It amazes me that people who have never been homeless (or even talked to a homeless person) have the balls to make blanket statements on their behalf. I’ve been homeless more than once and I’ve stayed in a couple shelters too. I’ve shared meals and even showers with countless people, along with endless conversations. All that misguided sympathy and no chance to have our own voice and speak for ourselves. That’s how it always goes. We’re all people and we end up in that situation due to an infinite variety of reasons. Most of us never meant to end up homeless and for some it was unavoidable, but there are those who choose that life. Again, the reasons vary to no end. Have some respect and don’t think you can accurately sympathize with people you often avoid in the street. I’m lucky enough to have a roof over my head now, but there’s no forgetting a time when you were treated as a systemic problem, rather than a human being.
I met a young man from India who had illegally entered Canada and found himself in a shelter, downtown Toronto. As he had taken a sort of vow of silence nearly a year before entering the country, nobody was yet aware of his status, meaning he couldn’t leave the building, nor did anyone know of his personal vow. In my third week, I was allowed to stay inside past the 8am “out time” (when they kicked us out for the day), due to a health complication. I decided to quietly write poetry, for it was just he and I in the room. As I finished a page, he approached me and gestured for my notepad and pen. I handed them over and he scribbled a short line that read “Can we speak?”. He gestured again, this time toward the small outdoor patio we were allowed for smoking. I followed him out and we sat for a while. The first thing he said was “Sorry”, which seems almost profound in retrospect. He spoke in a hoarse whisper, which is familiar to any who go long periods in total silence. He explained that he’d barely spoken in almost a year, due to his belief that negative interactions hinder your spirit and that most conversation lacked the depth required to achieve anything resembling enlightenment. He asked what it was that motivated me to write poetry and I explained that I pour almost all my negativity into it, trying to find something beautiful within it all, or create beauty from it, when failing the former. That seemed to resonate with him to some degree, as a smile shone through his thick beard for a few moments. He explained that he was ready to move on from the shelter, try to find his place in the world. He thanked me for the conversation, my honesty and the half full notepad I had decided to gift him. He added that it was his first positive interaction since arriving, then resumed his silence. Following that, one of the shelter staff approached me in amazement that we appeared to have spoken, insisting I give his name for the records. I told her the truth, explaining that we never exchanged names. She began making assumptions of his character, saying that he was probably evading authorities by staying there. She went on, painting her own picture and taking advantage of the fact that for his own personal reasons, he couldn’t/wouldn’t defend himself. A most direct example of the issue that inspired me to share this.
P.S. I’m sorry for all the comma splice errors. I’ve always been loose with them.