I beg to Differ


I thought I had this genius idea to be charitable and make a little money at the same time.  The brilliant idea was to get a busking license and give homeless people a helping hand by drawing them and to splitting the donations 50/50.

I want to make a difference locally by drawing and painting a few homeless people closer to home in Parramatta.  I really get attached to people from the moment I speak to them on the street. I sympathize and want to do something immediately to help alleviate their problem.  Some have been welcoming and open to talk about themselves and the reason they are without a home.  However as soon as I mentioned my ‘brilliant idea’ I felt some apprehension.  My homeless friend Mark from Parramatta said to me ‘don’t assume people need your help’.  I was somewhat thrown by the response, I mean, I’m doing a good service right? I went ahead and asked him why wouldn’t anyone want my help as they’re already asking for money from people much like me, What I’m doing would certainly help with donations right?  Mark went ahead and told me about 3 different types of homeless people.

1. The man that was so reliant on his job or partner for so many years that once an uncontrollable change like his job becoming obsolete or divorce occurred he’d be forced into homelessness. “This man is inconsolable” so Mark says.

2. Addicts who are either on drugs, alcohol or have gambling problems. “Do you want to support that?” Mark asks.

3. People that live in caves and are quite happy to be on their own and don’t need nor want anyone’s help. I got the impression that this is the type of homeless person Mark was.

So according to Mark that there are different kinds of homeless people, some that don’t want my help and some that I may be helping towards funding their next fix. I was slightly dejected but still I couldn’t take the word of just one man, so I traveled to the city in search for some honest person that was truly down on their luck.  When I went to the city I received a completely different response.  I found the homeless people to be much more approachable and friendly and more encouraging of my idea to draw and paint them.

After meeting a few homeless people I decided the first person I wanted to draw was Brian.  Brian is a homeless person who begs for money but also provides a service to shine people’s shoes!

‘People don’t want their shoes shined’

 ‘They’re too embarrassed to have their shoes shined on the street’

As I was sitting there listening to his story I couldn’t help but be totally convinced and saddened by his situation.  From him not having enough money to pay for bond to an apartment to having a heart attack a few months back.

The next day I came back with my drawing equipment to get started.  It’s never easy drawing from life in as busy setting as Pitt st Mall is, I felt like a stranger in my own city busking on the street as I was.

Some funny things happened that made me second guess my whole stance on homelessness as I was drawing Brian the shoe shiner. 15 minutes into the drawing there came a person pushing a $50 into Brian’s top pocket.  I thought to myself “Good for you Brian!”

Then moments later another person generously squeezed $20 into Brian’s hand.  Then came another person with a note in his hand! At the same time Brian gave me a look to see if I was watching.  I thought as if to say ‘that bugger just made more money begging in 20 minutes than I would make in 2 hours working at my previous job!’  All the while I looked into my own donation box to see that I still had the initial loose change I had put In from the beginning.

‘You know he’s not really homeless’ a man said kneeling down beside my easel.  His pet dog beside him.

‘What do you mean he’s not homeless, look at him!’ I said sounding quite presumptuous trusting in my stereotype of what a homeless person should look like.

‘He has a home, and clean clothes.  he dresses like that just to fool people’

‘How do you know?’ 

‘Because I’m homeless’ the man said at this point dropping coins into my donation box, and also the first person to do so I might add.

‘How do I know you’re not bull-shitting like you say he is?’

‘I can show you where I stay in the park, and introduce you to a whole lot of other homeless people’

So now I’m thinking there may be a 4th type of homeless person. The one that isn’t really homeless.

I finished a rough sketch of Brian just as the security guard informed me that I was on private property and directed me to public grounds.

Now you may ask,  Is Brian homeless? Do I still want to help the homeless?  I’m not sure…  but all I know is that I still want to draw and paint and help people in genuine need of it.