A coworker and I were arguing about homeless people in Calgary. He claimed that they are lazy and can't be bothered to get a job or do actual work. I disagreed, saying that they are not on the street by choice, and instead are there due to social and economic factors that leave them with little to do except sit by the road with a baseball cap in front of them. A recent visit to Vancouver, however, changed some of my perceptions.

The beggars in Vancouver are some of the strangest I've ever seen in that they do more than sit still waiting for change to magically be given to them. Instead, Vancouver has homeless "poets", "musicians", and plain old shysters going for your dough.

Oh sure, there are the usual guys sitting on the ground looking for handouts, but at the very least they have signs with things like "Dear sirs, I have no job and must support my wife and kids. Won't you please help?" Still, only some are like this. Others are much more creative. For instance, a homeless man on a streetcorner shouting a poem for money. A simple ditty of his own devising, with the refrain:

Come on folks and tip yer' hat
Try and make the old man fat!

Another beggar had a guitar, but he was no entertainer. He only knew one song, and it went:

Don't give the beggars any mo-ho-ney,
Don't give the beggars and mo-ho-ney

Over and over and over until you WOULD give him some money. Only if a girl in a tight top went by, would he change his refrain to "Barbie is a little slut".

Some panhandlers have an outright scam going by pretending to be mute. They hand out little photocopied papers that say "Dear sir, I am deaf and support my wife and family by selling these sign language reference cards. Suggested donation is $1 to $5." The cards have some simple sign-language actions on the back. Don't be fooled. These people are not deaf. A teen on the SkyTrain explained:

"Yeah, I was downtown and one of these guys came by and handed me a card. I handed it back to him, saying 'no thanks', but as the guy walked away, I said 'oh, wait, I do have some change.' The guy turned right around. So much for being deaf."

I have to say, however, that I can deal with the quiet homeless much better than with these who use such tactics.