Some people are fuckers (clipped from the Toronto Sun):

Friday, March 8, 2002
Her? Poor? That’s rich
Torontonians give from the heart to panhandler

By MIKE STROBEL, Toronto Sun

Down the alley we scurry. The Shaky Lady is moving like a cat now, her little pull-cart bouncing behind.

She glances back, spots me as I deke behind a garbage bin in the gloom.

For a second our eyes lock. Hers are clear and wary.

Her two bodyguards. Where are they?

She darts round a corner. I hear a car door slam.

Now I’m running, panting. Gawd, I think, I can’t keep up with a bag lady. She’s at least 65.

I lurch around the corner.

Into the glare of headlights …

Hours earlier, Yonge and Bloor:

Man, the Shaky Lady is a pitiful sight.

She sits on the northwest corner. Her head and hands shake grotesquely, constantly.

She wears a shabby red jacket. Her hair is grey and scraggly under a faded purple kerchief.

A garbage bag covers her legs. People throw money on it.

Lots of people. Sometimes they line up.

« She got here about 11, » says Const. Paul Stone, 50, on traffic duty at a construction site. « She started shaking as soon as she sat down. She’s just rakin’ it in now. »

In our spy nest at Harvey’s across the street, photographer Alex Urosevic and I do some figuring.

Thirty people in 15 minutes, Alex counts. Fifty in the time it takes me to eat a veggie burger and sip a coffee.

So, be very conservative and say 50 kind strangers an hour, a toonie each, five hours a day, five days a week.

That’s $2,500 a week. Net. I mean, what’s the overhead? How much do blue thermal pants and a garbage bag cost?


Above the Shaky Lady’s roost rises a CIBC tower. How many of those bankers take home that kind of dough?

I wander over to get a closer look. Several people in the area have told me she usually has two burly men keeping watch over her. Some think they’re her sons.

If they’re around, I can’t spot them in the throngs.

« Please help me. I’m sick and poor. I will pray for you, » says the cardboard sign around her neck.

I toss in a toonie. She gives me a toothless grin and croaks. The shaking is remarkable. How could you say no?

Shopkeepers and security staff say she has haunted Bloor between Yonge and Bay for at least a year.

« I was struck by her wretched appearance, » says Agnes McKenna, 74, who lives nearby. « I wondered, how could anybody be so heartless as to dump her on the street?

« A couple of weeks ago, coming home from a meeting, I see this woman suddenly get up, spry as a chicken. Her face becomes alive, she packs up her buggy and off she goes.

« Makes you feel like a fool, to be taken like that. »

Toronto Police Const. Andrew Hassall once saw a woman so torn up about the Shaky Lady she bought her a $200 coat at The Bay. The beggar croaked her thanks, waited for the woman to leave, then threw out the coat. Hassall couldn’t persuade the kind woman she’d been had.

The Shaky Lady is « the prima donna of this sort of thing, » says Hassall. « She’s been a thorn in our sides for years. »

But the cops are stuck. Panhandling is legal.

Down Bloor, I catch up to two of her benefactors. Judy Gerich, 53, an Edmonton teacher and sister Debbie Galloway, 46, a daycare operator, gave the Shaky Lady $30.

Then they brought her coffee and chicken fingers.

« I couldn’t believe how she looked, » says Debbie. « It rips your heart out. »

For a while, I hide by the construction site behind the Shaky Lady. They are laying fibre-optic cable.


I can see each person approach the woman.

I see horror, pity. I see $10 bills, a few 20s. She tucks them under the bag. I think our income estimate is low.

At 4:30 p.m. she gets up, chucks the sisters’ chicken fingers in the garbage and heads west on Bloor. There is no shaking. She moves faster and faster.

Into the alley …

… I round the corner. A car, a Chevy Lumina, speeds in reverse.

A man drives, another sits in the back. The Shaky Lady, kerchief off, crouches in the passenger seat.

Caught without cover, I give chase. I can’t read the plate. Alex is an alley away, trying to cut them off.

But the Lumina pulls out on Balmuto St., by the Uptown Theatre, then west on Bloor.

By the time I hail a cab and yell « follow that Lumina, » it’s gone. Who knows where?

But I’m guessing it’s not to a shelter for the homeless.

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