One of the reasons people like to live in small towns is because they like the idea of a community. You get that feeling of connection. If you’re living in a small town, the waiter that serves you at the Chicken Chef is your buddy’s older brother and the cook is your neighbour. You never forget that they are a person. In a small town, there’s a higher chance that you’ll feel personally invested in community initiatives. If the pool can’t open for the summer, then your children’s swimming lessons are cancelled. When the local event hall burns down, there’s nowhere to have a social.
Living in a city is different. We see so many people every day that they become background noise. The person slowly counting out their change while you wait impatiently is an idiot. Except if you were in a small town, you would know that he isn’t an idiot. After a bad car accident, he now struggles to count out the right amount of change. When the woman speaking broken English is asking the bus driver for instructions while you’re standing in -25 weather, you angrily think “Figure it out, it’s not that hard.” But if your small town had welcomed a refugee family, you would know that she has PTSD and you would help her find her way home. If you were in a small town and saw a woman lying on the sidewalk in -30 weather, you wouldn’t drive by without stopping to help. Since we aren’t in a small town, a woman died on our streets. Her name was Tina.She was found in front of Portage Place. Carl Seier, of The Stranger Connection Winnipeg wrote a post about Tina here and I’ve been carrying his words with me ever since.
How, as a community, could we let this happen?
Last year was a year long celebration of Winnipeg identity. What parts of living in this city make us who we are. This year, I’m not satisfied with that. We need to contribute. Every single resident in this city has something to contribute. Whether it’s money, time, awareness, blood, or small gestures of empathy. You can make this city better. You have a responsibility and a duty to make this place better. I don’t care how. Last year I started donating on a monthly basis to two charities that I strongly believe in. The people who run those charities put in so much time and effort that I feel ashamed because what I give is not enough. What these charities need is a dependable income. The number of people in our growing city can support community initiatives. We choose not to.
Recently a local man donated his car to a Syrian refugee family. And he received backlash for it. This isn’t public funds. This wasn’t taking other peoples’ money and being underhanded about it. He donated his own car. And people around the city skewered him for it. It baffled me when I heard about it. And then I thought that perhaps these people were lashing out because this gesture gave them no excuses. You have no excuses. Neither do I. What you are doing is not enough. 2017 should be the year we do more. We should all be doing more. The need for help can be overwhelming sometimes. It’s easier to drive to work, drive home, watch t.v and not think about. Or we see the people visibly active in the community and appreciate their efforts without offering any form of support. Those people are not operating in a vacuum. They operate in the real world like you and me. The gas doesn’t pay for itself. The bills don’t pay themselves. Unexpected expenses inevitably happen.
The Main Street Project operated a homeless outreach van up until 6 years ago. The service allows workers to travel around the city in order to provide clothing, food and and transportation for homeless people to shelters.The van stopped going out because the funding dried up and we failed to support the initiative. There’s the very real possibility that Tina could still be alive had the van been funded throughout. For the time being the van is on the road, but there is a limited amount of funding from the Downtown BIZ . And what will happen then?
I’m not trying to demoralize or guilt-trip you. What I hope to do is to inspire you. We have the power to affect change. Every time you choose action over apathy, you make our community better. Unfortunately it can be paralyzing to know where to begin. This year, each month I will feature a local organization that is taking steps to make our city better. I hope that this year you will take a step with me to doing better. We must do better. This month please take a minute and visit The Main Street Project to see the good work that they do. Let’s do this together.