Tuesday, January 23, 2007

From safe in my warm room

It was Sunday night, and we sat at the window that looked over the street downtown as we had a few drinks. Conversation gradually stalled as we began hypnotically watching the scene below, which was somehow made all the more dramatic by the pouring rain outside. As there tends to be most nights, the "down and outs" of the city were going about their business-- this was nothing new to me anymore.

When I first moved to the city from a fairly idealistic small town, I was overwhelmed by poverty and destitution. Each plea broke my heart. I gave to panhandlers, despite the protests from friends. But I, as nearly everyone does, slowly became jaded. Although I would argue when people made such ridiculous claims that "they like living this way" and "they make better money than I do" and tried to at least look them in the eye when I mumbled "Sorry" to their requests for change, I also found skepticism creeping in. Perhaps it was the few times I was singled out by someone who fit within the category of homeless and subjected to blatantly sexual taunts. Perhaps it was the stories my friend, who started out more idealistic than I, but took that idealism to a homeless shelter where it was crushed, both by the "system" itself, and the cruelty of those who he was wholeheartedly trying to help.

Although it may be easier than continuing to take it all in, I don't like being this jaded and judgmental person. It's sometime hard to balance naivete with being world-wearied.

It's also a lot easier to judge when it isn't your reality. One of the biggest reality checks I ever had is when I saw a man I knew growing up, a man who dated one of my best friends, a man who was my ex-boyfriend's best friend, a man I used to visit and talk with, a man who used to be spirited and full of life... sitting on a bench downtown, looking so empty. It's hard to realize that these people we choose to ignore or merely glance at from the corner of our eye do come from the same place as we do.

And as we sat in the bar last Sunday, we watched a man spin around. This man had so many blankets piled on him that you couldn't see his face. He looked like an overexagerated version of a nomadic creature. He stumbled around in circles and swayed, just looking so lost. It was pouring rain, and Radiohead's Creep came on the radio, which suddenly seemed more forelorn than it ever had before. I had this foreboding feeling that we were witnessing something awful unfold, and I felt so miserable and guilty. Here I was, drinking some cocktail, and watching, detached, from a second story window, safe, warm while someone's life might have been falling apart in front of us.


LMizzle said...

It is hard to deal with the fact that we all become jaded to various degrees when we are witness to poverty and homelessness.
Yes, there are some people who choose to live that way, but there are others who have falled upon bad times.
The thing that makes me the most upset is when someone asks me for money when I pass, and when I pass back they give me the same schpiel. YOU ALREADY ASKED ME.
It's also hard when you live downtown and the same people insist on asking you for money as they wash your front window when you've clearly stated that NO, you do not want them to wash your window.
I find those situations frustrating the most because I work for an organization that tries to help people out of cycles of abuse and poverty.
It's not like I can give them a schpiel myself about how I AM helping them, every day, by going to work and raising money for an organization that wants to help them.
Even Calgary poverty was diminished immediately in my eyes when I stepped onto East Hastings.
These kinds of situations are a tricky school of fish my friend.
you give money with the thought that the person will buy food or something useful, when it's really a toss up. You won't ever know unless you give them something like a food item.
It's like when the bums rip open the garbage in my back parking stall. They rip it open because they're looking for anything to eat/drink or maybe some cans, which is understandable. It becomes a real pain in the ass when they rip all of your garbage all over the place so that you have to clean your parking stalls every three days because so much garbage (which you threw out BECAUSE it was garbage) is flying around.
I get it, but I'll be damned if it doesn't make me mad.

Princess Pointful said...

It is sad that those aggressive folk really taint everyone's view of the homeless. Some people seriously have no idea that the one's you see downtown aren't representative of the experience as a whole, and have no idea of the working homeless and the couch surfers.

I think you do have the right to feel some pride in what you do, and know that you are truly helping them, whether they realize it or not. But I would still be pissed about the garbage-- it creeps me out to think of someone going through my trash!