Monday, March 10, 2008

Coming In From The Cold

What a weekend! Most of eastern Ontario received a weather wallop that started Friday afternoon and ended Sunday morning. In Hamilton/Niagara, there was a quite a mix of conditions – high winds, blowing and drifting snow, thunder, lightning, freezing rain and up to 50 centimetres of the white stuff. And that was on top of the freezing rain mix that fell on Thursday.

My husband and I spent Friday night and Saturday digging out. Rather than tempting fate, I decided to forego all of the pre-planned events (including some celebrating International Women’s Day), heed the weather alerts and stay home, safe and warm in my Fonthill home. I decided to do some old-fashioned shovelling to get some exercise and break the monotony of being housebound for most of the weekend.

Each time that I would come inside after another session of shovelling, my coat was covered in snow and I found myself chilled to the bone. However, it didn’t take long to warm up. Home-made chilli, muffins, tea, a warm bath and a fire took the edge off the chill in a hurry. I felt so fortunate to be dry, safe and warm and in a home that I can count on to shield me from the elements.

As I comforted myself in the shelter and warmth of my home, I couldn’t help but think about those less fortunate. Looking out on the snow and hearing the thunder and wind starting to howl, I wondered what it would be like to be out there, stranded. It’s hard for me to imagine.

Homelessness is more prevalent than we wish to think about. And if you live in a suburb or in a rural area, you are not hit with the realities often. You don’t typically see the homeless like you do if you live in a city.

The statistics are disturbing and it hasn’t taken long to figure out that the homeless are not a priority in the Harper government.

  • A few months ago, the Conservative candidate in Toronto Centre, Mark Warner, was turfed by Harper because he dared list homelessness as part of his campaign platform.
  • Approximately 200,000 Canadians are homeless, lacking a fundamental human right according to Article 25(1) of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
  • In February 2008 the Federal Minister responsible for Housing failed to show up at the first national housing summit with Provincial and Territorial Housing Ministers. It’s the first time in a decade the federal Minster has boycotted a national meeting. This snub was despite the fact there is a growing crisis in affordable housing and homelessness in Canada.
  • There is speculation that the Conservatives may privatize CMHC. The word is that this federal agency that plays a valuable role in providing affordable housing to Canadians would be transformed into an organization that benefits only a select few.
  • Canada is the only major industrialized country without a National Housing Strategy.

It’s not easy for me to imagine what it is like to be homeless, but I do have some experience working with the unfortunate and underprivileged. It is a matter of circumstance that people find themselves in situations that we can’t imagine. And for some of us, at some point during our lifetime, we will find ourselves in need and welcoming the hand of a stranger. If it weren’t for a number of our community organizations like Glanbrook/Stoney Creek/Caledonia and District Community Food Banks, Hamilton Food Share, Good Shepherd Centre, The Salvation Army, Mission Services of Hamilton, Neighbour to Neighbour, St. Matthews’s House, The Living Rock, Wesley Urban Ministries, Welcome Inn, Community Care of West Niagara, Grimsby Benevolent Fund, West Niagara Second Stage Housing, Pelham Cares, The Hope Centre, St. Kevin’s Food Bank, Open Arms Mission, Women’s Place and Welland Multicultural and Heritage Centre, (to name a few) many of our less fortunate would go hungry and homeless.

My Mom used to say to me “There, but for the grace of God, go you or I.” This weekend was a time for me to count my blessings, reflect on my good fortune and the values that I hold most dear. My Canada provides for all Canadians, regardless of socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds. My Canada provides the opportunity for all Canadians to live in warm, safe homes that provide for happier, healthier and safer lives. And my Canada provides the opportunity for every Canadian to have a roof over their heads because it is a fundamental right and one that Canadians deserve.

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