I read a great article about this wonderful city I live in this morning. Usually the publicity we get is less than flattering (murder capital of Canada, car theft capital of Canada, Slurpee capital of the World, etc) so I was pleased to see a piece like this. It did get me thinking about why we get such a bad reputation in this country. Maybe it’s the cold (we have been colder than both the North Pole and the surface of Mars this winter), maybe it’s the large population of homeless and working poor, maybe it’s the fact that we have the highest percentage of mental illness in the country. Whatever the reason, it leaves out the amazing summers, the surrounding wilderness and the amazing architecture that fills this city. We are a hearty people and most of us love it here, or so I’d like to think. I don’t know if you noticed the part where we have a large percentage of mental illness sufferers. This accounts for a large percentage of our homeless population, which is absolutely heart breaking. This is not only a Winnipeg problem, but a worldwide issue. Our attitude towards the homeless is terrible at best and we (I’m speaking in generalities. “We” is merely society in general) tend to ignore the bigger picture. These people are not “lazy”. Do you have any idea how physically draining it is spending your whole day trying to scrounge up enough for even one meal? “Well, Ryan, there are jobs out there, why don’t they get off their ass?” Let’s say you are an employer and you are sifting through resumes and you find one with little work experience and no contact info; do you hire that person over the dozens of qualified applicants? Now, in the event that someone is lucky enough to have access to a phone, would your average employer hire someone who obviously slept outside the night before?
Now for the part that hits home for me. The onset of crippling mental illness can take a functioning employee and turn him/her into a shell of a human who is now unable to function in a work or social environment. This happened to me only 5 years ago when I suffered a crazy mental breakdown which sent me into a weeks long panic attack. I couldn’t walk normally, I couldn’t speak in full sentences, I couldn’t drive and I had to quit my job. Financially we were ruined and eventually filed for bankruptcy. We relied on food banks for food and the kindness of our friends and family for rent. The suddenness of it all almost put us on the street, but we were lucky and my doctor worked tirelessly to help me get to a level of functionality that would allow me to work again. It was a full year of doctors, psychiatry, meds, therapies and lots of hard work before I returned to work, but after a year I relapsed and returned home for another 3 months. This all could have put me on the street with an untreated mental illness which would have started a cycle that would have been impossible to recover from. The heartbreaking part is the way society looks at these people. We don’t see them as hurting, fellow human beings; we see them as lower beings who don’t deserve our charity. Reality is that you are only a simple instance of bad luck away from sharing in their fate.