Almost everyone has seen homeless people struggling on the streets in Winnipeg. Homelessness is not a new issue for our city. There are about 300,000 people living on the streets across Canada, and the visible population is growing every year.
Homelessness is a devastating issue that must be addressed in order to build stronger communities not only in Winnipeg but in every country around the world.
I started to understand the severity of this issue after seeing a homeless woman’s situation first-hand in my hometown of Zhongshan in China.
Three years ago, on my way to a hospital, I saw a woman in ragged clothes sitting on the street with her grandson, a young man with physical and mental disabilities. She looked hopeless and miserable, staring at the ground blankly and holding a sign that described her situation. While I read the words on her sign, she started a conversation.
She told me how she and her husband travelled to Zhongshan seeking better health care for their grandson, who had been abandoned by his parents. Because of expensive costs, they used up all of their savings for treatment within one year. They didn’t choose to be homeless. They worked hard to make a living, and they were still striving for a better life.
This is when I started to change my understanding of homeless people, realizing that discrimination and social exclusion are major obstacles to helping homeless people in our society today.
Homelessness can happen to anyone, and everyone has a story. We often take our homes for granted, and we hardly ever think about the distress a homeless man, woman or child may have experienced.
When disparity between the rich and the poor increases, homelessness is sometimes the result. Since our society creates this gap, we are capable of finding effective solutions. This is a matter of determination and collaboration.
In September, my global issues class began working on action projects to improve our communities. I chose homelessness as my topic. My goals are to raise awareness, call for action, and encourage more compassionate communities.
During winter break, I started my awareness campaign in Zhongshan. I then continued to spread the message in Winnipeg with students at Balmoral Hall School and Mulvey School by inviting a speaker from Siloam Mission and designing encouragement cards for homeless people. I also wrote letters to government representatives with Manitoba Housing, calling for policy changes that will benefit those less fortunate.
John Janzen, a representative of Siloam Mission, once told me during a site visit that the most effective way to make a difference is to connect with and relate to homeless people. If we build those connections in a respectful and hopeful manner, then we will tear down the walls between us and them.
Government and not-for-profit organizations certainly play important roles in addressing homelessness. However, you and I may also have a positive effect on homeless people. Interaction between average citizens and those less fortunate is essential in addressing homelessness at its core. A kind response such as “Good morning!” or a friendly smile can make someone’s day.
“A journey of one thousand miles begins with one step.”
I agree completely with this idea expressed by Chinese philosopher Laozi. With empathy, we can change our relationships with homeless people. As we understand their stories better, our communities will be more inclusive. It is important that we treat others with dignity. Once everyone takes this first step, we are able to better our communities.
Volunteer in a homeless shelter, kindly give out donations, or participate in awareness campaigns. These are only a few ways to get involved. Together, with government and not-for-profit organizations, we will inspire change.
Please share a smile or a kind word today!