Posts Tagged ‘Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction’

Late yesterday afternoon, after the sun had gone down, my doorbell rang.  A boy of thirteen or fourteen stood outside. He said hello, apologized for bothering me, and said that he was trying to raise money. He asked if I needed any yard work done.

If he hadn’t been so young, if he hadn’t been shivering in just a hoodie against the cold, I may have just said “no thank-you” and closed the door. Instead, I scanned the yard to see if our leaves needed raking. They didn’t. I told him that I really didn’t need any help, and couldn’t think of anything for him to do.

His eyes never left my face.

I asked him what he was raising money for, and he answered that he needed to raise fifteen dollars for a class trip. He added that his principal told him that morning that if he couldn’t come up with it by eleven a.m. Tuesday, he couldn’t go.

Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of “Intervention.”  I asked him outright if he was telling me the truth. Was the money for drugs? He said no. He insisted it was for a school trip. And though he was shivering and rather thin, I knew he seemed too “fresh-faced and clear-eyed” to be a drug user.

I asked him about the excursion and he told me it was to Tim Horton’s Day Camp and added that he thought it was called “Onondoga.” He said his parents didn’t have the money he needed.

Still, I was suspicious. I knew that our neighbours, who have lived in the neighbourhood much longer than us, had turned him away.

“I’ll give you my name and phone number,” he said. “If you can give me fifteen dollars now and then call me when you need work done, I swear I’ll come.”

I pretended I didn’t hear his suggestion. I asked him where he lived and he named an area recently recognized in the Hamilton’s Spectator’s “Code Red” series as the poorest part of Hamilton.

“So, why are you all the way over here looking for work?” I pushed.

He folded his arms in front of him, putting each into the sleeve of the other in an effort to stay warm. “I’ve been everywhere,” he said. And it occurred to me then that his chances of earning money in my neighbourhood were much better than in his own.

That’s when I realized that in answering my very pointed questions, his eyes had welled with tears. I immediately recalled a recent article by Flannery Dean, CBC NEWS, in which she quoted Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction:

“In Ontario, there are one in seven children living in poverty. In Hamilton, unfortunately, that number is one in four.” says Cooper.

“We have 28,000 kids growing up in low income households in this city and that’s pretty much enough to bring Ivor Wynne Stadium to capacity,” he says.

Mayo says that while the report cites 36 per cent of food bank users in Ontario are children, in Hamilton the number is far greater, with children making up 46 per cent of food bank users.

Hamilton also has an alarming rate of poverty among recent immigrants, says Cooper, with nearly 50 percent living in poverty.”

I rarely carry much cash in my wallet anymore and had just seven dollars to give him, but I handed it over, painfully aware that this young man probably needed much more than money for a trip. He thanked me and left, but all night long I was left with the image of him shivering in his hoodie, and the feeling that I should have offered him one of the coats that hangs unwanted in our entranceway closet. I could have done much more, if I hadn’t been so hesitant to get involved, so afraid to open my heart.

It’s the kind of gnawing regret that never leaves.







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