns over the wisdom of sharing of credits cards and credit card fraud aside, the unlikely encounter became a talking point — a feel-good story about, as the New York Post put it in a headline: “A bum you can trust — honest!”

Is that such a surprise?

Over the past two weeks, I wandered Toronto’s downtown core with five prepaid Visa and MasterCard gift cards, in $50 and $75 denominations, waiting for people to ask for money.

When they did, I asked them what they needed. A meal at a restaurant, groceries, a new pair of pants, they said. I handed out the cards and asked that they give them back when they’d finished shopping. I either waited at a coffee shop while they shopped or — in the case of those who could not buy what they needed nearby or were reticent about leaving their panhandling post — I said I’d return on another day to pick up the card. That’s when I would reveal that I was a journalist.

Some were unbelieving at first. All were grateful. Some declined the offer. Some who accepted didn’t come back, but those that did had stories to tell.

Early afternoon on Queen Street West. A young man with a short orange Mohawk haircut and a Superman tattoo on his left shoulder sat alone on the sidewalk, a skateboard at his side. A song by Michelle Shocked comes to mind, in which she asks: “What’s it like to be a skateboard punk rocker?”

Tight.

His panhandling sign read: “Too ugly to prostitute. Spare some change.”

I asked him what he needed.

“Food would be nice.”

“Can I trust you with this?” I said, handing him a $50 card and telling him to buy what he needs, but that I need it back when he was done. He nodded and scrambled to his feet. He said he would be back in a half-hour.

He came back right on time, slurping from a large McDonald’s soft drink cup — root beer — and with sweat on his brow. He wanted to have pork and rice from a Vietnamese noodle joint on Spadina but they wouldn’t take the card. So, he scrambled to McDonald’s. Lunch was a double quarter-pounder with cheese.

He handed over the gift card, having spent $8.69.

His name is Jason. He’s 28, has brown eyes, a wide smile and good teeth. He has been on and off the streets of Toronto since he was 14. He grew up in Northern Ontario. His mother, he said, is a drinker and his dad died last year.

Now, he is homeless, living with friends or at a “secret spot” on the streets, but is waiting on an apartment. “I just got a POA for welfare,” he said. That’s a promise of address. He wants to get his driver’s licence and a job as a courier.

On a good day, he takes in $40 to $50 through panhandling, most of which he spends on communal food for friends. Of his most effective panning signs: “Like Obama, I like change,” and “Smile if you masturbate. Spare change if you like it.” He carries his belongings in a knapsack — just a bit of clothing and toiletries.

I handed the $50 card back to Jason to spend the rest as he likes. We shook hands and he went back to his spot on Queen.

A man sitting on a suitcase at Bay and King Streets was suspicious of the offer. “Can I buy groceries with it?” he asked. It was peak panhandling time and he did not want to leave his post. “Take care,” he said, turning down a $50 card. “But thanks a lot.”

This happened a number of times.

Another young man, James, was selling newspapers for the homeless in Yorkville. He said he was living with his sick and jobless father. “Truthfully, I’m okay. I have a roof over my head.” He turned down a $75 card.

Mark , who appeared to be in his early 30s and wore his hair in dreads, worked people outside the St. Lawrence Market. He walked up and asked if I could spare change.

“No,” I said, as I reached into a pocket, “but I have . . . ”

“A million dollars?” he grinned.

Mark said he was hungry for a meal at a restaurant. I gave him a $50 card and he asked if I would come with him. No, I said, go get what you need. I said I was meeting a friend and would be at a nearby coffee shop. He could bring the card back there.

Ninety minutes later, there was no Mark.

A record of the card transactions shows that Mark spent $21.64 on a meal at The Corner Place restaurant at Jarvis and Front Streets. The next day, Mark spent $15.50 at the LCBO.

There was a hot sauce promotion underway outside Union Station. Commuters grabbed two free bottles at a time. The vast majority walked past the panhandlers without a word.

“I need pants,” said Joanne, who squatted at the entrance to the subway, her right arm in a sling. But, no, she wouldn’t have time to leave her post to buy them and get back to hand over the $75 card I offered. I left it with her and said I would come back another day. She thanked me and smiled.

