Street Survivor for a day by Aaron Pelletier
I am a 69-year-old elderly and widowed person with a case of dementia, and I am living in a homeless shelter. I also have Type-1 Diabetes and obtaining medication is difficult. This is because I have lost my Indian status because I married a non-aboriginal person, and I was forced to disenfranchise myself of my heritage and cultural identity, just so I could get an education. I also cannot receive social assistance because my Canada Pension Plan (CCP) is $200 more than the $650 that Social Services provides. The settlement of reconciliation granted to me for my experiences in the Residential School System are also factors. Furthermore, I have been subjected to abuse and taken advantage of financially by those around me, and it seems that everywhere I turn for help, I am given the run-around.
To add to this dehumanization, I am looked down upon by others as that crazy person who mumbles to themselves. What they don’t realize is that I have Fibromyalgia Arthritis and I am in constant pain. I also feel like I have no place left to go, and all I want is your help. So, I ask, what would you do?
With all of the available help in our city this cannot be someone’s reality. Can it? Sadly, it is and as grave as it can be, many people are not even aware of it, and maybe some don’t want to acknowledge it because it’s just easier to look the other way. It can be easy to forget the struggles that one faces in the day to day life on the streets. Although different circumstances, the struggles are all the same, and I know because, I’ve been there.
I had the pleasure to be a part of The Street Survivor Event on April 25, 2017, organized in partnership with The Elizabeth Fry Society and The Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness (ASCHH). This event also included the help of Vibrant Communities Calgary, the backbone agency for the Enough for All Poverty Reduction Strategy, which aims to reduce the number of Calgarian’s living in poverty.
As a participant to this social exercise, I was placed with some wonderful ladies, and we were tasked with finding services for a profile that was much like the Type-1 Diabetic. Throughout the day, I observed many things. Although there are many services out there, there is a need for more communication with regards to the knowledge shared between the different agencies. Some misinformation presented itself when it came to finding out where a person could go to get a meal, as for a homeless person, access to food is important. Many of them are subject to a run-around when it comes to gathering information that pertains to getting any sort of assistance. If one is homeless and without work and therefore cash, how can they pay for transit?
During the day, we were met with some reluctance with regards to obtaining help, only to see attitudes change from the extremes of ambivalence to one of helpfulness when we came back with the director of the organization. However, one lady in particular went above and beyond helping us with our queries, and may have gotten into trouble with her supervisor for sharing so much information with us. As I type this, I am very concerned for her job security.
I am in a wheelchair, and while waiting outside of one of the organizations where my partners went in to inquire about services, I asked a fellow walking by if he had a moment to talk. He disclosed to me that he stayed at one of the homeless shelters. I asked him how he felt about the services there and he got emotional. He had said that the people that work in those places save lives, and he was clear in saying that they had saved his on more than one occasion. I asked him then if he felt safe, and he replied, “only on the inside, but not out”, meaning he felt safe in the shelter. He stated further that it was particularly dangerous for women. He then thanked me for talking with him and went on his way. I then spoke with a young couple who had a child; they told me that where they had stayed the services provided are extremely helpful, and the staff very supportive and welcoming. They also told me that they felt that their child was safe in the shelter. However, I am quite certain that there are some who fall into the cracks and their voices are never heard.
The second half of the day was spent standing on the street with signs and pamphlets containing information on homelessness. We were to ask if people wanted information and if they had solutions to this problem that affects all of us. For the most part we were met with people that disregarded or evaded us. At one point one individual even walked onto the street to avoid us. The few that did acknowledged us displayed great concern to our cause and wanted to know more about what they could do to help. All in all, the event was quite eye-opening for me and my fellow participants. I learned just as much from them as they did from me. Still this social issue needs to be brought into the forefront of social consciousness. Much more needs to be done.
I will leave you with this. Every day we go about our daily lives and attend to our own affairs. All the while we pass each other on the streets with only the slightest of glances at one another. We can only assume that everything is okay. Judgements pull us away from considering how the other person really feels. Should we care, and is it safe to care? Perhaps it’s better if I act like you’re not even there and just pretend that I’m getting a phone call, but I’m just talking into dead air. I’ve been guilty too.