When I first moved to Sydney, I sometimes used to find it confronting to walk down the busy city streets. There were beggars sitting silently with signs in front of them, or people asking me directly for money.
Over the years I learnt not to make eye contact. I would tune everyone out and keep walking. I wasn’t giving anything to anyone. I told myself that most of these people had complex issues, to do with mental health or addiction, and the solution lay in better funding for services that would help them in the long term.
Or maybe I’d just become a bit mean.
Nowadays, when I walk down city streets, I usually have my kids with me. They haven’t learnt to tune people out yet. My kids want to give money to everyone. Every busker, every beggar.
“Mum, Mum, can I have some money?” they ask me constantly, before rushing off to give it away.
Last week, after my six-year-old son had dropped some coins in a busker’s guitar case, I saw a man selling The Big Issue. “A lot of people who sell that magazine are homeless,” I told my son. “And it’s hard to find a job when you’re homeless.”
“Because you don’t have an address, and you don’t have nice-looking clothes to wear. So some homeless people sell this magazine, and they get to keep half the money people pay them. So if we bought a magazine off this man, maybe he could buy a coffee.”
“So what’s he going to eat for lunch?” my son asked. “Other people will buy magazines off him too,” I told him.
We watched him for a few minutes, but we didn’t see him selling any more magazines.
“Do you want to buy him lunch?” I asked my son. “Yes!” he said immediately. We bought a magazine from the man.