This morning, my oldest had volleyball at Saunders SS.
I am privileged enough to hit the Tim Hortons up the road at Southdale and Wonderland for a coffee and a couple of Timbits for the kids waiting in the car with me and to not think twice about it. That's not a thing for London's most vulnerable population.
I recently learned that Southdale and Wonderland is a preferred destination for some of our homeless population, because they don’t tend to lock their bank vestibules overnight. Homelessness is quickly becoming not just a downtown thing in our city. I moved to London in 1996 when I was 13, and Southdale and Wonderland was mostly undeveloped farmland. Now it’s a place where homeless people feel more confident receiving kindness and finding a warm place to sleep.
While pulling up to the drive thru, I noticed an older gentleman sitting on the ground
with a “Homeless. Please help” sign.
I had a few options available to me.
I could have pretended I didn’t see him.
I could have told him to get a job.
I could have told Tim Hortons staff so that they could have LPS run him off.
I chose kindness.
I ordered him a breakfast sandwich and I circled back around the building and gave it to him. His reaction?
”Thank you sir. God bless you.”
A gentleman 20+ years my senior calling me sir. For exhibiting basic kindness and respecting his dignity as a human being.
If you pay attention to the LFP or AM980 comment section, you’d believe that all homeless people are deranged murderers in London, and to be avoided at all costs. They’re really not. They’re human beings, just like us.
Ontario Works is something like $660 a month. When you’re homeless, you don’t have a kitchen to safely store and prepare food. Your net worth according to our government is pretty much 3 breakfast sandwiches a day plus tax. All because you don't have the physical capacity to be a conscientious shopper and consumer of food.
As a Londoner who grew up in domestic violence and poverty, experiencing abuse and neglect, I was a few wrong moves or poor choices away from being in this gentleman’s shoes.
Instead, I have a safe home and a steady job and a loving family. I make an average salary but it provides what we need and my bank account allows me the freedom to do things like order an extra breakfast sandwich for someone who needs it.
I’m no one special. I went to a “bad school” for high school, raised by a single parent on disability. No connections, no silver spoon, no nepotism. But it taught me compassion and grit.
Only needing one job to survive gives me the free time to unite people and utilize social capital for good. Over the last nine years, we have been able to do some very cool things for people who needed it. Paid rent. Bought groceries. Clothing. Christmas presents. Put people in jobs. Helped them pay for school.
Things a guy like myself with a house and a job and a family can take for granted and assume “everything is fine” for everyone else in our community. But as someone with lived experience, I know it isn’t. And that I can help. We all can help. We should help. And help more.
Megan Stacey at the London Free Press wrote a recent story showing how good intentions and lived experience can quickly spiral, https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/allegations-questions-swirl-around-agency-that-ran-city-homeless
Meaning well isn’t enough. Like the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We can all help on an individual level in one form or another, even with something as free and simple and good as a smile and an acknowledgement.
But we have to be aware of the change makers and make sure we are putting them in the best position possible to do the most good possible.
Over the last nine years, no one in any level of government or any philanthropic foundation has given Dad Club London a single cent of funding. No one has been paid for a second of their time for the work we‘ve done. No quid pro quo. No pandering. Just raw genuine humanity.
We have made a difference. For a lot of people.
Because it was the right thing to do. We have the skills, the resources, the intentions, the voice, and the heart to make a difference.
You can be a helper too. .
Don't do it for the awards. The likes. Not for the paycheque. Not for the pats on the back. Don't make life better for those struggling because it looks good on your LinkedIn or you get invited to a fancy gala to bask in people watching a professionally made video congratulating you for thinking of others.
Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Because not everyone else is as lucky as we are. Because the government isn’t the protector of the most vulnerable. Because there are people struggling everywhere you turn. Seen and unseen.
There are people out there who want to help. Not to feel less bad about going home to a six figure salary and two Audis in the driveway and a boat and a $4,000 road bike for the weekend. They want to help because the people they help deserve it.
We can’t control gas prices, housing prices, or inflation. But we can smile and share a kind word and make sure we all have something in our belly to attack our day.
We can support people who want to make a difference by amplifying their message and their dreams and their intentions, and helping them make a difference.
Be a helper when it comes to asking for more from those with even greater ability to provide it too.
We have a provincial election in 5 days. Let’s hold the winners accountable for doing more. We won’t fix this with breakfast sandwiches or made up awards.
$1,400 one bedroom apartments on $660 a month of social assistance are a whole new level of challenge for our most vulnerable. What are the people elected to serve you doing about this with their essentially unlimited resources in comparison to you or I?
What could they be doing if they cared enough?
That’s the real question.
We all can do more. Some of us a LOT more. And everyone will benefit when we do.
Personally, I'm just getting started. I want to do more than buy an extra breakfast sandwich for someone who deserves it and can't afford it themselves.
I donated to Elizabeth Peloza's campaign yesterday because I believe she is one of those helpers. One of those change makers. I believe in people like her and Shawn Lewis and Josh Morgan and John Fyfe-Millar and Mariam Hamou when it comes to moving London in the direction it needs to go, and making it so that our residents can enjoy their golden years in a home of their own and not sitting on the curb in a Tim Hortons drive thru to try to get enough to eat.
I look forward to conversing with those in power to make change happen, and moving things forward to build a stronger community and a brighter future for our kids. All kids.
Stay tuned, London. It’s time to stop shaking our head in sadness at how little has been done, and time to start doing more. Together.
(written from my phone in the Saunders parking lot. Sorry for the absence, blog. It’s good to be back.)