editorial: Front-liners working with the homeless cry alone
Saved under Featured, KJ Mullins, Social Issues
Tags: front-liners, homeless, street people, toronto
KJ Mullins-Toronto: Yesterday I wrote an editorial about how Bill Buss, a homeless man, slipped through the cracks and how one agency dropped the ball. For Bill it was a heart-breaking reminder of how vulnerable those who live on the street really are. There’s another side to that story though and that’s the men and women who work with the Bills of Toronto every day.
You don’t see them as they snake into the alleys that no one else would dare. They are armed with bandages and compassion. They look in the bushes, under blankets and in the crawl spaces that litter the city. They are on a mission, save one more life today. They are the front line workers who deal with the city’s homeless. They ignore the dirty fingers and look past the mental illness to see the soul of those that society has left behind.
On the street they are known by their first names; Anne Marie, Wanda, Laurio, Beth, Gordan….just like the ones that have fallen through the cracks. The good ones, the ones that don’t give up on the rejected souls of our community, are often the only ‘family’ that those on the street can count on. That trust comes with a price. The most trusted front-liners are overworked with not enough resources to be able to do all that they can do.
These men and women are the ones that you see in tears on their way home every night, yawning from another hard day on the street. They go to sleep each night with the names of their street family on their mind and wake up reaching for new ideas on how to help them. They never leave their jobs, because it’s more than a job, it’s their calling.
They work when they are too tired to move and ignore their own health issues. There are too many in need and not enough hours to do the work. There’s also not enough of them on the street.
They do paperwork late in the night after their shift is over. They had planned to finish up during their work day but Bob came into the office at the last minute, scared and alone. The choice of finishing their day on time is thrown out the door. Bob is more important and his needs over rule the administrations need of documentation done right now.
There are times we as a society question their moves. They know those questions, they’ve already played them out in their own head. When the public screams why didn’t you call the police they close their eyes and wonder the same thing. They also know a truth that many of us don’t. They have seen the police treat their ‘family’ in ways that you won’t treat a dog. There is a lack of trust that has come from past experiences. They know there are good cops out there but they have seen those bad apples too. When they can they connect with the good ones and seek advice. It’s a balancing act with scales that aren’t the same for the rest of the population.
It can be easier for those on the front lines during the summer. That’s when the college interns help out with some of the load but there’s only a few months that the load is lightened. If these front-liners are going to have a vacation it’s when it will take place.
Front liners burn out quickly. Agencies that deal with the homeless also deal with staff turn overs. It’s just too much to cope with each and every day. Long hours, little pay and a lack of respect for the work they do by the city all add up. When they read the headlines about City Hall wanting to sweep the homeless off the streets they sigh knowing another cut will come their agencies budget way.
Those lucky enough to befriend the media use that friendship to get the stories of their ‘family’ out there. They are their only voice and that have to yell loudly to be heard. The public doesn’t want to hear about Tom, Dick and Sally’s struggles unless they have pulled themselves up or their story has turned to a tragedy. That’s when the public screams out that something needs to be done.
The public is right, something needs to be done. More front liners who have a calling to help those that society has rejected need to be on the streets. There’s a huge need for mental health workers in Toronto to be working with the homeless. The need though requires money and there’s no money tree growing for those with nothing to begin with. These are the folks that don’t have a chance at the million dollar condos and their voice isn’t a vote. So the few front-liners the city does have fight the battle alone. And they cry alone. Just like the people that they help each and every day.