The other day as I was walking down the street I saw a man who was panhandling sitting on the pavement. He was suffering from an episode of mental illness and was talking to himself loudly and using coarse language.

A couple people walked by and from their faces I could see they were clearly disturbed and disgusted. It wasn’t their fault that they didn’t understand. And it wasn’t the fault of the man panhandling that he was suffering from mental illness. It should, in fact, be upsetting that there’s people sitting on the street in need of money, suffering from illness, with no place to go. This shouldn’t be normal or easy to ignore.

All that being said, it saddened me to see a lack of understanding. We’ve been so separated from people who are different from us. We don’t want to be confronted with the injustice and ugliness that exists in our city.

Later that day I was talking to a volunteer from the Warming Room who was walking downtown and ran into one of his friends who’s a guest at the Warming Room. This guest also has severe mental illness and was apologizing for some things that had happened at the Warming Room a few nights earlier. The two ended up laughing about the incident and chatting for a few minutes until they parted ways.

Seemingly small stories like this fill me with great joy. It’s through relationship that understanding is built. It’s through spending time with others and hearing stories that prejudice begins to melt away. And the result is real meaningful change in our community!

A little light bulb went off in my head that day and I thought… imagine if everyone in Peterborough was a volunteer at the Warming Room. Or at the Youth Shelter or the Brock Mission or the Lighthouse Drop-in Centre or wherever. But imagine if everyone had the chance to build relationships with others and view others as people rather than problems. It would change things! It would change how we talk, how we interact with people on the street, and what we care about.

Of course, no one’s perfect. We’re always learning and always trying to rid ourselves of prejudices. But change is so very possible. I’ve seen it in myself and in many volunteers at the Warming Room.

It’s inspiring to hear from others and to imagine what Peterborough could be and to see what’s already happening.

What do you imagine for Peterborough?