Wow, I still can’t believe that this is the Mission’s fifth year for our ‘Homelessness Awareness Week’ fundraiser and here I am back on the roof of our Youth Center living in my pup tent again. Where did the last year go? Every year the media asks me the same question: “Why are you doing this Joe?” Five years later my answer is still the same. I do this for two reasons. First, I want to continue to create awareness for a very ‘real’ problem here in not just Regina, but throughout our wonderful province. Secondly, Souls Harbour Rescue Mission serves the homeless every day and we couldn’t do that without your financial support. We receive no ongoing operational funding from any level of government be it federal, provincial, or municipal, so I’m here to raise some much needed money too! And though I try and have some fun with this event, don’t get me wrong as I’m not for a moment suggesting that me living in a tent on a roof (I’m fairly safe up here) in North Central is like being homeless. No, homelessness is that guy who sleeps under a bush in the park at night; that’s real homelessness! I’m just saying there’s a guy sleeping under a bush in the park, and we need to do something about that!
So who are the homeless? There are many different reasons and circumstances that lead to homelessness. Yes, there are those who struggle with addiction … but what’s the root of that? And sadly many people still think that the homeless are just lazy! Then there are those with a mental illness. Lately I’ve been thinking about the death of Robin Williams and his ongoing struggle with mental illness. He gave us some much needed laughter and I think the world is a better place because of him. Robin was never homeless but his disease was real. In a way I hope that he’ll become a face for that disease now, because we desperately need someone to break the stigma of mental illness. With proper medication, many people with this disease can function well within the workplace, and still there are lot of business’s that simply won’t hire them. And what about those who need some extra care, where do they go when governmental cutbacks have pushed them out of the hospital’s and into the streets?
Then there’s the girl that just called us inquiring about a rental application for affordable housing. She was 16 years old and she’d just had a baby. Desperately looking for someone to help her, all she wanted was a place to stay and a chance to finish school. Whatever the circumstances (forget the why) she should never have to be homeless. She’s got her whole life to live yet!
As for the idea of laziness, I find myself somewhat repulsed by that type of thinking, because I know there are men from our shelter who go to Labour Ready every day to try and find some kind of work. The problem is that even with a full time job, there’s nothing affordable for them when it comes to renting a place. Or what about the seniors whose government pensions don’t even come close to paying their living expenses; not everyone has a ‘Freedom 55’ retirement plan. Or where does someone with HIV go when they can’t work anymore and long term care isn’t an option. They should still be able to live out their life with dignity in a safe and affordable place.
So, as I sit here on the roof thinking and writing about the homeless, I guess I’ve found a more personal perspective on why I come up here year after year. There’s a story that most of you have probably already heard about a boy and beach full of starfish, but let me share it again: One day a boy and his father are walking together along a beautiful beach. They notice that the tide has gone out and that the beach is now covered with hundreds of starfish that have become stranded on the shoreline. The boy in desperation begins to pick them up and carry them back to the sea. After doing this a few times, the father stops him saying that what he’s doing isn’t going to matter anyway as he can’t possibly save them all. The boy stops … looks at his dad … then walks out into the water and sets another one free. He comes back, looks at his dad again and says; “I think it mattered to that one.” And so … I guess that’s why I’m up here on the roof again, I think it matters to someone!
In conclusion: I think the two biggest reasons for homelessness today are that we don’t have enough affordable housing, and that we don’t pay people enough money for the work they do. I think we need to increase the minimum wage to a point where people can reasonably take care of themselves. We can’t go on paying people so little, for taking the jobs that so many of us wouldn’t even consider because they couldn’t possibly support our lifestyle! And as the financial institutions and the government continue to tighten the criteria for getting a mortgage, we simply have to find ways to spread the wealth, and to make a way for someone with a lower income to raise a family and have their own place. If we don’t … then the dream of owning your own home … is only a dream for the rich!