Monday, October 28, 2013

What if it was me?

Photo courtesy of
On Wednesday of last week, Harley Lawrence, a 62 year old homeless man, died in a suspicious fire in a bus shelter in Berwick.

This story has haunted me for several days now and my heart goes out to the families and community that knew and loved him. It’s been heartening to see the outpouring of love and support.

I don’t know what has struck me the most about this story; the sadness at such a lonely and unfortunate end to a life; the cruelty of it possibly being deliberate; or maybe it is the part of me that is reminded that there are homeless men, women, teenagers, children and veterans across our province that suffer every single day.

I hand out change on street corners or intersections. I’ve bought coffees and sandwiches. But, at the end of the day, I don’t do much to change it or to help in any big way. It’s easy to forget. Because it’s not me.

But what if it was me? What keeps me from a life on the streets?

It is said an enormous percentage of Canadians are only two pay checks away from being homeless.

I have lived much of my adult life only one or two pay checks away from not being able to make ends meet. I have struggled from time to time myself to pay a heat or power bill or buy groceries but I have always managed.

I am lucky to have family and friends who would never allow me to end up on the streets. (That’s not to say Lawrence didn’t. From all accounts he had family that cared for him very much and I can’t pretend to know the details of that.)

But not everyone has people who care.

I have no issues with addiction, I have a decent education that will continue to increase my pay as I get experience.  

I don’t think I have any mental health problems. At least the voices in my head tell that me that I don’t…

In short, I am not homeless because I have been lucky.

I realize there is prejudice and misunderstanding that exists around the issue of homelessness. There is even more prejudice and misunderstanding around the abuse, addiction and mental health and financial issues that can lead to homelessness in the first place.

It is likely this prejudice, mixed with pure cruelty, which led to Lawrence’s death being suspicious.

Imagine, believing that someone is less than you because they are down on their luck.
It can all be hard to understand from the outside looking in.

But if you are unable to understand abuse, addiction, or mental health issues than you should count yourself lucky.

If you are unable to understand what its like to lose everything and find yourself on the streets with no one to turn to, with people feeling it’s OK to hurt or harass you or to simply avoid eye contact, than you should be grateful.

Because all that means is that you have yet to find yourself in their shoes.

With fall quickly turning into winter, there will be men, women and children who will not have a hot meal, a warm coat or a bed to sleep in. You can help make one day, or two or three, a little more bearable.

Many of our homeless are veterans, so celebrate Remembrance Day by helping out at a shelter.

Celebrate the season of giving by donating old coats, boots or mittens. Shelters are also in need of bedding, toiletries, and other items.

There are a million ways to help.

To me the best way to remember Harley Lawrence is to help others in need. Someday it could be you.

If you don't know where to start, here are a couple of links for you to check out.

Can’t donate? Send some warm words. They are free and will be passed along to those in the shelter. You might make someone’s day.

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