I could see my friends walking towards us from a distance. When I got up to greet them, Dave got up too and asked them for some change. Seeing me with Dave may have influenced my friends’ decision to not want to shake my hand. They were probably scared that some “homeless germs” would hop on their skin and infect them. I didn’t expect my friends to pass such stereotypical judgments.
Later in the night, Kenneth said that I’ve become more open-minded and non-judgmental through my experience. And if I was to discuss my point of view to the public now, it would be strongly rejected. Our indoctrinated ideas and philosophies are simply racist, prejudice and discriminatory.
We were not born with these racist, prejudice or discriminatory ideas of the homeless. Therefore, we must have learned them after birth. As Nelson Mandela put it, “people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” These labels we place on each other only stumps the growth in our society.
The impoverished people are not animals. They are human beings. In fact, they are more human than most people I meet. It has now become my duty to convince others that this is true. When I told my friends that I wanted them to meet my new friend Kenneth, they all rejected the idea rather quickly. It was my birthday and I wanted to hang out with them, but they weren’t interested in meeting a “bum in an alley.”
Disappointed, I decided to go to Starbucks and drink tea with them instead. I told them the story of Gilles. One of my friends asked me if I had any of the tenant’s phone numbers to confirm Gilles’ story. That was a fair statement to make, because I am simply repeating stories. Some stories were validated by people who knew the person in question and for the others; evidence seemed to have come together on its own.
A few days ago, someone studying at Blenz overheard the conversation that I was having with Gilles. He approached us and said that he also knew someone who ripped off the same way Gilles was describing. Interestingly enough, it happened in the same building. Another point to make was that Gilles had some of the residents’ phone numbers. They were willing to confess of the fraudulent activities that were taking place within that building. Lastly, Gilles’ story was very intricate and detailed. Some of it could be exaggerated, but to say that the entire thing was made up is a stretch.
Before my friends left, I asked them if I could use their phone. My phone died a few days ago and I wanted to call my mom to tell her that I was doing well. They were all very reluctant to let me use their phones! They worried that my homeless ear would contaminate their non-homeless phones. I could not believe what I was hearing!
The sad thing was that I have known these guys for many years now. I guess they believed that I contracted some incurable disease during my stay here. They are well aware that I do not do any drugs. Sharing needles is the most common way of spreading infectious diseases in the Downtown Eastside and I was not experimenting with any of that.
This experience with my friends shed more light on this whole issue and created a new challenge for me. How do I open the minds of people who are so caught up in their own belief system? I am sure that most people reading this blog are open-minded enough to read someone’s actual and real experience. The ones that are closed-minded would not even spend a minute reading anything I have written here. That is because their minds are already made up.
It is always uncomfortable for people to step out of their truth or reality. But where did the people get the beliefs they have? Did they, just like researchers, go out into a lab and perform reproducible experiments and come to the conclusions they have today? I highly doubt it. People fear alleys, fear the Downtown Eastside, fear the homeless and judge them as scums of the earth without ever getting to know a single one without passing judgement.