“homeless troubles”

I live in a wee little town in Nova Scotia; we used to have a weekly Town paper and then it was consolidated to cover the entire County. I like the paper — I like that I usually know someone in one of the photos. I love that it’s local, and I like that there’s a whole half page above the fold of “From the Cruiser” police reports that never fail to keep me entertained for quite a while. I read them every week, and it never fails to amuse. Part of the fun is that they seem to be randomly listed (perhaps in order of occurrence?), and they’re pretty funny. Big City news, it ain’t.

Here are a few examples from this week’s column:

  • “a Wolfville resident reported a tradesman for making rude comments”
  • “a Centreville resident reported off-road vehicles driving around at 2 a.m.”
  • “an old vehicle without a windshield was doing donuts on the Morden Road at 6:50 p.m.”

See what I mean? ha ha ha it’s all kind of quaint and harmless — goodness gracious! A rude tradesman! Golly, we should call Gomer and Andy and have them give that tradesman a  talking to!


Oops, I did a donut!

And there’s also this weird conceit where all of the vehicles seem to be driving themselves; I picture a bunch of innocent vehicles ambulating and doing donuts on their own. It’s all weirdly depersonalized.

Would it be too judgmental to say “hooligans were driving ATV’s at 2 a.m. in Centreville”?

So, that’s not the big deal, really, though it would be an interesting sociological study that I will be happy to undertake at a later date.

What grabbed my attention today was this small article in the “from the cruiser” section. It rated it’s own subhead, that of Homeless troubles“:

wtf?

I hope the scan is clear, but in case it’s not, or you’re print-restricted, I’ll type in the article:

Among the 11 calls about a 41-year old homeless man in the past 10 days, two concerned him being in the vicinity of New Minas businesses to avoid rain Oct. 1.

The man, who suffers with a mental illness, had previously been reported camping on municipally-owned property in the Greenwich area.

The man phoned 911 himself at 6:37 a.m. Oct. 3 to report rocks were being thrown at him  by two males who had been drinking.

There. Charming, isn’t it?

We live in a community/county where people actually feel they can call the police because a tradesman is rude, but at the same time a man with no home can’t shelter himself from the rain? More than one call a day for 10 days, and the man still has no place to shelter himself?  I’m surprised at how clearly the article was written — that it actually stated people were throwing the rocks. Though, like the ghostly donut-driving cars and ATV’s in the notices above it, it too is weirdly depersonalized.

Is this what happens when one of our community has a mental illness? Where is his family? Where are the social services that are in place to help this man find some dignity, some shelter from drunk assholes throwing rocks? Why is there no place out of the weather for him to stay dry? Or, even, why can’t he just be left alone to sleep in peace without fear of being stoned?

I don’t know that guy in the article, but my heart breaks for him. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life advocating for persons with disabilities in Nova Scotia, and honestly, had taken a bit of a break… it’s hard, and I was very tired and a bit burnt out. Except for what I do for my daughter, I wasn’t going to do anything else — no more committees, no groups, or councils or articles or position papers or politicians. The personal that had become political became personal again. It had to — it was just really hard to do everything that I thought needed to be done. I’m not going to throw my hat into that ring again, not for a while I don’t think. It doesn’t necessarily  have to be my fight this time. I will, though,  be making a contribution to the local Canadian Mental Health Association,  that’s for sure. It is the least I can do.  Here is a list of all the Nova Scotia CMHA branches.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that this particular man did not want help. He did not want to be incarcerated/medicated.  Surely there must be something else that can be done? Some sort of sanctuary or shelter? How can we have homeless people in a community this  generous? Last week, our fire department had a fundraiser for a woman who has lung cancer — and those in our community at large raised over $10,000 for her.  This man has an illness too… why aren’t we raising money for him? Or, at the very least, not throwing rocks at him?

Want to throw some stones at her, too?

Mental health issues freak people out. Disability in most forms does, to varying degrees. My daughter has Cerebral Palsy  and is really very beautiful — now that’s a disability that people can wrap their heads around. It’s not scary, you know? People can feel sorry for her and pet her and can really feel like they’re helping her if they do something — like,  pick up something she’s dropped, or open a door for her so she can get in out of the rain.

If someone has a mental health issue, it’s not as cute, is it? And it feels much, much harder to help.

Thing is, it’s not as if anyone asks for it, right? He asked for this no more than my daughter asked for her CP,  or that woman for her lung cancer, but we’re helping them while we shoo him away for “being in the vicinity” of a business.

