For the past year and some I’ve worked in Downtown Kitchener; right on King Street, part time at a restaurant. And anyone whose worked in Downtown Kitchener can tell you exactly how bizarre and less-than-ordinary some of the sights in our little corner of the world are. Some of the sights are truly amusing: people walking half a dozen dogs (all of which bulldogs, and they were the dopiest dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure of wooshy-ing), a religious parade staffed by an entirely unenthusiastic team of volunteers, Road Warrior Wally (Came up with that name myself, I did), and a long list of things that should, frankly, get their own post.
But, on the other side of things, I’ve seen no shortage of the deprived and the destitute. In fact, the aforementioned Wally is one of the more recognizable homeless folk who frequents the area. Trundling up and down the roads with his shopping cart laden with messages and signs that don’t really make any sense, but still possess better spelling and grammar than most high school graduates.
You see these folks everywhere in the bowels of the city. Sitting against buildings, shambling up sidewalks and often time staring forlornly at the indifferent passers-by. They’re so common that for the rest of us, we become indifferent. And worse, as it turns out. For those of us who work downtown, we almost become hostile.
Perhaps hostile is not the correct word for it, but we’re well past the point of indifference. I’ve had to escort these homeless folks from the restaurant on a number of occasions, occasionally to the threat of violence as a response (there’s one individual who threatens to stab me every time I go near him) or a torrent of insults. And while these moments can be stressful or, more likely, cloying at times, I’m otherwise able to move on with my day and will quickly forget about the matter.
This apathetic approach came to a head today as I watched someone (I’d like to think I’m better than generalizing, but…) who had all the appearances of homelessness slowly withering away out front of the restaurant doors. I couldn’t say for certain, but he appeared to be jazzed up on… something, anyway. When officers came to check up on him, then inevitably the paramedics too, I didn’t feel remorse or sympathy. Instead, a surge of “probably serves him right” burst into my head.
The notion surprised me somewhat. I certainly don’t claim to be a benevolent individual, but “probably serves him right” was a horrific way of rationalizing it. Before I had started working downtown, I’d have been mortified to know that was going to become a mindset that I’d default to. And yet, here I am, past indifferent.
And worse yet, making assumptions without any proof or sense of human empathy.
In all the time I had spent downtown, surrounded by all walks of life (well, maybe not all, but a significantly better diversity than I’ve encountered in my whiter-than-white-bread hometown), I seemed to have regressed in my willingness to understand the situation and difficulties that are very likely faced by the homeless and displaced. Every person has a story, and I had managed to completely wave off the notion that any of that mattered because someone had no place to call home.
This posits the question, though: what do you do about it? Of course, there are no hard, easy answers that can be readily implemented in our profit-driven society where the standard of living is on the rise in Kitchener, but then again, so is the price tag (exponentially so, as it turns out). While there are organizations out there doing what they can to help turn these conditions around, it’s an uphill battle at best, a losing battle at worst.
But there is something simple and fundamental that we can all do (and I do, of course, realize the hypocrisy of my bringing it up). We can simple try to give a shit. As it turns out, when we care even a little, we become more invested in finding a solution. And while I don’t harbour any delusions that everyone who care a smidgen will actually be able to do anything revolutionary about the issue, the more minds working at the task at hand will make monumental changes.
As for Downtown Kitchener specifically, there are genuine efforts to help find solutions to the issues that plague the downtown core, and this includes finding long-term and beneficial solutions for the homeless who live downtown. The Kitchener BIA (Business Improvement Area) has programs and outreach programs for these folks, and are always listening to input and feedback from businesses, charities and other humans to help improve the lives of those who have found the rock bottom of life.
Note from Self: I’ll endeavor to find and attach some links to these sites as I’m able, though it may take some rooting around. While I support what the BIA is doing, their website layout is not helping me right now.
I know this sounds like a very local issue, but I can promise its not. I know for a fact that there are countless individuals out there who are in need of aid. I have friends who do actual good work to help these people, whether it be their job or volunteer work. It doesn’t really matter. I know that they, at least, would appreciate it if everyone learned to care a little.
Let’s face it, in this case: if you’re not part of the solution, you are the problem.