There was a hot sauce promotion underway outside Union Station. Commuters grabbed two free bottles at a time. The vast majority walked past the panhandlers without a word.
“I need pants,” said Joanne, who squatted at the entrance to the subway, her right arm in a sling. But, no, she wouldn’t have time to leave her post to buy them and get back to hand over the $75 card I offered. I left it with her and said I would come back another day. She thanked me and smiled.
Same deal with Al, who stood around the corner, holding a sign that read “Hungry and Homeless.” He said he needed jeans and shoes. “Thank you kindly,” he said, taking a $50 card. “I’ll be here.”
Despite a few visits, I didn’t see Al again.
At time of writing, it had not been used.
A few days later, Joanne was back at her spot, looking rougher. She had a cough. She was panhandling with an acquaintance, a man who had appeared with a can of beer and poured half into her paper cup.
Joanne appeared sober. She remembered me. She had doubts the card was legit. An ex-boyfriend, she said, stole it. She hadn’t seen a penny of it, which her friend confirmed. “I couldn’t fight him,” said Joanne, lifting her broken arm.
A history of transactions on that card shows it was used nine times over two consecutive days for purchases at McDonald’s and the LCBO.
Joanne Mitchell is her full name. She’s 60, has one daughter and seven grandchildren, who she seldom sees. She worked for Bell Canada as a service rep but got “fed up.” She’s been panhandling on and off for 10 years and lives in subsidized housing. She broke her arm June 25 while trying to hang a picture and has been losing weight ever since. She was down to about 115 pounds, she said.
Joanne owned two pairs of pants. The pair she was wearing, green capris, were dirty and damp. “We could have done a lot with the money,” said her acquaintance. “Could have also bought some groceries with that.”
I promised I would be back another day with another card, to spend as she wished.