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illustration by Tina Wallace

WHILE DOING RESEARCH for this column, I came across a horrifying statistic: Every night in Ottawa between 16 and 45 people sleep on the street. This is not including those who find a bed in shelters or couch surfers. These are people we walk by on the street, only occasionally giving them some spare change from our own pockets.

I also noticed that people dwelling on the streets, despite shelter availability, is a common sight in most cities.

I’m not going to focus on why this happens, instead I want to focus on people’s attitude toward homelessness. We can’t generalize or categorize the reasons that force some people to beg for change at a street corner. Doing so seems ignorant to me, especially since understanding someone in that situation without being in it yourself is almost impossible.

I think the problem is that, because it’s so widespread, the issue becomes invisible. When walking down Rideau Street, for example, one almost expects to be asked to donate a spare loonie. Though some homeless people draw or make music to grab the pedestrians’ attention, many don’t have talent to sell. It’s the latter that often get ignored.

The fact is, we shouldn’t ignore any homeless people, whether they’re young or old, whether they tap dance or can barely hold a cup out for money. There’s a reason why they keep asking for change: They need it, and not just the monetary kind.

Sure, we’re poor students, but we’re working on degrees that will likely keep us off the streets. Whether we have cash to donate or not, it’s important to maintain compassion toward those less fortunate than us. There’s always a way to help, be it by volunteering, bringing attention to the issue, or buying a homeless man a sandwich.

One day, it could be your head using the pavement as a pillow, holding out an old Timmy’s cup in the hope of catching some spare change. You never know where life will take you. While you’re still on the right track, help others get on it, too.

 —Jane Lytvynenko

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