A day on the streets

1 06 2009

Imagine yourself in downtown Vancouver, sitting in an alley way in the middle of a cold December evening. It’s been snowing all week and the rain has turned the snow into slush, which is seeping into the newspapers and cardboard which makes your bed. People are walking by the sidewalk, which is your living room, as they make their way back home. It’s cold, wet and you’re thinking about where to get your next meal. You heard about a new social services office that might be able to get you connected with housing, but you’re embarrassed about your smell and appearance. Just as you’re about to fall asleep for your usual 3-4 hours per night, some rowdy kids come by and kick around your stuff. You begin to wonder if you’ll ever get re-integrated into society again.

This is a fictional short story which depicts the everyday reality of many homeless people in our city today. I have learned some surprising things about homeless people – things that I would never have guessed if I didn’t truly put myself into the perspective of someone who does not have a steady roof over their heads every night. For example, some of the biggest desires that homeless people wanted was simply a shower. Homeless people want their dignity too, and one of these is derived from being clean and presentable. Furthermore, things like socks and underwear are some of the biggest needs that homeless people have – when you’re on the streets all day even a little bit of rain can soak your feed through, and underwear is not one of the usual items given in donated clothing. Putting myself in the shoes of a homeless person allowed me to better understand their needs and situation.

Craig Keilburger, founder of Free the Children, once said,

“Empathy is when you look into the eyes of another person and see yourself.”