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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 bitter cold night with the temperature reading at the Donahue Funeral Home Marquis sign at minus 16 degrees. When you factor in the wind chill it was more like minus 26.

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 bye looked the other way. It was as if the poor man was invisible.

I too walked away 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 ‘Chuck’. He lives at the Salvation Army Hostel, Centre For Hope, on Wellington ; sharing the third floor dorm with 77 other men.

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

A machinist by trade he was laid off two years ago and subsequently was separated from his wife. Chuck is no longer a criminal doing time for petty theft living for three hots and a cot. Panhandling in front of the theatre for four hours in the freezing cold earned him $16.00.

I called Nancy Powers who is the Program Director of the Centre 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 unfortunately near 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 minimum wage in Ontario in 2006 was $7.75 In February 2007 the provincial government gave the poorest in our society a whopping $.25 increase to $8.00.

Compare. In December 2006 the Ontario MPP’s approved & increase of 25% . ($22,000) for themselves raising their base salary to $110,00.

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 in December 2007 three homeless people died on the streets of London as a result of neglect.

Chuck’s message for Londoners is: “ the majority of the homeless are good people who have experienced bad luck, Please don’t pre judge the person and look away.”.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com