The first time I gave a bum some change, I couldn’t resist running the exchange rate in my head. I’m used to street kids singing on jeepneys, so giving money to strange white men is weird. Doesn’t this usually happen the other way around?
I was exploring Toronto’s financial district when out of nowhere this guy comes up to me. He was frazzled, hair all unkempt, clothes looking worn. “Do you have change? My parents kicked me out because I have AIDS.” I handed him a toonie right quick and headed for the nearest exit. It could’ve been the truth. It could’ve been a line. I wanted to be on the safe side and ensure goodwill in case he was thinking of sticking needles in me. Hey, I’ve seen things.
My best friend Illi, who lives in Brooklyn, had his own memorable experience with a bum. His story took place in the subway. “Hi, can you help me? I’m supposed to go to the hospital because one of my hemorrhoids burst and it’s bleeding.” Welcome to New York.
Le Hubs and I were discussing crowdfunding the other day. (Guess which one of us is the charitable one.) He thinks it’s an awesome idea. Someone puts up a Kickstarter page to raise money for an idea like a new video game, a new piece of tech or a really useful travel jacket; GoFundMe is used for more personal needs like medical bills, or dealing with the fallout of a mortgage gone wrong or a marriage gone bad. (I.e., We’re homeless. Please help.) Anyone can pitch in and donate a specific amount. With Kickstarter, a large enough donation gets you goodies, like the first prototype of whatever the project is. GoFundMe doesn’t really have this feature for the most part but I suppose one gets a sense of achievement in paying it forward and helping the needy.
Kickstarter has had more than its share of busts; projects that fizzled out and excited donors disappointed when they never saw any returns on their money. This is unfortunate, because helping someone isn’t a bad thing.
Asking for money used to be harder and usually involved a healthy dose of embarrassment. Not anymore. There was a woman who asked for $100,000 because she blew her life savings on Powerball and needed more so she could keep trying to win the lottery. Before GoFundMe understandably pulled her page, she already had $800 in donations. At least she was honest? I’m still deciding whether to be upset, chagrined or slow clap her hustle.
GoFundMe pages for anything exist. People ask for money to buy iPhones, or tickets to see Beyoncè. There’s even one for Kanye West, who recently claimed he lost $53 million for aspiring to be a fashion designer. His GoFundMe page raised $18,000. There’s a war in Syria, glaciers are melting, we just killed the last West African black rhino and we’re giving rich, blowhard rappers more money?
On the one hand, it beats being accosted on the streets by someone claiming to have one of the worst diseases known to man. On the other, I think it’s all too easy for people to take advantage of the gullible and fleece them of their money. It’s not hard to pretend you’ve got cancer when no one knows you. Tug on their heart strings with a made up sob story and laugh all the way to the bank.
This is why crowdfunding makes me uncomfortable. I think it encourages people to be more irresponsible. I don’t mean the ones who are legitimately in need, but it can’t hurt to be more prepared and not just rely on handouts. Crowdfunding is like Philippine taxes. You never know for sure where your money’s going to go or what it’s really going to be used for.