I walked the streets yesterday. Oh, not like in the past where I posed as a prostitute to experience going eyeball to eyeball with a john. This street walking didn’t put me feeling at risk on the seedier side of life — even though I had two undercover police officers watching over me. This street walking wasn’t for research. It wasn’t to get deeper into what happens to a young girl’s psyche when selling her body for sex. This street walking was to get close to neighbours, to gain understanding of their concerns about a ‘Housing First’ apartment building in their neighbourhood which is part of our City’s 10 year plan to end homelessness.
Like my night on the street years ago, however, this street walking moved me to tears.
When working at the homeless shelter, I was often surprised by how many people came in with their workplace to volunteer, who when given a tour of the facility would say, “But aren’t you enabling people?”
My response was always the same. “Yes we are. We’re enabling them to stay alive.”
Housing people experiencing homelessness saves lives.
It doesn’t really matter what we think about the condition of their lives, they have the same right as you and me to be alive. And staying alive keeps hope alive that one day they will be able to make different choices.
In the almost six years that I worked at the shelter, I never once met someone who said, “I love being an addict.” or, “I dreamt my whole life about being homeless. I’m so grateful for finally achieving my goal.”
Being homeless, or being an addict is not a dream come true. It’s a nightmare.
Challenge is, it’s a nightmare that scares most of us and when we see it on our streets, we want to hide from its impact, avoid eye contact with its reality. We want it to go away. To disappear. To leave us alone.
It is our human nature. To avoid confronting things that make us uncomfortable.
I didn’t want to walk the streets yesterday. I didn’t want to knock on doors and introduce myself and explain why I was there.
I was afraid of how people would respond. Afraid of what they would say.
In the end, I didn’t need to fear. People are human beings. And, in highly charged emotional spaces, we humans tend to respond in highly charged, emotional ways.
It is in these spaces that deep listening is essential. It is in these spaces that listening with the intent to learn, to understand, to connect really makes a difference.
I walked the streets yesterday and knocked on doors and heard people’s fears, anger, confusion. I listened with an open mind and heart. I accepted the truth of their perceptions and stayed out of defensive rebuttals designed to prove them wrong. They are not wrong to feel the way they do. Based on their experience, on their observations of changes they see in their neighbourhood, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to see what’s going on.
There is only their truth in what they perceive and always, there is truth in everything.
In their words, in their fear and concerns, there is truth. There also may be misconceptions, wrong impressions, misinformation, but allowing room for their truth to be heard is the first step to understanding what has happened, where things went sideways, where misinformation got spread, where wrong impressions got exposed.
I went street walking yesterday and, as happened years ago when I spent a night going eyeball to eyeball with johns, I came away moved by our human condition. I came away with a deeper empathy for the fragility of our human need to seek comfort, community, a sense of belonging. I came away with a deep appreciation of our human need to connect.
We are not wrong to fear what we don’t understand. It is our human condition.
And in our human condition there is only the truth of what we know, what we have experienced, what we have shared. In our human condition, no matter the past, however, there is always room to grow because in being human, there is no us and them. There is only us. We are all connected. All one humanity experiencing this thing called life. and in this experience, there is truth in everything and the truth will always shine light on darkness.
I found truth walking the streets yesterday and in its light, I was moved to tears.