Friday, 26 April 2013

Everyone need kindness and some more than others


I was in Calgary during Easter. While I was there I decided to go out and visit the hip neighbourhood of Kensington Village. I enjoyed my evening going to the local Pub having a good meal and good conversation which some interesting characters. When I left at 11PM it was cool -7C (19F). As I walked to the Rail station for the LRT I passed two slow moving men. I noticed on passing that one had a Native Pride hat. As I went by they asked if I had any money to get them to their reserve of the Siksika Nation. I flipped them a dollar and kept walking, but by about half a block away I had the opportunity to think about the two men. One was very old at least over 65 walking labouredly with a cane the other was middle age and looked very poor. It was clearly that they were homeless and it was impossible for them to make it back to the reserve that night and no one would pick them up for hitchhiking.

 

Here is the dilemma we are faced with everyday, do I go back and have a conversation and actually give them something they would enjoy like 20$ which they might well waste on booze, buy them a meal or find them a place to stay. I think including myself just carry on with our lives and hope that the homeless man is not violent and won’t disturb our business. As Charles Dickens wrote “Business!. . .Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business, charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Well as it was Easter I asked “if these two men were my uncles or brother what would I do?” I decided to go and to talk to them and give, yes give them with full knowledge that the money might not be well spent, give them 20$ each. As I talked with Elder West Scott and Morris GoodRider I remembered while giving West a hug and holding his hand as he walked me to the train station that this man had lived a life, but due to issues beyond his control he lived on the street and no longer had a mother or family to take him in and to help him. To see tears in an old man’s eyes when he a received a gift of twenty dollars was quite an emotional moment. During the time we talked for 10 or so minutes West and Morris became my friends and if I see them again in Calgary I will not turn them away, because they are my brothers, my kin.

6 comments:

  1. I feel like I was meant to read a post as intuitive and thought provoking as this one, today. When I typically encounter homeless people, which is more often when I visit downtown Winnipeg, I tend to ignore them and avoid eye contact. On two occasions, I have purchased fast food meals for homeless men on cold Winnipeg days, but out of my mere 24 years of life, I am guilty of the latter. However, the other day as I was purchasing pizza, I encountered a homeless man. He kindly asked if I had any change and I genuinely had no money but my debit thus I exclaimed I did not as I continued walking to my car. He proceeded to ask me if I could spare a slice of pizza, which I instantly denied him as it was for someone else. As I got into my car and drove to the lights, I battled my decision and couldn't believe I wouldn't even offer a hungry man food. What if I were in this position? I may be a broke student, struggling to get by. But I have a roof over my head and food in my belly. I turned around almost instantaneously. I purchased another pizza and with haste, tried to find the man I denied. The unfortunate ending is, after those brief few minutes I left the area, I could not find him.

    I have thought about the outcome of this for the past few days, and wished I could have reacted differently. As this post idyllically points out, he is my brother, my kin. According to Homeless Hub statistics, an approximate 2600 are living homeless and in "hidden" homelessness (Homelesshub, 2013). Moreover, approximately 70% of Winnipeg's homeless is reported to be Aboriginal (uwinnipeg.ca, 2013). Most evidence would suggest that the majority of those homeless who receive money, abuse the gift by spending it on alcohol or drugs which turns most away from receiving help they need, be it financial or nourishment.

    The moral of the blog is, to consider one's life beyond the homelessness, Aboriginal or not, and to understand they are still a person, a brother, seeking help.

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  2. It’s not difficult to identify with your initial experience of happening upon a street person asking for help. We are constantly confronted by the effects of shattered social infrastructure in an unforgiving society, and all too often we ignore the people who reflect these systemic flaws. Furthermore, we look down upon these people, who are nothing more than a reflection of our failed society instead of criticizing ourselves for allowing this to happen.
    I rarely do so little as to flip a loonie to someone asking for it on the street, let alone a larger sum or the gift of time, compassion, and kindness. Is it because I’m a cruel, heartless slouch without a hint of empathy? I do not believe so. Do I take the oft-employed position that “My tax dollars go to programs to support those people already, I don’t have to do more.”? I definitely do not say that, as I believe the argument is short-sighted and does not adequately encapsulate what our tax system and social welfare state has been designed to accomplish.
    I’m not without guilt when I see people who have not had access to the same institutions, thoughts, and experiences as I have had. I do not claim to understand all of the privileges I have in life, but I know a few of them. But is my position in life completely determined by privilege? Are there examples of street people who sat down with a better starting hand in this rigged poker game of life? Sure there are, so, while privilege (or lack thereof) has a lot to do with our position in life, it does not explain everything. Why, then, do I still not give all the time knowing what I know?
    Do I not believe in charity? At charity’s basic form, of course I believe in giving, sharing, and equalling the playing field. I donate a lot of my time and some money to organisations with whom I share beliefs. I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to contribute more to the bottom line of my community than to that of a corporation. Were it up to me, our tax rate would be 100% and the distribution of wealth would be equal. Do I give to charities? Yes, but I don’t always feel comfortable with charity – at least the political mechanism of charity.
    Dr. John Loxley of the University of Manitoba Economics department summed things up on the topic beautifully. He backed up his position against charitable tax credits because it encourages and rewards private decision making with public funds. That is, private individuals are spending a good amount of their own dollars to influence where public spending will occur (the tax credit they receive in trade for a donation amounts to the government willfully matching their contributions dollar for dollar). This is undemocratic, and we have observed occasions where charities are not acting in the best interests of society (see http://sumac.com/widespread-scam-has-michael-hlinka-arguing-to-abolish-the-charity-tax-credit). But political charity is different from social, human-to-human, charity. Why then, do I not give all of my spare money to people on the street?
    I don’t have the answer to that question, and it bothers me. Will I change my habits because of this reflection based on your gift of kindness to these individuals? Not likely. Perhaps I feel that my political expression, my volunteerism, and my outlook on life is enough. Perhaps I believe that I can contribute to individuals such as you’ve mentioned through other means. Is that sufficient? Is that what society needs? Is that what these individual people need?
    I’m sorry that I’m ending my comment with more questions, and that I did not answer my first, and most basic question. But, like the ills our society creates and experiences, it will take a long time to figure out the answer. I look forward to the process.

