Smorgasbord Sundays: Helping the Homeless

Unfortunately, there are quite a number of homeless people in Canada. I see them on the street and on the subway.

There are lots of misconceptions about the homeless. I read that many of those who use homeless shelters are also employed, but because of the skyrocketing private housing markets, they just can’t afford it. And, in 2005, approximately 26% (3.2 million) Canadian households earned less than what was needed to afford a basic home.

Another myth is that most of the homeless die during the frigid Canadian winters. In actuality, more die because of the extreme heat in the summer!

Helping the homeless provides them with hope. And I firmly believe in the pay-it-forward philosophy that if you help someone, it motivates them to help another person. A lot of people suffer, but not everyone helps. You can make a difference, even if it’s small.

Despite how many homeless people hold up cardboard signs asking for money, I never give them that.

Some people like donating money to charities (great!), but I really want to see exactly the individuals I’m helping. I want to see their faces light up. Maybe I’m selfish because I enjoy this kind of immediate gratification.

Whenever I’ve given money to charities, I feel disconnected from the faceless and nameless people I’m supposedly helping. But that’s a debate for another time. I do realize that large charities are able to carry out bigger changes because they have the people power behind them to make things happen.

Instead, I ask if they’re hungry. While there are a plethora of reasons for why individuals become homeless, I prefer to specifically help those who really need to eat. I don’t like giving money to them on the street. I prefer to actually hand them food that they can eat right away to get energy and nourishment. Being hungry and staying hungry for long periods of time is extreme torture.

Last night, a friend and I went for dinner downtown, and we saw a homeless man sitting outside with a cup for coins. He also had a vision problem because when he looked at you, his eyes would be focused slightly up and to the right, as though he was staring over your head. But he wasn’t blind.

I asked him if he was hungry, and he said yes. Since he was sitting in front of a restaurant, I asked him to choose something from the menu. He chose a poutine. I went in, bought him one along with a bottle of water so he could wash everything down.

Although I didn’t chat with him for too long, I did introduce myself to him, and found out that his name was Conrad and that he did some sports coaching with kids.

Whether or not he was actually homeless or telling the truth, I didn’t care. He looked like he needed some help, and buying him a small meal was a price that was totally worth it to me. Even if he was a scammer or a drug addict, I still wanted to help him, if only to show him that somebody cares.

It may sound stupid, but I think about how excited and happy I get when strangers compliment me on my manicure. Now, imagine how it must feel if you’re living on the street and a stranger buys you food with no strings attached?

Again, I must be selfish because I did it not only to help him, but also because I wanted to feel good about doing something good! However, in this case, I don’t think being selfish hurts.

Also, I need to mention that you have to be street smart. Some homeless people are dangerous or have serious mental illnesses. So be careful if you do decide to interact with them like I did. Not everyone is nice and friendly. You have to use common sense, too.

How do you help the homeless? Do you contribute to any charities? Have you ever known someone who was homeless?



14 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Sundays: Helping the Homeless

  1. MariJo

    I love this post Mary!!! I feel such sadness anytime I see someone who is homeless, but I’m sad to say I don’t do enough. Yes, I give to charity, but like you said, there is so much more that can be done.
    I always had a dream of one day starting a non-profit that would help the homeless find housing and get them trained for employment. I pretty much let it go to the wayside due to lack of funds and resources.
    Thanks for the reminder to do more. Even if I don’t have my own organization, there are many out there who do great work and I can definitely get involved in that!
    MariJo recently posted: Purple Jelly Sandwich

    1. Mary Post author

      Hey MariJo!

      We all do what we can, and it is good that you do give to charities. 🙂 It’s just me and my ‘hang-ups’ that I really want to actually see the people I’m helping and look them in the eye.

      Your non-profit organization idea is great! A lot of homeless people would find that very helpful, and at the end of the day, you’d feel good about what you’re doing. Win-win situation.

  2. Janaina

    I think you’re an adorable honest person. Thumbs up for you. =)
    I’m completely new to your blog, and this is my first comment. Oh, inspiration!!!
    Big hug from Southern Brazil.

    1. Mary Post author

      Hey Janaina!

      Thanks for the big hug! 😀 And thanks for the exceptionally kind words.

      Welcome to Swatch And Learn! Hope that you’ll return and feel free to leave more comments. I reply to all comments because I want my readers to know that their voice is heard and appreciated.

