Yes, these are incredibly unstable times and the impacts are being felt by everyone worldwide. Collectively, we are now thinking about the most vulnerable, the people on the margins, the ones most susceptible to contracting and being deeply impacted by the COVID-19 virus. We think of our parents and friends in seniors living centres, and know how deadly it can be if the virus takes hold. We think of hospitals where our dedicated healthcare professionals risk their safety to care for others. But there are others, the ones truly on or outside the margins of our communities.
There are people who are living on the street, without homes or beds or food, struggling with urgent and unattended physical and mental health concerns. Daily, women and their children are fleeing abuse and forced to leave their homes. They need the safety of a women’s shelter because as a society, we still aren’t demanding that abusive men leave their homes. Women are truly trapped now, with no safe option. There are folks struggling with mental illness who live in group homes. And further from our experience there are people living in refugee camps, already thrust into life threatening, destabilizing circumstances that are beyond their control. The privilege of choice can be invisible when we are so accustomed to taking choice and freedom for granted.
The privilege of being able to follow the directive to isolate and keep physical distance is not one that every person can comply with. In normal times, it is an appalling statement of our humanity that people must live on the streets because we have not created safe and affordable living spaces for them indoors. In a single day in Canada, nearly 8000 women and their children access women’s shelters for protection from male partners. Their worlds are turned upside down and they experience a hidden form of homelessness. People with mental illness have limited options and are considered ‘lucky’ to be living in a group home, but live very close to the edge of homelessness. Over 37,000 people are forced to flee their homes everyday due to conflict, violence, human rights violations or persecution.
I don’t have an answer for any of this. But I do have a message. Those of us who have a home, a bed, food, the resources to purchase and store goods, and a means to stay connected to the events as they unfold around the world, consider ourselves extremely lucky. Let’s practice gratitude, not resentment for the inconveniences that the virus has had on our world. Consider ways that we can share our privilege with those who are vulnerable and invisible. And not just now, but once a new order is restored in our communities.