Same deal with Al, who stood around the corner, holding a sign that read “Hungry and Homeless.” He said he needed jeans and shoes. “Thank you kindly,” he said, taking a $50 card. “I’ll be here.”

Despite a few visits, I didn’t see Al again.

At time of writing, it had not been used.

A few days later, Joanne was back at her spot, looking rougher. She had a cough. She was panhandling with an acquaintance, a man who had appeared with a can of beer and poured half into her paper cup.

Joanne appeared sober. She remembered me. She had doubts the card was legit. An ex-boyfriend, she said, stole it. She hadn’t seen a penny of it, which her friend confirmed. “I couldn’t fight him,” said Joanne, lifting her broken arm.

A history of transactions on that card shows it was used nine times over two consecutive days for purchases at McDonald’s and the LCBO.

Joanne Mitchell is her full name. She’s 60, has one daughter and seven grandchildren, who she seldom sees. She worked for Bell Canada as a service rep but got “fed up.” She’s been panhandling on and off for 10 years and lives in subsidized housing. She broke her arm June 25 while trying to hang a picture and has been losing weight ever since. She was down to about 115 pounds, she said.

Joanne owned two pairs of pants. The pair she was wearing, green capris, were dirty and damp. “We could have done a lot with the money,” said her acquaintance. “Could have also bought some groceries with that.”

I promised I would be back another day with another card, to spend as she wished.

“I’ve been looking for you,” said Laurie, smiling. I’d left her with a $75 card a few days earlier at her spot outside the south entrance to the Eaton Centre. She’s there most afternoons, in her motorized wheelchair.

“Here’s your card,” she said, pulling it from her wallet.

She bought groceries that would keep her diabetes under control. She put $15 on a pay-as-you-go cellphone. She confessed to buying cigarettes. She usually rolls her own but treated herself. She did all of her shopping at a gas station convenience store, spending all but 39 cents

I explained myself.

“I’ve been wondering when a reporter might find me,” she said, bright green eyes sparkling behind bifocal glasses.

Laurie, 44, is living on the streets in the west-end and couch surfing with friends, including her ex-husband. In addition to diabetes, she takes medication for manic depression and has been diagnosed as having fibromyalgia. She must use the chair to get around and takes about 30 pills a day. She’s on a list to get into a co-op.

She has two daughters in university. One hopes to be a doctor, the other something to do with math. On a good panhandling day, Laurie will spend money in an Internet café and Skype with her girls. On a “super-duper” good day, she’ll book herself into a cheap motel and watch TV.

Each morning, she works on her resume and sends it out to prospective employers. She has computer programming skills and can type “95 words a minute, at 98 per cent accuracy,” she said.

Her last job was about 10 years ago. Before she had to start using a chair to get around. She was a waitress at a greasy spoon in King Street. Since then, she has lived off benefits.

In March, she said, she slipped into a diabetic coma, and had it not been for her ex-husband who found her and called 911, she probably would be dead.

“I’m a very positive person and things can always be worse,” she said. And then she quoted a line from Joni Mitchell’s song, Big Yellow Taxi: “Don’t it always seem to go,” said Laurie, “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”

How the cards were used

Card 1: $50, handed to Jason. Spends $8.69 at McDonald’s. Returns card.

Card 2: $50, to Mark. Spends $21.64 at The Corner Place restaurant. Doesn’t return. Later spends $15.50 at the LCBO.

Card 3: $75, to Joanne. Card is stolen. Over two days, $24.95 spent at McDonald’s, $38.35 at the LCBO.

Card 4: $50, to Al. Card unreturned. Balance remains at $50

Card 5: $75. Laurie buys $74.61 worth of food, phone minutes and cigarettes at a gas station convenience store. Returns card.

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6 comments
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  1. User Profile Photo

    EyeofTheTiger

    Aug 29, 2010 6:18 PM
    Thanks Jim Rankin

    For the extremely insightful human interest article. I not only enjoyed it, but as a result of it, my feelings and outlook on homeless people has changed for the better.Keep up the Great Work

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    AlexanderDevlin

    Aug 29, 2010 6:10 PM
    Giving Homeless Credit Cards

    This was one incredibly touching story. It makes such a difference to give. Thanks for the idea. I’ll use it here in Windsor.

