I left home when I was 15 to be with a much older man and moved to a strange city. When it quickly became evident that the relationship wasn’t working, I left the home I shared with him. I took the bus back to my home city and slept outside my mother’s door because I was too scared of what she would say if I knocked. I’m guessing most people know this, but for those parents who don’t know – never be so judgmental that your kids are afraid to turn to you for help.
But I digress. I made the trip back to my new city. I paid for admission to a movie theatre, and hid and slept there for a couple of days. I rode the bus so I could sleep in relative safety. Being homeless was a challenge, if only for a week or so. Luckily, I found a job and was able to rent a room in an old Edwardian house. That was the first home I was able to provide for myself.
As an occasional sufferer of panic attacks, I feel truly blessed to have been able to maintain a home. When I see a homeless person, my first thought is that “there for the grace of God go I.” My introduction to homelessness in Edmonton was when I lived in a condo overlooking the Promenade in Oliver. This woman rented her suite out to formerly homeless people. The result was a culture clash. This building was full of professional people and having someone knock on their door at 10:30 p.m. to introduce themselves was not welcomed. When I told these same neighbours that I was moving to Boyle Street, they told me I was moving to skid row.
Contrary to stereotypes, I’ve found most homeless and under-housed people here are very sociable and generally helpful. The few who aren’t are often under the influence, and let me not judge lest I be judged. Everybody gets to be who they are by honest means. I’ve often been helped out by people whose fortunes have swung widely. I’ve been able to connect with them when they were down on their luck and they have helped me with many tasks that I can’t do myself and with their help I’ve been able to maintain my house.
Having a home gives me the freedom from the worry about taking care of myself. I feel safe in these four walls and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be uncertain of where I would sleep if I didn’t have a home. Since the Ice District has opened. we are seeing more “cart people” in Boyle Street as they are being asked to move away from the arena so that event-goers are not reminded of their existence. Asking a homeless person to move is the most unkind of acts. If a group of my peers were standing on the street, no one would dare ask us to move. I fail to see how people struggling financially have fewer rights than I do.
Can we try to be more friendly with the homeless? A simple smile or a hello would be a first step. A second step would be to vote in politicians who are committed to ending homelessness. We know that providing people with homes is more cost effective than paying for police and ambulance calls. It’s also kinder and more humane.
Manon is a resident of Boyle Street and an active volunteer in the community. This column contains her own opinions, and is not affiliated with the Boyle Street Community League.