Monday, October 6, 2008

On Homelessness

Sometimes, I catch myself being a bit of a hypocrite.
I am trying to cut the word "hobo" out of my vocabulary... You know, seeing as I'm doing placement at a shelter for homeless youth this semester and loving it enough to consider working there afterwards. Granted, I do come from a small town, where, to my knowledge, there aren't any homeless people. The only time I had ever seen one growing up was from the car window on one of our trips to bigger cities, or maybe outside of the theatre when we came to Toronto to see shows. I was taught by my parents to be afraid of homeless people and do my best to either ignore them or politely decline their requests for change. And I continued to do so, with the very few homeless people I came across in London and then when I moved to Toronto, walking past them quickly, not making eye contact, afraid that they might jump up and grab me. Until this semester, that is, when BAM, all of a sudden I am working with homeless people.
Talk about a shock. Before a month ago, my idea of homeless people was fairly narrow, including the old dirty man with a crazy beard asking me for change to feed his drug or alcohol addiction, or the crazy old woman who shouts gibberish at you while you walk by because she has schizophrenia. Granted, those people do exist, but not the clients I work with. Yes, some do have mental health issues, and some are recovering from drug and alcohol problems, but most of them just look like normal kids. They can't live at home anymore for a variety of reasons, maybe a bad family situation, maybe they were kicked out for their sexual or gender identity, maybe they are refugees who went through hellish experiences in their country and have been lucky enough to get to Canada. There are so many heartbreaking stories.
Part of our job at the shelter is to help them get the resources to get employment and a home. Those resources do exist, but they have to put in the effort. We don't let them panhandle or work in the sex industry, and they have to get a legitimate job if they are job searching.
That's why I do not give money to panhandlers in the city. First of all, I haven't had a job that pays money for a year now while I've been in school, so it's not like I have money to give. Secondly, there are resources for these people to use as long as they're willing to put the effort in. Panhandling is a survival tactic, not a way to get out of homelessness.
And what makes me even more angry - homeless people who are panhandling who have dogs. You know what, if you can't make money to feed yourself, what are you doing with an animal? Those poor dogs. Drives me nuts.
But here's my issue, where I find I catch myself being a big giant hypocrite: I work with homeless youth, I have a great deal of compassion for the homeless because I can really understand how difficult it is, I understand mental health issues and have worked with teens with them too, but when I see the homeless adult on the street or in the subway, the crazy-looking person walking around, I still get freaked right out. They always seem to come stand by me on the subway, and instead of feeling compassionate for their situation, I get my guard up. I don't want to help them, I want to get away as soon as possible. I suppose it's because I never feel vulnerable around the homeless youth, because I'm an authority there, but I always feel vulnerable around homeless adults. To them, I suppose, I'm just another one of the people with money and a home, walking around dressed well and clean with my iPod and cell phone. I don't know... I shouldn't be scared and disgusted around homeless adults, after all, they are just people who haven't had the luck I have, but I am and I can't help it.
On a happier note, however, I was waiting outside of a coffee place for my friend last night at around 2am, and I homeless person walked up to me. I was guarded and ready to avoid eye contact and tell them sorry, but no I have no change, but it wasn't money he was after. He told me that he was a panhandler, but we wasn't panhandling right now. He said that he had a bad night, the crowds of people ignoring him when he asked for money, and he was getting kind of down. Then, someone asked him if he needed some change, he looked up, and this guy handed him $100. He was so excited! He told me that he went inside to check and see if it was real, and it was. Apparently he just wanted someone to tell about his good luck before he hobbled off. In spite of my dislike of panhandling, I was happy for him. I'm glad he had a good night too.

3 comments:

Princess Pointful said...

That is such a sweet story to finish off the post with.

I think we all have these stereotypes-- but the first step is to recognize them, and try to figure out where they are coming from. Good for you for the work you are doing!

BloodRedRoses said...

I agree with the fact that there are other resources to get help which I why I hardly ever give money. I will donate to shelters and the like and hope that eventually the person will make it there. I like to know that I'm doing something good instead of perhaps supporting an addiction - although this is probably a stereo-type in itself because I'm sure not ALL panhandlers spend their change on drugs/substances.

I agree with princess pointful... good for you for being involved with this!

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