Stop blaming the poor
Tell MPs, MLAs that we need affordable housing, food security, addiction and counselling services
I am writing here out of despair, anguish and a mounting sense of moral outrage. In recent weeks there have been a number of stories in different media outlets about the problem of “aggressive panhandlers” in Charlottetown who have caused a flurry of social media commentary.
While there has been a fair amount of reasonable, compassionate responses, there have also been a number of egregious and unforgivably ignorant comments. It is some of these comments I would like to address.
“Are there no prisons? … and the Union workhouses. Are they still in operation? Those who are badly off must go there … If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” - Ebenezer Scrooge
‘Foreign workers are keeping Islanders from finding work’
Having foreign workers come in and having panhandlers are two entirely separate issues. There is no evidence to correlate one to the other. Foreign workers are brought in to fill jobs that Islanders won’t do.
‘It’s a scam’
Several different commenters alluded to the concept that the panhandlers in Charlottetown are operating as some sort of a ring, with transportation to change shifts, and that some even have shared living accommodations. Are we angry that the people forced to beg for money have managed to scrape together enough to get a roof over their heads? Do they have to live on the street to qualify for our generosity? Are we passing judgment on how these people collaborate to deal with poverty, when our society has clearly failed to do so?
‘It’s a choice’
Reference has been made to there being jobs out there if they wanted them. One commenter on Facebook alluded to a job being offered to a panhandler, who allegedly declined, saying the job was beneath them. To some people, I admit, it must look like a choice. To see an able-bodied person choosing to beg instead of work? Unforgivable. However, there are many factors, which can preclude someone who seems able bodied from doing certain types of jobs, such as mental illness, or injury.
‘I won’t support someone’s addiction’
Why does drug addiction happen? Does it happen because the person is bad? That their parents failed at raising them? Or, as is more often the case, are they self medicating a mental illness, or to cope with past trauma or abuse?
People don’t choose to be sexually, physically or emotionally abused.
No one chooses to have a mental illness.
We are fortunate that many of us get the help we need, when we need it, but there are few on the margins who do not, and that is not their fault.
If panhandlers truly bother you, stop complaining and take action.
If we’re worried that our panhandlers are making us look bad we must address the cause, not the symptom.
Call your MLA and your MP. Tell them that it is time for us to wake up and to change our social triage; that we’ve been addressing headaches while leaving people dying in the waiting room, and getting mad at them for doing it publicly. Tell them we need affordable housing, food security, addiction and counselling services. We need to stop blaming and shaming the poor and the destitute. We need to help them with more than just guilt alleviating pocket change.
Jen Nicholson, right, who leads Charlottetown’s Navigator Street Outreach program, has a conversation with Lisa Whalen, someone she befriended this spring. Nicholson spends time trying to help panhandlers and talking to others, including those at the soup kitchen.