He sits on the sidewalk, shoulders hunched over, chin tucked into his chest. His body is layered in clothing, his head covered by the hoodie of a dark-coloured jacket that is just visible beneath the blanket that encompasses his still form. In one hand, he holds an upturned ball-cap that slants precariously close to the ground. He doesn’t move as people walk past. He does not stir.
He is there when I walk to my meeting and still there when I walk past an hour later. I have seen him before. In many parts of the downtown core. A silent figure on the edge of the sidewalk. A still life painted black on the streets.
I do not approach. I do not drop coins into his cap. Working at a homeless shelter for several years, I made the personal decision to not give to panhandlers.
I walk past and hear the voice of a friend, a recovering addict, whisper through my mind, ‘I always give to an addict. He really does need that next drink, that next fix. His life depends on it.’
I turn around, walk back and drop a toonie into his upturned cap. He does not look up but I see his head nod slightly. One quick jerk, up, down.
I carry on with my day, leaving him behind.
I do not know if he is an addict. I do not know his story. I do know that I will not miss the toonie. It costs me nothing to give and I’m pretty sure he can use it more than me. And maybe, as my friend said, it is what he needs most because at this moment in time, staying alive is the most important thing he can do today.