We take so many things for granted and often make judgements based on what we have taken for granted. Have you ever found yourself beside someone and thinking to yourself “stinking bum … take a bath, wash your clothes!”? I had. We take for granted the ability to bath ourselves and wash our clothes. Because of this we assume that those who need wash themselves are in that condition by choice. It is not until you find yourself homeless (or without money for luxuries such as laundry) that you appreciate just what a luxury access to laundry and the ability to shower/bath is.
The true surprise is not that many of the people in these circumstances are grubby, but how many of them are clean, neat, tidy and the great efforts they must make to be presentable. Think about it! If you are homeless were do you wash your clothes? Laundromat, I hear you say. You need cash for the washers, dryers and for laundry soap. Even for those who receive money from welfare, spending money on laundry means doing without something else.
On of the ironies of living homeless (or in poverty) is that it is easier to find clean donated clothing than it is for you to wash your clothes. When first I fell into this state I did not understand this fact of life as I watched people scramble for clean used clothing. I thought it was about building up their wardrobes (still had the attitude of one spoiled by the luxury of laundry). I have come to see that it is about having clean clothes – and developed an appreciation for the Luxury of Laundry.
And if you think that throwing dirty clothes away and using donations to obtain clean clothing is wasteful – it is. But for the homeless there is no choice. They cannot do laundry. Those on welfare are reduced to this level as well. Clean donated clothing means you have saved money that you can spend on luxuries such as shelter, personal hygiene products or even the ultimate luxury – your job search. When you are forced to deal with the system you quickly learn it is about rules and political ideology and not about assistance.
Washing yourself is another luxury to be treasured. Have you ever seen someone go into the washroom at a grocery store or gas station and when they spent a long time in the washroom, assumed they were in there doing drugs? Did you even consider an alternative explanation? Next time pay attention to whether their clothes had changed or if their hands and faces were cleaner when they emerged. For many of the homeless a long stay in a washroom has nothing to do with drugs and everything to do with bathing. Those spoiled by easy access to personal cleanliness then to forget about the wash in public washroom. The homeless learn the art of taking a bath in the sink of a public washroom. Washing anything at this time of year presents extra difficulties. For the cold you need more layers and heavier clothing but wet clothes in these climate conditions and temperatures are an invitation to illnesses such as colds, fevers and pneumonia. Having your person wet presents even more of a danger of becoming ill.
So the next time you find yourself thinking ‘dirty bum’ stop and think about just how hard it is for the homeless and the poor to be clean. And for those who firmly believe that cleanliness is important, you can choose to take action to assist these in need to have access to the luxury of cleanliness.
Ah, yes. Dave and his merry band of volunteers. A ministry to the streets, preaching without words. A growing ministry because there are so in need and their ranks are being added to by the government and its’ ministry all the time.
It is a place to go on a cold night for a hot coffee and a chance to warm up. For those who hunger a place to get a bite to eat to ease the hunger pains. A place for blankets, gloves, hats and coats to survive the cold. A place just to sit and relax with people who are not judgmental, who listen and who lend support and assistance.
When someone come in less than sober, they get their coffee not lectures. They are accepted for who they are and given a place, knowing that they must be permitted to work out their own fate. But also knowing that while you have to let them find their own way, this does not mean you need to turn your back on them and abandon them to the elements and the streets. You can ( and to a certain extent must) help and support them until they reach the point at which they can begin to change themselves. And when people reach the point where they come to accept their powerlessness, are ready and comfortable enough to ask for help. They are there with help and to help.
There is only one glaring problem with Street Hope. Far, far to much need on the Street for the limited resources they have available. There are so many mores that this refuge needs. More space, more food for the cold and hungry, more volunteers, more people willing to take on the challenges of helping or offering employment, more, more, more …
So many mores and only one Dave. I have heard the worry expressed that Dave may burn himself out striving to fill so many mores, of seeking to help all those in need, of caring for those society has abandoned.
If you, your friends, church, company, or organization would care to join and
HELP SAVE DAVE!!
You may have noticed my use of the term welfare. Partly this is because I always found the trend to rename things just to make them sound better annoying, very annoying. A Sanitary Engineer is still a garbage man (woman). And ‘social assistance’ is still welfare. I concede the point that welfare as a label has its own baggage. Still any baggage would, over time, be transferred to the label ‘social assistance’. My real objection is that this term is truly misleading. Using ‘assistance’ implies that the system seeks to and does provide assistance (v. & n. 1. Help 2. NAmer: the act of helping). Based on my experiences and observations, applying the word assistance to the way the system currently functions is akin to saying that a guillotine is of assistance in curing a headache. Using the term assistance is of useful value to the ideologues of the current government since the word assistance carries with it the impression of helping. Applying the term assistance to the program suggests that the program is about helping people. Laughable. I question that even a group of ideologues , such as comprise the current government, could set out to design a system to assist people and end up with a system that hinders and raises obstacles as well as the current system. Or maybe I am hasty in ruling out incompetence.
