Just A Mother
There’s a homeless man’s stuff on my porch. It’s not just any homeless person, it’s my son. And I know that whatever I write about this will meet with someone’s disapproval, or even rage. I know there is a lot of emotion surrounding the homeless in our communities. And on both sides of the story.
Let me begin that I write this as a mother. Just a mother. And that in itself means that I come at this with a perspective that might differ from those whose personal lives remain untouched by the tragedy that is unfolding in our communities.
And by tragedy, I mean the deaths and lives impaired due to drug use, the homeless who make spaces for themselves all over our towns and cities. And by tragedy I mean those with mental health issues or developmental challenges whose needs are not met by our systems and our social networks and supports. The people whose eyes you won’t meet as they ask for change, and who rummage in fast food garbage looking for the freshest food waste they can find, or who even die in dumpsters where they have taken refuge to sleep or perhaps find safety.
Families and Communities Are Hurt
And tragedy when families and community members are hurt in some way by these estranged members of our towns. Whether by being physically harmed or robbed or vandalized or afraid to walk down their own street. And yes, sometimes these things happen.
I know that some people reading this will argue that these people can all find jobs, that they are too lazy, that they want to live these lives. And I will say back that yes, there will always be some people who would prefer not to work (wouldn’t we all?), or who like a life that allows them certain freedoms. But truly folks, how many of them really would choose that life? Living in tents in groups in towns, or alone, or with a few others in more rural areas, along rivers, in forests. With no guarantees of food, or a dry place to sleep, or even that their belongings will be there when they return?
My son whose belongings rest on my porch, is one of those whose complex needs have made the social supports meant to provide him with a place to live, fall apart. And this is the second time this year we have welcomed home an adult child whose housing has come undone.
Housing Crisis Part of the Problem
The housing crisis we have in many of our communities is most certainly part of the problem. When I go to look for rentals I see almost as many people posting adds searching for places as I do places for rent. “Professional couple with two children seeking home to rent”, these are the people competing with those who are more marginalized, who don’t look (on the surface anyway) like desirable tenants.
And once you are homeless, there is a compounding problem. You begin to look dirty, you have no fixed address, and life becomes just that much harder. And that’s not even tossing into the equation untreated addiction or mental health challenges.
We do not all start out life the same, contrary to what an acquaintance once said to me. He was assuring me that everyone has the same opportunities and is born with the chance to make a good life for themselves, but that some people simply make bad choices. Wrong. We are not all born with the same capacities, or options.
Some of Us Are Lucky
Some of us are lucky: we are born in families that provide us with homes, love, choices in our lives. Some of us are lucky: addictions don’t seize us early, and any mental health challenges that we do have are aided by the right combinations of resources. Some of us are lucky: our brains function well enough to help us mostly be able to make good choices, to weigh options in life; indeed, to have capacity to do a variety of things to give our lives meaning and joy. Not everyone is born with these assets to live by. Indeed, some people come into our world with the decks stacked against them. And sometimes life does not help level the playing field, but makes it instead scattered with veritable land mines.
Because I am just a mother, I do not have the answers. I know there are things that could be done that are not: housing is a big part of the picture, more people resources to support individuals as they make the journey out of the dark places they find themselves in.
And the truth is also that there will always be some people who fall through the cracks. No system is infallible, and some individuals will make their own bad choices even when good options are presented to them; whether because they are unwilling or unable to; and sometimes it is hard to tell which.
We Are Allowing This to Happen
But for the rest, for those who want and deserve better, we are failing. We as a society, as a people, are allowing this to happen. We all need to care; more than just about whether those people are invading our neighbourhoods. We need to care as if they were our family members.
We can be part of the solution by advocating for change at whatever level: federal, provincial, municipal, neighbourhood. Stable, supportive housing is needed, that’s a no-brainer. It sounds like an expensive proposition, but if you look at the bigger costs of homelessness: increased use of emergency room and hospital care, policing costs, jail, emergency shelters, you would find that housing options are much cheaper. We could provide a myriad of affordable and supportive housing to our communities and still save money as government and taxpayers. And – it would be the right thing to do. Addictions and mental health services, that’s a whole other set of challenges and I don’t believe we are doing enough.
Buy hey, what do I know, I am just a mother.
Note to those who have read this far: I wrote this a while ago. Since then my son who was living with us when I wrote this has moved into supportive housing and is doing better.
Cathy Dunn is a local resident who cares about the homeless and the lost.