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Last Saturday night Ella and I made our way down town to catch a play at the Grand Theatre. It was a cold rainy night with the temperature reading at the Donahue Funeral Home Marquis sign at 6 degrees. When you factor in the wind chill it was more like zero.

In front of Garlic’s Restaurant there was a middle aged man who held a cardboard fly-a-sign " Homeless & Hungry, Work for food." He had no hat, scarf or gloves. A thin summer wind breaker, threadbare jeans and a pair of sneakers was his only barrier to ward off the elements.

Interesting contrast to the people dinning in a fine warm restaurant and a homeless man on the street looking for spare change. The vast majority of passers by looked the other way when thy saw him. It was as if the poor man was invisible.

I too walked away from him not wanting to dwell on the dilemma of a stranger out in the cold night. My psychic scar got the better of me; I went into the restaurant and purchased a very large cup of coffee to help.

The man thanked me for caring, shook my hand and told me his name was Chris. He lives at the Salvation Army Hostel, Center For Hope, on Wellington ; sharing the third floor dorm with 77 other men.

In the summer Chris prefers to sleep in a cardboard box under the Queen Street bridge beside the Thames River.

A machinist by trade he was laid off two years ago and subsequently was separated from his wife. Chris is no longer a criminal doing time for petty theft sharing three hots (meals) and a cot a the London Middlesex Detention Center. Panhandling in front of the theatre for four hours in the cold earned him $16.00.

I called Nancy Powers who is the Program Director of the Center for Hope to gain some information to share with you. 57 women and 210 men use the hostel on a daily basis for housing and three nutritious meals. Sadly, the hostel is always unfortunately filled to capacity.

Ontario Works has a per diem rate for hostel residents of $43.88 to cover 42 days in care for those in need. $3.00 per day of this amount is given to the residents for Personal Needs Assistance. The Ontario Government’s Social Benefits for a single person is a whopping $535.00 per month. Try living on the government handouts to pay for your heat/rent/bus pass.

The General Minimum Wage in Ontario was raised in 2010 to $10.25 per hour.

Compare if you dare. In December 2010 & Ontario MPP’s annual salary is $86,600. On average they sit in the Legislator for 80-90 days per year. Some spend much of the winter vacationing in Florida ‘taking care’ of their constituents back home. Not bad ‘work’ if you can get it. For many it is the best job they never had.

Our shelters are bursting at the seams and running at or above capacity. Londoners are falling between the cracks with many spending their nights out in the cold in abandoned buildings, roof tops or the stair-wells of apartment buildings.

Every Thursday evening the Salvation Army Street Missionary personal are on the streets handing out hot coffee, donuts and mitts to those in need. Nancy reminded me that homeless people die on the streets of London as a result of our neglect.

Chris’s message for Londoners is: "the majority of the homeless are good people who have experienced bad luck, Please don’t prejudge the person and look away."

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com