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Picture it. I’m standing outside the AMC waiting for my sister and my bestie. Loaded with bags, headphones in my ears, my face in its typical resting position of mean mug. I’m watching the time, texting a hottie,  and trying to determine whether I have time for a quick trip to World’s Biggest Bookstore before those heaux show up.

Suddenly I’m interrupted by a strange voice. Being a person who hates being interrupted even in the best of circumstances, I’m annoyed before I even begin to process what he’s saying. I look up, my eyes in the half-rolled position, and find a ruffian asking me if I have an extra cigarette. I exhale loudly.

My policy on giving out cigarettes to strangers is very simple.  If they don’t say please, I say no. And this dude did not say please so even though I had my cigarette pack in my hand – open so it was clear that I had many more left in the pack – my answer was a terse “No”. And I went back to my text conversation.

But the ruffian didn’t leave. No instead he began to talk to me. He’s twitching, he has no shoes on. He’s rubbing his nose and looking over his shoulder every 2.5 seconds. He’s scratching his head, smoothing back his mullet, and talking and talking and talking.

I start to get that frantic look in my eyes; like oh God why won’t this creature move from in front of me? I’m darting glances at strangers as they pass by; signaling to them that I’m just as horrified by this person as they are, even if I appear to be engrossed in conversation with him. And he’s talking and talking and talking.

He’s telling me how he just got out of jail for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. How he was in jail for six months and his girl has a baby that he’s not sure is his. But he got her name tattooed on her arm anyway because he really loves her. He’s telling me that she’s a Crip; that she’s trying to leave gang life but once you’re in there is no out. He’s telling me about the last time he went to jail – for stealing two of his grandfather’s cars and driving drunk. He’s telling me about the little kid he took under his wings while he was doing “dead time” (he’s also explaining to me what dead time means”) and how the other guys “on the range” would have fucked that kid up for snitching if it weren’t for him.

Long story short, he’s telling me a lot of shit I don’t care to hear, he smells like a brewery, and he’s talking so loudly that I can barely hear Joe Budden in my ear. And I am annoyed.

After a while, he reached in his bag and pulled out a can of Coke. He asked if I was thirsty – told me I could have it if I was. And something in that gesture made me feel like shit. I realized that I wasn’t looking at him as a person, as a human being with a history and problems and struggles like everyone else, but as something slightly less than human sent to Earth for the sole purpose of killing my joy. And I wondered how I became so uncompassionate.

If you live or work in downtown Toronto, homeless – or otherwise unfortunate – people are a fact of life. You see them wailing in the fountain at Nathan Philips Square, fighting outside of bars, asking you for the change from your coffee on your way out of Tim Hortons, sheltering themselves from cold or rain in the bank machine. But when you watch the way people here (and every other city I’m sure)  interact with the less-fortunate you can see they’ve become desensitized to them. And it’s not that I can blame them, really. The first ten times you have to step over a man sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk  you feel awful, but the eleventh time you stop noticing it. You no longer feel compelled to rifle through your wallet to find change when you’re in a hurry so you just avoid eye contact or pretend you didn’t hear them ask and keep it moving. You look at the “crazy” man in the fountain splashing around and yelling and you feel less sorry for him and more annoyed that he’s interrupting your conversation.

When I first moved here I was heartbroken by what I saw. Witnessing the way some people have to live made my eyes well up at times. I always stopped and gave money and I never cared whether it was going to be used for drugs or booze or pussy and I never wondered if it was a scam. I let squeegie kids wash my window with their piss water even when my car was clean. I always walked around people when they’re sleeping in the street and I forced myself to use the bank machine even when it’s “occupied” because I didn’t want to make the inhabitant feel as though I was repulsed by them; even if I secretly was.

Although I still do all those things, I don’t do them as much. I stop when I have time and I keep it moving when I don’t. I give money if I like the way they ask and if they don’t say please I say no. I’m annoyed when I have to step over a puddle of piss rather than feeling pity that someone has to conduct such a private act in a public place. And I roll my eyes to the heavens when a ruffian wants to have a conversation with me when I’m standing on the street doing basically nothing.

I used to pride myself on my compassion for my fellow man, but I realize after the other day that I don’t have as much of it as I thought I did. It seems I support the struggle of the disenfranchised as long as they don’t interrupt my conversation and I’m willing to help as long as they ask me the way I want them to. Somewhere along the line I’ve become desensitized like everyone else. And I feel bad about that.

