What Really Happens To That 10 Bucks You Gave That Homeless Dude At McDonalds.

This story is not about how I feel politically about the growing homeless population in my local area. People who know me know that I never discuss local politics, and the only reason I look at anything in a political column is because of the craziness going on south of the border, and just over the land-bridge to Asia. What I’m about to say is controversial but I’m too inoculated to really care what trolls say in the comments section of blogs and articles. I won’t respond to your criticism unless it’s intelligent and not nasty, so let’s begin.

This is what really happens to that money you gave that poor guy who just needed to get enough money for a bus ticket to Chilliwack at the Mission 7-11 store. That dude has been trying to raise the money for a ticket for almost three years. That money went to buy methamphetamines. No, I am not saying that every homeless person is an addict, I’m not done yet. What I am clearly going to say is that in the part of the world where I live, every homeless person is afforded a minimal stipend, on a monthly basis, and there are at least three agencies feeding them. In the town I work in we will literally house everyone who really wants a place to live. Everyone. Canada is a socialized culture and agencies like the one I work at are given money from the local and provincial government to help people who want help. That last phrase was very important and we may return to it later.

Today I was getting propane for my BBQ and I had to drive around a man in his 30’s with a sign that read, “homeless, starving, need bus fair to Chilliwack”. It’s always Chilliwack. All three of those statements are subject to review. I am a raging liberal, and I get paid not to judge people and I can tell you right out, if you gave him money you should have looked 20 feet down the road. I came back ten minutes later and another guy was holding the sign. There were four of them, smoking on the side of the curb. This is their daily thing.

And now the kicker.

I know those guys… quite well. They are not headed to Chilliwack. They are not even homeless. They are all on disability. Giving that gentlemen 10 dollars is fine, noble even, you just need to know all the information. These are hurting people, but giving them money at two in the afternoon may not really help them better their lives. This issue is far more complex than mere charity. Persons on the edges of society have almost always come from a history of trauma, generations of dysfunction. It is a gigantic feat to imagine that they have had the same opportunities that the rest of us middle-class kids have had. Many of my friends at the camps have gruesome stories of abuse and neglect, anger and fear. They were not given a college fund. They did not get to be on the soccer team or go to bible camp or have a yearly family vacation. I’m not excusing the behaviours that piss you off so very much, but it’s important to understand the details on both sides of the equation.

The majority of our clients who are moving forward in their life, in spite of terrific challenges and often lacking the capacity to even understand normie culture, much less flourish, have been able to break free of the insane cultural and personal reality they have believed to be normal since childhood.  This is, of course, a generalization. So is this – many of our most at-risk clients do not even understand cultural protocol. They don’t have proper ID. Many of them lack personal hygiene, sometimes because of a lack of opportunity and sometimes because a portion of our most vulnerable people have never learned how to fit in, or how to talk to authority, or how to walk through confrontation with grace. Giving that person 10 bucks is completely your call, I’ve done it myself. The difference is, some of us are still under the illusion that this will make a positive or substantive difference in their life. The best I can offer is that, for a majority of those (predominantly males for varied and sometimes tragic reasons) who hold cardboard signs at Safeway, you might provide them a temporary relief from their difficult lives. There are probably those who take that money and make good use of it, but they aren’t the people I know in my town and the town next door.

For ten dollars you can get enough meth to feel decent for six or ten hours.

Some of the homeless population are there by choice, but I don’t mean that in the way you might read it. There are people in the homeless camp that have housing. There are many people who have been offered services but cannot, or will not, conform to the parameters we as a society are sometimes forced to place on cultural participation. You cannot function in mayhem and there needs to be a measure of conformity and cooperation and some people are not down with that. There are others that are just so defeated, so checked out, that they are hard to reach. Mental illness is more common than you think, and without a good support network there is a likelihood that a percentage of those folks will also end up on the fringes of society. Many are in throws of addiction and people who have never had the monkey screaming in your ear have a difficult time understanding why they don’t just quit and get a job. When your life is hell, a little self-medication can often go a long way… at least for a few hours.