The Liberal party has consistently excelled at the use of misleading labeling. When they first took office they enacted ‘tax reform’ and ‘lower taxes’, this being the labels they applied to their fiscal programs. Of course as part of lowering the tax rates fees and service charges rose or came into being. As a result of these ‘tax reforms’ and ‘lower taxes’ the working poor and middle class were out of pocket additional $$$, which flowed into the pockets of the wealthy. But labeling the changes what they truly were ‘Assistance to the Rich and Powerful’ (the rich got assistance by transferring their burden onto the poorest taxpayers) would have made it impossible to sell to the public. And politics and ideology is about selling and has nothing to do with truth.
So the public has to decide what it wants the system to Be or Do. If the purpose is merely to salve the publics conscience by convincing themselves they are rendering assistance to those in need, it can be left alone. The current government has demonstrated its ability to say things that sound good and apply misleading labels to soothe the public into inaction. It could be renamed “Guilty Feeling Relief System”, shortened to Relief System so as to sound like it is to provide relief to those in need – almost as good as the current use of assistance to suggest the system provides help.
In the event that the public decides that the system should in fact be of help and not full of hindrances, changes are needed. No just to the system but to other programs that can an impact in providing help. Mental health, education, training, transportation, treatment centers – and numerous other programs that impact on helping those in need. The system itself needs to be overhaul so as to provide less hindrance more assistance. Posting the definition of assist/assistance in plain view of those in charge and the workers would serve as a reminder of what the Purpose is. Perhaps the biggest change of all is in the attitudes of the public. Throw out the derogatory labels. These are people who need our help, we want to help them, NO we will help them.
We Can make the system render ‘Assistance’.
There are many ironies that you find yourself involved in when homeless or on welfare. Some are just amusing, some are small inconveniences, but some are large difficulties and hugely ironic. Getting something to eat on Sunday is one such large irony. While the (warm, dry) churches are full of people exclaiming their Christianity and love of their god, the streets are full of their fellow man exposed to the elements and struggling to find something to eat.
When you are warm, dry, healthy and well fed missing a meal or not eating for a day has no consequences outside of you feeling hungry. It is a minor inconvenience and so you tend to think of one day of no food as ‘no big deal’. But for the homeless and the poor that one day of nothing to eat can be a Big Deal, especially at this time of year (winter0. It is cold, wet and windy in the outdoors where reside the homeless and the poorest of the poor. They are cold and wet, the wind stealing their body heat. Food becomes not something to be tasted and enjoyed but FUEL to feed the body’s fires and keep the body’s core temperature up. Not only to avoid severe discomfort but for survival. Yes I do mean survival. Those unfortunates we hear of frozen to death in Ottawa, Toronto or Edmonton are the ones you hear about because corpse-sicles make such good headlines. Those who die in less headline grabbing ways are just as dead but become just overlooked and forgotten obituaries. No, I am not being overly dramatic. Already this wither several have been in hospital with pneumonia. They could have died 9and some undoubtedly will) of pneumonia. But the true cause of death will be Homelessness. And what does it say about us that they emerged from a bout of pneumonia and their time in the hospital looking better than they had in months? There are many other adverse health effects that can be caused by hunger when that hunger is complicated by exposure to the elements and the many other health issues facing the homeless.
Thus, you develop a real appreciation for those who take it upon themselves to step up and fill a desperate need. There is the couple who have been handing out bags of edibles out of their own pockets. They have become treasured treats, giving joy and pleasure to those who have far to little of either. Then there is the church group who on the first Sunday of the month has been providing warm food often real and tasty chili on a cold windy day. Mmmmm chili! And they on occasion bring those luxuries: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, deodorant etc. Lately another group has take on responsibility for the second Sunday of the month.
To me the real heroes of this tale are the Bag Lunch People. A cheese sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit and cookies in a brown lunch bag. It may not sound like much, but on a wet, cold windy day is manna from above to the hungry. This church, these people took it upon themselves to fill the huge void that Sunday represented. Three out of four Sundays they were there without fail to relive that hollow feeling of hunger. They cover the Sundays no one else does and should one of the other groups falter they would undoubtedly step in an fill the need. So while I extend thanks to the couple, to the first Sunday folks and to the second Sunday people who have stepped up to provide help to those in need, I reserve and extra large THANKS for the lunch bag gang who stepped in to fill a large, real need. Addendum: This past Sunday the lunch bag gang rode once more. They arrived later than they normally would, so that if the first group did serve lunch as scheduled, their bagged lunches would serve hungry stomachs as dinner. Should this sound like a group you would like to hang around with you should look for them more properly named: The Open Door; Pastor Bill 604-897-4826.
Special thanks to the young people who accompany and assist their parents on Sunday’s. There is a lift to one’s spirit in seeing the zest and joy for life in the young.
You know you really need to find work when you begin to view long weekends as terrible imposititions since they interrupt your job search as all the resources you use are closed an extra day.
I desperately NEED work so I can learn to love long weekends again!