Saturday, February 2, 2013

A man sleeping in an ATM, and an interesting lady

The past week has been fiercely, bitterly cold in Saskatchewan, with the temperature at -46 with the windchill for several days. Friday was - 26 with the windchill, and it seemed so warm in comparison to most of the week. I took my group of children outside, and they had such a good time, although by 20 minutes their faces were quite red, and we were ready to head indoors.
 This morning the temperature rose to -6 with a wind gusting to 60 km. per hour.
So, this made for low visibility and plenty of blowing snow, but it was very  comfortable to be out. I headed out on the bus for some shopping - to see if I might find some fun baby gifts, on sale, for a friend's new granddaughter. The sale turned out to be better than I expected, with items drastically cut to 30% off the last sale price, so for instance the sweater ended up at approximately $3.00, etc. I actually indulged myself, and bought several different sweaters for progressing ages in the baby's first year.

While at the mall. I was delighted to have the chance to see a performance of children playing bagpipes, and as well other performers such as violinists, and Irish stepdancing. These children represented  our university's music school. It was nice to see families enjoying their children, and as well how the atmosphere in the mall became more relaxed, and to see smiles on strangers' faces.

I then enjoyed reading my favourite newspaper, The Toronto Globe and Mail, at a coffee shop. I enjoyed this time to relax, and savour my coffee, and just catch up on news.I was torn whether I might next take another bus, to the pet store, to buy catfood, or go for groceries, and then home.
Deciding to take the second alternative, and then get home sooner, so that I could get busy with homework for my class, I left the mall and crossed the street for the bus.

What happened next is not pleasant reading.

I walked over to say hello, to a bus riding aquaintance, and found that she and another person had been discussing a man laying sound asleep, inside on a window ledge in a bank's ATM, area. He was in full view of the street, as the window was a full sized street window.

I expressed concern, and said how sad this was. My acquaintance said, "What is  sad?" Well, I explained that this man was in the situation he was, apparently homeless. She and the younger man said they'd both noticed the sleeping person, begging down the street in the past.

The woman, who is close to my age, or thereabouts, said, well he was most most likely begging money to buy listerine, and that he always had cigarettes. If he can spend money on cigarettes, he doesn't need to beg.

She advised me not to feel sad, that it was his fault. I countered, that he may have a mental illness - she replied, "Yes mentally ill, from drinking listerine."

The younger man, looked me in the eyes, with agreement, he too was aware of the sadness of this individual's situation.

My acquaintance then offered me her perspective, that we can't allow ourselves to be sad about everything. Yes, we can have compassion, but we can;t let ourselves be overcome by sadness. That she had once been a cop's wife for 25 years, and she knew how it is, how people really are.

When we got on the bus, she asked the bus to let the police know about this man, as people were probably uncomfortable going into the ATM. We continued our discussion, my saying that there are too many homeless people in this city - she saying,  that there are shelters. I questioned her, saying that I didn't think they were open in the daytime, "Oh yes they are", she insisted.

We continued our discussion, and she moved closer to me, when two obviously, wretchedly poor, first nations men, with the smell of listerine about them got on the bus. She explained how they always get on, at this stop, and smell. (My city is a small city, and our poor, and homeless are perhaps more evident, than in larger centers.)

I know that this particular person is a good person - that she is a courageous person, who supports herself, and is proud of her growth as an independent woman. She has recently been opening up to me, even though I've seen her on the bus, and talked casually with her for years. I have enjoyed our few conversations, and have even held my own when I didn't agree. I tend to see both sides of things, and often tend to acquiesce in conversations. Perhaps that might seem like I hold no opinion of my own, or that I am deceitful - I think it comes down more to an essential politeness I learned from my mother.

But sometimes I cannot acquiesce, and so I just could not politely smile and nod. I didn't argue, as there seemed to be  no point. But I also didn't back down. I said there is a problem in this city, with homelessness, and that it is sad.

We parted on friendly terms, as she said "Talk again soon". I will be glad to talk with her again, as I do enjoy her, but I will not hide what I believe.

Later, I decided to look up the shelters for the homeless in the city, and as I thought, they do close for the day. Just today in the news, there was a story that the Salvation Army men's shelter has opened 15 more beds due to the harsh weather.

And, yes I believe there is so much wrong with a society where people sleep in the parks and streets through bitter cold winters.And yes, perhaps the person made a mistake in their lives, as all of us do; but more often they suffer mental illness, or drug addiction, or alcoholism.

I couldn't help myself, but when the woman, said "There are shelters", I also heard an echo from the literary past, when Dickens's amazing character, Scrooge, famously boomed, "Are there no workhouses?"

Not for a minute would I put this woman in the same category, as Scrooge - she is not callous, but perhaps self protective.

I as well, know that my opinion may be a minority one, but I AM my mother's daughter after all, and I do know what she would feel, and say in this case - hunger, and homelessness is not right. We need to be charitable.