Today I am at my desk watching a slice of life play out below me in one of downtown's busy back alleys. This particular alley that I have a bird's eye view of, is just a half a block from a Ministry that serves the homeless population, and directly behind a very large apartment building. Every day, from my quiet, peaceful and orderly place of work, I see many one act plays performed in the street arena below.
A couple of regulars arrive at the dumpsters across the way to dig for bottles, cans and any other useful items hidden among the trash. One man climbs into the big blue bin and finds a few cans that he will later redeem at the bottle depot. A homeless couple is rousted from a parking place by a couple of police officers; they have spent the night in the open air parking lot of the apartment building and now gather their belongings and head out for another day on the street. Some words are exchanged with the bottle collectors and an argument and much posturing and threatening body language ensues. The couple heads off down the alley, hurling rough words over their shoulders at the bottle collectors as they go. Another man comes up the alley and joins his two friends, they all share a cigarette produced from a hidden pocket, then they continue on their way.
From my window I can also see a brand new high rise condo under construction. The sun glinting off the shiny glass windows blinds me some days as floor by floor I watch the building rise to completion; homes that, even in our slightly depressed economy will still cost their owners hundreds of thousands of dollars. People park their vehicles in the lot below me and hurry off to important appointments, mostly oblivious to the lives being lived out right around them. The only time they pay attention is when they are accosted or inconvenienced by someone looking for a handout. Some customers tell us they feel unsafe if they have to walk too far to get to our store; the parking is less plentiful than usual in front because of construction and more expensive than ever. Some flee to the perceived safety and ease of suburbia with its stores and malls and "plenty of free parking."
I attended The Invisible Project the other night, a drama production that was part of One Yellow Rabbit's High Performance Rodeo and the beginning of a yearlong project called "This Is My City". "This Is My City" is aimed at providing artistic activities for and by the homeless.
The Invisible Project brought home to all of us who attended that evening; that each homeless person is a human being with their own story and reasons for being where they are at this particular moment in time.
The homeless problem in our city is large and the solutions are not easy, sometimes it seems overwhelming. It's tempting to put the responsibility for the challenges onto the agencies working with the homeless, and the city, provincial and federal governments, after all, they are the experts. Sometimes we throw a little spare change in a hat or donate some items to a charity and continue to look away from the problem.
I'm grateful for the view from my alley window, it reminds me daily of how lucky I am and keeps me aware of a human problem that we all need to be part of the solution for.
Written by Keri V. Keri is a volunteer and donor at the DI.