Published: February 26, 2013 3:00 PM, Updated: February 26, 2013 3:14 PM
The recent cold weather challenged one young man in particular. Like several homeless people in the Comox Valley, Greg, 38, who wishes not to use his last name, has been homeless for the past five months since he arrived from Ontario. He wants people to better understand him, gain an insight into what it is like to be homeless and what governmental agencies can do to fix the problem of homelessness.
“Like so many others in his or similar situation, Greg should tell his story,” said Scott Gaglardi, pastor at Northgate Foursquare Church in Courtenay. The church supports volunteer programs such as the Free Store that is open three days a week and every Saturday they offer hot soup and sandwiches. “These programs are all free and everyone is welcome,” Gaglardi said, adding programs like this would not be possible without the generosity and support from the community and volunteers.
“People do not understand me, especially when they see me sleeping in the middle of the afternoon,” Greg said. “They just think that I am lazy but what they don’t realize is that it is warmer for me to sleep during the day when it is a little warmer out.” People pass him in the streets and they either ignore him like he doesn’t exist or they simply avoid him. “They don’t know me and don’t care to, but I am a person just like you but like others we are on the streets due to addictions, mental illness or for other reasons. People go through life without seeing us,” Greg said. “They don’t see the bigger picture of what the homeless face every day. The governmental programs that are supposed to help do the opposite. They only place a bandage over it.”
British Columbia taxpayers are spending $86.9 million a year just to help people living on the streets stay alive. Housing them all would cost less than half that much money, and numerous studies show that people who live indoors go to jails and hospitals far less than people who live on the streets. “Sometimes the real needs of the homeless are lost in the numbers and in the statistics,” said Gaglardi, adding he feels bad for the people who get lost in the process.
Every Saturday, Greg receives a hot meal from the many volunteers like Helen Brown, who has being volunteering her time since 2000. “I have been here longer than the building,” she said. She has seen and helped many people over the years and is grateful that she is able to show compassion and care to those who need it the most.
Greg is trying to find his way but is new to the Comox Valley. He said he is not looking for handouts, he is looking for a hand up and guidance. “No one is listening,” he said, saying homeless people need a place to call home. Greg prefers not to stay in a shelter, explaining he has had bad experiences in them. “It is safer to sleep on the streets,” he said.
Greg said that if he had an address, he would not only have a warm place but he could continue to get the guidance he needs because, “sometimes when you are so far down it is hard to find your way up.” Until then he will continue to sleep during the day and dress in layers at night.