Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, August 29, 2021

It was inevitable that, in the wake of this leap-of-faith gesture in New York not long ago:

[Homeless man Jay Valentine] said he was hungry and low on cash on Monday when he saw [Merrie Harris] standing with friends outside the restaurant.

“I asked her for change and told her I wasn’t working,” he said. “She said she only had a card. She said, ‘Can I trust you?’ I said, ‘I’m honest, yes.’ I went and bought a few things and came back and gave her her credit card back, and everybody was surprised.

“I said thanks for trusting me. I guess she had a good sense of judgment. She knew I was trustworthy.”

Valentine said he bought deodorant, body wash, a pack of Nat Sherman cigarettes and Vitaminwater. It all cost about $25, he said

…Someone would up the ante and test how other homeless people would behave when handed plastic instead of spare change.

Over the past two weeks, I wandered Toronto’s downtown core with five prepaid Visa and MasterCard gift cards, in $50 and $75 denominations, waiting for people to ask for money.

When they did, I asked them what they needed. A meal at a restaurant, groceries, a new pair of pants, they said. I handed out the cards and asked that they give them back when they’d finished shopping. I either waited at a coffee shop while they shopped or — in the case of those who could not buy what they needed nearby or were reticent about leaving their panhandling post — I said I’d return on another day to pick up the card. That’s when I would reveal that I was a journalist.

The results of this experiment were as follows (keep in mind that those are Canadian dollars, although the exchange rate at the time was basically at par):

Card 1: $50, handed to Jason. Spends $8.69 at McDonald’s. Returns card.

Card 2: $50, to Mark. Spends $21.64 at The Corner Place restaurant. Doesn’t return. Later spends $15.50 at the LCBO.

Card 3: $75, to Joanne. Card is stolen. Over two days, $24.95 spent at McDonald’s, $38.35 at the LCBO.

Card 4: $50, to Al. Card unreturned. Balance remains at $50.

Card 5: $75. Laurie buys $74.61 worth of food, phone minutes and cigarettes at a gas station convenience store. Returns card.

Basically, a mixed bag. I’m wondering if this will spark a trend amongst voyeuristic samaritans: Giving out $20 gift cards to panhandlers, just so the donor can check the account online later to confirm/dash suspicions about how such handouts eventually get spent.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/29/2010 02:35pm
Category: New Yorkin', Society
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There are 16 acres of debris and under-construction land fenced off in lower Manhattan. Is that Ground Zero? It depends on who you ask:

The evolving boundaries of Ground Zero have informed — or misinformed — the debate about its proximity to the planned [Islamic mosque] Park51 community center. The farther away from the place, the bigger it seems.

“It’s constructed as hallowed ground when people don’t actually have a clear boundary for it or a clear sense of what’s within the boundary,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania communications professor who studies political rhetoric. “What you have is a classic instance of people responding to a symbol whose meaning is physically divorced from the actual space.”

Ironically, as symbolic of American imperialism as the World Trade Center towers were to al-Qaeda, the site of their remnants has become just as potent a symbol of resistance and remembrance for Americans. And in both cases, perhaps to a greater degree than they ought to be.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/29/2010 12:36pm
Category: New Yorkin', Politics
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