Today was a strange day for me. Today, I met a man who asked me for change. I said, “I don’t have any change.” He then left the area I was waiting at for the next city bus to come by, and within ten minutes he was back. When he asked me for change, he stated as we walked past each other that he needed it to buy a coffee. When I saw him come back, he didn’t have a coffee in his hand. He was eating candy though. He got up and stood next to me and laughed. I looked at him and smiled. He said, “I only take these things because they have candy in them.” He pulled out a bag filled with unopened needles and sterilization packages. I knew what that was for.
I am aware of the level of drug use that goes in London ON. What I am also aware of is the level of drug use that goes in the specific area of Dundas all the way from Adelaide down to Richmond (and both a few hundred meters passed both streets running north and south of Dundas). A question could then be raised of “How are you aware of the level of drug use that goes on in Downtown London?” Well, the answer is simple put, “I am aware.”
I am aware of what goes on around me. I am aware the people that walk in front of me, beside me, and even behind me. This man today, I didn’t give him any change. Not because I didn’t want to, it was because I couldn’t. I didn’t have any change on me.
Downtown London ON is not the best city-downtown core. I lived in downtown Toronto, seen downtown Vancouver, spent a few days within minutes of downtown Halifax–all very beautiful downtown cores and each with their own downfalls/pitfalls (homelessness/drug use/prostitution), like that of London ON.
What makes me so confused about London ON is that people are unaware of what actually goes on in the downtown core. I have seen drug deals happen right in front of me: money handed out, a baggie exchanged and the two who met up are gone within split seconds. I seen prostitutes walk up and down one block, waiting for that John Doe (heck, I was even walking one day and asked if I wanted “a ride” and then followed for the four blocks I needed to walk to get to my next bus stop). I have seen prostitutes be let off, John Doe drive away, and different John Doe come and pick up the same prostitute. This is what goes in London ON core.
Or maybe people are aware of the situation, they just choose to ignore it.
Some people avoid this area at all costs. There have even been talks about diverting public transit so not to “congest” the downtown. Trust me, it’s already congested. What these people are doing when they divert their attention away is not helping at all. One might say, “Well, people choose to be homeless.” Or, another might say, “I would rather much have my tax money go to something more productive like a better playground than another drug-rehab-clinic.” By being not aware of what goes on in Downtown London and by diverting your attention or even public transit away from this area, it is not helping at all.
The people that situate themselves in this area on a daily basis are part of a community. The people of this community thrive on each other. They support each other. They help each other. They even sometimes steal from each other, as I over heard another woman say to her friend. This community….is thriving within the London ON community and when we divert our attention away from this community, we are not helping them at all. We are just putting a veil over our eyes and trying to avoid the people that live in this community.
This man I talked to, he shared with me that he was in jail from 19-24 years of age. He had 13 kids, 10 different baby mothers, and admitted to doing IV drugs, admitted to making $100 in Argyle Mall parking lot just panhandling, and even admitted to being able to speak, read, and write German. I told him, he could put that skill to some good use. He said he was fine living the life he was living. I know that not all people in the downtown core are “fine” living a panhandling lifestyle. He said though that he had “paid his dues.” He was homeless for five years. He now has a nice apartment and makes anywhere from $40 to $150 in a day just asking for change. I know this is not a reason to not give someone change or to exclude everyone who does ask for change based on this story. What I do know is that, I agree with what he said after all this. He said, “I am close to forty years old, and when you reach forty, it’s all about survival.” What this man was doing day to day is all about survival. Social assistance isn’t enough to survive and live off of for one grown person. There isn’t enough food at food banks to feed everyone who needs food in the city. There aren’t enough volunteers for a social service agency to supply the community they are in the resources that people need.
This is where people in London ON go wrong. They divert their attention away from the downtown core, where this area I mentioned above is. They divert public transit away. They put a veil over their eyes. They just don’t realize that the people who are in poverty will continue to survive the way they are surviving because they all support and need each other, whether it is for another “fix” or a couch or floor to crash on. People in London ON who are fortunate enough not to live in poverty don’t know that, by not paying attention, they are only helping the poverty exist even more.
I hope one day that the downtown core of London ON will not be outcasted or the people who are situated downtown on a daily basis are no longer shunned. That is my only hope for London ON. One day.