“Why don’t you just go get a job you bum?”
“I’m not giving you any money. You’re just going to spend it on drugs or alcohol you dumb drunk.”
“Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. You’re just a lazy beggar.”
“Get off our streets. You’re a waste of skin you dumb welfare junkie.”
Imagine not having eaten in days. Imagine having slept on a cold concrete sidewalk with nothing but a pile of leaves for a pillow, bugs crawling all over you and rain or snow pouring on you. Imagine going weeks without a positive human contact experience. Without a smile from a stranger. Without a hug. Without any sense of compassion. Imagine being literally spit on when you ask a stranger for some change so you can buy a hot meal. Imagine strangers looking at you like you’re no better than the dirt on the bottom of their shoes. Imagine not owning a pair of shoes. Can’t imagine it? It’s hard, I know. It’s hard if you’ve never been there, walked a mile in those shoes. How about we go for a walk, right now, a virtual one. One where you’ll be wearing the shoes of a homeless person, in many cases, you’re lucky if you have a pair of socks to walk in, let alone shoes. If you are one of the people who has said the things (or something similar) above, to a homeless person or about a homeless person, then my hope is that by the end of this blog, those words will be turned into care and compassion. And understanding.
This morning you probably woke up when your alarm went off and even though you didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of your bed you crawled out anyway because life calls. You grudgingly walked to your kitchen to put on the coffee and then went to the bathroom to begin your morning ritual. You hopped in your nice hot shower, same as you do every morning, and you washed your hair and did everything else you normally take care of in the shower. After your shower you looked through your closet and tried to decide what to wear. But first you checked the weather app on your phone to see what will be appropriate to stay warm/cool throughout the day. After you dressed you went to make a cup of coffee; the smell of it wafting through the house is so delicious you couldn’t wait another second to get your hands around a mug. You sat down for a few minutes enjoying your coffee and the few minutes of silence in your house before everyone else woke up. You woke your kids up, told them what the weather is going to be like, so they knew how to dress, then they came to the kitchen and you fed them a full, hearty breakfast. While they ate their breakfast, you made their lunches for school. You opened your fridge and gave the kids options of what kind of fruit and vegetable they want. There were so many options.
After breakfast, the kids took a few minutes trying to decide what jacket and shoes would match their outfit of the day. You all walked out of your house, you set your alarm and got to your vehicle, which has been running to warm up so you and the kids could have a comfortable ride. With the kids safely at school, you headed off to work.
Does that sound like your morning? Give or take a couple kids or a couple steps? Here’s where this walk we’re on may go off from your usual daily path…
You get to work and your boss calls you into their office. When you get there, a representative from the Human Resources department is there as well. This can’t be good. They explain to you that they just don’t have a position for you anymore. They have no choice but to let you go. All of a sudden, without any warning, you don’t have a job.
It doesn’t immediately hit you how big of a deal this is. You go through many emotions. Anger, sadness, confusion. You were a hard worker, you hardly ever called in sick, you didn’t take extra long lunch breaks. You worked hard. Why you? Why did this happen to you?
Soon, reality hits. You no longer have an income. Your partner doesn’t make enough money to sustain the house on their own. Worse, your partner’s hours got cut back, or they also lost their job. Or were you the sole income earner of your house? A single parent, or single person taking care of yourself. How are you going to do that now? The economy isn’t good. No one seems to be hiring.
Months pass. Unemployment Insurance gets cut back even more than the little you’re already getting. It’s not enough. Not enough to pay the rent/mortgage, bills, food. Before you know it, you’re hitting up the food bank to help put food on your table. But the bills keep piling up. You have to move. But where? You can’t afford the rent anywhere with no job and a bank won’t even look at you for a mortgage with no job. Soon, you find yourself knocking on the door of one of the shelters in the city. Your kids are put in foster care until you get back on your feet. But what if everything that just happened to you is too much to deal with. You have a mental breakdown. You turn to alcohol or drugs to mend the pain that keeps growing. Soon you find yourself somewhere you never imagined you’d ever be – tonight you had to sleep on the cold concrete sidewalk with nothing but a pile of leaves for a pillow, bugs crawling all over you and rain or snow pouring on you.
You still don’t think this could happen to you, right? What if I told you that this is exactly how a good number of Edmonton’s homeless population became homeless? Remember the Fort McMurray fire a couple years ago? So many people’s homes burned to the ground. Most had insurance that would eventually pay for them to have a new house built, and in the meantime they stayed with friends or family. Would you believe me if I told you that there were some people whose house burned down and they didn’t have insurance, or family to turn to so they are now spending another winter on the streets.