I worry, all the time, about how to care for our daughter; how to juggle our needs with hers, and how to get her the care she needs without the burden of care-giving falling solely on us. We worry, and plan, and re-jig plans — we try to roll with every punch that seems to come her way. One thing I do know is that she will always have us to love her. She won’t always live with us; that would just be weird. But she will live somewhere that she agrees to be. She will live somewhere.

It will be over my dead body that someone throws rocks at her.

This article, sitting quietly there at the end of the “from the cruiser” section (and ironically placed beside a call for proposals for a “Wellness Initiative Fund” from our Health Boards) really worked me up. The disabled in this province are the most disenfranchised group there is — poorer, less educated, every single determinant of health scores on the lower end of the scale. We work very hard to take care of our daughter, to give her the opportunities that she deserves, and she is a very lucky girl to have us.

Otherwise, she might be the subject of an article like this some day, who knows?

That we’re just as lucky to have her goes without saying. But I say it here because I want to make sure that it’s said, and out there. Everyone deserves to have their person-hood seen. She is not only her disability, that man is not only his mental illness. He is a person, a person living out in the open with nowhere to go, and having rocks thrown at him. I know that somewhere, that man has people who love him, who are worrying because he lives on the street. Maybe they respect his choice to live as he does, but worry about people throwing rocks at him early on a Sunday morning. I don’t know, and can’t begin to presume to know his story, or theirs, but see a responsibility in the community at large to help one of it’s own.

I’m not even sure what I’m getting at any more. I just think of those eleven calls to 911 and feel like there were ten too many calls. I wonder why there wasn’t a report of two males who had been arrested for trying to stone a disabled citizen. I wonder why there isn’t a shelter in our community. The article was called “homeless troubles”  —  a title I take issue with. While it is true that homelessness is one of this man’s “troubles” right now, I feel that it would be more accurate to say the troubles run a lot deeper than that.

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9 thoughts on ““homeless troubles”

  1. Bravo Joan! Very well written and more people need to start looking out for people, like the man in the “Cruiser’s” article. I read that same article and thought for shame , for shame in this province. Millions of NS $’s will be spent on a Trade and Convention Center in Halifax so the people with $ will be able to sit up and look at one another at meetings and say “we should really do something about this” while they enjoy catered food, drink flavoured coffee’s and wear their fancy clothes. Meanwhile some poor sole will get “stoned” in the Valley. What is this world coming to???

  2. You should send a copy of this to the paper. And also to the New Minas RCMP and CMHA.
    I do think there should be a stoning, however, it should be a stoning of the two rock throwing sons of bitches.

  3. Very well written Joan, but then you knew that. I think you’ve found a new niche in life (although it may have been there before and I just didn’t know it). I’m glad that you’ve realized that one person cannot do it all and that sometimes in order to balance life we need to step back a few steps and occasionally pop our head out when something such as this blurb in the paper scratches at our inner self. I don’t believe that those of us who advocate for others can ever totally pull ourselves out of that mindset because it becomes a way of life for us. But I do believe that there has to be a balance between that and our personal lives and I believe you may have found that balance.
    I agree with Mark. You should send this to New Minas RCMP and CMHA. You never know what voicing your opinion might do for this man.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words Yvonne. I’ve sent it to Michelle at CMHA, and have donated (online, with interac — how cool is that?). RCMP is harder to get in touch with – haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet.

  4. This is fabulous. So insightful, so witty, and so heartfelt. It’s such a meaningful observation of your community, and of what the paper and its police reports tells us, (literally and between the lines) and doesn’t tell us. You really should be a columnist with a newspaper, girlfriend. You need to send this to an “op ed” section. A gift with words, like yours, must be used — it’s a moral responsibility! Thanks, braveheart!

    • Thanks Patty! Given the homeless population in Toronto you probably think I’m being hopelessly naive, but it’s pretty rare around here. And, well, nowhere is it okay to throw rocks at someone….

  5. It is never okay to throw rocks or anything at anyone ever. There is alot of greatness, love and kindess in the world only to be dampened by ignorance, hatred and evil. We need to get back to basics and start treating people like they matter instead of tossing them aside like a rag doll. I hope your article gets published to remind people that mental illness is a disease and not a crime. Oh and those kids throwing rocks??? Well karma has a way of biting them in ass 😀 What goes around, comes around 😀

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