Let most of us when I reflect upon the plight of the homeless my first thought is their need for shelter, food and water, water especially in this extreme heat and humidity which has endured for two weeks now.
Given the heat I go very early in the morning, usually just after dawn, for my walk.
It is a time not merely for exercise but to pray for everyone who lives in the neighbourhood, works in this area, trolls the alleys to dumpster dig for food or bottles that can be turned in at the recycle plant for some cash.
Many of the elderly people I chat with who dumpster dive do so to stretch their pension so they can pay rent or buy food.
It is mostly the younger ones who are seeking money to feed their addictions.
This area is a mixture of apartment buildings, halfway houses, and the usual sprinkling of small shops, crack houses, and, to use the old expression: ‘houses of ill repute’.
The city has been spending millions to spruce up the area, actually planting trees where there is a strip of grass between the curbs and the sidewalk and has held open house meetings for input from people who live here as the city finalizes plans to begin next spring when roads, sidewalks, streetlights, water and sewer lines will all be renewed, combined with a program called “in-fill”, where the small, very old pre-war houses, which occupy lots considered too big, are torn down and replaced with duplexes, in a effort to get more families into the area.
Walking past one of those new places with, literally, a white picket fence along the front I noticed the sign – the wording of which would be too harsh and gross to put here exactly, so an edited version:
Would you vile people stopping using this fence as a place to eat and relieve yourself.
I was stunned by how the very sharp style of handwriting contrasted with the harshness of the message.
More importantly I was struck by how, while knowing and trying to be faithful to the words of Jesus: “I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger….” I have never given much thought to some very human and basic needs of the homeless.
Always grateful for food, shelter, clothing I am not aware of having given thanks for access to a bathroom, to shower and clean myself, to, as we say ‘go to the bathroom’; access to machines, soap and water to clean my clothes; a refrigerator in which to keep food fresh, a stove to cook upon, plates and utensils to use while having a meal.
As terrible and stressing a thing as it is to be homeless, to scrounge in dumpsters for food or empty cans and bottles to trade for food, how much like salt ground into wounds having no place for other basic bodily needs.
While giving thanks for what I have until now taken for granted, it is also time to pray cities will become inventively compassionate and establish safe and secure public washrooms especially in neighbourhoods where the homeless are, water fountains to slake their thirst in the hot days of summer.
This far north, cities do a rather good job of shelter in the winter, of roaming vans with hot soup, blankets, and sleeping bags – but even in winter a hot shower, a bathroom, a place to get or clean clothes would be such a gift.