Another winter is upon us; my 18th winter at the St-James Drop-In Centre. The months ahead will be hard ones for the folks who call the drop-in home. Our city can sure be unforgiving to those who are less fortunate than ourselves, and who must struggle to stay afloat in some of the harshest weather in this part of the world.
Harsher yet is the growing indifference of our society for those who live on its margins. I used to think that the hardest part of being homeless is having nowhere to sleep or being cold and hungry during the long winter days with nothing to do and nowhere to go. But over the years I have learned from the people on the street that the hardest part of living on the street is the feeling that you are not wanted, not valued. People who live on our streets are pushed to the margins, treated at best as second-class citizens, and are meant to feel as unwelcomed guests in their own city. The message they receive every day of the year is that they are simply not important enough to a society that is wealthy beyond its dreams.
Yes, of course they want services, a place to sleep, a good meal, clean clothing and hopefully something to do, but above all, what they really want is to be valued.
What our society has shown over the past few decades is that providing basic services is the easy part.
In fact, it is possible to provide all these services while reinforcing that feeling of not being valued.
Although services are important, friendships and meaningful relationships matter more. By spending time with those around us we show that we value them. And by doing this we give them back the dignity that society by leaving them homeless has taken away from them. No services, procedures, policies or strategic plans can do that. We can only do it by caring and showing that we belong to each other.
People living on the margins are always on the receiving end of services; in fact, they are always receiving, receiving, receiving. But restoring dignity involves believing that we ALL have something to contribute to the lives of others.
By sharing their stories, they are showing me that we are far more alike than different. By listening to them, I reveal in myself the prejudices that stain my heart and I am reminded how fortunate I am. In listening we discover the uncaring part our ourselves, the part that does not recognize that the person that I am listening to could be me if not for different circumstances that shaped our lives. In judging them, we are judging ourselves; it ultimately reveals the uncaring part of our society that we all too often do not believe exists. In listening, in sharing stories, in laughing and crying we are challenged to move away from judgement, and to reach out in kindness to those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
The St-James Drop-In centre where I spend most of my days, gives me hope that these ideals can be achieved if commitment, grace, and open hearts are combined in walking alongside those who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, addiction, etc. It is time well spent.
Thank you for your support that makes all this possible.