Thursday, August 17, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Homelessness

Amidst the craziness of the week (read this entry and this one if you've been away for a bit...I was on the CBS Evening News, among other crazy and amazing news resources), it's been easy to forget that at the beginning and end of the day, I am a writer. And as someone who scribbles for a living, I occasionally write things that I really like.

Unlike parenthood, where no parent can ever truly prefer one child over another, writing comes with no such taboos. I can thoroughly prefer one piece over another without worrying that I will offend any of my articles. They have no feelings, after all, so it's perfectly acceptable for me to play favorites.

It's been an "on" week for my newspaper column in the London Free Press. The short-form, op-ed format doesn't always allow me to easily personalize my pieces. But I still try whenever I can because I think that's what connects strongly with readers. I published this in today's paper, and I like the feel of the words. I hope you do, too.
We could end up homeless, too
Published Thursday, August 17, 2006
The London Free Press
By Carmi Levy

Not so many years ago, I stood in a bitterly cold doorway of a men’s mission in a forgotten corner of downtown Montreal, chatting with a gaunt-looking resident named Colin.

I was barely a teenager, working on a university journalism class reporting assignment. I asked how he came to be there. His eyes blazed out of their hollow sockets as he answered.

“I had a wife, a job, a house, a son,” he said. “All the things that most people have, I had, too.”

It started as a small drinking problem that eventually worsened. The job went first. Then his wife and son. Finally, the bank took the house. And Colin took to the streets.

London New Democrat MP and housing critic Irene Mathyssen is calling on federal Human Resources and Social Development Minister Diane Finley to ensure continued funding for London’s homeless. Her appeal comes amidst conflicting reports of federal cuts across the country.

Ottawa would do well to listen to her. Any one of us could be Colin.

Your turn: How close do you think any one of us is to homelessness? Why does society marginalize the issue?

One more thing: There's a followup to this entry, posted Friday, August 18. Click here to read it. Thank you all for your thoughtful contributions to this important discussion.


Dawn said...

It can happen to anyone. Sad story. I was homeless for a little while myself. I let a friend and her 2 kids live with me and they ran up my bills. I was having a hard time with things and times were hard. I brought my self back up after a few months but with the things that I have been through in my life I have learned that I never judge anyone...because looking at me you would not guess the life that I have gone thorugh and the trials I have had.

Have a good day...Michele sent me

Tia said...

It seems that here in America anyhow your average middle-class family (which is quickly becoming a dying breed and moving to the ranks of low-income) is maybe only a few pay checks, or one medical emergency, away from that. Just yesterday I heard from another friend of mine who is losing her health insurance, and she has on-going medical issues....

Tia said...

I also think that what further complicates the issue is the fact that many (although certainly not all) homeless people are either alcoholic, drug addicts, or mentally ill - or any combination thereof. Some of them choose the street over shelters for the last bit of control over their own lives. Are addicted people "less deserving" of assistance than someone who is a "victim" of their circumstances, i.e. sudden loss of a job or medical emergency?

November Rain said...

hi from michelle
it has been a while since I came by

chrysalis said...

Living as students, if it weren't for our families, W and I could easily be on the verge on any given paycheck.

Karen said...

Wow, that is quite a thing to think about. You're right. As they say: There but by the grace of God go I. As always, you've said it so succinctly.

Michele sent me your way today and I'm glad!

utenzi said...

Michele sent me, Carmi.

I was just a couple of weeks away from homelessness 6 years ago. A series of dot com employers had gone bellyup depleting my finances and the last in the line of dot coms had not paid into the unemployment insurance fund so that held up money from the state. As a result things were grim and only a timely temp service job kept me in my apartment. Now, with 5 years of a steady job behind me, my finances are once again sturdy--but I still remember well how close I was to be kicked out of my apartment and out on the street I doubt I'd have been able to get a good paying temp job. Scary stuff, Carmi.

Just a trumpet player said...

In a way, I've seen homelessness up close : my mother, as a psychologist, specialized in Homelessness and depression / mental disorders. As kids, she would bring us to shelters to meet some of her clients in order to get a reality check...

MorahMommy said...

This is a very touchy subject. I refuse to give money to those who post signs "jobless, homeless, need money".
I have no problem donating money to a shelter.

People can be so casual...."he did it to himself" Nobody chooses to become this way. Until we walk a mile in their shoes we shouldn't be so judgemental.

There's a fine line between being secure financially, emotionally and not.

Michele sent me today, but I would have been here anyway!

Anonymous said...

Homelessness is musch closer to each of us than we realize, I think. We were friends with a family that one day had a home, jobs and all seemed normal, then suddenly, they called wanting to know if they could live with us until they got things straightened out. A month later and they were still living with us. With the economy going as it is, home taxes increasing, but pay wages not...gas prices...well, you know the list, it is going to happen more and more to what we saw as your typical average family...not just the addicts.
Loved your CBS News clip!
Here from Michele's!

Anonymous said...

This is powerful and thought-provoking, Carmi. Anyone who doesn't realize the possibility of being "one of them" is not facing reality.

Prego said...

That's a steep fall, bro. There was a panhandler on Elmwood Avenue that asked for alms "Out of desperation..." My brother finally called him out on it.