I’ve heard so many people, too many, ask of a homeless person “why don’t they just go get a job?”. Think about that for a second. Some of our homeless are wearing the same set of clothes for weeks or even years on end. Never washed. Some of our homeless don’t even remember the last time they had the luxury of even a cold shower, let alone a hot one. Their hair could be crawling with lice. Some, yes, some, are struggling with addiction. But not all. Some are just struggling to survive. Some don’t have bank accounts to receive pay from a job. And all of them, don’t have an address to list on the job application. So for those of you who wonder why the homeless don’t just “go and get a job”, answer me this: would you hire someone who hasn’t showered, is wearing dirty clothes, probably stinks due to no access to a shower, and who has no bank account or stable address? If you answer yes, please contact me ASAP – I have a lot of people who I’d like you to offer a job to. If you answer no, please show some compassion and understanding the next time you see a homeless person. You don’t have to give them money if you don’t want to. You could buy them a coffee or hot chocolate. Give them the apple left over from your lunch. But at the very least, the one thing you could give them that would mean the world to them and doesn’t cost you a thing is – a smile. Respect. Compassion.
A lot of people think that most people who live on the streets are aboriginals, drunks and/or drug addicts. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you took the time to talk to some of our homeless people, which I have done, you’d learn that a lot of the homeless aboriginals are still struggling from what happened to them at the Residential Schools (look it up if you haven’t heard about those). They weren’t offered any help to learn to heal from the abuse they endured. They don’t know how to deal with it.
Some of our homeless population are kids who fled from abusive parents. Yup, you read that right. Kids. Living on the streets. Kids who were being abused or rejected by their own family. Kids who didn’t have anywhere else to turn.
Others are people who got into an accident and didn’t have insurance or coverage to help take care of their bills while they healed. Bills piled up. Collectors started calling. Eventually the bank took their home back. Notice how banks and bill collectors don’t really care what’s going on in your life? They have a business to run too – they just want their money. A lot of people who live on the streets are people who couldn’t stop falling behind while healing from an injury that prevented them from working.
There’s one homeless man who I met a couple years ago. He’s around the same age as me. He’s from the east. He had a wife and two kids. Losing his job hit him hard. He was the bread winner. It was his job to take care of his family. He fell into a depression. He ended up using some drugs to ease the pain. It worked, temporarily. Soon, he was addicted. And still depressed. His wife left him and took the kids. He ended up living on the streets. When I met him, his fingers were black. Frost bite from sleeping on the streets in our bitter cold winters. He’s still addicted to drugs. Still homeless. Still depressed. He misses his wife. He’s aching to see his kids. But he feels stuck. He’s afraid he’ll die on the streets. The sad reality is, he probably will.
I’ve met many homeless people over the years. I have yet to meet one who has chosen to be homeless. Many choose to stay living on the streets because they’ve been there so long that it’s their comfort zone. They don’t want the responsibility of paying bills. They’re content. But they didn’t initially choose to be there. And most of our homeless population would give anything to be in your shoes right now. I hope this walk in someone else’s shoes has helped to open your eyes if they were closed to this epidemic. I hope that you’ll find a way to help those less fortunate than you. Even if it is just a smile. A smile will last a lifetime. At the very least, we need to change the way the general population looks at and treats our homeless population. They’re people too. They deserve respect. They deserve love. They deserve to be treated like a human.
My daughter’s school is in the inner city. Where many homeless people live. Every day for a couple weeks we would drive by this homeless camp. She felt the urge to befriend the homeless man who was living inside. His name was Bruce. She would bring him some food every morning. Until one day we drove by, and his camp was gone. It happens all the time. Homeless camps are forced to be taken down about a week or so after they’ve set up their new “home”. Just as they start to get comfortable in their home. Their HOME. A tarp and cardboard box. A shopping cart with all their belongings. This is what people don’t see happening. Yeah sure there’s shelters – but they can only house so many people. Not near all our homeless population. And many homeless people do want a sense of home when they lay their heads down to sleep. But they’re denied that every time they’re forced to destroy their home and set up elsewhere.
So I hope I’ve dragged up lots of emotions within your heart by now. I’ve been experiencing so many while writing this. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written because my heart just aches for those less fortunate. Those lost souls who just want to feel loved. I hope you’ll show them some love. How? There’s so many ways.
As mentioned earlier, a simple smile when walking past goes a long way. Spare change if you have – it doesn’t always go to drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, often, it goes to a meal or coffee. Food is also always welcome. But mostly love. Give love.
My daughter and I are arranging our 3rd annual Christmas Warmth on the Streets. We will be putting together care packages and handing them out to many of our homeless on December 22. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to give one to every homeless person, but we’d like to help as many as possible. You can help with that too if you’d like. The link to donate to the GoFundMe campaign is below but you can also contact me directly if you’d rather donate items. I will be sharing a list of items needed for the care packages on Scarred, Not Broken’s Facebook page.
At the very least, if nothing else, please just show your compassion by giving a smile instead of ignoring our homeless.