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    rpearlston

    Aug 29, 2010 5:46 PM
    @ hjk50

    One of many things that history has taught us is that there is one way and one way only out a recession and that is for the government to spend the way out. Spending creates the jobs that then have the double benefit of both increasing the tax base and taking people off of government income supports. More to the point, history teaches this only if we are willing to pay attention to the lesson. That spending is an investment in the future, just as is, say, taking out a mortgage to buy your house. The worst thing that any government can do in a recession is to follow your “advice” and stop spending. Or do you really believe that the current recession is the same one that world experienced in the ’30′s?

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    hjk50

    Aug 29, 2010 5:31 PM
    @rich1299

    Rae’s spending out of a recession was reckless and he left Harris with a much larger debt than Harris left McGuinty plus in much better economic times in 2003. Add to that by your own admission that Chretien added to Harris’s financial woes. Let’s not forget all the McGuinty promises. I leave you with 7 years of McGuinty with the two largest tax increases in Ontario both. Add to that the spending waste of eHealth and OLB. Plus the massive growth in the size of government with outrageous contracts to unions. Isn’t Duncan scrambling now ask for wage freezes meanwhile the negotiations go on. Can’t help but notice that the government has booked the Royal York for the negotiations. Plenty more taxpayer waste. Do they really need such a high priced venue?

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    rpearlston

    Aug 29, 2010 5:28 PM
    Yoda

    Why don’t you tell us all where those jobs are to be found? Better yet, who don’t you create such jobs and give them to the people to whom you feel so superior. How about telling us how you get those jobs when you don’t have a home address, a home phone number, a place to rest your head every night, take a shower every morning, store and cook food for yourself and anyone else, and once in a while take a breath without fear. Nor is this about lacking job or life skills. The life skills that you pick up on the street are far more useful than the ones that you seem to hold so dear. People live on the streets because life has dealt them a hand that cannot otherwise be played. And people with your supercilious attitude only serve to make matters much, much worse.

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    bina

    Aug 29, 2010 5:26 PM
    More than food

    My husband and I spent a week in Quebec City and were approached twice for money. It was extremely hot. The first was an elderly man who could have been my father. We were in McDonald’s and he asked for money for coffee – we bought him breakfast. There was a shelter down the street and he probably had just left and wanted to get into an air conditioned environment. The restaurant also offers the use of a bathroom. The other man was middle aged – we bought him a meal and a drink. No, he didn’t want alcohol, he chose a soft drink. The cynical among us assume he wanted an alcoholic drink. We got the idea from a friend who buys homeless people meals and he sits with them – he says they have very interesting life stories. My faith in humanity is re-affirmed with these small acts of kindness.

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    rpearlston

    Aug 29, 2010 5:26 PM
    rich1299 @7:49

    I’d like to add some information to your post. Yes, Mike Harris cut taxes and then downloaded onto cities tasks that have always belonged to the province. That download had previously been foisted upon Halifax, with results as disastrous as they have been in Toronto. Harris made all of this and more essential in order to “balance the books” because, after cutting taxes, he also refused transfer payments from Ottawa. That put the cities into even larger holes – more fiscal responsibilities without having been given extra funding sources to offset the increased expenses, and no money for services like the TTC, which has caused that service to spiral downwards, too. For the rest of you, when those of us who suffer the most with all of this lunacy point out to you the origins of this, it’s with cause.

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    star_gazer

    Aug 29, 2010 5:21 PM
    All of us are only one step away…

    from being homeless or sick. Everyone thinks it will not be them. It will happen to someone else. No, it’s not true. I give out Tim’s gift cards or buy the person a coffee, have a chat, try to connect them with a social agency (I work for an agency that helps the homeless) or I just smile and say “How are you today?”. Be human, show empathy. One day, it could be you, a family member, a friend or someone you once knew.

