Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Everyone deserves a place to call home

Don't have a lot of time this morning. I have to pick up 'Darren', a client at the shelter where I work, and take him to City TV for 7:30. They're doing a piece on attitudes towards homelessness, and invited us to join in the conversation. The question they've posed for today is, "Should you give spare change to a panhandler."

It's a good question. One I always answer with, "It's a personal choice."

For the tourist in Toronto last week, not giving, was deadly.

The question I wonder is, what words were exchanged? Not justifying the four men's actions who beat him to death. That is awful. Atrocious. Deadly. They need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Everyone has the right to say no to a panhandler. The question is -- do panhandlers have the right to ask for spare change?

Charities use panhandlers to raise money. What about the homeless? One is fundraising. The other begging. What's the difference?

Yesterday, while being interviewed by CTV in front of the shelter, a native woman approached and said, "You need to do something for the natives. You need to do more to include our heritage."

I agree. It is important we be inclusive. We are a non-sectarian organization. We do not single-out any race, creed, faith, colour. I think that when we do something that identifies and separates one group, it is a form of racism. I believe we need to do more that celebrates all the nationalities, creeds, races, faiths, colours, shapes and sizes of people who come to the shelter. I believe we need to celebrate all life.

And that's the challenge of being homeless.

Celebration of life is not part of an equation when the equalizer is poverty, drug addiction, mental disabilities and disorders such as depression, suicide ideation.

Survival is the first instinct on the street. Fear is the common denominator and anger is the catalyst that comes out with the knife, the gun, the fist that changes lives forever.

It doesn't matter what colour our skin, what God we believe in, what language we speak. Life on the street is a constant struggle. There's a lot of 'carrying on' and a lot of denial -- both by those who live the life and those who criticize the life and those who support the life. It's not easy to be homeless.

A panhandler approaches and ask for change. We have the right to give. We have the right to say no. We have the right to walk away.

Where right and wrong become ensnared is in our belief it is our right to judge someone for the state of their being. I haven't yet met a client at the drop-in who dreamed of being homeless one day. I haven't met anyone who said, "This is such a good idea."

I've met a lot of people with forgotten dreams, lost horizons, lost pasts, lost families. People for whom life doesn't make sense, and who don't believe life is what it was cracked out to be before the crack took over their humanity.

Homelessness doesn't happen to 'them'. Homelessness is something they fell into when the bottom fell out of their lives. When they ran from an abusive partner, or made one bad decision after another, or didn't have the life skills to cope with crushing poverty they were born into, or didn't understand what can happen when the place you called home is turned into a condominium and you don't have any financial resources to fall back on.

Regardless of what drove someone into homelessness. The state of homelessness effects all of us. That man on the corner, struggling to put a step in front of the other. He's someone's son. That woman selling her body so she can pay the rent. She's someone's mother. Their families are in distress. They've lost a vital member of the circle of love into which each and everyone of us is born.

I don't give to panhandlers. Haven't done it for a lot of years. I believe panhandling, like being homeless, robs us of spirit. It strips us of dignity. It leaves our souls exposed to the elements, forcing us to retreat from the harsh winds of condemnation billowing about us every time we put out our hand and ask someone for spare change.

Panhandling is a symptom of something wrong in someone's life. The cure? It's more than shelter. More than just a meal. It's the things we do that say, you make a difference. It's the things we do that say, I make a difference. In my own life. In the lives of those I love. In my community. In my world.

Homelessness is a symptom of distress in our society. When we focus on celebrating every life as if it means something to each of us, we stand a better chance of getting someone off the street they call home, back to the families where they belong. When we celebrate our talents, our joy, our beauty, we share that which is good and beautiful in our world. And when we share our beauty, we make a difference to the lives of everyone we meet.

For today, share your beauty with love, joy and laughter. Be the light you want to create and dance to your heart's content. You just might touch a heart, open a mind and inspire a spirit to take flight and be free.

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