Reality smacked me in the face yesterday. I always thought I understood the importance of things but when I’m hit with not just strong emotions but strong mental understanding I realize I only superficially “understood.”
I went shopping yesterday. Spent over $100. Birthday presents, a new sweater for myself and 3 books from the amazing World’s Biggest Bookstore that is closing. The guilt I experienced after buying these items was fairly strong. I tried to relax myself while I walked up to get the streetcar home. When I got to the stop I saw a homeless man sitting against a pole near the stop. I had seen this man there before but hadn’t really thought anything of him.
According to the Toronto Street Needs Assessment (2013) there are 5,219 homeless individuals in Toronto. This number has been steadily increasing over the years. People who are homeless on Toronto’s streets are outside for an average of 7.5 years. The number of street homeless is up 24% since 2009.
Maybe it was because I was feeling bad about buying things or, well, who knows, it doesn’t really matter, but I was hit with an overwhelming sadness and outrage that this man has to be out on the streets. He lives and asks for money on the streets instead of going to work to make his money and going home to a space that he can all his own. Staring is rude but I watched him and couldn’t help but notice that he is probably around my age (25). He looked like a nice man. I wondered if he was lonely. I hoped he had good friends. I hope someone gives a shit that he’s out on the streets when he deserves a home.
Before I got on the streetcar I gave him all the change I had. He said, “Thank you.” I looked at his face, smiled and said, “Have a nice day.” A few young men after me gave him some cigarettes and a handshake. I’ve been thinking about that man since that moment.
This is the hardest thing about living in Toronto. Having to see the homeless population everywhere. This shouldn’t be happening in this city. Housing is a human right! Toronto’s subsidized housing wait list is 5+ years. Half of the homeless population listed above it on that wait list. I chose not to even try when I was offered once by a social worker to start to the process of getting my own housing. Housing is a human right!
I try to at least smile and make eye contact when I pass a homeless person on the street. I was told by an individual from The Dream Team (psychiatric/survivor group who advocate for support housing) that the homeless individuals he had spoken to said that the worse part of being homeless is people don’t notice you (or don’t want to notice you). I am guilty of trying to pretend that they are not there. I felt bad that I couldn’t do anything so ignoring it made me feel better. Ignoring does nothing! What helps is acknowledging that thy are there, showing them that they are worthy and advocating for change within the city.
I’m going to try and do this. Our Mayoral election is coming up in the Fall and the candidates are starting to campaign. Olivia Chow is running. She’ll listen, she’ll understand and she’ll do something.
We all need to do something. Reality is, is that I could easily be homeless. I do not have the money to sustain myself. If Michael or my parents stopped caring about me or determined I had to figure things out for myself, I would be on the streets. It can be that easy and that fast.