But what about you guys? Are you compassionate toward those less fortunate or do you think they should just get up and get a job? Is it normal to lose your sensitivity to the homeless after seeing them day after day or am I just a fucking asshole? Speak on it in the comments.

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Oh and check me out tonight on Menage A Talks with my homegirl  @goddess_I at 8:30pm EST. We’re talking “Politics, Sex + Marriage”

bag lady. digital nerd. beauty junkie. shoe whore. i'm a sucker for big words and box-fresh kicks. know a little bit about a lot of things and have something to say about everything.

Comments 16

  1. Lady Ngo says:

    I think its easy to lose sensitivity to almost anything if you are around it long enough. I don’t necessarily think i’m compassionate (or maybe i am, idk) but as long as i don’t feel like im in any danger, i do tend to entertain the people that come up to me on the street, despite my constant mean-mug, to talk, beg, etc. While it does get annoying at times, gotta try to remember that they are people too. I think that in these tough economic times its becoming clearer and clearer just how many people live paycheck to paycheck and how quickly you can go from living the good life to living in a cardboard box.

  2. i would like to say that i’m compassionate to those less fortunate. it’s a terrible thing to be homeless. i will say this though. for some reason i’m less compassionate to homeless people in the summer than i am in the winter. i do give homeless people spare change whenever i have it.

    in nashville there are also a lot of homeless people as well. they have this thing called the homeless newspaper here. some non-profit prints them out and they can sell them on the street. i’ve bought a couple. they include stories about things like homeless killings to recipes.

  3. BP says:

    I am a compassionate person through and through but maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to be homeless but that’s another story.

    I am always giving money to someone at sometime and they don’t have to be homeless. My personal philosophy is if I have it to give…well then I do. HOWEVER, if someone looks completely cracked out i.e.: missing teeth, twitching, shakes, glossed over eyes I struggle with giving the individual money. I usually still reach in my purse but instead of pulling out a $5 I will look for a dollar and sometimes I even have the balls to say “Buy FOOD with this.” I know once I give the money I shouldn’t care what they do with it (as my parents and fave auntie say) but I don’t want to support anyone’s drug habit. So maybe I am not as compassionate as I thought.

  4. Ray. says:

    I just fell more in love with you knowing that u listen to Joe Budden. As far as compassion, I help the homeless every so often but I’ve seen so many scams I just can’t trust them all. I’ll give food before I give money though

  5. LaLaBakir says:

    I’m compassionate toward those who are less fortunate. And there was also a time when I was damn near homeless. Shit ain’t no joke. The way I see it, nobody desires to be homeless. Usually there’s some deep seeded issues be it substance abuse or domestic violence and I feel bad for people who suffer with that.

    When I visited BP in Cali, I was amazed (once again) at the number of homeless people. As we sat there eating lunch, we witnessed this guy come up and start serving food to all of the homeless people. I wondered if this was something he did by himself or if he worked for a mission…I just had to know. After we finished our meal, we went up to find out more information.

    Basically, the guy volunteered at a mission where the food was cooked…but him and the other servers purchased the eating utensils and plates with their own money. As tight as my finances maybe, my struggle is NOTHING compared to that. I gave the guy $20 without hesitation. Stories like that humble the hell out of me and remind me that it is my duty to be compassionate to all life forms.

    Now…I can say, the only time I really get annoyed is when they scare the f*ck out of me at the drive-thru! Coming out the darkness and sh*t. I hate that! And it has nothing to do w/ them being homeless, Jesus could come out the shadows and I’d damn near faint.

  6. OSHH says:

    When I visited Toronto 11 years ago WOW. I was taken aback by the number of young homeless white folks. Compassion is something I feel there is not enough of in the world today and I try to show compassion to others as I would like it shown to me in whateva circumstance.

    1. max says:

      It’s true that there seems to be as many white homeless people here as there are people of colour and I’ve heard a lot of minorities say that they find it more difficult to feel compassion for the white homeless people. I have one friend in particular who always looks at white homeless men with derision as in – you have all the advantages in life, if you’re homeless it must be because you want to be.

      1. OSHH says:

        It makes you wonder, I found it extremely odd.

        I memba ya’ll taxes high as hell up there as well tho LOL

  7. Adonis says:

    Oh and check me out tonight on Menage A Talks with my homegirl @goddess_I at 8:30pm EST. We’re talking “Politics, Sex + Marriage”


    Sigh… When I become a person of great resources, then I will worry about the people who need serious help…

    It is a life experience… An interesting one, indeed…

  8. Malik says:

    I’m a compassionate person, though I don’t ever really give money to homeless people because I never have any cash on me. I’ll donate books to the library, serve food every so often and things like that though.

