I’m having a bit of a moral quandry, and Chris suggested I put it out to you good people of the internets for support, backup, shame or whatever I deserve on this one, because I just don’t know.

Here’s the deal: I admonished a homeless (and possibly mentally unstable) man for littering.

Oh yes I did.

I couldn’t help it. There he was, on the corner in front of the church, like always, and he opened a pack of smokes and dropped the cello and the foil right onto the sidewalk. Well, I was walking by at that exact moment, and nobody likes a litterbug, and I have a big mouth, so I scooped up his garbage and said, ‘You don’t have to be a litterbug!’

And I walked away, and that’s when I started wondering if maybe I was being harsh. But, I don’t know – does being homeless give one a pass on littering? I mean, on one hand, what has this city ever done for him, right? But on the other hand, if he’s unfortunately living on the streets, you’d think he would not want to contribute to a garbage problem.

Ok, seriously, do I need my ass kicked, or is my instinct to be a decent citizen justifiable? Should I have the same expectation of him that I do any of my neighbours, or should I have just picked up the litter, bought him a coffee and kept my mouth shut (which I have a problem doing)?



  1. Ah. I'm smiling because I'm first.

    Being poor doesn't mean you get to litter. However, being homeless probably means you aren't feeling too hopeful about the state of the world, either.

    In a lot of ways, homeless folks are seen as human waste, it's metaphorical really, the idea of dropping people in the streets and letting them figure it out and dropping trash in the streets and watching it blow away.

    I'd probably not have said anything but if I did I'd say, dude, littering doesn't make things better. maybe a cup of coffee might. pick that up and let's go get some. or maybe I'd not have even noticed and just walked past. it's always easier to think about it after the fact, isn't it.

    but no, Kgirl, I don't think you get a free pass b/c you are homeless. I also don't think we should keep getting a free pass to allow homelessness to continue, but what the hell else would you expect from me, right? xo

  2. I can't say I blame you for being annoyed about littering.
    It has to be on of my biggest pet peeves.

    Unfortunately it's not just homeless, mentally unstable people that are doing it, check out the side walk in-front of any given office tower down town and you will find a barrage of cigarette butts and black chewing gum stuck to the pavement (or the bottom of your shoe, depending on how hot it happens to be that day)
    don't people realize that gum and butts are considered garbage too?

    as far as saying something, the only thing that would have held me back from saying something would be fear.
    you never know how unstable someone is and sometimes it just isn't worth it.
    But having said that, I do recall busting a woman who threw her Kleenex on the ground after blowing her nose a while back.
    I guess it depends on who the person is and if they seem threatening or not.
    does that make sense?
    Just by reaching down and picking up the trash at least you made a difference.

  3. No free pass but I probably would have bought him the coffee and said, dude littering isn't cool. And then spat on a teenager doing the same thing.

  4. Hey - I think the message was right, as everyone should be responsible for their own trash, even the homeless.

    But his vision and your vision of being all in this together maybe a bit skewed.

    Perhaps a pointed finger towards a garbage can, along with some change for coffee, and a warm smile could have allayed your guilt and gently massaged his social responsibility.


  5. Where you screaming and berating him? I seriously doubt it. Telling someone not to be a "litterbug" is likely not going to crush someone's soul.
    Next time you see him, maybe get him a coffee....

  6. I don't think you are wrong.

    Everyone else is by far much nicer than I am. Well I admit that I'm feeling particularly hormonal today but I'd also think if the guy can buy cigarettes, I don't need to buy him a coffee. I don't get excited about polluting the air or the ground. Ok I'll get in my car and drive away now.

  7. Now I'm all worried that your readers are going to hate on me for my sarcastic comment. Really I'm trying to say "who am I to judge?" Chocolate for everyone...

  8. I don't think what you said was particularly harsh.

    Bottom line is that he's human - homeless or not - and has a responsibility to the planet. If you would say that to someone with money, why shouldn't you say it to someone without? We're all in it together eventhough we sometimes seem worlds apart. Me? I'd probably be too chicken to say anything to anyone (except under my breath) and I'm not really helping to find a solution to the problem, am I?

