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Entries in Homelessness (2)


On The Street Where I Live, I Met  Him.

It was not on “Some enchanted evening … across a crowded room,” I saw the stranger. No, I saw the stranger on the street where I live, on a cold winter’s day just after Christmas.

At first it was a matter of mistaken identity.  You see, I was driving very close to home when I saw this person, bent over a rollator, lumbering up the hill at the edge of the road, as cars zoomed by. My heart constricted.  Was it who I thought it was?  The woollen toque pulled low over the bent head made it hard to see if it was indeed who I feared it was.

I parked in the drive way and ran to bring my elderly friend safely home, and stopped in my tracks, startled by what I saw.  A breathless man lumbered towards me. Poorly clothed, without gloves, unkempt there he stopped in front of me, his face radiant.  He caught his breath, and I caught mine.   Lost for words I took in what I saw.  In the ten years I have lived in this suburb, I have never seen a homeless person on this street.  Where had he come from, where was he going, I wondered.  So, I asked.   And he began at the very beginning, to tell me his story.

It wasn’t long before I recognised some of his mental health challenges.  While I buttoned up my coat and flipped up the collar against the icy wind, the stranger spoke of a miracle that saved him as a child.  As I listened, my mind wandered. I wondered about the Christ whose birth we had just celebrated a day ago.  Who was this stranger, I pondered?  Was ours merely a chance meeting?  What really was this encounter all about?  My question about where he was going, went unanswered. Though I began to shiver, he seemed oblivious to the cold and continued to tell his story.  So, I listened attentively, as it became evident that what the stranger was looking for, was a fellow human being with whom he could share his story.

In time, I knew I needed to end our encounter and told him I had to leave.  I would have happily given this man money and my gloves, which would have been a poor fit for his large hands, but he wanted neither.  “I do not want anything but thank you for your time” were his parting words. Then he turned around and lumbered back down that same hill, on the road, with cars zooming by. 

I stood and watched him for quite a while, feeling blessed by this encounter, thankful for meeting Christ on the street where I live.  

- Sr. Magdalena Vogt, cps


Do Women  Count?

Most of the pictures we see, or we have in our mind’s eye, concerning homeless people are images of men.  A search of much of the literature reporting on homelessness show pictures of homeless men.  Does this mean that more men than women experience homelessness?  Or are we missing something because of the way we tend to count homelessness?

Abe Oudshoorn, an Assistant Professor at the school of Nursing at Western University notes in a Blog for the Homeless Hub, that women may experience homelessness in different ways.  For instance, women are less likely to be visibly present at services for people experiencing homelessness.  Some of reasons for this might be because women are more likely to have children in their care and are worried to have them apprehended, or because they want to avoid men who have harmed them, or have other safety concerns.  So just counting numbers who use these services does not give us a real picture of homelessness in our city.

Other research looked at this question by tracking those who enter the emergency department in Pennsylvania.  They screened 4,395 patients on housing and gender.  These were people needing some kind of medical attention.  They hoped to get a more realistic picture of the population who were homeless.  Their findings indicated (limited as the study was), of those who were homeless, 7.4% were male, 6.8% were female, with 0.07% identifying as transgender.  

This is only a small sample, but it raises some important questions for us.  Where do the studies on homelessness include the experience of women, and could other data, seek better solutions to assist women who are living such a precarious life.  They too need support.  

Joan Atkinson, CSJ,   Office for Systemic Justice, Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada


Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.