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“The other day I saw a man who was hiding out in a bank lobby late at night just … wringing the dirty water out of everything he owned,” he wrote to me. “He hung up his clothes everywhere he could and they dripped so much (the water) pooled underneath. When I came back with food and cigs for him, he was almost out of all of his wet clothes, rubbing his bare feet between his hands.”
A couple of cigarettes are one of the few comfort items available on the streets. Yes, they are very bad for your health. But it’s something warm and social and humanizing on a cold night.
Socks. Socks and underwear. People without a home have no laundry facilities, so these are one-use items.
We helped about 15 people that night, fewer than normal. Some were familiar faces, some new to us, and some of them had a home but little money for food.
The Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa says the number of Ottawa residents sleeping outside has doubled since the start of the pandemic. There are 1,900 people – including children – sleeping in shelters every night, and 2,500 households at risk of eviction. What’s to be done?
People have called for more washrooms in downtown Ottawa for years, most recently with the “Gotta Go” campaign.
In January 2020, city council passed Coun. Catherine McKenney’s motion declaring a housing crisis and emergency in Ottawa. This was followed by precisely zero meaningful action. A month ago, council rejected McKenney’s proposal to raise property taxes by 1.33 per cent to generate $13.2 million for housing and social agencies. Somehow, amid evictions, hardships and disease, a majority of council decided the status quo of underfunded social programs was acceptable.
What can the average Ottawa resident do right now? Ask your homeless neighbours if they need anything: a sandwich, a hot drink, a blanket, a waterproof tarp or a foam pad so they don’t have to sleep on icy pavement. You can also support the street-level organizations who help them. It could be the Ottawa Street Medics, or Hit the Streets, or Minwaashin Lodge.
We can choose the Ottawa we want to live in.
Cullen Bird is a freelance journalist and Ottawa resident. He has volunteered with the Ottawa Street Medics since October.
This content was originally published here.