On Homelessness: “Walking past”


“Look. I know. But I’m telling you, we, like, run in the same circles or something.”

“Which fucking circles are you running in?”

“I dunno, man, just…I’m telling you, I see him everywhere.”

“Give him some cash, man, he’ll leave you alone.”

“I dunno. Do you think he, like, stalks me?”

“Who knows, man. You know what he’s after.”

“Think he can hear us?”

“Probably. Keep looking forward don’t want to give him the wrong idea.”

The subject of their intrigue happened to be a well-recognized face on this street. His salt-and-pepper beard perpetually caked in sweat, eyes bloodshot, if ever opened, fingernails speckled with dirt.

When he wasn’t pacing the corner of the main street, he would lie curled on the ground, enveloped in a makeshift bed, a mattress formed from warped cardboard and a newspaper pillow.

A Styrofoam coffee cup rest at his feet to collect spare change—its position was far enough from his person so as not to elicit too intimate an interaction between hopeful donors and himself, yet close enough to grasp in the case of a thief lurking uncomfortably nearby. This was his domain.

The men who passed him daily found themselves split between curiosity and repulsion as they, in American Apparel, wondered how one could end up on the streets, and why the man couldn’t pull himself up by the bootstraps “and just find a job,” as they all had done for themselves.

The day he disappeared, those who questioned his absence primarily didn’t know who to confront with their concern, or why they felt they needed an answer in the first place, and never did anything about it.

word by Annie Rubin

“With such ease, passersby devalue or dehumanize the lives of homeless people. This story’s focus on the interactions of one man tries to demonstrate a lack of compassion and emphasize the societal conditioning that our culture perpetuates towards those who are not able to work or find a home.”

colour by Shalak Attack

“Shalak Attack is a Canadian-Chilean visual artist dedicated to painting, muralism, graffiti urban art, and canvases. Shalak  has manifested her artistic expression on urban walls across the world.  Shalak is a co-founder and member of the international art collectives “Essencia”, the “Bruxas”, and the “Clandestinos”. 

Shalak also works with several other mixed media approaches such as tattoo art, jewelery, illustration, installation, sound, and video making. In the past ten years, she has participated in numerous artistic projects and exhibitions in Canada, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Palestine, Jordan, Isreal, France, Belgium, Spain, Argentina, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Senegal and recently in Sweden for the Artscape Mural Festival. 

Shalak shares her passion for freedom of expression, and has facilitated visual art workshops to youth of under-privileged communities and prisoners in various countries across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and in Africa.  Her artistic work and community art-reach is rooted in the social and cultural values she received from her family growing up across Canada.  Since then, her most impacting education has been learning from different communities around the world. Public walls has become her favourite place to paint, she uses graffiti as an art form to create accessibility to culture for diverse communities.” 

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Word and Colour

words inspired by colour wordandcolour.com

2 thoughts on “On Homelessness: “Walking past””

  1. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Not everyone wants a job and not everyone wants help. In today’s world people run cons on others then go on tv to tell everyone how much money they make off the suckers who hand them cash. Some of the homeless are mentally ill, thrown out to fend for themselves when government programs shut down. They don’t remember to take their medication. It’s not as simple as just caring, at least not in the city. There is the the belief that you need to help yourself, no doubt about it. It’s part of the American culture and difficult to overcome. People have been helped. Give homes, jobs clothing and they are back on the street within months because they don’t want those things. When interviewed, many said they dropped out because they didn’t want to live by the clock, they don’t want to work. People who walk by the homeless don’t have a clue as to what’s going on with the person. It’s simply an assumption that everyone wants or needs help. And tell me…what do you think a person can do? Call human services…LOLOL the city knows they are there. Take them home? Give them money? Food? What? Sit and chat…another assumption that anyone wants to talk to you. It doesn’t help to try and make people feel bad or uncomfortable about the homeless situation. We need answers and workable solutions to the problem. But that’s just it…nothing is working because a lot of people don’t want help. It’s like that old saying…ALL WHO WANDER ARE NOT LOST. Assumptions are just that…people imagining what other people need. People don’t trust each other anymore. We see homeless people taking a break and talking on their new 6 iPhones. There’s way more going on with this issue than just not caring or walking by homeless people.

    1. We fully agree – working on homelessness requires more than simply talking to the homeless, or in writing stories to humanize them. Art may work to bring a small window of their humanity to the reader, who may otherwise only hear of them as lazy or worthless in the narratives of mainstream media. As you point out, homelessness is a mental health issue, and one that shows the flaws of capitalism in terms of employment. In the least we hope these stories can exist to have readers pose questions about these dominant narratives on homelessness, and ideally leading to an increased openness to spend time learning about solutions, such as considerations on trauma, substance abuse, poverty and mental health- extremely well discussed in a book we love by Dr. Gabor Maté, “In the realm of hungry ghosts.”

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