An insult to my constituents

Toronto has released preliminary results for the 2013 Street Needs Assessment, and it doesn’t look great:

  • One in five homeless youth are gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer.
  • Half of the homeless are on a waiting list for subsidized housing.
  • Vets make up 15% of the homeless population.
  • The number of homeless senior citizens has doubled in the last three years.
  • The homeless population in women’s shelters has doubled in the last seven years.

What has to happen before people get as upset about homelessness as they do not being allowed to drink in a park?

As long as life endures.

Shelter mourns dozens of homeless who died in Ottawa in 2008.

Close to 100 people crowded into downtown shelter Friday morning to remember more than 40 shelter users who died this year in Ottawa. […]

About 10 people came before the crowd to share their memories of those whose struggles on the street ended over the past 11 months. A list of the dead, who ranged in age from 19 to the early 60s, were read out and the crowd sang Amazing Grace in their memory.

About 900 to 1,000 people live in shelters downtown, said Paul Soucie, co-executive director of the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter.

Ronald Waldrif, who has been using the Centre 454 shelter for two years, said he knew some of them, including one man who was starting to get his life back together when he died in a hit-and-run collision.

He added that many committed suicide. Others died as a result of homicide, illness, or drug overdoses, Cheam said.

I wish I had known about this. When I was working with the shelters/drop-in, we were never allowed to do anything along these lines.

Our unwillingness to address homelessness in Canada is tragic and shameful.

Everything you never wanted to know about living on the street

Two years ago, I made a post on an internet forum about homelessness, offering to answer questions on the subject, given that the overwhelming majority of people on the forum (like the overwhelming majority of people in the real world) were fairly misinformed on the subject.

Much to my surprise, this thread quickly became very active and popular. People asked questions and instead of arguing, they paid attention to the answers. Leslie and Charles joined to talk about their experiences and field questions, and there was a surprising amount of press involved in the whole thing. (Several times over the next year, I would find threads and forums elsewhere where libertarians and other such creatures attempted to discredit my opinions and experiences.)

Countless people posted or messaged to say that they had gone out of their way to give money to a person they usually walk by, bought a street kid mittens and a meal, or volunteered at a soup kitchen. Posts by activists and advocates on the internet are a dime a dozen, but this one actually made a difference to a few cold and hungry people around the world. I didn’t think much about it when I started the thread, but by the end of it I was floored at the impact it had on people.

Every now and then, I’ll get an email or message out of the blue from someone who read the thread. Today is one of those days.

While wandering around in the forums, I stumbled upon a thread asking about homeless people. In this thread, someone linked to another one in the archives. I’m sure you know what I’m about to say; it was yours.

Now, if it had just been a good read, I wouldn’t bother you. Good threads aren’t hard to find. But your thread didn’t entertain me, it changed me. I know it sounds cheesy, like something you’d hear on an infomercial about a revolutionary abs machine, but it’s true.

I’ve taken the Montreal Subway for 5 years now, and I’ve always looked at the homeless people with, at best, disgust, and at worst, hatred. Even worse, I don’t know why. I guess I was convinced that being homeless was a result of laziness… Deep inside, I knew it wasn’t, but I didn’t care enough to look for another reason, so I convinced myself it was.

Your thread from 2005 really opened my eyes, and will definitely change the way I look at homeless people, and more importantly, act with them. I thought you deserved to know that I feel like you enlightened me, like I’m sure you did for a lot of people here.

Thank you for teaching things you don’t learn in school.

Life and Death on the Streets – Third in a Series.

I remember.

When I was sixteen or so, and my police file listed my residence as “NFA: NO FIXED ADDRESS”, I spent a lot of time at The Square. All of us. It was where we spent our time.

There were maybe two dozen of us there when this kid grabbed my collar, his face caked in blood.

“You gotta help me, man. Some big jock just fuckin’ decked me and took my bag. I was holding for someone else, I don’t even know who this guy is. I gotta get it back.”

That was all we needed to hear. Very few of us agreed on anything at all, and most of us had been in scraps with at least half the people there. We only knew solidarity when someone from the outside fucked with us.

There were dozens of us at the square, and then just like that, there were none.

We followed buddy (who’s name I don’t remember, if I ever knew it) down the back streets, until we found the jock. He was drunk, or high, or both. Big motherfucker, too. Bigger than any of us, at least. Nice jacket, nice shoes. He mumbled something under his breath, held buddy’s denim backpack close to him, and we circled around him.

The details are fuzzy, and largely irrelevant. I remember one of the squeegee kids broke his squeegee handle over the guys head, and someone else kicked him into a car so hard he went through the window, and the alarm went off. At no point did he fall down, he just staggered and kept swinging at us. Probably less than half of us did anymore more than watch, but it didn’t matter who did what. We were all complicit.

Ten minutes later, we’re out of the alleys and on the main street. Traffic is heavy, and he’s bleeding bad. Someone picks up an iron garbage can from the street corner and throws it at him, in the middle of the road. I don’t remember if it hit him or not.

We all know this can’t go on much longer. It’s broad daylight, and someone’s almost certainly called the cops by now.

He jumps in the back of a moving pickup truck, and then he’s gone. The backpack is in the middle of the road, and the kid with the bloody face grabs it, and takes off. The rest of us follow his example, and find other places to be for the rest of the day.

Someone went down to a few hospitals the next day, pretending to be a concerned bystander. This wasn’t uncommon when situations like this happened — it was always better to know than to not know.

He had come in for stitches, and then gone into a coma. He died due to a ‘closed head injury’. That’s what they call it when you get hit in the head hard enough to kill you, but not hard enough to actually crack your skull open.

All of this is true. This really happened.

No one needed to speak aloud what we all knew:

We are all complicit; we are all murderers here.