This guy’s eyes haunted me for a long time.
I was out to take pictures at the Rideau Center. When I exited The Bay, he was standing here, playing the harmonica. I stood here for a minute, looking at him. I grabbed the camera which was slung over my shoulders and our eyes met briefly. He nodded, still playing. He first slowly turned on his side to show me the cat perched on his shoulder, safe from my camera’s peering eye. I smiled and waited. Eventually, he looked straight into my eyes. I snapped two pictures quickly, gave him a couple of bucks and walked away. Later, when I looked at the picture, I noticed he looked like a deer caught in headlights. His wary eyes seemed to be challenging me, saying: “are you seeing me now?”
Looking back, I realized what bothered me so much: to most people, these guys in the streets are invisible. They stand nearby bus stops, sit at busy intersections and sleep under bridges. They sit there and they watch people go by, attending to their business. Everybody mind his own business here. Occasionally, they ask for a buck or two and will wish you a good day even if you don’t have change. And people keep on walking by, as if ignoring them will make poverty, homelessness and distress go away. How silly from us.
A French song goes “It seems to me that misery will be less painful under the sun”. It sounds so true to me. I saw the ugliest side of poverty in Bolivia: it was cold, the streets were dirty and looking at the kids in rag playing in piles of garbage made me cringe. Some places we’ve been to were equally as poor, but it just didn’t feel the same. In Brazil, kids from the favelas used the showers at Copacabana and played football on the beach. Poverty was still there but it didn’t seem as bad.
To me, poverty and homelessness in Canada look as bad as it did in Bolivia. Sure, our streets are cleaner and we have drinking water. But these guys are outside in the cold from dawn to dusk. I chatted with one of the guys pictured below and he explained me that he can usually find a bed in one of the emergency shelters around the city, such as The Mission or the Salvation Army. But homeless are kicked out during the day and left roaming in the city.
I don’t have a miracle solution. Like most people, I occasionally spare some change but most of the time don’t. I rushed by homeless people every day and I seldom take the time to slow down and be friendly.
I chatted with “Danny” for a little while (he is the one who told me about these emergency shelters). He told me one of the things that bothered him the most was that people ignored him. He felt invisible and asked me why people acted this way around him. The only reply I had was that people were probably scared. Not of him, but of being like him. He seemed to like that. It made sense to him.