With Eyes Closed

A homeless person seeks heat on a grate as snow piles up in Toronto’s theatre district early on Feb 1. (Dwight Friesen/CBC)

I came across this photo on the CBC’s site, linked to the photo, and I could not stop looking at it — the irony grabbed me with a firm hand and wouldn’t let go. This homeless soul, seeking heat from a metal grate in the middle of an ugly storm…right in front of the (privately owned and financed) Princess of Wales theatre, mere steps from the Skydome and CN Tower. It is the epitome of sadness to me and, I believe, makes an inauspicious statement about the condition of humankind.

I do not see the world through rose-colored glasses. I never have. I know homelessness is an ever-present and growing problem, right across this country and others. But no one chooses this life.

Who is this person? Someone’s son or daughter? Someone’s father or mother? According to statistics, they are just as likely to be university educated with an impressive resume as a “bum” or a drug addict — someone who, by some cruel twist of fate or some unfortunate set of circumstances, has been knocked on their butts.

My older daughter recently attended a sold-out Ozzy Osbourne concert in Halifax. She and five of her friends bought tickets as soon as they went on sale, and one of the group of six didn’t show. They knew they’d have no trouble selling the ticket just outside the Metro Centre doors to any one of the hopeful fans who didn’t get a ticket. But instead, they handed it to a homeless person. She said that he looked at them incredulously for a moment, and then took off running. I’m sure the concert was the farthest thing from his mind on a cold night — I’m also sure that the proceeds from the ticket probably fed him for days…perhaps provided a night in a warm bed. Kudos to my daughter and her friends.

Can you imagine sleeping on a metal grate in the middle of a huge city to keep from freezing to death? No, seriously…can you? I can’t. I’m sure I don’t know what the solution is. It just shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be allowed to be.

This picture so reminds me of lyrics from The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields’…

Living is easy with eyes closed,
Misunderstanding all you see;
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out.
It doesn’t matter much to me.

It doesn’t matter enough, to most of us.

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Author: nancybond

A writer, photographer, naturalist from small town Nova Scotia, Canada.

11 thoughts on “With Eyes Closed”

  1. When I first opened the post, I thought it was a dead body, so finding out he was on a heat grate was a welcome relief. For a few brief moments, all I could think of was, thank goodness he was resourceful.

    I try to get the point across to our son just how little separates all of us from being in his shoes, no matter how much we think we are protected.

    Kudos to your daughter and her friends.

  2. What a hear-rending post! Many of the homeless are mentally ill people who, in an earlier era, would have been locked up in an asylum. The problem is that many suffer from paranoia & are so distrustful that they can’t seek shelter at warming centers.

  3. I’ve been in Toronto in winter a few times, and walked from the Royal York, my hotel, down to Bay Street and around Yonge, through the theatre district and Queens Street…and seen these sorts of images regularly. For some reason, where it bothers me the most is on Bay, surely one of the most affluent and power-full streets in any city in North America. That so much wealth can be represented on that one block of office towers, and yet so many live in even-less-than-squalour like this person, boggles my mind. There is something wrong with our country–but not only ours, of course. And I don’t know what the answer is, either.

  4. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. This discussion and some research as a result of it, has really opened my eyes.

    Stephen, yes. Toronto and most other major cities do have shelters, but not nearly enough. I just looked up some stats for Toronto, New York and our own provincial capital, Halifax.

    In Toronto, there are an estimated 22,000 homeless, 6000 of them children. In New York, 33,000, representing 8600 families, 16000 of them children. And for Halifax:

    It is the experience of communities across Canada that it is next to impossible to determine how many people are homeless in any community. In Halifax there are approximately 161 emergency shelter beds in the HRM, so on any night the number of beds occupied could be counted. This ‘point in time’ census would not include people living in door-ways, or any number of make-shift sleeping arrangements that people have to make just to survive. Not everyone who is homeless is comfortable accessing shelter through the current shelter system. Shelters are not an option for everyone. There is also no way to determine how many individuals or families are living in sub-standard or over-crowded conditions or couch-surfing – sleeping wherever friends or families can offer a couch for a night or two. Community Action on Homelessness considers families and individuals who live at-risk as essentially homeless.

    It’s a staggering problem — those numbers represent bodies of people the size of a large town. Again, I’m not sure what the solution is because people are homeless for so many different reasons. But I do know that discussion is a good beginning. :)

  5. Surely, opening our eyes and CARING about others is a big step in the right direction. In our community near Bellingham, WA, USA, we have several organized outreaches to the homeless. I have been told that it is best to help the homeless through these outreaches, because some of the homeless are addicted to drugs/alcohol, and won’t spend the money you give them on food or shelter, but on these hurtful addictions. I have heard the same as Mr. McGregor’s Daughter, that many of the homeless are mentally ill. I can certainly believe this, since it is so incredibly difficult for the mentally ill to connect with the support and benefits that they need. And, as she also mentioned, if one is paranoid, one will be frightened of those trying to help him/her. But, in any event, let’s keep caring, and do our bit to help, in little and larger ways.

  6. Such a powerful photograph, Nancy.

    Further to Joyce’s post, about a decade or so, a Canadian show called The Nature of Things (with Dr. David Suzuki) ran a program called Reefer Madness, looking at the futility of the War on Drugs, and how violent crime is a huge problem. They went to places that had liberal drug laws, including one place in England, where addicts could buy their narcotics cheaply from pharmacies. The city’s leaders were hoping to cut down on violent crime.

    But what happened next in the city shocked them. Instead of bouncing from high to high, and stealing to support their habit, many addicts actually found jobs they could hold, formed relationships, starting living in apartments, instead of the streets. It transformed the inner city neighborhoods.

    The show blew me away. It wouldn’t solve all our homeless problems, but I wonder if it might free up some services for those who need them.

  7. i just cant help to feel sad about the homeless. I know its so difficult to live in a country that got 4Seasons, you have to endure the winter. If thats me.. i probably dead by now. lol. I feel so lucky that I got a home and thank God for everything. nice sharing Nancy..

  8. There aren’t any words.

    I don’t know what the answer is except for people to do what they can in their own towns and cities. There must be agencies that work as an umbrella type of thing where we can find out what to do.

  9. Nancy, thank you again for the amazing photo and for your statistics. Unthinkable to imagine oneself sleeping on that grate. Unthinkable that should become emblazoned in our hearts and minds enough to seize the opportunity when it is before to make a change in a “world’s hardness of heart” . Thank you again!

  10. I find it overwhelmingly impossible to imagine how you would survive in that situation, yet so many people are there. Not everyone possesses the gift of compassion to the depth of those that run soup kitchens and open doors. The imbalance of equity is difficult to understand. May the Lord who loves us all touch the hearts of those people of means and persuasion to seek to reach out to those in need. And may the rest of us seek to do what we can, as well.

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