There was a woman in my neighbourhood who begged for money at Eglinton subway Station. She was a black woman in her late forties. She walked through the area surrounding the subway entrance asking for spare change.
I didn’t like seeing her. I didn’t consider her an eye sore or a threat, I just wished that she didn’t have to do that.
When I first saw her, I was really broke and couldn’t spare any change. If I could have, I would have given her $20. I’ve never been one to give small amounts of money to the homeless. I usually give a big sum quite infrequently.
I know. I know. We’re not supposed to give anything, right. People often say there are many services in place to provide for people who have been displaced. I simply don’t believe that social assistance covers everything. Welfare is a pitiful amount. I’m surprised if anyone can really live off it. Many think people who beg will just use the money to buy drugs or alcohol. Some will. But some will buy food. Some will pay the rest of their rent. Some need it.
I refuse to analyze all of that. I’ve been so broke that five dollars made a huge difference. I have been so wealthy that I wouldn’t miss five dollars.
Then one day the woman at Eglinton subway walked up to me on a particularly stressful day and said, “I just need $20.”
“So do I,” I thought.
I told her I didn’t have it and continued on my way annoyed that she was not patient enough to wait for my generosity.
(I’m kidding. But I was a bit put off.)
She was there for months, at Yonge and Eglinton. Not everyday. Just around the time of month social assistance runs out because, as I mentioned, Toronto doesn’t provide its citizens with enough to live on all things considered. She was not on drugs. I saw no signs of mental illness. She seemed healthy, strong but I expected that she would go crazy if she had to beg in front of the subway for long.
One morning, she was particularly frantic and being more assertive than usual. I stood a distance away and pulled out a $20. My financial situation had improved and I could “kind of” spare some change. Or more, I thought she needed it really badly.
I placed the 20 in her hand and walked quickly past her to go down the escalator. She ran up to me calling me, grabbed my arm, swung me around and she hugged me like anything. She thanked me a million times.
“No problem,” I said. “Take care of yourself,” I said.
“I will,” she said.
I saw her a couple of more times. Greeted her but then told her I didn’t have money for her. She smiled at me. She didn’t seem to mind.
The third time I saw her she said, “That twenty dollars you gave me really helped me out. I graduated from York University. I took Human Resource Management but haven’t been able to find a job. People don’t want to leave their positions so it’s hard to get in. Do you know how humiliating it is to have to do this?”
I listened and realized it would be easy to shift her out of that way of thinking.
I went to do some banking. On the way back I went up to her. I gave her ten dollars and the business card of a woman at OASIS. (I went there for help when I was between jobs and had already tried everything I could think of.) They helped me revamp my resume, offered me clothing assistance and gave me a million tips to be gainfully employed. There were pep talks, funny stories. They know the system like no one else and they knew what to tell me so that I could keep going. I expected them to get me a job dusting shelves at the Sally Ann, but they learned my credentials and guided me to find work suitable for me. They helped to become more employable. It was a truly interesting process. I knew they could help her.
I told her what OASIS provided and reminded her that what she was doing was a short-term solution. She agreed. She looked at me. It wasn’t confusion. It was contemplation and gratitude.
Do you know, I haven’t seen her since!
There is a huge homeless and/or impoverished population in Toronto. Maybe there doesn’t have to be.