I once knew a well to do Christian, a fine example of an upstanding man and a pillar of his community. In general he was a good man, but he once said something to me that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. At the time he said it, I did not know why it irritated me to the Nth degree. Now that I’m back in Toronto, I understand why what he said had upset me.
What he said, “I wish I could be among the poor people of the world.”
I can remember thinking, Buddy, you have no idea, but his intentions were good even if his pity was misguided, so I left it alone. I would normally enter a debate on this issue in a heartbeat, but that particular day I was not in the mood.
Years later, I find myself back in Toronto and I find myself reflecting on those words. You see, I’ve lived most of my life in transit, which means I move around quite a bit. It doesn’t matter what town or city you find me in, you will always find me in the worst areas, the places people warn you about. Yes I congregate with the crazies and the castoffs the rest of society wants little to do with.
Why would I put my life in peril? That is effectively what I am doing by traipsing through these neighbourhoods in the ungodly hours of the night. I do it because it is part of the Human Experience and I desire to understand this thing we call being Human. Also after pulling so many knives out of my back over the years I grown to have a preference to seeing those knives coming and if you are walking through some of the areas I have tread and you don’t see it coming then you are either deaf and blind, or you are completely ignorant of the dangers of this world.
I arrived in Toronto a little more than a week ago. After a bit of touristy stuff (it’s been 12 years since last I was here) and catching up with a couple of friends and a little walk down memory lane revisiting all those old haunts I headed straight downtown. I hang out all night and observe people, I even talk to a few, but I’m not really a social kind of guy, more a keep to myself kind of a person and I am very good at projecting a stay away from me vibe that accompanied by my rough appearance gives the wrong sort of person second thoughts about approaching me. Don’t get me wrong, I really am a friendly sort, but I am also guarded and you would be too if you had lived my life and seen the things I’ve seen.
Well yesterday I was sitting in a 24 hour MacDonald’s where they are a little bit sympathetic to the plight of the homeless. They will let the homeless sit forever inside on a single coffee if the weather is bad and even if it is not. They even permit a little bit of dozing, so long as they don’t make themselves too comfortable. So yesterday I’m sitting there and some guy OD’s in the bathroom, Paramedics and Police are called and the guy is put in an ambulance on a respirator, but that is neither here nor there, just part of the daily routine down here. This is the kind of stuff you never hear about on the News.
Anyway the point I was making, there was a diminutive woman, obviously new to the streets, you could tell by her behaviour and general skittishness. She was middle aged and did not belong with the crowd that congregates down here. This strange guy comes in, orders a coffee and sits at the table next to her. He strikes up a conversation, asking her some really personal questions. He was interrupted when another woman, who most would discard as just plain nuts, warns the diminutive woman not to go anywhere with this guy. “Fifteen women have disappeared from this area in the last month,” the crazy one warns and then she’s gone.
Another woman at the MacDonald’s (one who obviously works in one of the retail outlets grabbing breakfast before work) confirms what the crazy woman had said.
Fifteen women in thirty days have gone missing. This is not newsworthy because they were street people and prostitutes. Somehow they are less Human. These Ladies (and they are ladies, they are someone’s daughter somewhere) and their disappearance is treated as generally irrelevant. The police have stepped up their presence, but other than that very little seems to be done.
Now I know what bothered me about that fine upstanding Christian man’s words. You see, they were just that, words. He had the time and money to back those words up with action and he had the respect and credibility to help shine some light on what is really happening down here. Instead he comforts his conscious with words and a few cans for the local food drive.
You see, when most people hear about these things, (and realize, I’m talking about a small area of the city where these disappearances have occurred,) they are skeptical because they’ve heard nothing in the News about it. Well you see, some people are just not newsworthy. Street people generally are not newsworthy, even when they are disappearing. Don’t believe me, how much do you know about Canada’s Highway of Tears? These disappearances are not isolated incidences, they happen all the time, the happen in every community, small town and big city alike. There is one commonality, the targets, or more aptly, the victims come from segments of the population that are deemed irrelevant.
You think it’s not safe for you to walk on the street late at night. How do you think those that society has marginalized feel. Think about it a moment. At least the police are going to look for you if you go missing, other than a report being filed, very little gets done when a homeless person goes missing. Very little gets done when fifteen in a one month period go missing.