"Out of desperation? It's been six f***ing years!"

You'd think someone who found himself in such a state would vary it up a bit.

Then there was the fat hippie guy who always asked for bus fare. At the same stop... For two years...

Or the guy who hovered around the aforementioned brother and I while we enjoyed a small pizza on a bench. We gave him a slice to get him out of our hair. Hours later, I saw him at a convenience store making a purchase with a rather sizeable wad of bills.

Yeah. We're all a lawsuit/bender/divorce away from being indigent or destitute, but I think most of us have the capacity, resourcefulness and will to avoid such a fate.

While we were out with the kids, an incoherent, chronically drunk gent babbled his way past us.

ME: Someone didn't get enough hugs as a kid."
MRS. P: Ohhh. That really makes me sad.

I'll argue that in some ways, I'm dead on.


Here via Michele today, homes.

Michelle Miles said...

I think it can happen to anyone, anytime. A great entry here.

Here from Michele's blog. :)

vanx said...

Well, Canada has conservatives in high places these days...

Anonymous said...

It's hard to say. It can happen to anyone. A loss, a debt, an addiction... that's all it takes really.

Here from Michele's :)

Rene said...

Its a provoking question. To be honest, I've never been close and probably never will be. Perhaps that is short-sighted of me, but I don't see it happening.

Society marginalizes it because homelessness represents failure. It represents the failures of society. It also shows a part of life we don't want to see. It makes us uncomfortable to see homeless people because we could be in their shoes. Same reason people don't visit friends who are dying, nobody wants to be reminded of the fragility of their own life.

jules said...

Hi! Michele sent me!

Dawn said...

michele sent me again ;)

Anonymous said...

It could happen to anyone at anytime. Tia said it all, one paycheck anymore. It's impossible to stay ahead with inflation, gouging oil prices, health costs, etc.

Anonymous said...

It can happy to anyone but it can also be guarded against. I've heard more than one story of someone that has been homeless and come back from it.

Anonymous said...

I think we are closer that we would ever believe.

From Michele's meet and greet.

Anonymous said...

Great column on an important subject. I think we'd be amazed how many people could be one pay check away from homeless.
I feel it's swept under the carpet because to admit there's a problem means we need a solution...possibly increased taxes which many people, American's in particular, do not want to hear about.

Moon said...

I think it is marginalized because it is too hard to face that we are all very close to having our cards all fall down. It can all be very fragile..and to see it is to face it..but ppl don't want to face it , it's too scary so we pretend it isn't there.
I was on my own at 16...I lived through days where food wasn't an option. I know what hardship is and I wouldn't change a thing. It made me the person I am today. I wouldn't want to go back there but as life is a fragile thing...if I had to I would do get through it day at a time.

Moogie said...

It can happen to anyone and that is so scary. Be it alcohol, or lack of funds...there are so many people that live from paycheck to paycheck. Unfortunately, things happen..and we could very well end up on the streets.

keda said...

nice piece babe.

i was made homeless years ago. and it was terrifying. and hard even as a young person without many responsibilities. or maybe because of...
anyway, i agree with prego that most of us can drag our arses back up out of there. but many many can't. and they are the ones who really need help. the people who see no future to grab by the balls and follow.
so i say yay! fight for beds, fight for opportunities and fight for funding, recognition and understanding.

because its no bloody fun out there.

Carola said...

I, aswell as anyone, could probably tell of the times in our lives when we could've been on the streets, cold, dirty, hungry, with no place to go. But sometimes i think people lose sight of the bigger picture when it comes to how close they may or may not have gotten to being homeless. If you ask for help, you will more or less get it. If you cant get help from family, there are many organisations out there who are willing to help. But its that moment, that, fear of it actually happening, that makes us forget that we can ask. Admittingly, there are people who 'work the system' and take up the valuable resources that are set up for people who really need them.

I guess for those like myself who have been there where we felt like we would lose everything, we should be some of the first people to attempt to help out those who ARE needing help. I've occasionaly volunteered in a Emergency Help Centre. Some people who can, give monetary donations or food or spend time with them.

What do others do?

Thats my 5c for today... i hope i didnt sound like i was pointing the finger at anyone, as that wasnt what i was intending. I just wanted to state what i thought.

Ciao.. :)

Sandy said...

My husband and I have worked for years with a group of local churches that provides temporary housing for "displaced" families. The program's goal is to help these families back into afforable housing. Most of the time they do just that.

Before that, however, these familes spend a week at a time at each member church - sleeping on cots in classrooms. It always shakes me up a little to hear about our guests. Families with jobs -- just not jobs that pay quite enough. Families with kids sometimes the same age as mine. Families trying so hard to get back on top of the pile they've fallen under.

This last time we took my 4-yr old with us to set-up our church's latest host week. He helped make beds and lay out towels/washclothes for each guest. I struggled to explain to him why there were children like him that needed this place.

Popping in tonight via michele's.

Anonymous said...

I saw a show once on homeless women living out of their cars. They were normal in everyway except that they had no place to live. Since then, I always make sure the cars I buy go back into a bed and have enough room in them...just in case!

I came by way of our friend Michele.