A couple of weeks ago, I set off to meet a source for one of my articles downtown.
I had arranged for a developer to walk me around some of the construction taking place on Donald Street— notably the CentrePoint project, which you can read about here— and found myself across from the MTS Centre with half an hour to kill before my appointment. It had been a busy week for me, and I felt a bit uninformed in terms of the various developments I’d be looking at— and it was a beautiful day to boot— so I decided to go for a stroll around the area to get my bearings.
I never ended up getting said bearings, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t.
Soon after I started walking, I passed in front of what used to be a Masonic temple, which is now covered in plywood and flyers— a squat, cool-looking building right across the street from the CentrePoint construction I’d soon be touring— where a group of five obviously homeless guys were sitting, sharing a bottle of whiskey and some smokes.
To make a long story short, the six of us ended up getting into a conversation that lasted the next twenty minutes or so.
It was a powerful experience: one that I’ve never had anything quite like before, and that I certainly wasn’t expecting to have that day. They all turned out to be pretty damn cool, and before we parted ways with handshakes and names, we’d covered some surprisingly serious topics.
One man in particular (Donald, incidentally) started tearing up at one point reflecting on what “his people” had been reduced to. “Look at us now,” he told me, motioning to his friends, one of whom was lying more or less unconscious next to him. I tried to think of something to reply with, but couldn’t. Any optimistic response I might’ve mustered would have been empty— and he knew it.
After I headed off, I had a strange feeling in my gut. On one hand I had a guilty sense of asshole-ish elation— ‘well wasn’t that cool! Look at you, making friends with homeless people!’— and on the other, a gross, sickly knowledge that while I was off to get an advance-tour of some multi-million dollar business venture before heading home to write about it, those guys I’d just been talking with would go on being stuck with absolutely nothing.
For the next few days, I couldn’t get that run-in off of my mind. A week later, when I read over the printed story I’d written based on that appointment, it was the first thing I thought of.
Commercial development is great. That’s what the tone of my story is, and I certainly don’t disagree with it. The developer I met with, by the way, was a great guy— I don’t mean to cast him or anyone else in the role of the “evil capitalist” who builds rich towers right across from the poor while he laughs and counts his money sacks. Nothing’s ever that simple.
I didn’t learn any truly new lessons from the encounter I’ve described here, and I assume that you, the reader, haven’t either. Poverty exists. Homelessness exists. And it’s awful. We all know this.
I did receive a valuable reminder, though, which I won’t soon forget— and that I hope our city can collectively manage to keep in mind too. While we’re building up, up, up, and exciting ourselves over fancy new condos and hotels, those among us with nothing are still out there, neglected.
Behind every story, there are always plenty more to tell. It’s something that’s easy to forget— but it’s important we don’t.