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.