Reflections on a Park Bench by Ken Rosser
On reflection, there were those old cartoons of homeless people asleep on park benches with a newspaper for a blanket. I never understood what the punchlines to those were. Now, we make our benches too short, and instead of on the ends, we put our hand rests in the middle. Oh no, not for you is this a place of rest. We don’t want to see you taking up space in our bus shelters where you might have some protection from the winter winds. We don’t want to see those we have made homeless by corporate or government policies. We don’t want to notice that houses have soared to become million-dollar properties, while wages have stagnated.
It is rare to be hired off the streets back into a mainstream job, because we have come to look scruffy. We don’t mean to, but it is just how it is. We no longer have the means to buy fine clothes.
You don’t like how our etiquette has lapsed? Well, we have had to learn the etiquette of the streets to survive. You don’t panhandle in the same block as someone else. You share, yet you fight over a dropped bill. Life is harder than you imagine, yet the trap door is under your very feet, if you were only aware. But look at us, think about us sometime. This was someone’s little girl, still is, but what happened along her journey, that now you don’ t wan t to share a bus seat with her? What are the torments behind her eyes, or his? They could fill novels with their stories, will you listen?
Things will only get worse before they get better.
The Toronto Sun complains about the litter left by the damned, which is a symptom, not the disease. They want to cover everything up with a big rug, and pretend it isn’t there. They want more police, not more money for the poor. More jails, not more housing, no safe injection sites, just more graveyards. Things will only get worse if you follow their solutions, and in the end, who will be left to bury them? We need better park benches, and more of them. We need more kindness, better wages and better laws to protect workers. We need rent controls and tenant protections, not carte blanche for greedy landlords to make excuses for evictions. We need power for the many, not the few. We need blankets, not newspapers, for those who need a park bench for a temporary mattress.
Toronto Writers Collective Facilitator Appreciation Event
By Erin Nantais
On Saturday January 11, 2020, over 40 facilitators, staff and supporters braved heavy rains to attend the Toronto Writers Collective’s first ever Facilitator Appreciation Day at the Ralph Thornton Centre in Leslieville/South Riverdale.
The event was a celebration of the hard work and dedication put forth by TWC volunteer facilitators. Susan Turk, Toronto Writers Collective founder, explains “It is important to show our facilitators how grateful we are for their contributions”.
The event featured guest speakers: Toronto Poet Laureate, Al Moritz and spoken word poet, Andrea Thompson. Everyone who attended had the opportunity to write together. “The facilitators told me the gathering was both rewarding and inspiring, underscoring the power of what we do,” said Turk.
This was the first time for TWC facilitators to sit down as a group and reflect on the important work they do for various communities. “Gathering and writing together is important, as it creates and strengthens our shared fabric of giving voice by encouraging our own”, said Turk. “These opportunities enrich workshop experiences as best practices and prompts are shared”.
It was a full day of writing and sharing with breaks for the participants to enjoy a cornucopia of delicious middle eastern cuisine.
The discussions and writing reflected the overall mission of the Toronto Writers Collective of inspiring voice and empowering the unheard. “It really was a good group to be amongst,” Moritz revealed; “you rarely find a group that is so friendly and welcoming… This group showed a great deal of intelligence and emotional intelligence.
Everything written was very connected to basic issues of life: social, personal, and community. Everyone was conscious of life realities for individuals”. As Moritz discussed in his talk, “You of the Toronto Writers Collective listen to the poetry of each who comes to you. Your chief gift is listening… When you encourage writing, you are offering your gift to people who, in one way or another, are locked up in loneliness – as we all are”.
The Toronto Writers Collective will continue celebrating the facilitators and writers who make it all possible in workshops across the city, in Mississauga, and Ottawa.
Please visit the calendar to learn more about these and our other current offerings.
Most of the time, in Toronto, the homeless population is estimated at 10,000 people. But this number is not accurate, as it does not take into account people who return to live with parents and those people who stay with friends or couch-surf. So the actual number of homeless is significantly higher. All of us know someone who has been homeless. I have been homeless on various occasions through my life. Once I was homeless in Winnipeg in March!
The shelter system is not the answer. When I was in a shelter, I experienced physical violence, and people stealing from me. At one shelter a woman younger than myself hit me in the mouth because I snored. Instead of this woman being asked to leave, I was; so I want and stayed at the home of some friends. On other occasions I have stayed with friends as well, and a few times I have slept in parks. It was a bit like camping.
No-one wants to be homeless. When one is homeless, the risks of death from exposure to the elements are higher. Homeless deaths occur both in summer in winter, as extreme temperatures of any sort affect vulnerable people. The saddest statistic and an ongoing trend in the past few years is the number of people over 50 who, because of debt and failure to prepare for the future, become homeless. Often these people are women. As a woman over 50 who has already experienced homelessness, this is a frightening trend.
The other fast-growing group joining the homeless ranks are youth between the ages of 16 and 30, who for various reasons can’t live with their families. Seventy percent of homeless people are dealing with mental health or addictive issues. The government must acknowledge that everyone needs a roof over their heads to feel secure and safe.
In a country like Canada, and a city like Toronto, no-one should be homeless!