Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Homelessness and Addiction

I'm reading a really interesting book right now called "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts."  It's about addiction.  Written by Dr. Gabor Mate (sorry I don't know how to add an accent over the "e" in this blogging program), so far it is about the people he treats in Downtown Eastside Vancouver, about their addictions, their struggles, their lives and deaths.  It is also about his addiction - to buying classical music (seriously, he's spent as much as $8,000 in one month - it's a problem).  I'm only about 1/3 of the way through the book, so not sure what other kinds of addiction come into it, but I'm looking forward to finding out.  He is very readable and he is very real.  He's also written an awesome parenting book called "Hold On To Your Kids."

But that's not why I'm writing this post.  I'm writing this post because something he relayed in his writing bothered me and I needed to think about it.  And then, when I thought about it, I needed to write about it.

So here it is - there is an aspect of my personality that I've never liked, and that is my reaction to homeless people.  My automatic reaction is to close myself off, to ignore them, to avoid eye contact and to move along.  Always with this reaction comes guilt and empathy.  I know these are damaged souls and I feel I should have more immediate, direct compassion.  So I feel bad about myself.

A female addict in the book said something along the lines of how she just feels ignored by society or she just wants people to see her and understand she is just human.  And I totally get that.  I'd like to be able to do that for each and every homeless person out there.  Experience, however, has shown me that it is not that easy.

People who are drunk and/or high are unpredictable.  I've been backed around a pool table in a bar by a drunk man.  I worked at a drug store where addicts came in and stole aftershave so they could drink it.  I've been sworn at by drunk vagrants in the park next to my son's school - while I was walking him to his grade 2 class!!  I've been accosted on the street more times than I could count by people who wanted money - for their dog, for the bus, for a phone call, for food - knowing that the odds are they needed their next fix and just wanted money to buy drugs.  That's not calling them liars, that's calling them addicts.  That's what addicts do - they will lie to, steel from and cheat their own mothers, of course they are doing it to me.

So as individuals, as damaged people, my compassion goes out to them.  As addicts who are desperate and living on the streets, my self-preservation instincts kick in and I HAVE TO distance myself from them.

Supporting the food bank, the Salvation Army, homeless shelters, etc., is the best way I can think of to help while not getting into trouble with unpredictable inebriated people.  I commend those people who dedicate their lives to helping the homeless.  It is a hard and mostly thankless job, I'm sure.  It must be frustrating to watch people who are having so many problems and not solving them.

Bless those people who are trying to help directly.

*NOTE - I do understand that not all homeless or poor people are addicts.  However, addiction is a major problem amongst the homeless population.

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