    1. Goret says:

      Will my online frnides give up being curious about how I’m doing and checking the blog for new content?If your blog ever gets too depressing, I’ll probably stop reading it just because I don’t like being depressed. I don’t want to read it if it’s going to bring me down. It’s nothing personal. If I didn’t care about you, it wouldn’t bother me.

  9. Phidelity15 says:

    Max if you feel that you’re an asshole, then I’m an even bigger asshole. I’m so desensitized to the homeless people in NY its not even funny. Its so bad because I really think a good number of them are scammers.

    See the thing is I worked in a liquor store, the den for all alcoholics and especially those who are homeless alcoholics. Well anyway while working in the store we routinely assisted some of our homeless customers in trading their coins for dollars. These guys were straight hustlers!! They had their fav blocks and they had their spiel down and everything. One was in a wheelchair and another was white. The white guy stayed pulling more money, but he also bummed in the upper west side. But the thing is these guys weren’t homeless because of life happening. Life happened for them a looooooooong time ago and they chose to never leave the hell it dropped them in. Both of those guys “lived” in halfway houses where they were supposed to go through rehab and training programs but they couldn’t stay clean (yeah we supplied that liquor, sometimes if their program director asked us we wouldnt sell to them). They were not victims of life to me. And no they don’t set the standard for each individual I see, but I can’t shake the feeling that some of them can do better. Hell I pay taxes for the services that are there to help.

    Now its really bad because there are women and children on the train saying they are homeless and hungry. Couple them with an homeless man who smells of piss and shit who rambles and its clear that he is a schizophrenic off his meds, and then the ones who were released from prison who have no where to go because the jails are overcrowded….*big ass sigh* These are the people I come across EVERYDAY. The reality is I can’t support or help them all so yeah I turn my head, close my eyes, turn my music up and make sure to watch what poles they touched so I can avoid touching that one.

    There are way too many people with “life” issues living in the New York Transit System. Somebody helps them…its just not going to be me.

  10. Sam Sharpe says:

    Many moons ago I teacher of mine imparted this lesson regarding the homeless/less fortunate of our society:

    “They ARE people, just like everyone else. Approve or disapprove of them if you like. But often the greatest indignity for people in these circumstances is that the rest of us treat them as if they are invisible or less than human”

    I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I usually don’t give change or money to the homeless (I’m not in the habit of digging into my pockets and pulling out money for the world to see. Call me paranoid). Then again I don’t always dish out cash to people I know when asked. But I almost always look them in the eye and respond to them. Interesting thing is I’ve been thanked countless times for this, I’m guessing my teacher was right and they appreciate being treated like people. It annoys the f*ck out of some of my friends though.

  11. emti says:

    I respond to be people based on the way the interact with me whether they are homeless or not.

    Examples of this Maxie knows about already. There was a time I was walking down the street on the phone (leaving Maxie a message because she doesn’t answer her phone) and a homeless man asked me for money. I said “sorry” as I usually do when I can’t or won’t give money. He responded “fat ass”. Maxie’s voice mail was then privvy to me telling the homeless guy “I may have a fat ass but I’ve got money” and when he told me he had “$20” I asked him where he and his 20 bucks were sleeping that night.
    Yes, I’m nicknamed “lil scrappy” for a reason

    But on the other hand there is a homeless man who is always outside of the Tim Horton’s across the street from work. Sometimes I’m able to give him change, sometimes not but always we have nice exchange of pleasantries. I tell him to take care of himself, he tells me to keep smiling. This past December I put together a care package for him: A large backpack, some t-shirts, socks, scarf, juice etc.

    He sold the backpack and probably a lot of the other stuff too but that’s ok. I gave it to him and so it was his to do with what he wants. That’s how I feel about giving money as well.

  12. Cheekie says:

    “Is it normal to lose your sensitivity to the homeless after seeing them day after day or am I just a fucking asshole?”

    It’s super normal. While I do try to give when I can, the thing that I have to come to terms with is that I can’t help EVERYONE. And no moment is illustrated as clearly as when I give a few coins to one panhandler, walk FIVE steps, and there’s another one asking for some money, too. It occurs so much, especially in downtown Chicago. Wherever there’s space to set up shop, there’s a homeless person. I wouldn’t say I lose my feeling to give, but I do realize that I can’t give to everyone. I usually try to give to the ones I see most often and kinda have developed a “hey!” relationship with, which are usually the ones near my train station.

  13. I tip the ugly strippers more.

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