Have a little compassion and just give people your change
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
I think most people who grew up in the Lower Mainland remember being advised that it was more prudent to give homeless people food instead of money, because, the argument went, money would only ever go towards the purchase of drugs. My response to that is… so? If someone approaches you and asks you for the coins hiding at the bottom of your pocket, what’s the big deal about handing it over?
I think that attitude is born out of ignorance and fear. People don’t understand the underlying causes of homelessness and addiction, so they think that two dollars in a mixture of quarters and dimes somehow promotes drug use in our city. The reality is that there have always been drugs in Vancouver, and there will continue to be regardless of your contribution. The current War on Drugs in Canada and the US is proof of that. After years of attempting to eradicate illegal drug use through strict legislation and severe punishment, the only thing it has accomplished is to multiply the number of overdose deaths. This “war” has demonized the homeless and addicted individuals to the point where fellow citizens are taught not to help one another. It has also perpetuated the belief that Vancouver has a “homelessness problem,” which in my opinion is a pretty problematic way to address the actual issue. Vancouver has a homeless population, but it is not a “problem.” Vancouver has a housing crisis of which homelessness is a symptom and to think otherwise comes from a position of superiority.
Yes, providing food to our homeless population is important. There is no reason for anyone to go hungry in a country as privileged as ours. At a certain point, people just need some money. Food isn’t going to buy homeless women pads or tampons, and it isn’t going to buy someone access to a community recreation centre where they can have a hot shower. People treat homeless people like they aren’t their own autonomous human beings—like they can’t, or even shouldn’t make their own decisions—so advancing this “food only” mentality is just an example of you assuming A) you know anything about the person asking you for change, and B) you know what’s best for them.
Ultimately, who cares if the two dollars in quarters and dimes you gave to someone ends up going towards drugs? Get off your high horse and have a little compassion for some of our city’s most marginalized citizens.