I’ve avoided writing this post for a stupidly long time because this is something I don’t know how to talk about. Before going to Ghana, I prepared to communicate about social issues. I prepared to accept nuance and complexity and to be gentle with myself despite failing to capture a full reality. I made myself try despite not knowing how.
I’ve failed to do this in Canada. I think there’s a lot of reasons why – I haven’t felt so obligated, I told myself that I needed more time to reflect. But realistically, I think the biggest reason for my silence is my feeling of personal guilt. I’m complicit. I’m not doing anything. That’s hard to recognise and to talk about.
So, homelessness. In Canada. That’s a huge punch to the chest.
Homelessness is so prevalent and evident in Toronto. Coming from St. John’s, it’s a completely different world. Homelessness in St. John’s is also a real problem, but due to urban sprawl, driving a car, and living in a pretty rural outskirt of the city, it’s not something I see often in my daily life. Here, living in the city’s core, taking public transit and walking everywhere, it’s something I witness every day.
And I think that’s an important word: witness. It’s not something I deal with, nor something I help. I’m not homeless and I don’t volunteer for any organisations that combat local homelessness. I’m just a witness, and an uninvolved, shitty one at that.
This is why I feel so guilty about homelessness. How can I claim to be socially aware and involved when I can walk silently by homeless people on the street? I’m a hypocrite. I can’t give money to every homeless person but I also can’t do nothing.
Recently I was chatting to my friend Ben about this issue and he brought up this idea of engaging with empathy. He also engages with service (he’s involved with a local shelter), but on a day-to-day basis, he just refuses to ignore homeless people. When he’s approached by someone asking for help, he tells them he can’t and sincerely wishes them a nice day. When I first saw him do it, I promised myself I would adopt that behaviour. It seemed so easy. But boy, is it hard. Looking someone in the eyes and wishing them a nice day makes it a lot harder to avoid feeling things about their situation.
I think everyone has a bandwidth when it comes to engaging with social justice issues. I use a lot of my bandwidth engaging with socioeconomic inequality in developing countries. And that’s okay. I’ve already struggled internally over whether it’s okay to use my bandwidth on global issues instead of local initiatives, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m okay with it. I know that I can’t be passionately, two-feet engaged in every issue that matters to me. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t adopt day-to-day, routine actions that align with my values.
So here’s a few things I’m going to do from now on:
- Develop my monthly donations portfolio to include a bunch of causes I care about. I recognise that I’m really privileged to be able to handle a bunch of small donations a month to align with my values. However, it’d be irresponsible of my not to leverage this privilege. I’m going to put some local anti-homelessness initiatives in my portfolio.
- Engage with homeless people that approach me. Stop ignoring human beings.
- Buy some public transit tokens to carry with me that I can give to people if they ask for one, especially if it’s really cold out.
- Learn. I don’t know enough about local issues. I can pay attention to local news without exceeding my bandwidth.
I know these actions are small. They aren’t enough. But at least they’re better than prolonged avoidance masqueraded as reflection. Homelessness is a super real thing and I need to get better at thinking about that and taking small, routine actions to counteract it.
Definitely one of my least eloquent blog entries. It’s not pretty. It’s not romantic. It was never going to possibly be either of those things. I need to recognise that there isn’t beauty in all complexity and become okay with cruel, guilt-inducing complexity. Thanks for reading.