You could be homeless. It can happen easily. Some bad luck and bang you can be there. In fact, 46% of Canadians are $200 away from insolvency. That means if you lose your job, you can easily find yourself homeless. So would you look at someone on the street that last month was your colleague and friend at work?
Homeless people are mostly seen in urban centres like Ottawa. They are visible reminders that not all of us are blessed. You see them on the street, sometimes begging, others just sleeping. I find it painful to observe a homeless person hugging a sleeping bag on a heating grate in -20 C weather.
Although highly visible, how big is this problem. The City of Ottawa counted 1400 homeless individuals in shelters, treatment centres, transitional housing or on the street in April 2018. That comprises barely 0.2% of the City’s population. You can say that a very small portion of our city has highly disadvantaged vulnerable individuals.
Other striking findings were recorded. Indigenous people account for 24 per cent of Ottawa’s homeless population but only make up 2.5 per cent of Ottawa’s total population. Seventy-one per cent of those experiencing homelessness were adults, while 21 per cent of homeless youth identified as LGBTQ.
Addiction issues, unsafe housing conditions, and the inability to afford rent were listed by survey respondents as some of the most common reasons for their most recent housing loss. If most Canadians are $200 away from insolvency, and you lose your job then you may not be able to afford rent. It could easily be you.
An even small portion of homeless people refuse to use the City’s shelters because it is not a good place for them, for mental or physical reasons. CBC found that to be the case for about 70 people. These are the ones we see on heating grates at -20 C.
I met one such person. He locates himself outside my office building at Place du Portage in Gatineau. He is a very clever person. He has rigged up a mobile home for himself. He has an electric tricycle whose battery is recharged through solar panels he got from Canadian Tire. The tricycle hauls a constructed wagon which is his home. This self build shelter also houses his dog and cat.
During the spring/summer/fall, I see him a lot. He is around chatting with people. I guess he has a route that he wanders. I often wondered what happened to him during the winter months.
I found him.
He is still across the street from my office building. He has surrounded himself with snow as wind protection. Blankets cover the front. He has build himself an urban igloo. Ingenious!
As an affluent western society, we must be compassionate to this small number of extremely vulnerable people. When I recently visited Costa Rica, I didn’t see homeless people. Part of the reason is that it is easier to live there because, for example, there is no -20 C weather that can kill you. We must bend our creative minds to find modern solutions to this issue.
Homelessness is not a pretty social context. It can happen pretty fast to anyone. That’s why it pains me whenever I see someone who is homeless. What is their story? Could it be your story?