'Hey brother, could you spare a quarter?' A Hamilton panhandler fights the law

Posted
August 3, 2017

The people walking by, the ones with coins jangling in their pockets, know him by name.

They greet the downtown Hamilton fixture with a smile, and a "Hey, Dwight," as he sits on a warm summer afternoon on a sidewalk on King Street East.

A red Tim Hortons cup on the ground in front of him hints at why he's there.

"Hey brother, could you spare a quarter?" he asks.

A guy walking by drops a toonie in his cup. He's made $9 so far this day.

"See?" he says. "I don't see anything wrong with asking the gentleman coming by if he could spare a quarter."

"Thank you very much," he says to his donor. "Now, if a police officer seen me doin' that I would have got a ticket."

Perry's long hair is gone, recently chopped after a police officer took him for a haircut. But his mustache remains, along with a gravely voice and light-hearted friendliness that endears him to people who might not otherwise share the wealth.

'In one hand I'm asking for change and in the other I'm getting a ticket'

Though this afternoon's interaction escaped police notice, Perry's routine garners him unwanted attention.

"I got a lot of tickets, a lot of tickets. It seems to be goin' up and up and up," he said.

"I put a hat or a cup out and in one hand I'm asking for change and in the other I'm getting a ticket."

Perry has hundreds of tickets to his name, given over a decade or so. He owes north of $20,000 in fines before he could ever get a driver's licence or his own housing again.

In the last year, he says, police have started giving him a version of a panhandling ticket that requires him to go to court. If he didn't show, he could have a trial date set without his knowledge and be tried — and possibly convicted and sentenced — even without being there.

But Wednesday, he showed up at John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton and appeared with his lawyer, Peter Boushy, who is working on the case pro bono.

'Hey brother, could you spare a quarter?' A Hamilton panhandler fights the law