Walk through downtown Peterborough on any day of any week and you’ll see it. At the entrance of your favourite coffee shop or on the curb near a shopping mall, you’ll spot it: homelessness.
It’s a real issue for Peterborough and questions are often raised if we’re doing enough as a community or if we’re doing the right things to help people in need. Well, this past weekend, CHEX Weather Analyst Mike Judson spent 48 hours living on the streets of Peterborough to help raise awareness on the issue.
As it turns out, this wasn’t Mike’s first time trying to bring attention to homelessness. In an interview last week with The Peterborough Examiner, Mike explained that he’d done this very same thing back in 2008 in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. His efforts helped raise about $2,000 for the community’s homeless resource centre (the money Mike raised from this past weekend’s effort will be split between The Brock Mission and Cameron House).
Mike picked a dandy weekend to set out on this mission, as it was cold and rainy throughout. He travelled around town and sent out the odd tweet providing an update on his location or eventual destination. Many of us followed along with the timeline out of interest and support, with many people providing words of encouragement throughout the 48 hours. As we followed along, we were surprised on Sunday when he was asked to leave Lansdowne Place. Later on Monday, Mike revealed that he had been asked to leave Tim Horton’s as well. So what gives?
First, you have to understand that, in order to experience life on the street, Mike carried no cash, no wallet, no credit cards — nothing. He also made a point of not calling ahead to places he’d visit, in order to experience the real world on the street. Mike relied solely on people’s donations and ate dinner at The Brock Mission on Sunday night. The money that he received from strangers would in turn be donated to the charities that he had selected. Mike didn’t have a camera crew from CHEX following him, or reporters from the newspapers making photo ops; all he had were the clothes on his back.
At Tim Horton’s he was asked to leave and, after he explained why he was there, Mike was still asked to leave because he hadn’t been given clearance by management or head office. When he was asked to leave Lansdowne Place, it was for the same reason: no clearance had been given by management for Mike to collect donations on premises. To top off being asked to leave, it was explained to Mike that security had received a complaint from a customer who had said, “Homeless people are begging for change outside and they are making me feel uncomfortable.” The funny thing about that complaint was that, as Mike explained to me later on, they weren’t approaching anyone. They were simply sitting near the main doors.
The reality we live in now is that every single thing we do everyday is insured. Every public place has liability insurance because we continue to live in a litigious society where everyone sues everyone for things like stubbing their toe. That’s why places like Lansdowne Place and Tim Horton’s can’t have people on site collecting for charities, unless they’ve received previous notification. In some instances, depending on the scale of an event, temporary changes to a liability insurance policy may be needed to accommodate the event. If someone were to go onto private property to have an event without previous notification or clarification of insurance coverage — and someone became injured as a result — not only would massive lawsuits be likely, but insurance coverage would most likely be waived.
At one point, Mike tweeted to his followers asking them not to blame Lansdowne Place. Lansdowne themselves responded by saying, “Sorry Mike, with a couple days notice we can help as we have never turned down a great cause.” Some would say Lansdowne Place’s response was easy in hindsight, but I honestly think that had the mall known Mike was coming, concessions would have been made.
Where my stomach begins to turn is when I hear about the customer complaining to security that people were begging and it made them feel uncomfortable. To you, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Customer: you make me feel uncomfortable. You and all those like you, that would like to live on a quiet street with white picket fences, where dogs don’t defecate and the birds play stringed instruments. A street where anyone who has a mental illness or drug problem or is homeless, gets swept under a rug and easily forgotten.
Jim Truswell (or @jimtruswell to those of you on Twitter) made a point in a tweet that stuck with me since I read it. He said, “We tell the elderly to use the mall air-conditioning during the summer heat, but tell the homeless to move on.”
Jim’s point speaks less to the world of liability insurance, but more to the world of selective support. As a society we pick and choose which charities or groups we support, and ignore the ones that make us feel “uncomfortable”. Ultimately, I think a lot of people suffering from their social discomfort may have their minds changed if they had the conviction to follow in Mike Judson’s footsteps for just one night and see how life feels on the underside of that rug.