  9. What motherbumper said.


  10. okay. I did not read any of the comments because i do not want to be influenced.

    If i had had time to think and not be impetuous (which I am as are you). I might have picked it up for him. And bought him a coffee, and then said, please don't litter.

    But then again I amy have done nothing. No easy answers. But you are not going to burn for it.

  11. I very much dislike when people litter, but I don't feel it's my job to tell them so.

    I'm just teaching my kids and I let the rest be.

  12. I think I might have said something similar - I'm assuming you smiled when you said don't be a litterbug. You picked it up.
    I think holding him to the same standard you hold others is showing him respect.
    and don't anybody make me tell the story of the homeless guys from the shelter I used to volunteer at who attended my wedding ok?

  13. Without looking at the other comments - no, I don't think you were too harsh at all. Just because he's homeless doesn't mean he's allowed to pitch garbage on the ground.

  14. For me, the important question is: would you have said the same thing to him if he were a well dressed business man that you passed by downtown? If the answer is 'yes' and you are the kind of person who would speak to anyone about something like this, regardless of who they are, then I think you were in line. If not, then that's where the issue is, for me. I know, myself, I'd probably be more likely to say something to the homeless guy, or the kid, or the woman, than to the business man. It's all about the power dynamic, I think. Regardless, I don't think this is a huge deal - it doesn't sound like you were berating him or anything. Littering's gross.

  15. I don't tend to TELL people not to litter, think it loudly though I may (because, well, I don't often talk to people I don't know unless they're kids - I'm shy like that), but if you'd say it to other people, then I don't think you're wrong here. The fact of it is, it's still liteering, and really, if the streets are his home, he'd have that much more reason not to mess them up, wouldn't he?

  16. As someone who walks down the street fishing litter out of the local planters practically daily, I'll bite. When witnessing a litter bug, I have no fear of picking up rubbish, handing it back to someone and saying in a voice of treacle covered steel "I hope you didn't mean to litter?" But the first few times I did it, I thought people could hear my heart thumping with anxiety - yet now, I have worn my nerves to tough, calloused nubbins with this repeated action. I also have the number for the City of TO's litter campaign on speed dial on my cel phone, for when I find spots where things have been dumped.

    You see, once upon a time, people would be ashamed to litter. I think that's a good thing - and it doesn't matter whether it's sketchy dude or another sweet, tired, distracted and frazzled mommy. What matters is how you tell it.

    So, if your conscience is bugging you, it's probably because you're not happy with the way you said it. Find something you're more comfortable with, and keep it in your back pocket for the next time? Because the city needs each person to use their own power to keep it clean.

    And thanks for doing that, Karen.

  17. I think its sweet that this is troubling you - it means that you are a compassionate person. For what it's worth I probably would have done the same thing and I probably would have questioned myself on it later...

  18. My boyfriend is so far the only person I've ever met who shares my disdain for litter.
    Sometimes I give up on picking up the litter I come across, feeling I am fighting a losing battle, but then I start to feel pretty badly and remember that every little bit counts.
    I have yelled at friends and strangers for littering. Well, not yelled- but definitely reprimanded, and picked up behind them.
    Homeless guy littering?
    To boyfriend and I, all littering is like pooping on your own floor.

  19. There is NEVER any excuse for littering. It's beyond "class" issues. It's an "earth" issue. It's a matter of respect for the earth. I probably would have given him a toonie and some advice.... :)

    I think you did a good thing by scooping up the garbage and saying what you did. Go girl!

  20. My mom would have been right there beside you, wagging her finger. It made me cringe as a child, but now I wish I was more like her and less passive. Maybe then I wouldn't need a blog to let out the pent up stuff.

  21. I love what Marla said. I'm a bit on the passive-aggressive side; I'll say, "Excuse me, I think you dropped something?" and look pointedly at the litter - to anybody, of any social class.


Talk to me.