  3. Jessica

    This is a very insightful post. I’ve heard many people make assumptions about the homeless, and while it is true that some homeless people are drug addicts, etc., definitely not all are and I feel like it’s unfair for people to make that a blanket assumption. Living is a day-to-day struggle for all homeless, and there will always be people who genuinely need help. I found your restaurant story helpful–I am uncomfortable giving money but giving food is a good idea. I know several people who carry in their cars little “care boxes” for the homeless that contain food, bottled water, blankets, and other necessities.

    1. Mary Post author

      Hey Jessica!

      That’s amazing how they carry care boxes. Very thoughtful! Just knowing that there are people out there who go out of their way to help those who are less fortunate really makes my day. It reinforces that good people exist, and that’s enough to keep me going.

  4. Leslie

    I help by working at my local (Midwest Iowa) homeless women’s shelter. Actually many of the women we get are homeless because they a fleeing a domestic violence situation. They leave their home and everything behind. Often they bring small children with them. It is hard for them to get a place to live because they have been economically abused. Their husband wouldn’t give them money or even let them work. They have no work history and housing is near impossible to get into. That’s granted you can pass the background and credit check, with the abuse they had to use credit to get groceries or what even else the kids needed that the husband refused to pay for. So many times they can’t. It is a very sad and troubling situation.

    1. Mary Post author

      Hey Leslie!

      Wow, good for you for helping out like that! Thanks for sharing your unique insight into the situation. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for the women who have fled due to abuse, but I’m proud of them. It takes a lot of courage to drop everything like that, but it’s the right thing to do.

  5. Frosso

    I just wrote a nice long comment about charity…but then I let my computer battery die…and now its gone *sigh* I don’t want to type it again lol. BUT I will say/type again that I think what you did was a very very kind gesture.
    Frosso recently posted: Sally Hansen Bride to Be

    1. Mary Post author

      Hey Frosso!

      D’oh! It’s so frustrating when that happens. Thanks for still leaving me another comment after that happened instead of abandoning the whole thing. 🙂 And thanks for the pat on the back, too!

  6. Marta

    The photo you included gave me goosebumps. Look at you and your kind soul. What a great post!!!
    I love your personal story about offering to buy food. I am more likely to do that than to hand over money (for one, I don’t know how that money will be used… and just like I will undoubtedly be handing money over to my kids, I would like to know that it will be used in a positive/legal way)… something about opening my wallet, revealing its (though measily) contents makes me feel vulnerable… but paying for some food is a better option for sure. A simple act of kindness can go a long way, and there was never any doubt in my head that you too would lead the way in living by example 😀
    Marta recently posted: Cult Nails – Evil Queen

    1. Mary Post author

      Hey Marta!

      Yeah, that photo really gets the message across of how homeless people suffer even on the surface level. Add that to the emotional trials they face, depression, and devastation…Can’t even imagine what that’s like. My head already spins when I think about them being hungry for long periods of time.

  7. lovenailpolish

    You are a very lovely person. I too like to buy food instead of giving money. Though I did this the other day, and as I was paying, the young man’s stepmother (!) came up to us and asked why. I told her he asked for a dollar and I thought he might be hungry, but she scolded him and said she would tell his dad. I bought it anyway because he said she didn’t understand what was going on.This was really weird.

    There are lots of homeless where I live, I am not sure if it is getting worse, but I wonder why some of these billionaires don’t donate some money to create a homeless charity to help the homeless get a job and place to live.
    lovenailpolish recently posted: A Giveaway Winner, A Nail Fail and A Prize Added!!

    1. Mary Post author

      Hey lovenailpolish!

      It’s great knowing that you also prefer to give the homeless food. 🙂 Good for you!

      Wow, I really can’t understand why his stepmother would be so upset. Of course we don’t know the entire story (there might be a valid reason), but I really hope that he’s not be abused or ‘controlled’ somehow.

      I’ve often wondered why billionaires don’t donate more money to homeless charities, but then I realize that maybe they DO, but they can’t improve homelessness as a whole all on their own. Plus, I do understand that their living expenses are probably higher than the average person’s. (For example, if I were a billionaire, I would definitely invest in a LOT of security because for sure when you’re that rich, somebody’s going to want to rob you at some point. Sad, but true in this world. Maybe that’s why I’m not rich – I’d be overly paranoid that someone would be after me! :P)


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