Written By: Rachelle Baird and Victoria Marcelle
Now that winter is in full swing and temperatures are dropping, those who are not able to stay in shelters are finding other ways to get warm.
On Jan. 8th, a Toronto homeless woman sought shelter from horrid, subzero weather conditions by shielding herself in a clothing donation box. Crystal Papineau, 35, was trapped in the donation box and suffocated to death.
What is equally saddening is the negative attitudes and ignorant thoughts expressed in the comment section of online news articles regarding the incident.
People wrote demeaning commentary and tweets accusing Papineau of trying to steal clothes, completely oblivious to the reality of what it’s like to sleep on a city street in January. In January 2019, temperatures have dropped to what feels like -39.
People’s perspectives on the homeless are disheartening. Consider the 2018 Royal Wedding officials clearing the homeless off the street for the $46 million wedding procession or think about the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver jailing the homeless during the period of the event.
Collective attitudes and societal beliefs about the homeless need to change and as soon as possible.
There is a growing concern regarding homelessness in Canada.
So much so that Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam wants Toronto City Council to declare a state of emergency regarding the city’s homelessness and housing crisis.
According to Advocacy Centre for Ontario Tenants, 35 000 Canadians are homeless on given night; 235 000 experience homelessness country-wide in a year.
It is evident homelessness in Canada is progressing beyond serious. This is an important social issue.
According to the Durham 2018 PIT Count Report, 291 individuals in Durham are experiencing homelessness.
The number of people living on the street is reflects how cruel society as a whole has become. Humanity as a whole does not view homelessness as a priority or an urgent matter. But it needs to be dealt with immediately.
Providing homeless people with a place to stay, warm clothes and a hot meal is not the only way to help. Emotional support is simple.
If you see a person asking for change, do not yell at them to get a job, call them lazy, or spit out other harsh words.
The 2018 PIT Count Report states, “31 per cent of individuals had either some post-secondary education or were a post-secondary graduate. 29 per cent were a high school graduate or had a GED.” Earning a high school or secondary school diploma is usually not an indicator of laziness.
Stop and think about them for a moment, place yourself in their shoes. Not everyone is able to find a job, and it’s not from lack of trying. Some industries are not hiring, hours get cut back and not all jobs offer sustainable wages.
Other reasons people cannot hold down jobs may be due to physical conditions, mental health and stress. Long hours can be hard to maintain with an illness. One could struggle with essential employment skills such as time management or interpersonal skills. Untreated anxiety may prevent a person from interacting with the public.
The report also indicates 58 per cent of those surveyed identified having a mental illness with 34 per cent identified having a chronic or acute medical condition; 31 per cent were struggling with an addiction or substance abuse problem.
While it is true the government needs to allocate more funding to mental health services, a simple shift in perspective can happen. Now.
If you see someone asking for change, do not pass judgement.
A little empathy, a hot cup of coffee and a smile can go a long way on a cold winter’s day.