At lunch a co-worker said she saw a homeless man begging in front of the coffee shop down the street. Everyone around the table stopped focusing on their food and we all looked at the speaker in disbelief. A homeless man, really? A homeless man in our town?
This is wrong on so many levels but the discussion did not go that way, instead we couldn’t believe that we even had a homeless man. We live in a small beautiful town adjacent to one of the largest cities in Canada and according to the locals, things like that (homelessness) just doesn’t exist here. Ah, but it happens everywhere, doesn’t it, if we just open our eyes and are willing to see what is actually going on in front of our faces; or in this case, in front of our local Timmy’s.
There was a general consensus around the table that this was one of the oddest things to be seen locally. I looked on and I know I just had to have had a smirk on my face. That’s one of my downfalls, my expressions give me away so easily. One of the women questioned me and I proceeded to make sure I had heard them all correctly; seeing an innocent homeless man begging for money in front of the coffee shop was the oddest thing that they’ve seen in this town in their entire lives. Nods all around and I just shook me head and chuckled.
I do not like to point out the “small town” attitudes and simplicities of the locals so I had not said anything up to this point. I seriously do not want to offend anyone because I quickly learned that the “small town” attitudes and simplicities are much different here than in the States, in a good way. Besides, sk and I are enjoying this small town and what it offers.
However, one of them remembered I lived in Chicago for 10 years prior to moving to Canada. As soon as this knowledge was shared, they all wanted me to tell them some things I’d witnessed in the big city. I shared with them a few stories like the only person begging for money that I actually donated to was a man sitting at a corner in the Loop with a cardboard sign that proclaimed the truth. . . he was an alcoholic and he wanted money to go buy some. I gave that man all the change I had in my pocket, just for being honest. That wasn’t good enough, they wanted to know what was the oddest I had seen. I said okay, it’s a toss-up between the women shuffling down the sidewalk during lunch hour in the Loop wearing slippers, a bath towel and a shower cap or the homeless lady who straddled a manhole cover in a neighborhood street to relieve herself while pedestrians walked by.
None of my co-workers could fathom doing or seeing another human being do those things. I have to admit that not much surprises me anymore specifically considering human behavior but I don’t think I numbed myself to other people’s hardships while living in Chicago. For a year or so, I lived in a neighborhood with a high concentration of homeless people. This is where the woman relived herself and I also walked in on a different woman changing her clothes in my building’s foyer one morning. But the people in need never once asked me for a dime, a cigarette or a light. That’s because there was a food bank, soup kitchen and a Salvation Army store all within four blocks of one another. If anything, that area was a success story. It proved that if there are institutions in place, and not only those run by the government, that those who need a little help will utilize those places and in turn become less of a burden while at the same time staying safe.
I’m not saying that system was perfect or that it helped every single person in trouble, there isn’t a perfect system, nothing is perfect that’s what makes us human. And as human beings don’t we have an obligation to help our fellow neighbors, citizens, countrymen and women and people around the world? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those American citizens who beats their chest (Ow, that would hurt!) and think our way is the best way and everyone should want to be like us. . . No, I’m not one of those people but I do believe that everyone has a right to work, food, shelter and safety. I also feel we as a collective whole have an obligation to help those unable to help themselves.
I’ll admit, if I had to do it all over again, I would help more of those people in Chicago. I have no excuse for what I did, or didn’t do and I can’t take it back but I can learn and move forward. I believe I’m doing that here and now. Everyday I go to work and I assist eighteen individuals who are unable to care for themselves in some way shape or form. I enjoy what I do. It’s very rewarding, emotionally and spiritually and makes me want to help others even more. So I know that if I see our homeless man outside of our cafe I will take some action to try to help him and I hope he accepts.