Some people are there by choice, but those choices are heavily influenced by ten or twenty generations of abuse and pain and misery. They are incapable of thinking like you and I think because their life experience is so vastly foreign we really don’t operate in the same realities.

I have friends who live in downtown Vancouver. I’m a small-town kind of guy. Driving in heavy traffic makes me feel feelings I really shouldn’t ever feel. It stretches my imagination to think like someone who lives in poverty off Main and Hastings in downtown Vancouver. Their day-to-day reality is profoundly different than mine. Living in downtown Hong Kong is beyond my understanding. If I have difficulty imagining a life in Hollywood how can I possibly begin to comprehend the reality for a person born and raised in abuse and poverty and broken dreams and screaming. This isn’t a liberal snowflake way of excusing unacceptable behaviour, or the naked guy outside Dairy Queen in Maple Ridge, or the fact that you’ve had all your bikes stolen. As a society we must have certain behavioural standards or it’s thunderdome. And some people are just assholes.

This isn’t about that.

Giving him ten bucks makes you feel better. I’m not saying you did it for selfish reasons, it just is what it is.

So let’s recap:

  1. giving money to a person, believing they are starving or just need to get enough money to get to Chilliwack may be commendable but may, just may, be a tinsy bit naive.
  2. The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
  3. The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
  4. There are no easy solutions.
  5. The problem is much bigger than just a lack of ten dollars.
  6. Ten bucks may not get you to Chilliwack but it might get you to Nirvana, albeit temporarily. This is not always a good thing.

So give the money or don’t. You will be providing temporary, though potentially harmful relief. Best case scenario, they will buy something to eat or a pack of smokes.

Who knows, maybe a few will even make it to Chilliwack.

3 thoughts on “What Really Happens To That 10 Bucks You Gave That Homeless Dude At McDonalds.

  1. Bitter reality. That’s what people used to call my husband. If you had a dream, his reality check would knock you back down to earth in a tailspin. Things have changed thankfully, but I was thinking about that as I read this article. Maybe some people don’t want to know the reality behind their act of kindness,not matter how true it is.
    I used to work downtown. I took psychology when the powers that be decided that Riverview was to be closed, and community access was to be provided for the mentally ill now on the street. Of course, that didn’t happen. At one time, I recall the amount of people with mental Heath issues on the street was about 40%, maybe more. Now they’re talking about opening Riverview again. There was always a mix of mentally ill, kids who didn’t want to, or couldn’t go home, and drug addicts, or a mix on the streets when I worked there. I’ve had homeless folks get angry and threatening to me because I didn’t want to give them money and I’ve had folks be very grateful when I bought them a burger and fries, food for their animal, whatever. Sometimes I give people money knowing full well that it’s just going to booze and/or alcohol. I’ve stopped passing judgment cause you’re right, what possible point would that serve? Not everyone can live in this pleasant world, the one I create around me everyday and try to share from time to time with the needy and disadvantaged. I am trying to realize that intent is still important, though, whatever the outcome. I only have control over my own actions. What happens after that isn’t under my control and never will be and that has to be OK

  2. I used to ride the train every day to work. Same time, same line, probably the same car. We develop habits. The same people would get on the train, same line, same car every single day and tell a different story. I have been brought up to give to organizations who provide real hope and not individuals who have no real plan for that dollar you just gave them, but it really brought it home. The interesting thing is I saw one young woman who was, on different days, trying to get somewhere, pregnant, starving, or had a cute puppy to twist your heart on the bus a few years later after I changed jobs. She was telling her buddy how she got herself off the streets, cleaned up, and working. In my city, there are absolutely people who could starve here, but individuals who don’t trust anyone to genuinely want to help them lie, and you might not have the same ideas of what “help” means as they do. They know that. In all likelihood, “help” does mean a short-term escape from reality in one way or another, and not a ticket off the streets or to Chilliwack. And the thing is none of this creates any sense that you want to “help” or that the world is going to be a safe place to be in they might like to become a part of, which would be a benefit to someone in pain. You’re just a sucker.

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