Thursday, May 21, 2009

Let them eat Granola

Now I've heard everything. Winnipeg's downtown business association is telling folks not to give any more change to the homeless. Apparently it's wrong for the homeless to ask for spare change, it's much better if volunteers collect the spare change and then make the homeless earn it back through make-work projects such as cleaning up around the city. If that's not condescending enough --- yes it gets worse. You see homeless people will continue to ask for the spare change, so the social agencies collecting the spare change are going to give you a granola bar to give to the homeless instead.

There were quite a few good comments in reference to the article Give panhandler pennies to work programs instead, business group says on the CBC website. People raised issues such as how this smacks of labour exploitation, and asked how those who are addicted or too sick to work are supposed to participate. To this I'd add a host of labour and safety concerns, but most of all... how about showing a little compassion and letting the homeless keep just a little human dignity.

Let's be honest about what this program is REALLY about. People don't like to be bothered for speare change. I'll admit that there's some folk on the streets of Winnipeg who are agressive panhandlers. But I have braved worse, for example: aggressive telemarketers, born-again christians and Jehova Witnesses.

Winnipeg's downtown business association has launched a new program to encourage people to donate to social agencies rather than giving money to panhandlers.
'Show up, and we will help you. All we ask in return is a good, hard day's work to help clean up our downtown.'
— Stefano Grande, Downtown BIZ executive directorKiosks have been set up along Portage Avenue to take donations over the next week. Downtown BIZ executive director Stefano Grande said the donations will be used to set up work-experience programs that will be offered to panhandlers by the Salvation Army, Siloam Mission and Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

"There's no conditions to employment: show up for an hour a week, two hours a week, 40 hours a week. Show up, and we will help you," he said. "All we ask in return is a good, hard day's work to help clean up our downtown."

Grande is aiming to raise around $30,000. People who donate will be given granola bars to pass on to panhandlers.

"So, we're asking the downtown workers to come out of their office towers, engage our summer that's now arrived [and] make a donation, big or small," said Grande. "Grab a granola bar, acknowledge our panhandlers, say 'Hi' to them [and] give them a granola bar."



Anonymous said...

The program makes sense.

It helps people who want a hand up and a job, but are not able to work becuase of thier issues.

No one is forced to work. Its just an offer of employment.

And judging by the number of ex homeless people in support of the project I would guess it is appreciated.

Giving money to the homeless only makes it worse for them. But hey, if it makes you feel better about yourself then go fot it. Just don't say you care. Because you are part of the problem.

Ward of the State said...

I disagree. This is a stick and carrot program to discourage panhandling. The homeless are are forced to participate because it dries up their alternative source of revenue. Helping the homeless is the carefully constructed media spin and is merely a by-product of the program.

Let me prove it to you.

Work experience projects are completely doable without cash-grabbing pennies from the homeless to force them into it.

Consider the cafe run by The Open Door in Victoria where folks who drop into the attached homeless shelter are offered work in a cafeteria style lunchroom. Real work experience. (Real job, looks good on resume, no punishment incentive) A similar project is run out of a church in Toronto near the Eaton's centre. In Ottawa, for years a discount store, owned privately, called Big Bud's used to offer the homeless work during the Christmas season. These are but a few examples.

All of this done without the humilation of drying up spare change or condescendingly tossing the homeless a granola bar so the homeless y'know - get the message.

Please explain to me why this strategy of punishment and humilation is necessary to the program.

There may be support among some of the clients of the program (I have seen no statistical evidence of it, in fact I have been told by the City of Winnipeg that there's been no evaluation of the program, so the number of ex homeless people in support of the project that you mention sounds like it has no basis, is anecdotal or, more likely, totally made up by yourself, in terms of both the "support" and the fact that it helped people get jobs.) but for the moment let's take your word on it. Based on simple human nature they'd probably like it better without the punishment incentives.

There's no reason businesses, church groups and homeless shelters in Winnipeg can't follow examples in other cities and offer work-experience (real work experience btw not make work projects that don't really build skills or look good on a resume) without twisting the knife.

You can argue all you want why humilation is good for the soul (of the poor)but I ain't buying it.

Anonymous said...

No one is forced to participate, and the giving of change will never stop. People like to give. It makes them feel better. Others want money to go somewhere better.

Victoria and Toronto have the same Change for the Better Program by their own BIZes. You are just referring to an agency(s)offering employment.

There are 11 people now working permanently because of the program. MOST helped them off the ground. So I guess they learned some skills and good work qualities.

They would still be on the street. And why would working be humiliating?

Isn't begging and looking like a bum humiliating?

I totally do not get your point.

Ward of the State said...

The majority of folks on the streets are not out there because they like to collect spare change, or don't know how to work. The majority suffer from addictions and/or mental illness. The programs I mentioned are truly set up to help. Working is not humiliating which is why I support the much better programs I mentioned but which you misidentify as the same thing. They are quite different.

The one in Winnipeg is suggests that cutting off the change supply will get - as you so nicely put it - "bums" off the street. That's humiliating and insulting and untrue. It is true they are not forced persay, but the intent is to force them by removing what people believe is their alternative, collecting spare change.

The numbers you supply considering the number of homeless in Winnipeg offers no evidence base that the program is working. Also I previously mentioned no evaluation has been done. Winnipeg would be far better modelling after one of the many successful programs that help rather than humiliate and effectively addresses the real reasons folks wind up homeless. Solutions are out there, but thie Winnipeg program ain't it by a long shot.

A little more research would likely lead you to the same conclusion.

Anonymous said...

There are 5 people working at the downtown BIZ that were at one time homeless and panhandling on city streets.

I guess that shoots your theory.

But this program is not the silver bullet. It helps a few. And does more than the postingsd here on the blog.

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