Thursday, 31 May 2012

Street People

Toronto, being a large city, has its fair share of street people and I encounter one or more of them almost daily,

I live at the corner of Charles and Bay streets which is one block west of Yonge and south of Bloor, Yonge at Bloor is, in all probability, the best known street intersection in this city.

The day before yesterday was hot and muggy. I needed to go to the bank branch which handles my account and the branch is up on the corner with Bloor. Half way up the street is one of Canada's iconic coffee/donut shops - Tim Horton's. The sidewalk along Bay is wide and well used. Across the sidewalk from the doorway leading into the coffee shop are a couple of newspaper boxes as well as some bicycle 'parking' locations. As I drew near to there I noticed somebody sitting on the sidewalk just past the news box with a cup sitting in front of her. It was my 'friend' Teresa.

I enjoy meeting her as she seems to be so full of life with a great sense of humor.Yes - she has her problems as well (bi-polar and possibly some substance addiction).  While  we were chatting three different people exited the coffee shop and stepped over to Teresa giving her a coffee, a donut and a bagel. She seems to be well liked.

Bloor Street West is a thoroughfare of shops and, in a sense, is Canada's 'Rodeo Drive'. The north side of Bloor Street (I live south of there) is the southern end of trendy Yorkville. This is an area where the wealthy rub shoulders with the indigent - the shops are high end but the poor and needy are there as well.

Teresa seems to know most of the panhandlers found in the downtown core. I know a lot of the same people but by sight only and my opinion of each one is arrived at by seeing them and not necessarily through interaction. However, she can identify each one by name and, usually, I can recognize of whom she is speaking.

One of these people is a younger man who used to be found standing at the northwest corner of Bay and Bloor with a can in his hand which he shook while singing "If you're happy and you know it, spare some change" to the tune of the old Gospel Hall song. This fellow's demon is beer - he just cannot leave it alone. I like chatting with him (and I passed along to him an old blanket knowing that somebody on the street would be able to use it). I like him - but Teresa does not.

On the other hand, there are a couple of unkempt black men who stand either near the bus stop out front of here or in front of St Basil's Church a block further down Bay Street. Neither of these two men ever says anything but merely holds out a hand palm up hoping that passers by (or congregants coming and going from Mass) will drop a coin or two.

There is a charity that prints a small newspaper called "Outreach". People who are 'down on their luck' pay 50 cents a paper for each and then ask passersby for $1.00. Occasionally I will hand over a dollar but decline a newspaper saying instead, "Sell it to somebody else".

The Reference Library is on Yonge a block north of Bloor and that is where I expect to see one or two 'regulars' who are vendors of Outreach. One of them looks as if he were yet a boy but I believe that he is just 'simple minded'. I love the way he smiles when I give him a dollar.

Two blocks east of here is Church Street and the 'Gay Village'. There is a man who is often standing out side one of the grocery stores on Church. I often stop for a chat and, if I have it to spare, I will give him a coin or two. If I am short of funds myself I will tell him so and he quietly replies, "That's OK, Sir!" Sometimes we stand and chat and he has told me that he is returning to night school in order to re-attain his license to drive big trucks. Whether he will be able to beat his demons - whatever they are - remains to be seen but I wish him well.

As well as those who panhandle along the streets, there are others whom I notice and wonder about.

Diagonally across Bay Street from here is the Manulife Building which is one of Toronto's larger rental places. In the basement of the building is a shopping mall. Beside the entrance that is the closest to here is one of Toronto's leading audio/visual stores. They leave some of their display TVs running nonstop and, in the mall in front of the store, are comfortable leather lounge chairs.

Shortly after I moved to this address I noticed a woman who, I thought, was late middle-aged. She always wore nice clothes that were clean and neat. After a while, if I was over there of an evening, I noticed her sitting in one of those chairs watching TV through the store window. While not as often as I used to, I still see her - only she has aged quite a bit and her clothes are not as neat as they once were. Also, she has trouble walking. There are public washrooms in that mall but they are quite a way from those lounge chairs. More than once I have seen this woman shuffling ever so slowly in the direction of food outlets and the washroom. We have never spoken to each other but I can't help but to wonder who she is and what is her story.

There are others too - like 'Old George' who is afflicted by the condition that makes it impossible - or so it seems - for him to lift his head in order to looks straight ahead. I met him at a kiosk where we both shopped some time ago so I always greet him by name.

I know some people dismiss the poor and outcast as lazy and slovenly - but, isn't this adage truer  "There but for the Grace of God go I?"

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