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    biker650

    Aug 29, 2010 5:10 PM
    You know what

    I worked hard all my life in construction; not sitting in an air conditioned cubicle. Johnny on the spot’s aren’t nice in the winter. It’s hot, it’s cold & the wealth I produced is real, not an abstraction & I paid full taxes, not a reduced rate like the investment/speculation types & I don’t hate poor people & I know that some of us need a little more help to make it & I don’t mind the few bucks I pay in tax for teachers helpers or to get dental care for poor kids. I know the money we spend now on our kids (I don’t have any) will be paid back many times over as they go on to successful lives. No, I don’t like bums who WILL NOT work but the military costs me a million a year per soldier to go to foreign lands & kill people & the financial class who produce nothing & get subsidized by the working class cost us infinitely more than the bums & their corruption of the political class worries me a lot more than a few panhandlers, most of who would do better if they were giv

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    lisbon

    Aug 29, 2010 5:07 PM
    hello Mr. d

    First would like to mention that I loved this article, very interesting, could be anyone of us down on our luck at any point in our lives. However, do not agree with Mr. D. there are alot of treatments which Ohip does not cover which are really expensive and as far as I am concerned a bigger priority. Anyone who needs drug and alcohol rehab needs it due to their own mistakes/lifestyle. I myself have paid out of pocket for in vitro something which is also very expensive and which I had to do through no fault of my own. Other than that one issue, loved the article and agree something should be done.

  2. rpearlston

    Aug 29, 2010 4:56 PM
    @ stargazer @3:21

    You’re blaming the victims. When every day is a struggle to survive, tomorrow doesn’t count, and all of the tomorrows after that have no meaning. Planning for the future is only possible when you have a present that allows the time, security (of all types), and emotional space to allow it. But when you’re busy trying to make certain that you eat on any given day, when you’re trying to figure out, day in and day out, where you’re going to sleep that night, or how to you can avoid be abused in one way or another by everyone around you, including some of the respondents here, you have no time to think about tomorrow. You’ve never lived hand-to-mouth or pay cheque-to-pay cheque, have you? If you had, you would know better than to make such ludicrous assumptions about those who happen to be homeless.

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    rich1299

    Aug 29, 2010 4:49 PM
    re: @gimme

    hjk50 your “real truth” is laughable, Rae engaged in something called stimulus spending the same as Harper did, Yes Chretien made things tough for Ontario by downloading but it was Harris’s reckless tax cuts that drove our province much further into debt by reducing revenues when costs were going up plus he passed that downloading right on to the cities who were least able to afford it which is the main reason for Toronto’s current financial problems. The biggest laugh was when you said ” McGuinty has done more damage than Harris” but you’re right by not reversing the Harris cuts he did endorse them but in terms of those in poverty in this province Harris is by far the worst, plus he forced amalgamation on Toronto which as predicted increased municipal costs instead of reducing them. Harris left this province deep in debt with a huge defecit, McGuinty was left with no choice but to raise taxes since there were no more cuts that could be made but even still his tax increases were smaller th

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    rich1299

    Aug 29, 2010 4:36 PM
    re: $40 – $50 on a good day thru panhandling

    I agree with you that educational services on making your money stretch as far as possible in as healthy as possible way would be of great benefit especially for people on welfare. However your post ignores the reality of the homeless who don’t have the ability to store food let alone cook anything or keep anything perishable, they don’t have kitchens or fridges or stoves. Places like McDonalds offer high calorie food at a relatively decent price per calorie which is exactly what those who don’t get enough to eat are looking for in a meal, they don’t really need to worry about fat and sodium if they aren’t eating regularly, those sorts of issues are only for those of us who never miss a meal. Besides tasty food not only fills the void it brightens the spirit as well, sure from a health point of view meals consisting of plain bread, uncooked veggies and fruits might be good for you but they don’t feed the spirit like something tasty, besides fruits and veggies are very expensive. Like I said it might work for

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    barbieq

    Aug 29, 2010 4:15 PM
    Interesting Story

    It was nice to see a story that involved people living on the street and how they adjust to the environment when given money. A few people just abuse the system and I’m sure don’t need the money to survive but most people honestly just need some help. I really liked the idea of carrying granola bars in my bag or perhaps buying some coffee/food coupons to give out – at least it helps people from being hungry. I know a few around here are abusing the system but just because once in awhile we get stung doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat others with respect and help where we can. When people realize it can so easily happen to them especially when times are tough we need to be the “Good Samaritan” to our fellow man and hope that they would do the same for us in return. Good article…

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    Yoda

    Aug 29, 2010 3:50 PM
    $40 – $50 on a good day thru panhandling

    I’m not a tax expert. But $40 – $50 a day works out to what? $50 – $60 pre-tax income? Why don’t these people get a job? Even minimum wage job earns $80 a day. Plus, they’d be paying income taxes and helping to pad the tax base. They’d also learn about work ethic and perhaps the concept of saving for the future. $8 for McD meal is a complete waste. High in fat and sodium. McD is the worst type of meal one can get. I’d rather spend $8 for 4 loaves of bread and use the rest of the money for veggies and fruits. There’s a reason why some people live on the streets – they haven’t learned to take care of themselves. Instead of giving them money, governments should be giving these people education.

