By Kaitlyn Mullin, Spoke News
More than a dozen people protested to put an end to panhandling at the Delta intersection in Cambridge, Ont., yesterday. The goal of their protest was to send a message to not give beggars money but, instead, donate to charities that provide services to those who are struggling.
The protesters were all a part of a Facebook group called Clean Cambridge, whose goal is to help combat the current opioid crisis and make the streets of Cambridge a safer place.
Ryan Coles, Cambridge Ward 7 candidate who helped organize the event, shared that offers of generosity by passersby to panhandlers can often be an act of “deadly kindness.”
“They [panhandlers] might go buy drugs and die of a fentanyl overdose. By giving them money, you’re not helping — your enabling,” said Coles. “It wasn’t very comfortable to do, but it was something I believed in so much. It’s something that I think really needs to be done. Awareness and education have to be there.”
Individuals passing by expressed their support for the protest by honking, offering cash, food and clothing donations. Some even joined the picketing. However, some scolded the protesters for promoting the stigma that all homeless people are addicts.
A homeless man, who goes by the street name “Irish,” interrupted the protest to say that not every person who begs for money is doing it to feed an addiction. Some are begging to survive.
“They think that everyone who is holding a sign is doing it for drugs and that is not the case. Maybe I deserve to have a charity for myself,” Irish said. “When I’m halfway through the month and I am struggling, people are going to remember this protest and I’m not going to get anything.”
Irish also mentioned that the charities to which the protest encouraged people to donate don’t offer the proper support for those in need. In his opinion, the system is flawed.
“Some of us are just trying to eat and we don’t want to go to services like Bridges [a local shelter], because we get our stuff stolen,” said Irish. “There is a needle bin there, but when I go inside, there are needles everywhere. What if I were to step on that?”
During an altercation between Irish and the protesters, Mary Jane Sherman, a mother of five, noted that the protest wasn’t aimed at creating a stigma, but raising awareness about the fact that many services need donations to run more efficiently.
“You shouldn’t have to sit on the corner; we should have better services,” said Sherman. “I’m telling people to donate to charities that help people. We don’t have enough services in Cambridge. That’s why we have the problem that we have.”
The group plans to picket next on Oct. 4, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.