Living in Vancouver, homelessness is a given. It’s a very harsh and in-your-face reality that Vancouverites experience. It’s tough to be sitting on a patio enjoying a drink and to have someone come up and ask for money. Gentrification is inevitable, but I am one of many who is guilty of saying no to that person, even though I certainly have money, but I’m choosing not to share it.
Let me lay out some context. Aside from never having cash on hand, and hoarding my coins for laundry, I am a huge supporter of programs such as Insite and and low income housing initiatives. I’ve read enough to see the value in programs such as Portland’s Housing First and believe it is our duty as citizens to support our community and be compassionate to those who have suffered in ways I can’t even imagine given my very privileged life.
But not too long ago I was slammed in the face with a situation I wish I could reverse. I was rushing to a class and had just arrived at the train station. I had a book of transit tickets, something I’m always willing to share with the homeless as many of them sell them or use them to get around, and a very gentle man approached me asking for a ticket. I obliged and made way to catch my train. He stopped me again explaining his situation as a First Nations man recently moved from Manitoba and very hungry. Would I be so kind as to walk to McDonalds with him, across the street, to purchase him a meal?
Could I, late for class, rushing, walk across the street, catch the next train 15 minutes later, be able to purchase an inexpensive meal for a starving man?
Could I prioritize this man’s hunger over my disorganization?
Could I justifiably be 5 minutes late to class to take an edge of of someone who was just asking for a break?
No. I couldn’t.
I prioritized my time over this man’s hunger. Over this man’s life.
A few weeks later, I was discussing the situation with someone who justified my actions. But I don’t feel justified. If I believe in a compassionate society, is it not my responsibility to be part of that compassion? The guilt has stayed with me and I am grateful for that. It’s a reminder to stop and consider the bigger picture. Because I believe in kindness and I believe in being part of this community.