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    the_matrix

    Aug 29, 2010 3:24 PM
    This is tiresome

    You commenters who try to shame productive taxpayers are starting to wear thin. This study seems to have proved that the majority (not all) of panhandlers are dishonest. Instead of sitting on welfare in front of your Internet-connected computers, try getting up off your butts and going to work? If you legitimately can’t, for whatever reason, then at least show a bit of gratitude to those who pay for your living through their taxes. You’re surely not winning us over with your petulant arrogance.

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    Christina Archer

    Aug 29, 2010 3:21 PM
    It can happen to anybody

    I was destitute and homeless, once. People who have read this have to realize this: it can happen to you. If you don’t like giving out money to panhandlers then do this: talk to the person who is panhandling. I attempted panhandle once. It was detestable. Nobody looked directly at me, and just walked around me. I stopped it after two hours, because I was not treated like a human being by anyone else.

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    Detached

    Aug 29, 2010 2:50 PM

    I’m a very skilled receptionist and administrative assistant worth about $17.00/hr. and I am about 1 week from becoming homeless. I’m not a drug addict or a drinker and I carry no debt whatsoever. Even when you make all the right choices, life can still slap you in the face. Give to those in need when you can, because you truly cannot know if you will be in their position in the future.

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    editboy

    Aug 29, 2010 2:43 PM
    Fantastic Article Mr Rankin!

    Where have they been hiding you? It’s been a while since I have read such a thoughtful piece in The Star that didn’t have the name Royson James attached to it. Excellent work and really thought provoking. Hopefully there will be more! Bravo!

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    EcceHomo

    Aug 29, 2010 2:42 PM
    I don’t care who is in power

    The fact that the government of once the richest province in Canada is not willing to help people in need is a shameful state of affairs. All those “special interest group” programs, obscene increases to public servants’ salaries, money wasted on consultants and pet projects, and we have people who can afford a meal a day? Shame on you, McGuinty. How do you and your banditos sleep at night?

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    7thGenCanadian

    Aug 29, 2010 2:30 PM
    Northern Cynic

    My “2 cents worth” would do much more for the needy if the greedy in the public sector would ratchet down their ridiculous wage and benefit demands and accept wages and benefits their employers could afford. (Seems they dismissed that idea right quick last week eh?) It’s hard to look after anyone in the province when the ruling class empties the glass before it gets to the needy!

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    daniel4

    Aug 29, 2010 2:19 PM
    No conclusion

    The article didn’t offer any conclusion. I admit, I was looking for some revelation or scandal that the panhandlers would use the money for something reckless like CDs or lottery tickets. But at $8 for a burger and a drink,it’s about as cheap a real meal you can get. Not a good meal but I would criticize a coffee and a doughnut.

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    hjk50

    Aug 29, 2010 1:25 PM
    @gimme

    Sorry if the real truth hurts even more and you can’t accept it. Rae did more damage to the Ontario government by trying to buy the province out of a recession with reckless spending. Chretien did more damage to Ontario than Harris by downloading Health Care and reducing transfer payments to Ontario. McGuinty has done more damage than Harris and has kept and endorsed Harris’s social policies. McGuinty has now also become Ontario’s most secretive Premier and initiates policies without even consulting or advising his own caucus. McGuinty with all the tax, spend, waste and scandals has become by far the worst premier in Ontario’s history.

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    hjk50

    Aug 29, 2010 1:19 PM
    @gimme and Cynic

    Harris may have started Ontario Works, however it’s the government of the day, in this case McGuinty (it’s been 7 years and almost 2 complete majority mandates) that’s accountable and responsible. Ontario works and the social services programs in their present format are new fully endorsed and supported by McGuinty.

