I always love hearing from readers. Even if they're vehemently, diametrically opposed to my published position, the very fact that a total stranger would take the time to let me know what he/she thinks about my writing is very cool indeed.
Being a journalist in a free and democratic society is a blessing and a right that others have fought and died for. So when my inbox shows e-mail from a reader, it makes my day.
A reader wrote me this morning in response to my piece on homelessness. I normally don't cross-post reader comments to my blog - I would rather they visit my site on their own volition, where they are free to participate or not participate as they see fit. But I'm going to make an exception this time out.
Why? Well, firstly, the person wrote anonymously. This is incredibly rare. Most readers have the courage to attach a name to their words. I know who I'm dealing with, just as they do. It strikes me as cowardly to write to a columnist without saying who you are. Maybe it's just me.
Second, the message was so devoid of empathy and caring that I truly wondered if this person understood how pervasive homelessness can be. It touches even those who think all street people are self-inflicted alcoholic bums (overtly obtuse language deliberate.) Your comments underneath the original posting are ample and eloquent evidence of this.
Here's what my reader wrote:
ummm .. yeah .. anyone of us could be Colin ... if we were irresponsible ALCOHOLICS, who had no regard for our jobs, spouses, and children. Colin's problem is not housing. Colin's problem is that he is a substance abuser who did not bother to straighten himself out when he hit rock bottom. What about Colin's family? They lost their home because of his reckless behaviour. Perhaps THEY would have qualified for the affordable housing you discuss in your article. Maybe his son would be raised in a stable environment, and find the resources and confidence to enjoy a post secondary education. Maybe one day that son would become a tax paying contributor to our society.Here's how I responded:
Canadians are famous for cleaning up the dirt others leave behind. When will we get serious about circumventing our problems and spending more time and
energy on intervention?
Simply putting more roofs over the heads of alcoholics, crack addicts, schizophrenics, and deviants is not the answer. Our tax dollars fund their homes, do they return the favour? Do they devote any of their time to community-based services? They should, they have nothing BUT time.
How much sympathy can one conjur up for members of society who offer nothing, but expect all the creature comforts that we tax-paying citizens
work hard for.
Hope his son turns out better than his deadbeat dad. For all our sakes.
Thank you for your note. I always appreciate hearing from readers.Your turn: I know I was a little more harsh in my response than I normally would be with someone who disagrees with me. Do you think I was out of line? How would you respond to a letter like this?
You write as if he became an alcoholic by choice. Children of alcoholics - which Colin was - are at significantly greater risk of becoming alcoholics as well. There is a genetic predisposition to substance abuse that has been rather thoroughly documented by the scientific community.
My entire point in writing this column was to illustrate how precariously close so many of us are to homelessness. It doesn't take much to slide from the world of the haves to the world of the have-nots. Colin's tragedy was alcoholism. Yours could be something entirely different.
I invite you to follow the discussion on my web log (http://writteninc.blogspot.com). As you can see from the comments, regular folks from all walks of life all admit having been precariously close to - or over - the homelessness edge at some points in their lives. I hope you have the courage to share of yourself in this forum, and I invite you to do just that.
I hope you're never in need of assistance from the broader community. And if you do, may those who sacrifice of themselves to help you have more empathy than you seem to exhibit in your anonymously-penned note.
All the best,