It was a cold, cold, cold day. I warmed up in the Ottawa Public Library reading a magazine. Across from me sat a man reading a Times Magazine. He looked very engaged in the magazine and I also noticed that he seemed overdressed. He started talking to me about Mars linked to an article he just read. He was extremely articulate and told me about his work as a scientist at one of the universities in Toronto. Somewhere in the conversation, I realized that something did not match between the intellect and his clothes. I looked at him more closely and realized that he did have on many layers of clothes (more than would be necessary for winter) plus there were more bags of stuff around him.
“Can I ask you out for dinner tonight” he asked.
“Where would you take me?” I asked. By now, I had figured he was a homeless man.
“There is a great place on Bank Street which makes the best soup”. he said. He had the most convincing and honest face.
“Where exactly is it?” I asked.
He gave me the address and told me that if I got there about 6, it would be the best time because the place is not too crowded then.
We bided each other goodbye and I left the library. Later that evening, I found out that the address he gave me was for the Soup Kitchen on Bank Street, a place that feeds homeless people.
I shared this experience with some friends and they laughed at me and said that I was just crazy attracting homeless people to me. But I thought of this experience differently. Here was a homeless man, who was apparently someone important at some point in his life, inviting me to join him for dinner, at the soup kitchen, which was perhaps the only place he could afford to take me (or for that matter anyone he would like to have a meal with). I felt humbled and honored that he had the courage to extend the invitation and several years later, I wondered what kind of experience I would have had, If I had indeed accepted the invitation. Was he a man who became homeless because of something tragic in his family? Was it that I felt I was so “above” this man who I could not have dinner with him? Was I afraid of being around a homeless person? Since then I have spoken to so many homeless people on the streets and others who are on the brink of becoming homeless and I can’t help feeling how vulnerable we all are to such situations.
In The Homelessness Partnering Strategy by the Government of Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development (9 January 2010) it is estimated that 150,000 to 300,000 people are homeless in Canada, living in shelters or on the streets. On any given night, 40,000 people stay in homeless shelters. Single men are the largest segment of homeless people in most Canadian cities, but homelessness is rising among both single women and lone-parent families headed by women. Families with children living in poverty, street youth, Aboriginal persons, persons with mental illness, the working poor, and new immigrants are disproportionately reflected in the homeless population.
There are many causes of homelessness, including insufficient affordable housing and housing supply, low-income, the gap between income and affordability, mental health and/or substance abuse issues, family conflict, violence, job loss, breakdown, and inadequate discharge planning (ex-offenders, mentally ill persons, and persons leaving the care of the child welfare system).
I have a soft spot towards homeless people because I also have a personal experience of how close I came to being homeless in a country where I had no networks or enough money to afford me the luxury of rent or going to a hotel. In my everyday work, I can see how extenuating life circumstances can shift a happy, normal person to become a disillusioned person.
The next time you see a homeless person, extend a blessing and say a prayer. Help in whatever way you can and don’t create a judgement about what your money will do. There are shelters which you can give money or food items to if you don’t want to give it to them directly. The human need for acknowledgement, recognition, love, care, touch… is in all of us.
LookGood!!!FeelGood!!! by seeing beyond yourself today.