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    Julius Seizure

    Aug 29, 2010 12:35 PM
    If your excuse…

    …not to give a homeless person money is that they will just booze up or buy cigarettes or drugs carry around a few granola bars in your back-pack or purse or like me in the glove compartment. I never leave change, but I do hand over my granola bars or other snacks when coming across homeless people at exits ramps on the highway. If they refuse, you know they didn’t want money for food in the first place.

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    rpearlston

    Aug 29, 2010 12:34 PM
    @ cmurray @10:14

    I’d like to see you trying to live on OW or any other type of income support for 3 months. You’d change your mind within a week because you would have choice but to do so. On the other hand, you change your mind very easily by learning to be compassionate instead of selfish. Just do SOMETHING to erase your voluntary ignorance on this one.

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    la_rambler

    Aug 29, 2010 12:28 PM
    Need More Stories Like This, Educate The Masses Stories

    I’ve Been Dealing With The Homeless In This City For Over 15yrs And For More Then 15yrs I’ve Been Telling Others That There Not All Bad. If They Were You Wouldn’t See Them, They’d Be Crawling Through Widow At Your Home While You’re Here Talking To Me Or Being At Work etc. It Is True Of Alcohol And Drug Abuse In The Past Few Yrs Alot Cut Backs In Detox Centers In Toronto. That Helps Imagine Waking Up To That And Needing A Substance. I See In Some Of The Comments, Saying It Was This One Or That One For The Cut Backs. Just Think Of Them, Our Government’s As Monkey See Monkey Do. We Only Have Our Selves To Blame For Not Pushing For More Accountability. If One Feels There Immune To Prosecution, Need I Say More. I’d Rather Trust A Homeless Person The A Politician. Don’t Think, Do.

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    Northern Cynic

    Aug 29, 2010 12:27 PM
    @hjk50, 12:39

    It was the Harris government that replaced General Welfare with the Orwellian “Ontario Works” program in 1998, cut the rates by 21.6 % in 1995 and kept them that way, criminalized poverty (see Kimberley Rogers, who died under house arrest) – and they don’t get any further Right than Mike the Knife! Dalton has done nothing meaningful to correct the Harris insanity, which is why I stated earlier that it is not ONLY right-wing governments at fault. Gimmeshelter is correct that the right-wing governments impose the harshest policies and ignore the results.

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    Northern Cynic

    Aug 29, 2010 12:26 PM
    @7thGen etc.

    When was the last time you gave change to a panhandler? That’s what I thought. Your 2 cents’ worth would be much more valuable there.

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    Northern Cynic

    Aug 29, 2010 12:25 PM
    @Mr.D, 1:19 pm: “15 years ago”?

    Harris was elected in 1995 – McGuinty replaced him in 2003. Do the math – SEVEN years. That said, you’re right that the McGuinty government has done next to nothing to reverse the Harris cuts to social assistance. However, the health care tax/fee was inevitable, in view of the Harris/Eves cuts in that area. Sin taxes ALWAYS go up, under any government – and the HST was pushed on both Ontario and BC by the Federal Tories. Funny how the Right is always libelling the Liberals – “more bloat” – but don’t seem to notice Conservative pork-barrelling.

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    stargazer

    Aug 29, 2010 12:21 PM
    Very Nice

    This was a really good article. I enjoyed the social experiment, I also found it interesting that none of the panhandlers bought anything that would benefit them over a longer period of time. Like a grocery gift card, or TTC tickets, or cooking/living clothing supplies at a thrift store. Pretty much all of them used it to obtain things useful for that very day. Like buying a single meal. I wonder if this psychological “future block” trait is common because they’re homeless, or if they’re homeless because of the tendency to think that way..

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    rpearlston

    Aug 29, 2010 12:19 PM
    @dandmb50 @ 9:42

    What a horrible attitude you display. You want to be able to give pre-paid credit cards and then SPY ON THE RECIPIENTS! You gave the money away. What possible business is it of yours to check into how it’s being used? Why do you need to further judge people? Do you what to be able to scrutinize how every EI/OW/ODSP/WSIB etc recipient spends their money, too? What in the world makes you think that you have the right to intrude on lives that way?

