Solidarité Milton-Parc’s Guidelines for Direct Sharing
It can be hard when you feel helpless and don’t know what to do to approach human beings who are suffering deeply. Solidarité Milton-Parc practices a values-based, self-reflective approach to connecting with marginalized, labelled, and homeless Milton-Parc residents. What we’ve written below is based on our own mistakes and our own learning, always with the counsel of made-vulnerable people themselves. This page will be updated as we continue to learn.
Direct Sharing is as simple as going through your closet and finding socks, hats, gloves, mitts or scarves; or buying them and keeping them in your bag. When you see someone who may need one of these items, start with the honouring question and your introduction (outlined below). If the person says they’re ok to interact, ask the person if they need/would like the item you have.
If you have food to share, the same thing applies, but don’t assume that everyone will want to eat what you want to share. People have their own diets that have been interrupted by colonialism and climate change, as well as many also having food allergies, so let the person know what kind of food you have, and share food without judgment. What is healthy for you is not necessarily what people’s bodies need to live in minus zero conditions. Meat is necessary and offers the protein, fat and calories needed to survive in the cold, but of course it’s not the only thing people will eat. So once again, it’s good to ask. Also, provide utensils and napkins with the food if necessary.
Values-Based Considerations For Direct-Sharing
For us, Direct Sharing is not only about needed items or food being shared, but also involves a mindfulness about the conditions that made-vulnerable people are living in and how we choose to share.
To begin, please check out this 3 minute video on addictions by Gabor Maté. This resonates with how we view behavior that does us harm, but distracts from our pain; and is present not just on the street, but in most homes in Milton-Parc as well. We could all benefit from having more mercy on ourselves and each other, and we lovingly encourage you to reflect on this.
Self-Reflection: we encourage you to ask yourself why you want to share with made-vulnerable people and ‘who’ you are sharing for. We encourage you to begin thinking about ‘sharing’ versus ‘giving/helping’, and we encourage you to be aware of the power dynamic when we talk about giving and helping, versus sharing. Made-vulnerable people don’t need anything else to make them feel worse about themselves, so do not treat people as though they’re not able to take care of themselves. Homeless people sleeping outside at night would survive that context better than you, so resist treating people like children.
When we make a kind gesture to *help ourselves feel good/better* about the discomfort we feel around being helpless regarding homelessness and genocide in Milton-Parc, we need to recognize that we are making kind gestures on the backs and suffering of marginalized peoples and people targeted for genocide. You may feel better, and someone will have a pair of gloves, but it is not the most honouring connection to make.
Authentic community creates connection and capacity. It is absolutely ok and human to feel good about sharing a moment, a smile, a pair of gloves and micro-connection with a person living homeless; but if you are doing it so that you can go back to tell your family and friends what you did for your own recognition, or as a reliever of guilt only, we encourage you to reflect on this.
We do not know what’s best for people living on the street, if you feel as though you do, you are incorrect, and this is not in the spirit of Direct Sharing. We never tell people what they should or should not be doing, we are there as a loving presence and compassionate support. We are not only sharing a hot meal or clothing, we are also connecting and sharing a non-judgmental presence, which becomes an exchange rather than a donation. These little authentic and honouring connections help to lift people’s spirits, and may offer a bit of soothing for the loneliness created by being considered outcasts in mainstream society.
Honouring people and public spaces: during Solidarité Milton-Parc’s weekly hot meal shares, we do our best to honour all people and the space in which they inhabit. We have made many mistakes and are continually learning. For the sake of people walking by on the sidewalk and Milton-Parc small businesses, we try to take up as little space as possible and we usually limit the number of SMP members going out to only two. Not everyone in the Milton-Parc community supports our approach or initiatives, so we try to respect the public space for everyone who is using it. This is not always possible, but we do our best.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and it is critical for people wanting to share resources to understand this. If you make assumptions about what people need, or how to be together in a public space, you could create problems between a homeless person you were sharing with and others around them, or authorities – ranging from security guards to the police. Keep the interactions low-key, try not to draw too much attention to the interaction you’re having, and be aware of the authorities moving around you.
To honour homeless people: if we haven’t met a person, we first respectfully ask that person if it’s ok to speak with them – “Do you mind if I speak with you?”. Then, tell the person your first name, and don’t ask for a name back. People may or may not be comfortable giving a stranger their name, but it is a gesture of connection on your part to introduce yourself.
Just like us, people living on the street have some very bad days and don’t always want to have to chat with some random person coming around. Conversely, some people DO want to chat, so it’s just easiest and most honouring to ask first. This first contact can be difficult, especially if you feel helpless about the situation people are living in. Prepare to feel uncomfortable and awkward and understand that this is part of the process.
We do not touch people we don’t know. People living on the street are constantly physically violated and it’s not within a values-based approach to add to that. As we connect with people and develop relationships, it is hugs for anyone we know, but both people need to be comfortable with that first. Conversely, you do not have to touch or hug people. It is important to consider that people are often sick on the street (just like in workplaces and schools), so consider the risks both ways – avoid close proximity when you’re sick, and understand that you could also catch a bug at close proximity.
Be honest about what you can and can’t share. If someone asks you for something more, they are doing so as a question, not as an expectation, so if you can’t share what they need, it is ok to say this and people understand. If a person has a negative reaction to your response, understand that this is about their immediate need not being met, not some sense of entitlement.
Do not judge the actions of homeless and racialized people. You will show that you are misinformed and incorrect about the situation. Be willing to suspend your judgment and learn about the harsh realities of colonial capitalism and survival on the street, even in this lovely Milton-Parc community. Judgment keeps everyone in chains, once you come to understand more about the circumstances of how and why people are made-vulnerable, we can assure you that you will be glad you suspended your judgments.
Educate yourself (and your children) by attending any of the upcoming educational activities that Solidarité Milton-Parc and its collaborators will be offering over the next year. A great start is the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, which will be offered at least once per season. You can find the page here.
Pass on awareness: it’s also important to do what you can to help other privileged people in Milton-Parc (and beyond) reflect on how mainstream colonial society makes people vulnerable, creates discrimination and hatred around that vulnerability, and then punishes people for it. This is especially true when it comes to Indigenous Peoples and People of Colour.
The winter is brutal for people here, we’re told that this year, shelters have been running out of space, so there are more people sleeping outside in very very cold weather. Blankets, good snow pants and waterproof warm boots are always in huge need, if you have these to share, you may do so directly, or by contacting [email protected] Living on the street in this cold climate offers dangers and challenges that most of us don’t even consider or could ever imagine.
This is Solidarité Milton-Parc’s values-based approach to the re-humanization of all of us – both the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, who are touched by the way colonial capitalist society marginalizes, criminalizes and oppresses human beings in this community, across the country, and globally throughout the world.
If you would like to discuss this further, check out our website, or contact Su via email at [email protected]