On Metcalf Street

When I was in my fourth year of university, I had a very tiny bachelor apartment on Somerset St. near Elgin. I used to walk from my place down Metcalf Street to the bus stop to get to the Smyth Road campus, and most mornings on my walk I would pass the same homeless man. He was not well. Usually he was just quiet, but some days he would target one person, and as that person approached, he would point directly at them and start laughing, loud and long. The laughing continued until the person was well out of hearing range. It happened to me one time, and it was harmless but very unnerving. I felt helpless for him as it was obvious he needed help, and he was not likely getting it.

Fast forward sixteen years. I changed jobs about a year ago, and my new commute involves a stint walking along Metcalf to get to the bus stop. He is still there. In almost the same place. Not every day, but still. He is still unwell. I haven’t heard him laugh, but I have heard him shouting at people walking by.

I have no idea if he has been there all along. I cannot fathom someone living through sixteen Ottawa winters outdoors like that, and I don’t even understand how people can survive like that. I wonder if he gets any health care, dental care, where he spends the night, if he has any family at all.

There has got to be a solution; this is shameful. People who are mentally ill may not be able to make the decision to seek help, and I don’t believe in the argument that people have to want to be treated, if the nature of their illness prevents them from choosing to be helped. It’s a self-defeating argument. Perhaps treatment cannot be forced, but with proper outreach, I would think some success is possible. Have the resources been cut so badly that people who need help are not being helped? Or is this issue much more complicated than I think?

I’ll just bet that if violent crime were involved, then things would shake down.

About Finola

I am an Ottawa area Mom, writer-want-to-be and coffee legend in the making.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to On Metcalf Street

  1. A Crafty Mom says:

    My husband works down there and often speaks of passing a man like this – it may be the same person.

    It's sad, and I don't have any wonderful or insightful advice. I know my husband often buys him a coffee, and somehow doing these little things might help just a wee bit. Not in the big picture, but just for now.

  2. Finola says:

    It's such a tough one and there are no easy answers obviously. That is very kind of your husband, and I agree that everything helps.

  3. Thanks for raising this topic. I often think of these things too. And it's because I know someone who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

    Because he is an adult, family members cannot force him into treatment. And because he sometimes suffers from extreme paranoia, he leaves without a trace. We were only able to get him into treatment when the police picked him up as a “homeless” person who was trepassing by sleeping in a rolled-up carpet at a train station many states away from home. It is a very challenging situation and it can be heart-breaking for the family, since the illness can make them feel virtually helpless. In some cases, you can give money, offer treatment, extend a helping hand and it can all be refused due to the delusioning effect of the illness.

    This man you mention may have broken ties with his family or his parents may have passed away … no one to keep an eye out for him. I find it really sad. And I feel terrible for all of our homeless men and women. During the winter, I went downtown to go skating and accidently saw a man eating out of one of the large garbage bins. He quickly ducked away so he wouldn't be seen, like he was embarrassed. Every human deserves respect and I feel like those with severe mental illness or those with debilitating addictions are rarely given this.

  4. gryph says:

    When I was at Ottawa U, there was a fellow who always was around Laurier and King Edward. He always asked for change in a tone that sounded part nasal, part like he was about to cry. After a couple of years, he disappeared. This was also around the time that they said a homeless person had died after falling into one of the pits where they were constructing a new building down there. I always wondered if it had been him, and was worried that it was.

    Spend enough time downtown and you get to know the people there – the guy with the really gruff voice but a showman's patter; the relatively clean cut fellow with the straight line of “I'm a bum, can you spare some change?”; several aboriginal people, all troubled and sometimes beaten up; the older man in the wheelchair who would call me Darling because I called him Sir and treated him with respect. It provides a real insight into someone's humanity when you see how they interact with vulnerable people like this.

    Thanks for this post, Fin.

  5. Finola says:

    Julie, Thank you for the thoughtful comments, and I'm sorry to hear about the family that you know. It sounds like such an awful situation that they are in. I feel very sad for people too and it is such a helpless feeling.

    I'm curious if you think that people should be forced into treatment if there is strong reason to believe that they aren't capable of making that decision for themselves. I think there should be some way to do this, but I don't know how it should be done. I just don't think it should have to reach the point where people have to be brought in by the police.

  6. Finola says:

    Jen, Oh wow, that is awful about the man at Ottawa U. I wonder if it was him, and of course there was probably no way to find out.

    You are right that you recognize the regulars on the street corners. I don't always give money, but sometimes I do. What struck me in this story was that I recognized one of the regulars 16 years later. It seems so wrong.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s