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    rich1299

    Aug 29, 2010 12:19 PM
    could have been me

    I myself have come very close to being homeless on a few occasions. I’m a recovering addict, about 3 years clean now and on methadone. I know very well that the only difference between me and a homeless person is that I had the good luck to have living parents who were able to help me out and support me while I got my life changed around, most of the homeless didn’t have the good fortune that I did. I know how close I have come to being homeless and know that nothing is ever guaranteed in life, any of us could lose it all very quickly if our circumstances changed. Welfare isn’t enough to afford a decent apartment and the other necessities of life either so that safety net is one full of massive holes that so many fall through so easily. We need to increase welfare rates to a level that can actually support a person in this city, they might be fine for someone in a small town up north where rent is dirt cheap but it isn’t nearly enough to survive on in Toronto. I was lucky and had my parents for a safety net,

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    chingalia

    Aug 29, 2010 12:17 PM
    used to have a business

    If I still had a business I’d like to think I would be offering Jason and Laurie jobs. Jason seems to be responsible but just down on his luck. Laurie has some impressive skills: computer skills with a 95 wpm typing speed. I’m surprised she hasn’t applied with municipal, provincial or federal governments for a job.

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    SmartDwarf

    Aug 29, 2010 12:17 PM
    This story proves a point

    This is a non scientific study but proves the point. When you give a panhandler money, they spend it on McDonalds, booze and cigarettes. You are doing nothing to help them. The one lady in the story, Joanne, had a good job but got fed up and quit. Now she sits on the street. She is only there because people give her money, enabling her. If you want to donate, give to a church, soup kitchen or other charity so the money can be spent properly.

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    Mil1ion

    Aug 29, 2010 12:15 PM
    I noticed

    the journalist never mentioned asking these people if they are aware of local help centers and programs by charities.ie: Salvation Army, Mustard Seed Ministry,Food Banks,etc. Aside from handing out bags of peanuts and tetra packs of juice on my own volition, these people need to know that they don’t have to just sit there everyday hoping someone will feed their additions.To talk with them ans suggest an alternate path is also the human thing to do.

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    rpearlston

    Aug 29, 2010 12:15 PM
    @ CSense

    I’m neither condemning nor condoning the city building housing for artists, but I do want to point out a few facts. Working at your craft and making a living at your craft are NOT synonymous. I suppose that you would have no problem living beside a musician who needs to practice, but what if the city puts a sound-proof studio into that building? Or a dance studio? Or huge windows on the north side of the building for painters? How about a room set aside for pottery, with a large kiln in it? These needs are as special as is the need for level access, for wheelchair accessible showers, etc and no one would call those frills.

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    Labrador

    Aug 29, 2010 12:14 PM
    An intersting story,

    but hardly definitive. For one thing, drug dealers, much like that asian noodle restaurant, don’t take plastic. And ‘gimmeshelter’, if you’re going to post dozens of times on every subject, could you at least change up your photo? It’s disturbing.

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    Lothario

    Aug 29, 2010 12:13 PM
    Psychology

    Very interesting experiment & article. I believe the majority on responsible spending stems from the funds being in the form of credit & that the results would vary dramatically if cash were given. Psychologically, I think cash would induce more frivolous spending.

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    rich1299

    Aug 29, 2010 12:12 PM
    re: Too Many Fake Beggars

    cmurray welfare in this province isn’t enough to pay rent and buy groceries let alone any of the other necessities of life, after Harris cut welfare rates by 20% I saw the pan handler population in my neighbourhood more than double within the first month after the cuts took effect. I was on welfare for a while before the cuts and barely survived, I can’t imagine how anyone after the cuts does survive without pan handling or somehow “cheating” the system. People will do what they have to to survive. if you want to see panhandlers greatly reduced demand McGuinty raise the welfare rates to what they were before the Harris cuts and indexed for inflation.

  5. rich1299

    Aug 29, 2010 10:52 AM
    re: If the government really cared about substance abuse

    Mr. D rehab is covered under OHIP, but only for up to 21 days in a residential setting but they also cover outpatient treatment programs for a limited time as well. The main problem for homeless addicts is housing, its next to impossible to get yourself clean and sober if you don’t have a safe and secure home and enough money for food, clothing and other necessities which with the pitiful little amount of welfare people might be able to get is also next to impossible to achieve since welfare doesn’t cover the rent except in the worst and most insecure sort of housing. Even if they did some how get a safe place to live and the necessities of life its still incredibly hard to get yourself clean and sober. To help the homeless and addicted off the streets and cleaned up will take an integrated approach involving all aspects of their life, something the rehab funded by OHIP just can’t do.

