April 20, 2006

What about all those addicts and homeless people?

During lunch with coworkers today, the woman to my left said that a lot of crime could be attributed to less Welfare support, which contributes to addicts tendency to do crime. She said that if they could get Welfare, they'd be less likely to steal. She mentioned that many of them are mentally ill, and can't get medicine or don't take it when they should.

The fellow to my right said that all thieves should have their hands cut off.

Another coworker added that the beggars he sees on Hastings Street everyday probably make more money than him every day, and that they're probably too lazy or apathetic to get a job.

After a while of listening to this debate, I felt stymied - trapped in between these extreme views.

I pictured one of one of my oldest friends who has struggled with multiple substance addictions for years now. I thought of my parents who abused themselves with alcohol and ruined their lives and jeopardized mine. I thought of my dear sister, who worked her way out of the Welfare cycle and into a career that could support her family. I thought of some of the guys I've met on the downtown streets over the past three years: Curtis, Keith, and Dean. They are not a threat to me, and honest as far as I can tell. I thought of Bob Bagnell, who, to me, represents someone who was lost in addictions but tried to get his health and his future back on track. In spite of how he died, I believe that Bob did succeed completely because he had started to gain physical and spiritual health and new hope.

I tried to say that it's not realistic to stereotype Welfare recipients as lazy, or drug addicts as thieves, anymore than it would be realistic for me to ignore the fact that these stereotypes exist for a reason. I don't think I got the words out right, because here I am writing about it.

Rightly or wrongly, a few conclusions come to my mind from all this:

  • Everybody has their own story, and their own reasons for why they are where they are. I think stereotypes are a convenient substitute for people who don't have (or don't want) actual first-hand experience.

  • I think some people understandably resent those whom they see as a drain on society, but they may also be a bit afraid of what they don't understand. I consider it dehumanizing to label and presume about people if you don't try to learn a little something about their background or some of the factors of their situation.

  • Finally, in my city, we do have more people than ever suffering well beneath the poverty line. Our municipal, provincial and federal governments should provide them with a more effective social service and education.

Maybe what the rest of us can try to provide is a little more understanding and compassion.

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