From the Deacon’s Bench - February 2023
Lent is a time for us to look within to see where change might be made and how it might be made. But it is hard not to look outside as well. It is obvious change is needed in the world around us.
I was completely disappointed and discouraged recently. I had read an article on-line in the London Free Press about the new initiatives to address homelessness in the city. The proposals sound like an innovative start in order to help those who live on the streets due to their poverty, mental illnesses or addictions. In reading the story, it seemed to have so much support.
But then I made the mistake of reading the comments from readers. I usually try not to because they are often negative. It struck me how many readers were opposed to any initiatives to address homelessness. They wanted their tax dollars used for other things that were more supportive of their wishes, like better roads. They wanted the homeless removed from the downtown somehow because they see them as a blight. Many comments were about how the addicted placed themselves in that situation and so they should get themselves out of it, as opposed to having taxpayer supports. Others talked about forcibly putting the addicted in rehabilitation programs or the mentally ill in institutions to force them to get treatment. The prevailing thought was that these people put themselves there and so they should get themselves out of it, without using “our” money or “our” resources. Oh and the other thing was that by having these programs, London will become a magnet for the homeless throughout the region, and possibly the province. The homeless will choose to come to London for food and shelter and the addicted will come to London to get free drugs from the safe injections site.
I was really surprised by the vitriol and the opinions. I was very surprised that this was the vast majority of comments. I couldn’t help myself but to reply to point out how addiction isn’t a choice and a person can’t simply choose to stop. I pointed out how the mentally ill can’t choose to stop being sick. I made reference to Charles Dickens and Scrooge’s comments about the prisons and workhouses, and letting the poor die to decrease the surplus population. I should know better than to respond from prior experience but I couldn’t help myself. Not only was it to no avail, with the exception of one other reader who clearly felt as I did, I received even more negative comments. I was accused of being a bleeding heart communist and a bible-thumper. I was told that those of us that feel that way should let the homeless and the addicted live in our homes. My decades of experience working with the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill and the impoverished meant nothing. It was clear they saw “those people” as less than human.
As I said, I was completely disappointed and discouraged. While I know that there are those who share my opinions, I was surprised how the vast majority of comments from those who responded were hateful. So with this being Lent, is there a way to see if there are ways to change the opinions of people from hate to love of neighbour? How do we make them see that these vulnerable people are our neighbours, someone’s parent or son or daughter? Is Lent a way to strengthen my own faith so that I can spend the rest of the year challenging the hate in today’s world? These are some of the things I will be contemplating during this Lent in 2023.