|Cans of soup produced to celebrate the anniversary of Warhol's painting. Source.|
I was walking home this evening, and as one often does when walking the 1 St SW underpass, I passed a homeless man sitting with his back against the concrete walls. Unlike most encounters though, there was no request for money, no witty remark, no blessings bestowed as I passed. This man was looking helplessly at a can of soup. It struck me that this would be an easy fix, save for the fact that nobody actually carries a can opener. Well, perhaps people do, but they're likely not very much fun at parties. Or, recalling a personal anecdote about a man who ate canned food for weeks on end to prove to his girlfriend that refrigerators were luxuries and not necessities, the most fun at parties. It also struck me that there is a certain irony in that canned food would be of the utmost utility to the homeless, but in most cases they would be helpless to open said can. Unless they're the sort of person that is either the most or least fun at parties.
In any case, I went home. I ate the food I had brought home for myself. And then I remembered the man without a can opener. I grabbed the can opener from the kitchen as well as a disposable spoon. They went into my pocket and I headed back to the man with the can. As it turned out, the tab to open the can had broken off. I did what I could, and despite thinking early on that it might have turned into a fruitless endeavour, the can was opened. Near the end, I handed the man the spoon, saying that it might be of use if I actually succeeded. He responded with a question:
"Oh man, a spoon too? How are you doing so good?"
"I've been lucky." I replied without thinking.
And it's true. I've been extremely lucky. I was born to parents that did, and still do, love and care for me. I've also come to know many people who have helped me, and continue to help me to this day. I've also been spared the burden of mental illness, which so often factors into homelessness. I am a citizen to whom a great many opportunities have been afforded. And were it not for the kind and caring people in my life, I too could be sitting under the rail bridge at 1 St SW, completely stymied by the lack of a pull tab on a single serving can of soup.
It's due to this matter of luck that I am so excited about things like the Calgary Homeless Foundation, which offers homes to the homeless. As it turns out, people don't generally like being homeless, and it's extremely difficult to keep a job when you have no place to keep your clothes or bathe on a day-to-day basis. If you afford people these opportunities, they often find a job and move to a nicer place in fairly short order, if the literature is any indication.
Since my finding out about Calgary's program, the city of Medicine Hat has announced that they are the first Canadian municipality to end homelessness. This follows data which suggested that housing someone for a year costs roughly $20,000, whereas they cost the system about $100,000 otherwise. Everything I've heard on the matter suggests that the preliminary results are good, and as my fellows over at Future Chat agree, it seems only logical to offer programs like this if a) you'll save money in the long run, b) you could reap the benefits of economically active citizens in the future. This ignores the whole humanitarian argument, which is hard to accomplish when people are concerned about budgets.
In the end, the evening left me thoughtful enough that I thought I would write about it, as much to sort out my own thoughts as to share them. I wonder if such a program could come to my home town of Belleville, a home to a disproportionate number of Christian fundamentalists, and [not-necessarily related] big-C conservative sentiments (fiscal conservatism and small government being popular ideas). I'm specifically thinking of a quotation from a statue in Ottawa that has always stuck with me, from Matthew 25:40 "That which you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me." I'm also left with how I felt when leaving the man. Despite his gratitude, I only felt terrible for having waited so long to offer such an easy fix.
P.S. I have not blogged in a while. A variety of factors, ennui playing a large factor I feel, have kept me from feeling passionately enough to write. I subscribe to Matthew Inman's idea that one should not create without feeling inspired to do so, because the work will suffer as a result. Hopefully the writing will continue, but even if it doesn't, we'll still have Future Chat.