I arrived back in Ottawa late last night and drove through the downtown area on the way home. I saw a man walking with a garbage bag over his shoulder and as I approached, I wondered if this was someone I knew. It was.
Eddie is somewhere around forty years old and has been habitually homeless. He doesn’t use alcohol or drugs but he does have some mental health issues, and a major story that has brought him to where he is tonight. He is friendly, can carry on a conversation most of the time, and is one of our friends.
I want to take you to just one part of Eddie’s life: Eddie is a walker. He walks. And walks. And walks some more.
He is constantly on the move, from one styrofoam cup of coffee to the next, from one doorway or abandoned building to another when he is ‘moved along’. He is allowed to most of the social service agencies in our city, but really does not access them. He has trouble, as I mentioned earlier, with mental illness.
OK, so I want you to imagine for a brief moment what it would be like to be Eddie. Not the voices inside his head, or the trauma that has formed his life, but something simple, that we can all ‘get’. The walking piece.
People who are experiencing poverty and homelessness are always on the move. Police, business owners and citizens all say, ‘Move along. Go Somewhere Else.’ (I have not ever located this place called ‘Somewhere Else’, but I have a suspicion that it must be pretty full by now).
Walking. No where to go, just walking. Heat from the concrete, frostbitten toes, soles from the donated runners separating from the tops and flopping, wet, damp, wet and even frozen. Not sure of your welcome anywhere, but a basic understanding that you are welcome nowhere (many good citizens tell you this, but the voices in your head confirm repeatedly). Some degree of danger, because when you are alone and on your own you are an easy target.
We might imagine some discomfort in our own walking experiences perhaps, but realize there is no reprieve here. No let up. No stopping. You can’t get another pair of shoes and dry socks. There are no boots available, just used donated runners – when you can find a size close to your own.
Where would you go? Can’t go for coffee, ‘cause you have no money. Restaurants are out. Drop in programs, maybe, if you are safe.
You just keep on walking, walking, walking. Endless walking. Keep on moving, one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, but there is no end.
Welcome to one part of Eddie’s world.