“I really did not know that you were here or even that you served meals; as a matter of fact, I didn’t know there were so many homeless and street people in Red Deer.” This came from a middle-aged lady as she stopped at the kitchen one Monday morning having recently become aware of our existence.
It always surprised me that so many long-term residents of our city could remain in ignorance of what happens here every day. Actually, it sometimes used to irritate me that they would have no knowledge of the needs and goings on right beside them even in their own neighborhoods.
Something happened on this last vacation time that we spent with our children and their children that made me think about this subject. You see, they had moved to Vancouver Island in July at which time we helped them settle. Now, six months later as we spent time with them again, driving around their city, shopping, walking, beach exploring, etc., hardly ever did we catch sight of the homeless in their city; even though I would keep an eye out for them. There were some to be sure, but by no means a common sight.
Knowing what I now do of this part of our population, (which is really very little), they inhabit areas in which they travel, sleep and live out their lives, so unless you are in the midst of this particular locale, they are easy enough to miss. Adding to this fact is that these people are wary and astute enough to stay out of sight as much as possible. Their dress habits are usually quite similar to what the general population is wearing which also helps them to blend in, thereby staying “out of sight”.
So, if they are so well blended in, how can they be in our face? I think of one particular lady in her 40s who because of addictions is on the street in a very visible way. Her pattern of detoxing then obtaining a home and eventually relapsing repeats itself probably three times a year. When she is clean you would not see her as being on the street, but when back on the drugs, her jerky and seemingly uncontrolled movements make her stand out and very identifiable. She will always be carrying several bags with her possessions and sorting through them whenever she stops; even on street corners or park benches.
Certain restaurants, parking lots and street corners is where they can be found, often panhandling and then they can be, “in your face”. Often, people have commented to me with stories of how they were approached and asked for money, or with offers to park their shopping cart for the dollar it holds. Just the fact of being accosted in this manner makes most folks very uncomfortable because their conscience has been appealed to which is what makes it difficult to refuse.
We hear a lot about how addictions drive some of these people to debase themselves enough to beg for money or to use their body to obtain the necessary funds for more drugs or alcohol, and of course that does happen but there are also those who because of extreme poverty find themselves begging. I have found that the reasons for their poverty are many and varied but the truth is that “we will always have the poor with us”. I believe that how we respond to these needs is what defines us as a society, whether self-gratifying only or compassionate and caring, but it always makes us aware of how such a large segment of our community can be: “in your face out of sight.”
Chris Salomons is the kitchen co-ordinator at Potters Hand Ministries.