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    cammy

    Aug 29, 2010 10:39 AM
    great article but ..

    I still probably won’t give any panhandlers any loose change. It was nice that these gift cards could be traced and we found out what they were used for. I’m not sure why it’s so important for us to know what they do with the money. Living on the street, it must be rough, it’s not surprising that they would want to spend it on drugs or alcohol. I’ve also heard a few stories where someone had paid for a homeless person’s meal only for that person to go up to the cashier and ask for a refund. Another story was when they gave change everyday but one day, didn’t have any and was cursed at loudly as they walked by. It’s stories like this that make me just ignore them as I walk by.

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    rich1299

    Aug 29, 2010 10:34 AM
    re: Gimme Shelter at 12:26pm

    Gimme Shelter say “Harris/Eves govt did far more damage in this area than any and all liberal or NDP govts in Ontario history, combined” I totally agree with you, but what does it say about the McGuinty Libs that they haven’t reversed 95% of what Harris/Eves cut? Granted they didn’t make the cuts that have had such a harmful effect on the poor in this province but by not reversing them they are endorsing those cuts. Surely even in an economic downturn we as a society could find our way to doing something to ease the disgrace of poverty yet very little has been done.

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    rumsomal

    Aug 29, 2010 10:20 AM
    great concept

    a very interesting and thoughtful twist to the new york post article.

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    Mr. D

    Aug 29, 2010 10:19 AM
    Speaking of conservatives / liberals

    The Harris/Eves era was 15 years ago why are we still on about that? Ontario has been under liberal rule since then. How come the programs that the Harris government cut have not been re-instituted by the liberals? At least the Harris government did what they said they would do. McGuinty said “no new taxes”, yet now we have a health care tax(which I don’t mind paying), HST, environmental taxes, transportation taxes, more taxes on liquor and smokes, etc. All of which directly/indirectly affect the poor. I don’t mind paying taxes if there is a benefit, but it appears that it’s just more bloat for the liberal party. Just saying ….

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    7thGenCanadian

    Aug 29, 2010 10:17 AM
    It is just a bloody shame…..

    …that over one million Ontarians work for the provincial government in one capacity or another plus the fact that there are many, many more who work for either municipal or federal government at wages and benefits that in most cases are far, far superior to those in the private sector. Considering about 60% of Ontario’s spending is for salaries and benefits just think what could be done if the excesses of the public sector were shared with the less fortunate in the private sector. Somehow I don’t think you will see any sympathy from the “fat-cat” (taking a page from Obama – demonize your enemies) public sector who feel they deserve an inappropriate share of the economy. Oh well…..

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    hdave

    Aug 29, 2010 10:13 AM
    Great Read

    Just like to let the reporter know this was very interesting and informative. I read the entire thing and enjoyed it. I hope you get a chance to do some more of this and hopefully a good story comes out of it.

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    letsfindthetruth

    Aug 29, 2010 9:55 AM
    Nice to see the Star walking the talk for once…

    Now you know what it’s really like out there and the odds of really helping people or what it might take to do the job. It isn’t easy and throwing money at problems isn’t enough is it? Look at all the people that turned down a free meal, thinking they could make more? Not trusting anybody? Not knowing how to work the system? Some being untrustworthy etc.

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    Stephane Marbury

    Aug 29, 2010 9:39 AM

    I thought this was a good news article from Jim Rankin and it’s nice that he could help some of the panhandlers. As indicated, some of these people actually want to get off the street for a better life, the question is how can we help these people achieve that?

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    hjk50

    Aug 29, 2010 9:39 AM
    @northern cynic

    I agree that Ontario Works is a dismal failure under the McGuinty government for the last 7 years. However Gimmeshelter would have us all believe that it is the fault of successive right wing governments. Go figure that one out.

  6. This is a really interesting article. I have not though about giving people credit or gift cards before. The thing that first came to mind when I read your post title was that people had those small credit card readers on their phones. My courier service uses those and that was what I immediately thought of. It is great to know that there are such responsible and nice people out there and that not all people on the streets are waiting to swindle you. Thanks for the great read!

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