By Katie Swyers
Three years away from old-age benefits, 62-year-old Nathan Hutchinson says that he panhandles to supplement his part-time job and to afford the “extras” in life — like laundry. The Eyeopener talked to Hutchinson on the southern corner of Dundas and Bond streets, where he explained what it’s like to live on a marginal income.
Why are you panhandling today?
Just to have some extra money for my food. Food and my coffee for the week. I keep going, I just do the best that I can and whatever I make I’m happy. And for my cigarettes of course, because I’m a smoker. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a smoker. I do fair sometimes, you never know. Each day comes with something — that’s my motto. Whatever it brings my way, I’ll take…
And I want to try and have some money for when they put me in for operation again.
What’s the operation for?
My hip. They did my right one, now they have to do my left one. So I’m just waiting to see what happens this time, then I’m out of commission for a while. I’ll get a good rest, anyways.
What happened to your hip, why do you have to go for surgery?
The arthritis, and I’ve fallen a few times but I’m still going. With the right one, they told me that I’d be out of luck for six months, but I got back to work. I still do part-time work, even though my hip is so sore, I’m still trying.
What kind of work do you do?
I’m a cleaner, custodian they call it, part time. Every little bit counts. Years ago I did moving for a long time — moving furniture — but those days are over. So I stick to my cleaning jobs. I do light cleaning, in a bar, so I don’t mind that. I do it at nights. But I like to have extra money for when I’m in hospital, so I come out like this and make sure. I just do the best that I can.
How far do your paycheques go?
Well they go a couple of days anyways. It’s not much, but it’s better because of my boss. If I need something, he gives it to me. If I need extra money, he’ll just say, ‘What do you need?’ That’s mostly because I have to keep my phone up. I’m part manager myself there – or so he calls me. I’ve worked there about 30 years or more. I can’t always depend on my boss for things though, I like to show him that I can do stuff on my own, especially keeping my phone up. So I come out here.
How did you start panhandling?
Well I see a lot of my friends doing it and they say, ‘Oh you can make money, you can make money.’ I said, ‘Oh one day I’ll try it.’ So I’m 62 now, what the heck. I’ve got three more years and then I’ve got my old age. Three more years and then I probably won’t be panning once I hit 65, because I’ll have enough money to just relax – pay my rent. The rents are high so I have to try my best, and the price of groceries nowadays is just ridiculous.
What areas do you normally hang around?
I go up around Gerrard and Yonge or Dundas and Yonge. I’m all over the place in this area. But I don’t go too far. I used to [panhandle] in the west end — not too much money out there, though. There are too many out there and it’s too wild: too many murderers and thugs out there.
Did you feel scared?
I was kind of nervous, but that was all. I said, ‘Ah, what will be, will be.’ You only live once.
Have you ever run into any trouble with other people panhandling?
At times, but then they say, ‘Oh, it’s you,’ and then they hand me some money sometimes. I noticed that a lot of them are sharing. When they make some money, they hand me some money. So I’m happy with that, because I know a lot of panhandlers out here.
What are Ryerson students like?
Fair, I get along with them. They all know me out here. One woman who works for Ryerson, every Friday she hands me some money and I just say thank you. At Christmas time, I gave her a Christmas card. Next thing I know, the next time I saw her, she gave me a card with ten loonies taped inside. So I used them for coffees. So I was glad. Today I got my coffee from Tim Hortons already and I won a free coffee – I haven’t used that yet. So sometimes I’m lucky and I’m just hoping that I’ll be lucky again.
What makes your day?
When I make my money. When I make the money, I’m happy. When I can have my coffees. Like today I’m going to take myself for something to eat – a chicken dinner. That’s usually what I do when I have some extra money. I go over to my work and grab a chicken with some home fries and then my pop, and then I’m happy. It will cost me a bit, but I don’t care. I like to treat myself.
What’s something you’d like people to know?
I’m just happy.