“Stay warm”, the man said to the panhandler in sincerity, passing her a bag of stuff.
When she got home after pulling off the many layers and warming up a while, Streetgirl unpacked the contents, crackers, chocolate, and Campbell’s Beef Broth. The can was strangely heavy. Hearing loud rattling when shaken, she put it down quickly; because for a second it flashed that the product could have been sabotaged and might possibly explode in her hands. Panners are sometimes targeted by haters and there are those who will not consume food or drink given them for fear of poisoning. Once, a young man spit in a coffee, passed it to her, and laughed with his friends as he drove away. She has heard far worse stories. Cautious yes, but it’s not like her to be paranoid, so she picks it back up and realizes that while the outside is no longer cold, nor is she, the soup inside is frozen and a shiver runs up her spine.
She thinks of Jeff who she’d seen at the ramp earlier. Been worried about the wee man and made a point of wishing Happy New Year and inquiring if he wanted to come home with her for a night or two. Once again he declined, so feeling helpless she gave him a five out of her small stash. She is broke but not homeless. Even when she had been years ago, the nights Streets slept outside were few, fortunate to have been directed to a Fred Victor Shelter early on and with workers’ support obtained permanent housing. Sleeping rough going on six years, he is a modern day hermit. Scottish ancestry, an East Coast Canadian, someone’s brother, father and grandfather alienated and marginalized, stuck in a lifestyle that is taking him nowhere except sadly one step closer to demise. He sleeps in his man-made shelter a mere minute walk from Yorkdale Mall and Yorkdale Condos being constructed upon the destruction of the local Toronto Housing community; which when completed is certain to create a traffic nightmare.
He was grateful for the bill, showing his empty cup. Holiday generosity had waned, as everyone was back in the grind and feeling the January broke blues too! He complains about the two new girls who have been moving in from elsewhere and hording their corner. Jeff tends to thrive on conflict though and she doesn’t like to get involved since he is known to turn in a flash and has verbally lashed out at her several times in the past. Forgiveness is her fortitude. Within the circle, he and Joe are always going at it. Before relinquishing the spot to go for tea at Tim’s, he instructs her not to turn it over to the other man should he come along and tells her that if the ‘Veteran’ hits him again he plans to call the cops. (Of course there are two sides to all stories and it was said that he deserved it having spat in the other’s face first.)
Speaking of police, just before her chat with Jeff she had been standing in the intersection doing her thing, bright daylight, not much traffic, and no snow falling to reduce vehicle visibility yet unbearably cold. An officer pulled up beside her to say, “You have to go. People have been calling.” (Whoever it was must have been complaining via cell-phone whilst driving, considering that she arrived minutes earlier.) As she removed herself from the scene, she wondered why he hadn’t asked how she was. Did she have a place to go? What with the city of Toronto under days of extreme weather alerts, concerns about people living on the streets, high demand and inadequate lines of communication regarding accessibility to shelters dominating the news. The man who is in a position of authority, sworn to serve and protect, he showed no worry for her well-being and did not appear to notice her homeless friend across the road on the ramp. (However, on the other side of the cop coin, Streets remembers one detective who was distressed over the man’s well-being when the city evicted him, destroyed his shelter, and hauled away his belongings early last summer. Jeff was depressed for sure and stated several times that he was digging himself a grave down in the hills at that very same spot, but in the end built it back up and there he still lives.)