Pubdate: Mon, 28 Jun 2010
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Ken Armstrong


Re: Special report: Ottawa's dirty little secret, June 19 to 24.

I read the excellent and balanced series the Citizen has run on the
crack cocaine situation in Ottawa. I live in the ByWard Market area
and I see daily the drug's effects on the addicts and on the community.

I've come to know several homeless addicts in the market area. All of
them believe that most members of the public see them as disposable,
if they see them at all.

It saddens me though to see such a dismissive reaction of so many
people to those whose lives are being ruined by drug addiction. I am
offering a challenge to your readers to have another look at the addict.

I'll introduce you to someone I have had dozens of conversations with
over the last three years.

Sarah (not her real name) is 20 years old and has lived a quarter of
her life on the streets within a stone's throw of The Shepherds of
Good Hope.

She left home at age 15 to escape the physical and sexual abuse of her
father and her uncles.

Within two days of arriving in the ByWard Market area, Sarah was
addicted to crack cocaine. Now she steals, panhandles, and sells her
body to support her habit. The tracks on her arms and legs are the
result of abscesses from injecting, and there are neat rows of
self-inflicted knife scars running from wrist to elbow on both of her
arms. Each scar is a cry for help.

She is homeless, she has mental health issues and she is loved by
nobody. Not the dealers who sell her crack, not the men who pay for
her services and certainly not the authorities. She is a nuisance, she
is an inconvenience and yes, she breaks the law.

But if you were to see her sitting in a heap on the sidewalk, please
don't ignore her as you might be inclined to do. Look into her sad,
desperate eyes and summon up the courage to smile and ask her if she
is OK. She's 20 years old and nobody loves her. Surely you can grant
her a kind word and a friendly face.

I'd like people to be less judgmental. I always give them a loonie or
a toonie despite what the police chief says.

If it helps them get through another day in less pain, then so be

Sarah has always lived in Ottawa. I asked her if she was better off in
her current circumstances than with her parents and she said she
definitely was. She sees no future for herself.

I'm hoping if people treat her and other homeless people less like
garbage some of them may feel a greater sense of self-worth and make
the difficult decision of trying to change their lives.

Ken Armstrong,

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