I live in Melbourne. It's a beautiful amazing place where something is always happening (it's like a bit like a city with ADHD) and I love living here.
One of the things you do tend to notice though, and it's certainly been prevalent in other large cities I've been to, is that there are a large contingent of homeless people. This invariably leads to there being a lot of street begging.
Now, I happen to have no issue with most street beggers because for the most part they do what they need to do to survive, and I actually have a grievous dislike of the coin or 'shrapnel' as we call it, which I seem to collect at a horrific rate and which jingles around constantly in my pocket. So those in need on the streets actually do me something of a favour by taking it off my hands (I know...I'm supposed to put it in a tin at home and bank it one day, but that means I have to carry it home...bleh).
Anyway, the gist of what I'm saying is that I don't mind throwing a few cents at those in need. It's no biggie, that ain't the point of this post.
The problem a lot of people have though is that when you give someone your change, you never really know whether it is going to feed them...or their addiction. Unfortunately that's just a reality, and I know from my own experience that people are sometimes reluctant to give away change for fear that it will be used on alcohol, drugs, and the like. However, I've found that somewhat ironically homeless people aren't as intransigent as you might expect, so working and living in the same area I have gotten to be familiar with a couple of folk who can regularly be found looking to scrape together enough for their next meal, and who aren't bad sorts.
There is one particular bloke who regularly asks for help near one of the major train stations in the city. Insofar as my experience of him goes, he seems a decent chap. I don't know what his story is, but I do know that he uses what people give him to keep himself fed, and clothed. Now, I'm no civil libertarian and I sure as hell am not a good samaritan. I think I spend most of my life as absorbed in the world of 'me' as is probably healthy, but I was thinking the other day that my little random contributions don’t really make a difference, at least not a lasting one. As I wandered past this guy I looked at the little sign he had which he had propped up against him as he sat on the ground. It’s not uncommon to see this and the stories on the boards are always pretty awful…about how desperate they are, or why it is they are in need.
Thing is, SO many people just glide by this fellow every morning and each night. I realized that most of them, seeing it every day, had become desensitized to it. Can’t blame them, it’s probably a fairly natural reaction.
So I did something pretty out of character for me yesterday. I stopped.
I asked the guy how much he could usually get each day from passers by. He told me most of the time he could get something to eat with it, but it wasn’t much. I asked whether he was going to be there later that night. He said he was, and I said I would have something for him. He smiled and nodded and said he would.
So I found some cardboard in the office and made up a little sign. I didn’t know whether it would help, whether it would work, or whether this guy would think I was nuts, but I had an idea.
Last night I took it to him. I got him to his feet, asked him to read it, and when he did he grinned. I suggested he move from the middle of a busy street to a corner, because people stop at a corner waiting for the lights to change to cross the street, and they need time to read the sign. I told him I knew it was hard, but to try and keep standing. He said he would.
This morning I saw him again, and he still had over $25 in change left over from the night before. He seemed happy. I said he needed to think about what he’d put on the sign next week, because he'd need to change it and keep people interested.
The sign simply said this:
I'm $2.80 short of a cheap bottle of port.
Please help me.
I promise my neglected stomach will appreciate your generocity.
A heading, a price, a unique selling point, a guarantee...and of course...traffic. It's not changing the world, and I don't even know how much of a difference it will make, but it's the best I've felt about marketing in a long time.
He's near Flinders Street...if you see a guy with a funny sign, be a sport and get rid of that pesky change.