[Hpn] What child is this who begs outside?

Graeme Bacque gbacque@colosseum.com
Mon, 08 Dec 2003 06:06:41 -0500


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December 8, 2003 01:00 AM The Toronto Star
What child is this who begs outside?

JOE FIORITO

Two kids, cold and tired, with one cardboard sign. "Traveling home to 
sick mother. Please spare change (or smokes)." I, in a hurry, glanced at 
them.

She was tiny and pretty and sad. He was too young to have nothing left 
to lose. They were panning near the Winter Garden Theatre. The sign 
looked like a con. I kept walking. But the message crept up on me one 
word at a time.

We all yearn for home. My mom's not well; whose isn't? My boy used to 
have that look on his face. Asking for smokes? That's cheeky and 
realistic. If it was a con, it was worth a buck.

"Nice sign," I said with a wink. I flipped a dollar in the air. It 
landed in her paper cup. She, wide-eyed, hugged her knees and said, 
"It's true. My mother has MS. She's in Kelowna. I called her. She told 
me I was worthless on the phone. She said I was a piece of spit when I 
asked if I could go home."

Good one; ratchets up the sympathy. But if that's what your mom thinks, 
why bother going home? She said, "I'm gonna prove to her that I'm her 
daughter and I love her. I'd prefer me to take care of her than someone 
else."

Who would make that up? The boy spoke then. He said, "They're your 
parents. No matter what they do to us, we got to love them."

His name is Wayne. Hers is Kaylee. She's 17. He's 24. So why aren't they 
in school? Wayne said, "I been out of school since I was 8. I did some 
schooling in group homes. My parents kicked me out." And Kaylee ran away.

I noticed a deep cut on Wayne's lower lip. He said, "I had $160 in my 
pocket. I was up at Yonge and College trying to pan out the money for 
the bus fare. Three guys came up with a pit bull. They told me to get 
off the street. One guy kicked me in the face. They took the money."

Kaylee said, "The dog was at face level with me. It lunged forward but 
the guy pulled his dog back, or else ..." She meant, or else her face 
would be a mess. I said, "Quite a story. And you could be making the 
whole thing up." I expected teenaged outrage. Kaylee said flatly, "I 
wish we were making it up."

--------------------------
`Three guys came up with a pit bull. They told me to get off the street. 
One guy kicked me in the face.'
There was something else in her tone of voice. I asked her if she was in 
trouble. She said, "I have warrants out on me for B and Es, theft over, 
theft under; mostly for breaches, because I haven't been living at home."
-------------------------

What's she doing stealing? "Mostly it's for money. I never had money." 
Wayne added, "I just come out of jail. I was in for two years." He 
hesitated. I thought, here's where the con gets upped. "I did home 
invasions with some Asian guys." I drew back. He said, "I didn't hurt 
people. Mostly it was the ones with the guns who did the violence." 
Yeah, sure; whatever. I kept listening. He pointed to his cut lip. "I 
guess this is payback. What goes around comes around." You can make up 
any kind of story about how bad you are. You can't make up a cut like that.

They said they lived in the Don Valley. They said it was warm there, 
except when it got wet. They said they get cleaned up at a shelter now 
and then. "We go to Knox. They give us food, clothing, a shower. They 
have bowling, three lanes. They give out free hair cuts and clean clothes."

I couldn't tell what was real any more.

Kaylee: "I can't go back to school without an address." Wayne: "I want a 
job. I put in a lot of applications to pick garbage. I don't even have 
enough education for that." Kaylee: "There's a lot of people on the 
street who don't need to panhandle." Wayne: "You're either doing crime 
to stay alive, or you're homeless and panhandling and being bothered by 
the cops. I understand their point. There's aggressive panhandlers." 
Kaylee: "There's people who say to me I'm not homeless because I have a 
clean jacket. Just because I'm homeless doesn't mean I can't be clean. 
The only reason I got this jacket is some guy gave it to me a couple of 
weeks ago."

They said the mugging meant they were starting from scratch. They were 
hoping to raise enough to go to Kelowna for Christmas. And if and when 
they got there, they were going to see Kaylee's mother.

How's it going so far? "Not too good." How much is bus fare? "I dunno, 
more than $500." If they can't raise the money in time for Christmas? 
Wayne shrugged. "I know a guy. He runs a male escort service. I could go 
do some things I really don't want to do." I don't think he made that up.

I wished them luck. I was running late. I had to go. If it was a con, it 
was worth a buck. If it wasn't a con, it was worth a lot more.

Joe Fiorito usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail: 
jfiorito@thestar.ca