What it’s really like to panhandle.

Panhandling has become a survival tool to me.  Without my work visa, and ineligible for income assistance it is the most acceptable way for me to make some money.

It wasn’t so long ago that I would never have thought I could bring myself to beg on the streets. However this world runs on money, buying basic necessities was out of my reach and I had to do something.

I’ve found that I’m still not able to ask people for anything. I don’t say “spare change please” but I do say hello to many people walking by. I have a cardboard sign, and I let that talk for me.

I was so nervous when I first started panhandling as I wasn’t sure what reaction I would get from the public. However in the main it has been extremely positive. Apart from a couple of idiots (literally two women) who repeatedly abuse me whenever they walk past, and whose pettiness, immaturity and ignorance makes me pity them,  I’ve found that haligonians are happy to talk to me, to ask how my day is, and to offer words of support.

My confidence has grown as I stand in my regular spot. I feel safe there and I know some people who walk past now recognize me. I guess it’s not hard, as the majority of panhandlers on the streets of Halifax are men.

Apart from money, I often receive gifts of food, drinks, bus tickets and hygiene products which I’m always greatful for. People have directed me to services for homeless people in the city, and many just stop to say hi. These little things give me so much hope.

I can understand that some people will walk past me and presume I’m a junkie or a drinker and without them speaking to me they’ll never know that my money doesn’t go on crack or booze. I know some people will think I’m not really homeless and I can’t change that perception either. When people talk to me, though, they realize that my situation could literally happen to anyone. They are amazed that I post graduate qualifications. They can empathize with the direction my life went in. You never know when tragedy can hit and none of us are immune from tragedy.

At the end of a day I can tell you my feet and legs ache, and I feel so tired, but I always feel like I’ve had a good day. I’ve been out in the world, I’ve interacted with people. I’ve smiled and been smiled at. I can say that I’m doing my best to keep myself going. I know that in the future things will improve. I feel that it takes a lot of humility to panhandle, you have to lose your pride, but you also gain a lot from it. I feel like my self confidence and self worth have grown since I started panhandling, and my belief in the power of people has increased exponentially.

I thank all the haligonians that look out for me. You guys are the best

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