Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean I’m bad.

Mayor Nenshi addresses the crowd
Mayor Nenshi addresses the crowd

While each of us is unique, there are no unique circumstances in homelessness. No matter who you are, or how you got there, homelessness harms everyone. It destroys dignity. Breaks down self-respect. Rips apart self-worth.

Discrimination is a common occurrence when you’re homeless. People look at you as less than, other than, something different than a ‘regular’ human being and not worthy of common decency.

People drive by and spit at you out car windows. They call you names. They cross the street to avoid walking on the same side as you are on.

When you’re homeless, instability is the foundation of your life. Will there be a bed for me tonight? Will I get robbed of my few possessions? Will I get beaten up for taking up someone else’s space I didn’t know was theirs? Will a gang of kids think it’s a cool idea to throw gasoline on me and watch me burn? Will someone decide they don’t like the way I’m looking at them and decide to teach me a lesson?

When you’re homeless, there are no written rules of engagement except the one that says, you must survive.

When you’re homeless, you don’t have the luxury of depending upon each breath following the next. You never know when the breath you just took will be your last.

I am always amazed when people in the broader community tell me they are afraid of people experiencing homelessness. “What do you think they will do?” I ask.

“They’ll attack me. Take what I’ve got because they want it more.”

“That’s unlikely to happen,” I tell them. “When did you last hear of someone iin homelessness randomly attacking someone on the street?”

“Well…” They usually pause here to search their brains for a memory of a story about such a situation. They come up blank.

It just isn’t the way it is.

What is true is that when you’re homeless, you are vulnerable. No matter the colour of your skin, your faith, your culture, homelessness is a vulnerable state of being and while someone may not be stalking ‘normal folk’ to attack, they are at risk of being attacked. Both by ‘normal folk’ and those in the homeless community.

Keeping a low profile is essential when you’re living the homeless experience. It’s important to not attract too much attention because attention gets you in trouble. Attention leaves you exposed and visible. And being visible is not a healthy state of being in homelessness.

On Friday, we held a World Homeless Awareness Day event here in Calgary. Our Mayor came and gave an impassioned speech talking about the need for affordable housing. Affordable Housing is The Key our posters read.

And it is. You can’t end homelessness without a home to go to.

The challenge is, people often don’t want people with lived experience of homelessness living in their communities.

My property value will drop, they tell me. Crime will rise. Parking will be a mess.

I show them the research. Talk to them about the right of everyone to have a home. The need for diversity in our communities.

And still, underlying it all is the fear that because that person is different than me, because they carry a label I’m unable or unwilling to see beyond, they will harm my way of life. They will want what I’ve got and take it from me.

Homelessness is not the issue. Our misconceptions, our perceptions and our judgements are.

In his speech, Mayor Nenshi stated, “Homelessness sucks!”

He’s right.

It does.

And you know what else sucks?

Our belief that those who are living in homelessness are different than, other than you and me.

The only difference between us is that their issues are on the surface. They are visible for all of us to see that life is fragile. Life is unpredictable and the only way through it is to count on one another, hold true to our belief in the dignity and majesty of the human being and celebrate our differences and our similarities.

And we can’t do that when we cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past someone whose pain is visible on our streets.



6 thoughts on “Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean I’m bad.”

  1. A few posts back I wrote a post called JUST hungry. Not sure if you read it. But this speaks volumes to me! I’m ready to make a difference. And not just a random handout to ease my own conscious. I wish we lived closer. You are a true inspiration!


  2. LG

    Good piece.

    I wonder – as you play this harp … the tune is one I’ve heard before from you and others. While it is great to say homes end homelessness – until you achieve that lofty goal, there is more to this than ‘tolerance and understanding’.

    I agree that much of this is about invalid perceptions – the perception is reality for many on both sides. I think your argument would not sit well with most people who are afraid, those NIMBY-ones because they would argue their fears matter more than your facts, that their tax-paying status gives them rights to insulation from certain issues and problems. They might argue that the simple homeless person is not their fear – but that addictions, mental health problems and petty crime ARE at the root of their concerns. Those issues ARE the reality of the homeless community and you know that. I know that. They know that too.

    Shining the bright light of understanding isn’t just about showing the failings and humanity of the homeless population – but should also shine the light on the rest of the community where addictions, mental healh problems and petty crime are hiding in plain sight .. under tidy roofs with smoke coming out of the chimneys.

    We are all one or two steps away from a home, or from homelessness. We are all one slip and fall away from trouble.

    We are all at risk, we should all be afraid. What you are saying is that we should be less afraid of people who aren’t the same as we are. Good luck changing that reality …

    You shine light, every day, on these issues and get your readers thinking more about these things. You should write more, talk more, spread these ideas more. We all should …




    1. so true Mark — it is something I talk about in communities — how people with addictions and mental health issues live here too — and they are often isolated and hiding out in plain view.

      Thanks my friend!


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