“FOR MONTHS AFTERWARD I had difficulty making eye contact with people.” This was one of the results of a social experiment where two men spent up to six months on the streets of several major American cities. Panhandling, dumpster diving, sleeping rough and sleeping in shelters; they found that not many people were willing to make eye contact with them. It seemed like a form of depersonalization – sometimes unintentional and sometimes intentional to the effect of, “If I don’t look, maybe they are not there or maybe I won’t have to engage.”
At the Men’s Mission it’s difficult to be anything but personal. In fact some encounters mean that you get to know clients; their stories can be so personal that it hurts in the emotional sense.
Our friend at the Men’s Mission was born in September 1940 in Spain. He served in North Africa in the military and began his journey into the priesthood, only to be pulled back to other commitments closer to home. Eventually, he immigrated to Canada where he ventured into the construction industry and ended up in housekeeping maintenance at one of the major hospitals in London.
All of the above ‘facts’ of the story, and even the troubles that brought him to the Men’s Mission for the first time nearly 29 years ago, are the stock and trade of collecting information about the people who come into our branch. There are times when there is more information and times when there is less. However for this friend, it was all about the man who we encountered on a day to day basis; the everyday conversations, the wonderful personality spilling out on to us.
Our friend lived in the Roger Smith Wing of the Men’s Mission (for longer term stays) and it became his home. When he died recently, he was not homeless. He was a man who was loved, befriended and now dearly missed. We couldn’t avoid eye contact with him. It was never anything but personal.