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Recently Ella and I made our way down town to catch a play at the Grand Theatre. It was a very cold wintry blustery night with the temperature reading at the London Life thermometer at -14 degrees Celcius. When you factored in the wind chill it was a bone chilling -21.

In front of Garlic’s Restaurant in a tiny alcove 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. A few theatre patrons dropped a coin into his outstretched hand and he politely expressed his thanks.

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 ward off the cold.

The man thanked me for caring, shook my hand and told me his name was Chris. He lives at the Salvation Army, Center of Hope, Men’s Hostel on Wellington ; sharing the third floor dorm with 86 other men.

In the summer Chris prefers to sleep in a cardboard box under the Queen Street bridge besides 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 petty criminal doing time for theft sharing three hots (meals) and a cot a the London Middlesex Detention Center. Panhandling for three hours in the cold earned him $16.00.

I called the Program Director, Nancy Powers of the Centre of 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, she told me that: “ the hostel is always unfortunately filled to capacity.”

Ontario Works has a per diem rate for hostel residents of $46.80 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.

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 or in abandoned buildings, roof tops or the stair-wells of apartment buildings.

Every Thursday evening in the winter the Salvation Army Street Missionary volunteers are on the streets handing out hot coffee, donuts and mitts to those in need.

Homeless people die on the streets of London as a result of our neglect.

Check out the main intersections in London and you will see men silently standing on the median holding onto their signs with a cap in hand for your spare change.

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.”

I choose not to give the men my money. For the most part they are not homeless or hungry. They are fed and housed in the shelters. If you want to make a difference please take the time to send along your tax deductible donation to the Salvation Army or Mission Services in London.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com