I ponder this thought as I find myself recalling my Skytrain ride over to this conference. I am sure most of you do this but I will confess to looking out the window and observing what I am passing while on the train. When it’s clear out you usually get a nice view of the mountains, which on this day were dusted with snow. As the train moved at its set speed, I caught glimpses of each passing neighbourhood with a bird’s-eye view. Like passing frames on a reel, I see graffiti, construction sites, litter scattered across train tracks, people digging through dumpsters, people in a rush to make it to a possible appointment, and at a last second glance, I see a homeless person sleeping against a bridge pillar.
I know that my destinations are places that are usually warm, welcoming, cozy and safe in the confines of a comfortable life. I am struck with melancholic emotions as I hear my stop being called by the automated announcer. Exiting the train station, I notice quite a few people sleeping on the side of the streets, some of whom are sitting by their belongings with cardboard signs that read, “spare change”, and others who have a cigarette resting between their teeth, a hat with a few coins sitting in it, and some looking down as if they were ashamed or frightened.
If I may confess another thing, it is this: I sometimes get these thoughts in my mind that go a little like this, “If I avoid eye contact or pretend like I don’t see these people, they will not harass me for my money.” I understand these thoughts are not kind or appropriate. Why must it be about money or the presumptions of what they will buy if I give them money? What if I just smiled sincerely and recognized them. I feel like acknowledgement is far more valuable than money anyway. I’ve heard stories from those who’ve experienced homelessness that the worst feeling they endured while homeless was invisibility. Being treated as if they were a ghost by people passing by.
So, how do I change this? I snap out of my thoughts when I hear my Community Mental Health and Addictions instructor, the MC at this conference, say, “Please welcome our next speaker…”, and I join the audience in clapping as we welcome Stefania Seccia.
Stefania voices her concerns with passion and optimism. She opens her speech with a warning the statistics she shares are overwhelming and depressing. According to her research and statistic charts, Aboriginal people are vastly overrepresented in the homeless population, making up a third of the total population. However, they only account for 2.5% of the region’s population.
She also notes that Metro Vancouver’s affordability crisis is driving up the number of homeless people in the region, and it’s only getting worse. Again, she apologizes the news wasn’t positive. But despite these disheartening facts, she shined light on why we should not let these numbers discourage us… rather, we should find ways to advocate, get involved and maintain hope, as the journey is a long one.
She talked of tent cities in the United States, the discrimination people face and the judgement some cast upon them as they believe homelessness to be a choice. And this is where I get a clear answer about my questions regarding change.
Redefine how we help others sustain a better quality of life.
In this redefinition, we can’t give into stigmas that act as stumbling blocks. As we find change within ourselves, it is important to learn humility in our walk, as it leads to empowerment, empathy, support, and love. These actions make a community thrive and are the foundation of change.
For change to become more than just a thought, but a reality I have faith in, I know that I must form essential change within myself. It wasn’t an easy answer but a profound and crucial one that I took and stored in my heart.