Monday, October 27, 2008
The following is the Introduction to an opinion piece developed by request for MacKay Fashions of Halifax to be used to begin a discussion within the business and civic concerns with the objective of finding a better way to deal with the panhandlers of Downtown Halifax.
It’s time to deal with the issue….
Panhandling is a challenging issue faced by cities of all sizes, and one that affects Halifax as well. The experience of numerous professionals and service agencies finds that money given to panhandlers often only enables self-destructive behaviors like alcoholism and drug addiction.
One former panhandler and addict has even stated, “Giving money to a panhandler is like giving a gun to someone who is suicidal.
I think it was mid November of 1997 and I was sitting in the Great Taste Coffee Shop on Spring Garden Road enjoying a brew and writing in my journal. I was not aware of where he came from or when he arrived but suddenly, there was a little man sitting at my table. He was in rough shape having fallen and broke an arm, he had not shaved in a couple of days, he had no teeth, his fingers were deeply stained by nicotine, and he was cold, hungry and the smell… God the smell, it just about turned my stomach.
The conversation began with his statement that it had been a hard day and he was considering walking out to the middle of the Angus L Mc Donald Bridge and jumping.
My instant response was ‘I don’t know you from a hole in the ground but I figure if you’ve made it this far in life…. You’re too stubborn to do that.”
That was the day that I met ‘Terry M’ a paranoid schizophrenic who had lived with his parents on Cunard St till they died and had a room of his own [these days at Turning Point] in a know flop house. Terry had never traveled past the Halifax Commons, had memorized every word in three dictionaries and would give you the correct spelling, pronunciation, and use it in conversation…. several times in one sitting. He had a memory for detail as good as anyone I know but could never keep a job.
Tommy Boutilier, left, an on-street support worker, chats with a panhandler named Liam, while walking along Spring Garden Road in Halifax. – Halifax Herald
At the time Terry was one of a handful of regular panhandlers that you would see around town. Over the years I’ve watched, tried to help and got frustrated seeing my little friend loose ground in his life. He survives on $385.00 per month from Community Services and every check day his property owner drives him to Sobey’s on Queen and waits while Tarry cashes his check, takes $350.00 for rent and leaves Terry with $35.00 for a months worth of food.
No wonder he panhandles.
Anyone who spends time on Spring Garden Road, Argyle Street, Barrington Street or on the Waterfront [as I do] and is slightly aware of his/her surroundings should see the whole picture. You cannot help but have a certain amount of compassion for the street people like Terry M who for one reason or another have fallen through our so-called social safety net. As a community, we are failing to provide a safe, healthy and caring life for these individuals and that has to change.
Every situation has two sides and though I have a soft spot for the position in which people like Terry M find themselves I have also had to deal with the constant harassment, insults, threats and potential violence of navigating the downtown core of Halifax. As you read this document, you will read several personal accounts of both the good & bad side of our streets. In addition, remember … Big changes come as a result of many small steps.