You can never tell for sure with panhandlers, but I generally favour those who most obviously need help over able-bodied kids who could probably find some kind of way to support themselves.
So I look the other way when I pass the hipsters but I always drop a loonie in 48-year-old Dennis Anderson’s cup at River Avenue and Osborne Street when I pass by him.
You don’t apply the rules of investigative journalism or detective work when a guy in the wheelchair on the corner holds out a cup and shares his story.
Anderson says incredibly bad timing and circumstance changed his life forever about six years ago. He was late for class at the Aboriginal Centre on Higgins Avenue and was rushing across the street when some hoodlums decided to steal a car and go on a joy ride. Dennis doesn’t remember anything about being hit but he will always carry the memory of five broken vertebrae, shattered hips, broken legs, a broken ankle and scars most everywhere. He went from holding down jobs as a counsellor at various youth organizations to a wheelchair-bound, homeless guy who lives under the Main Street bridge.
Dennis says he won’t accept welfare or disability because the bureaucrats drive him crazy with all their rules and requirements. So he makes about 40 bucks a day sitting in his wheelchair in Osborne Village holding out a cup. He is not asking for any sympathy. He just wants people to know that he needs help to survive and this is the way he gets by.
Dennis is unique in bypassing the bureaucracy and going straight to the source. Astute taxpayers might appreciate the cost efficiencies here by cutting out the middleman — the way it used to be.
And you don’t have to worry about Anderson squandering your donation on booze or drugs. He is straightforward about that.
"I used to have a problem with substance abuse about 10 years ago," he says. "That’s why I quit."
Anderson says he follows his physio regularly and hopes to one day walk more than two steps at a time. Then maybe someday he can return to work and move into a near-normal existence.
As for life right now, Anderson says he hates it. It’s miserable but he doesn’t show it, smiling most times you see him. But he cooks over a can in a tent under a bridge.
Dennis is the Aboriginal guy in the wheelchair at River and Osborne. He is part of our community.