The Parable of the Rough Sleeper

Come all ye faithful, joyful on liquor store delights, triumphant in your shopping victories. Come take a closer, virtual walk with me not to the banks of the river Jordan but to the Eramosa, where a young man has taken up residence in a tarpaulin hut this Christmas Eve. He has plenty of ingenuity to build a solid little shelter in the scrub but his troubles are obvious and heartbreaking. Everyone is too busy shopping today to help him out but we’re going to at least try. He’s not very communicative and that’s ok. Most of those that have the bona fide skills to minister to the poor are enjoying two stat holidays in a row so it will be days from now until somebody official could pay a visit. We can’t call the police to assist as there has been a crackdown on the rough sleepers lately. No one owns the slope by the river and he has claimed this tiny patch of it for now, let’s leave him be. He is harming no one.


Thankfully the weather forecast for the next few days is a mild one. Within sight of here there are countless new warm condo dwellings, any one of which is well out of the price range of many in this town, especially the rough sleepers. Those that live in them would likely not want this guy as a neighbour. Many seem to be preoccupied with their tax and condo fee bills and are quite vocal against anyone who might make it larger. “We don’t get the services, why should we pay for them” is their well worn defensive phrase. With a set of good binoculars they might be able to see the young man’s toque peaking out from under his tarpaulin hut. He might not live in the building but technically he is a neighbour. Maybe they will get around to loving him as they do themselves (Mark 12:31) when the holiday mayhem is over but since he pays no property tax, he will automatically end  up on the naughty list. God help him if he goes into the nearby condo cafe for something hot and the toilet. The cops are a block away so the response will be swift.

Next let’s visit a place nearby where the virtue signals are strong year round, the newish Eco Bio Market on the corner. You will notice that no one is particularly happy here, they are also likely mulling over their year end bills, which will eat into the organic banana budget. If your eyes start to water, it’s probably due to the whiff of smugness emanating from all surfaces. The powers that be will point to this place and say “your neighbourhood isn’t a food desert anymore” but a Cliff Bar however affordable is not a meal. Pricey snake oils from the homeopathy aisle will never cure a grinding deep cough, or anything at all for that matter. Our neighbour by the river could only browse or shoplift in this place. The death stares alone would probably make him run away. We’ll need to club together to get him a bag of overpriced things. Give me your wallet. And yes, we will need to get a plastic bag and suffer some tut-tutting from those in line. Our virtue signals seem to be on the wrong frequency. You’ll get the same reaction when expressing uncertainty about the sizes of Starbucks cups and holding up the queue for a nanosecond. Let’s get out of here.

We need to take the sketchy path behind the strip mall to get back to the tarp hut by the river. By chance the rough sleeper has emerged but he’s still in his own world. Gentle questions are probably the way to go; Are you ok? yup. Are you hungry? yup. Here you go. yup. And then he disappears as quickly as he emerged. That should keep him going for a bit. I wish I had the skills and capacity to do more for him, don’t you? Somebody in this town must but everyone is a bit distracted at the moment. It might be time to all sides to stand down in the Christmas War and jointly restart the War on Poverty, which actually holds the possibility of victory. The Christian Bible is a detailed instruction manual regarding a follower’s obligation to the poor yet much more energy is spent during the holiday season hashing away at mall manger placement or whether a choir can sing there or not. If someone in this town has to root through the dumpster around the back just to survive then your sacred holiday needs a bit of revamping. You may to step outside the annual crap fest to find that True Meaning you might be seeking.

Guelph anti-poverty advocates critical of scaled-back welfare increase



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