Couch-surfing Mall Rats

Will you please spare some change?

It’s the typical question you are asked while walking out of Rideau Shopping Centre. I’m often asked this question after I’m done working an eight hour shift with my hard earned tip money in my pocket.

What is my reply? “No sorry, I don’t carry change on me.” Sometimes I walk past and act as if I never heard the question, thinking to myself, why not find yourself a job?

Other days, when it’s a slow shift at work, I’m able to observe passersby, and more interesting, the mall rats. Individuals who walk endlessly around the mall, eyes focused on scanning only the dull grey floor tiles, looking for pennies to distract the eye from the monotonous flooring. If they’re lucky, some nickels or dimes too as they’re almost running into customers.

Should I really be blaming the mall rats for their pestilent ways? Where do they roam after a days worth of penny scavenging?

A homeless shelter. A temporary fix.

Although homeless shelters allow our mind to be at peace and guilt-free while we’re home at night, underneath electric heated blankets, with a bag of chips, and watching the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars on a 60” Samsung flat screen, the shelters are at their full capacity on a nightly basis and supportive housing is limited. Executive Director of The Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa, Paul Soucie, says that his shelter is “running at 110 per cent capacity every night, with some people having to sleep on the floor to stay the night.”[i]

Yes, the homeless may have a place to stay for the night, but this is not a permanent fix. Having them crammed in a building as if they were being housed in a concentration camp, but instead waiting for their ‘natural’ death is wrong.

The problem does not end there. Once individuals do find supportive housing, according to Ottawa Inner City Health head Wendy Muckle, they stay there until death, contributing to the “backlog at shelters.”[ii]

A public appearance. A problem solved.

The lack of supportive housing and funds towards providing long-term solutions for the homeless does not appear to be a major concern for the figureheads of Ottawa. A $43.50 “per diem” paid to places like the Ottawa Mission from public funds and the problem is solved or so they think.[iii] In the long run, the monthly $1,300 from a few ‘clients’ could be enough money to provide a roof over one’s head, shelter, and maybe social-worker support says Kelly Egan of Ottawa Citizen .[iv] In the meantime, Councillors Eli El-Chantiry, Mathieu Fleury and Mayor Jim Watson are acting as courteous waiters, serving meals to the homeless, and paying for $1200 luncheons.[v] A public appearance accompanied by a smile from politicians isn’t going to impress the homeless the next day when they are back pursuing their occupation as a mall rat.

A solution. A permanent fix.

The homeless are in need of permanent housing where they can attempt to get the services needed to become independent. This will not happen based on friendly little gestures. The solution: the government needs to re-prioritize.

Instead of contributing $250,000 to build the Rink of Dreams for people to skate when Ottawa is home of one of the largest skating rinks, that money could have helped to decrease the waiting list to get into supportive housing by building additional units.[vi]

Instead of Ottawa spending $5 million on the marketing and celebration of the 2012 Grey Cup in Toronto, that money could have been used towards staffing social workers and developing support services to help get people off the streets, the assistance they need, and back to a stable life.[vii]

Instead of spending $1.6 million to design a pedestrian bridge passing over a busy highway that may never exist if a stadium is not built first, that money could have been used towards research on helping homeless individuals with a mental illness.[viii]

Will you please spare some change?

Next time I am asked this question walking out of Rideau Centre, I might reconsider before saying no to my fellow mall rat that is suffering because of foolish spending by the city.


[i] CBC News. (2012, February 29). Lack of housing crowds Ottawa homeless shelters. CBC News. Retrieved from                                                                    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2012/02/29/ottawa-homeless-shelters-shepherds.html

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Egan, K. (2012, February 3). Housing homeless in shelters needs to be rethought: stable housing should be goal.      Ottawa Citzen. Retrieved from     http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Housing+homeless+shelters+needs+rethought/6094483/story.html

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Reevely, D. (2012, January 24). Rink of Dreams to open Wednesday. Ottawa Citzen. Retrieved from                 http://www.ottawacitizen.com/sports/Rink+Dreams+open+Wednesday/6038018/story.html?cid=megadrop_story

[vii] Kirby, J., Warnica, R., Vieira, G., Sorensen, C., Ballingall, A., Patriguin, M., & Macqueen,K. (2012, January 5).         99 stupid things the government spent your money on. Macleans. Retrieved from http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/01/05/99-stupid-things-the-government-did-with-your-money/

[viii] Ibid.

Photo courtesy of http://www.financefox.ca

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