By Jim Bell, CEO, Siloam Mission
** This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press **
I’ll be home for Christmas.
And hopefully, so will you.
That song is a favourite for many of us during the holidays. We all seem to love the cozy sentiment. But in a year where many of us are weary and worn from being confined to our own four walls, the lyrics hit a little bit different.
Have you caught yourself saying you’re tired of being at home all the time?
But then I realized what an incredibly privileged statement that is.
Our government is working hard to create policies and systems that keep us safe. Our healthcare workers are fighting an invisible enemy in the air, night after night. Our frontline workers are putting in overtime to make sure life goes on as usual for most of us.
Our postal carriers and delivery drivers are facing the busiest season they’ve ever seen, making sure we all get our stuff delivered to our front door without risking going out.
And we are complaining about having to sit in the comfort of our own home?
Our city’s most vulnerable, men and women who are facing hardships and homelessness, would love to have our problems.
Many of them have health challenges — and underlying conditions — to begin with. They are trapped in an unforgiving cycle.
Often people end up homeless because their poor physical and mental health caused them to lose their job.
But once homeless, their physical and mental health is also the first thing to deteriorate — quickly. And without it, their odds of escaping the cycle are slim.
If you think the year 2020 has been hard for you, you can imagine what it’s been like for men and women who are homeless.
The fear of getting the virus is paralyzing. You can’t stay home because, well, you don’t have a home.
It’s very hard to physically distance in homeless shelters. You are inside for long periods of time, close to other people — and you don’t know where they’ve been.
You don’t have a bubble; your bubble is everyone in the shelter and everybody they’ve interacted with over the last two weeks.
When you are homeless, it’s not uncommon to feel sick. Now, every time you cough — or your neighbour blows his nose — you are worried that something is wrong.
Nobody is hiring right now — and nobody is taking a chance on a person with no fixed address. Not during COVID.
If people avoided you before in public spaces, they do so even more right now. Everybody is weary of strangers.
At night, you go to bed with dozens of people in the same room. The bed next to you might be six feet away, but you worry about what’s in the air. You hear coughing. Sneezing. You get up to wash your hands one more time, just in case.
In the bathroom somebody is getting sick. Before COVID this would be a completely normal occurrence, but now your anxiety is through the roof.
The workers at the shelter have your best interest at heart. They tell you to keep away from others, wear a mask when indoors close to others, and wash your hands frequently.
Your doctors appointments were all cancelled for the time being. Without a fixed address and cellphone, it was a pain to get them set up in the first place. You’re overwhelmed by the thought of having to jump through all of those hoops again.
The message everywhere is clear: stay home. You only wish you could.
That’s the reality for quite a few people in our city right now.
So here’s my encouragement for all of us this Christmas.
When the government says stay inside, let’s be thankful that we can.
When we’re told to wear a mask when close to others, let’s be grateful that it’s only a minor — and fleeting — inconvenience.
And when we complain about staying home during Christmas as being a nightmare, let’s remember that it looks like another person’s dream.
I’ll be home for Christmas — and very grateful for it. You can count on that