Disclaimer: this is a link-heavy post. Some of it is for entertainment value (if you want to dig a little deeper). But I also link to two fellow bloggers because I believe that visiting them will be an illuminating experience for many of you. Enjoy.
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Today I read an interesting piece written by fellow blogger Joni of thehomeplaceweb.
The topic of her post is homelessness. Joni quite cleverly incorporated a movie she saw into a conversation about the plight that is poverty, something that affects us daily even if we are not part of that demographic.
Do you see the big donation containers at every grocery store for non-perishable food items (at least here in my neighbourhoods)? Do you see the homeless people, or the hungry kids clutching unhealthy (cheap) snacks at lunchtime? Or the very odorous man in shorts and sandals, no socks, in January in Canada at the liquor store purchasing a mickey of Vodka with a bunch of loose coins?
There isn’t one among us who hasn’t been faced with this ongoing crisis of poverty.
The movie Joni mentioned is called The Public, is about a group of homeless people who seek shelter at a public library during a cold front coming into Cincinnati. It was written and directed by Emilio Estevez, older brother of Charlie Sheen and son of Martin Sheen. Emilio is probably most well known by us GenXers for his role as the Jock (Andrew Clark) in the Breakfast Club, but he had numerous roles in movies across the decades, including as Keith “Two-Bit” Mathews in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (my favorite book and movie of my teenage years).
Anyway, Joni does a good job introducing the premise of the movie along with a discussion about homeless people. Read her post here.
Along those same lines, my friend Michael talked about his own experiences with relative poverty on his blog. He provides a provocative glimpse into his life as a young boy in a Toronto neighbourhood, which you can read here. That piece is a preamble to a follow-up anecdote where he describes his personal involvement as a volunteer at the local Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto. Read his sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking observations about the goings-on inside the food bank while volunteering here.
I bet most of food banks across Canada and into the USA are very, very similar…
His observations are poignant, enlightening and introspective all at the same time. Like Joni, he too addresses these contemporary societal problems with finesse and grace.
My own experiences with peripheral homelessness are quite elaborately explained in a couple of articles I wrote and submitted to various venues (where they were rejected or ignored).
In one case, I talk about a disabled woman who is a regular icon in my neighbourhood. She demands attention in a most uncomfortable way by being pushy, rude and entitled. She has a disdain in her facial expression that makes it very hard to ignore. I get it, her life is hard and unfair, and she probably has some mental health issues…but it’s though, sometimes, when she brushes past us standing in line at a coffee shop, glaring at us with contempt.
The first time I met her many years ago was at a bakery, where she pushed a card into my hand.
I’m deaf, it said on the card. I need money.
(In the meantime I have several of her cards and really do not need another one…)
She wants money for cigarettes. She is a heavy smoker. She doesn’t hide it. She obviously has an addiction problem.
The man ahead of me in line at the bakery shop offered to buy her a coffee. She said no. Give me cash, she demanded, and when he refused, she moved on to the next person in line.
One time, my then 10 year old son and I encountered her at a bus stop. She gave me her card again and said she needed money. I told her we didn’t have any (and we didn’t, I wasn’t traveling with my son, I simply accompanied him to the bus stop, and my boy had a bus ticket but no cash).
She then gave my son a very dirty look when she noticed his tennis racket in his back pack. I interpreted her dirty look as “you can afford tennis lessons for your son but you can’t afford to give me money for cigarettes” or something of that nature.
See how defensive this sounds? It bothers me that I sound defensive.
Another article I wrote was about an old man in a wheelchair camped out in front of the Shoppers Drug Mart, a large drug store that has a small food section in it as well. He sits there and smiles, and people drop coins into his coffee cup.
I sometimes give him a sandwich from the bakery, or some loose change if I have any on me. He’s very old, shaky, and sick. Why is he sitting there, all alone, wrapped in a blanket, begging for money?
The other guy who begs at that location is probably a 30-something. I’m a little confused by his plight but I know nothing about him. He doesn’t talk to anyone, just sits there with his cup and a sign that says he’s hungry. I’ve bought food at the coffee shop and left it for him. He looks different from the other beggers, his clothes are clean(er), his hair as well…I don’t know. Something isn’t right with this man. Mental health challenges are often invisible but no less distressing…
It’s tricky, these days, with the debit cards and a lack of cash. And I’m not convinced that dropping coins is the most effective method of assisting people in need. The problem is much more widespread than we want to consider…
There is, for example, a little 11 year old girl who buys pizza at 8 am before school. Doesn’t she have someone to make or give her breakfast at home? I envision factory working parents on night shift who leave a few bucks for the child to purchase herself some food on the way to school. Pizza is cheap and relatively nourishing, and probably the better option than the McDonalds across the street. She takes the bus, by herself, and has for years. I used to accompany my younger child to school on foot and saw her get off at the stop by the Domino’s Pizza.
What [more] can we do besides notice?
We can communicate. We can invite dialogue and action in the form of charity work, volunteering or donating. We can blog and share our stories which hopefully keeps us aware, and alert. And we can show kindness even when we’re met with obnoxious or demanding behaviour. They have it so much harder than we do…
But is it enough?