Photo credit: Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum

COVID-19 has shown me that those suffering homelessness desperately need relief

By Diane Meredith

One day back when the lockdown and social isolating did not seem so bad, I sat reading in a downtown park. Folks were sitting six to even ten feet apart, some wore gloves, a few others masks. There seemed to be a triumphant air that day: “Yeah, we got this.” All snuggled up warm in my own chair, devouring chapter after chapter of my book, I lost track of time.

Suddenly I had to pee – super badly. I awkwardly packed up my things and hustled off towards a bathroom – any bathroom. But even in the heart of downtown Toronto, there were no public washrooms open: no coffee shops; no grocery stores; no food courts. Nothing. When I realized I wasn’t going to make it home, I humbly admit I had to find a secluded spot. I am sure some folks politely looked away.

I was dreadfully embarrassed. But I share this moment because it shone some light into a dark social issue that I’d never considered. It hit me as I sheepishly made my way home: Where do people suffering homelessness go now? How do they relieve themselves during the 10 to 12 hours a day they are on the streets before they can go to a shelter? Have we now stripped the most vulnerable of all human decency?

 

Under COVID-19, a bright light is shining down on all the problems that have been hidden in the darkness.

Before the pandemic, thousands of people with no homes wandered our streets every day, but we were able to ignore them because they were kept out-of-sight in libraries, food courts, malls, and parks. Now, there is no where for their sacred bodies to hide. The parks are being monitored by police; all the other avenues of daily public escape have been closed.

Now we see what was hidden.

How is it that, before COVID-19, I could be so complacent about an entire class of people wandering our streets, forced to beg for the simple dignity of a washroom? Or when the begging fails, having to to relieve themselves in public.

I have turned away too long. As this Now Magazine article makes painfully clear, we all have.

But now we must look squarely into this truth and collectively call for change. It won’t be easy, but it is long overdue. For a small start, please sign this petition.

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