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  3. I must admit that when a homeless person asks for change I do not give them anything because I don't know if they would spend it on the appropriate resources. However research by Sider suggests that the aboriginal population makes up roughly 10% of the homeless population in Canada and in some larger urban areas like Winnipeg can make up to 72% of the homeless population (http://www.crr.ca/divers-files/en/pub/rep/ePubRepSioLoo.pdf). Sider also suggests that the main reasons for homelessness are a lack of affordable housing, low income and poverty, mental health and addictions issues, and domestic violence. Many of these reasons for homelessness can not be solved by the change in my pocket but rather my change in the governments pocket. One would think that the governments priorities would be to help the people of their nation off the streets so that they can live productive fulfilling lives, but sadly no they would rather spend that money on a pipeline or new military planes. The government could easily direct money towards building more affordable house projects, addictions counseling and mental health issues to help eliminate homelessness but do not. I know as a future educator I have a role to play as well. I know that I must find ways to educate my students to the best of their abilities so that they can find employment and be above the threshold of low income. This will also hopefully help them acquire affordable housing. But sadly enough it will still be up to the government to help get homeless aboriginal people and overall homelessness from our streets. And with aboriginal peoples making up a large portion of our homeless population I believe its our governments duty to bring equality aboriginal peoples on reserves and off reserves so that they have an equal opportunity to flourish.

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  4. When living in a large center such as Winnipeg, people become immune to their surroundings. We drive the same roads to work or school, stop at the same stoplights, and see the same city. The one thing that seems to blend into this route are the people, and some of these people desperately need a helping hand. On any night in Canada, there are 30,000 people who are homeless (CBCnews, 2013). With temperatures like we have had the past few months, it seems outrageous for anybody to be spending a great deal of time outside. These people, who are living without a home, will appreciate any small act of kindness sent their way. Robert- Falcon Ouellette’s blog post, “Everyone needs kindness and some more than others”, provokes thoughts on how kindness can be as minute as a small amount of money, but can truly change someone’s day.
    I grew up in a small town, but spent every summer from the age of 15 on commuting from my town to Winnipeg for hockey training. Everyday I would drive down Winnipeg’s Main Street from the North Perimeter to St. Mary’s Avenue. As I drove, the surroundings were the same, and the homeless people blended in. After I was done training I always had a large lunch to eat on my ride home. I was sitting at a stoplight one day, and I had a man come to my window. He looked to be about my age, but physically and mentally exhausted. I rolled down my window and he asked if I could spare anything; I offered him one of the sandwiches and an apple I had brought with me. The man accepted the food with incredible appreciation and grace, and could not thank me enough. After this experience, I did not gloat in what a “great deed” I had done, but I reflected on how a small act of kindness can truly help someone else. For the next several summers, when the opportunity arose and I had some of my lunch left I would offer it, always receiving a very thankful response. Kindness should be spread in any way we can, it is something people truly appreciate.



    30,000 Canadians are homeless every night. (2013, June 19). CBCnews. Retrieved January 28, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/30-000-canadians-are-homeless-every-night-1.1413016

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  5. Recognizing everyone around us as our kin is the first step in societal transformation for a more equitable world. Until we recognize that at every level, and perhaps most importantly the smallest places in our lives, our actions towards one another count and matter, we will never understand how to form a system where the marginalized will be welcomed and encouraged. In my experiences I have found that often this isn’t about money. It is about a recognition of the humanity in those we often treat as less than human because of their social position, mental illness or addiction. Recognizing everyone in every situation as equally human gives them the respect and dignity they need and deserve.
    Reflecting on this post I am inclined to believe that although the $20 given was received gratefully, the act of humanizing these individuals with respect and dignity was the most valuable and important gift that could be offered. Taking the time to think of these two men as real, flesh and blood people, with lives and stories as valuable as our own, allows us to see past their afflictions and through to the persons themselves. Turning around to go back was the greatest gift these two men could have received. Learning their name gives a dignity and humanity that $20 will never be able to give. Does this mean we should learn their names and not give them the money? No! Give whatever you possibly can, but stay and talk to them and learn a little bit about who they are when you do.
    Relating this to understanding our current Aboriginal affairs in Canada, perhaps we can learn the names and stories of those our public programs are working with. If we learn about our Aboriginal sisters and brothers, perhaps our perceptions may change about the money many are so concerned about spending. Listen to stories, give people dignity, learn people’s names, and perhaps the money will begin to seem inconsequential. Perhaps then we will recognize that we are not feeding “the poor”, we are helping our friends. Friends like West and Morris.

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