Home, home under the bridge

By Frances Sedgwick
True North Perspective

Frances Sedgwick's keen eye and ear for the human condition reveals the heart and soul of Parkdale in southwest Toronto, one of the country's most turbulent urban areas where the best traditions of human kindness prevail against powerful forces that would grind them down. True North Perspective proudly presents a column by writer Frances Sedgwick. Her critical observation combined with a tender sense of humour will provide you with something to think about ... and something to talk about.

Walking up my street on a brisk winter morn, I hear several men talking in  loud, actually, cheerful, voices "Where are you sleeping tonight?" That brought a smile to my face until I heard the answer:

"Under the bridge, by the Legion. Do you want to join me?"
The stark realization hit me of the homeless situation in Parkdale.

This brought to mind the woman I encountered in front of PARC, a community centre which gives food and shelter to the homeless. But only in the day time. I had come home late one night and saw her sleeping in a sleeping bag in front of the Centre. I could see from what was exposed to the weather that she was well groomed. I tightened up finding it difficult to pass by.
Ironically PARC is located directly across the street from an expensive new bar, Parts and Labour, so posh they have a door man.
Each day after that I noticed a vacant sleeping bag in that precise spot. Nobody touched it. Each day there it was. But I hadn't come home late enough to encounter the occupant again.  
This afternoon I had intended to go shoppping, but as I approached the end of Queen Street I looked at the bridge going over the expressway to Lake Ontario.  I decided on the spot: I'm going to find this "home under the bridge near the Legion". 
It was in the late afternoon when I crossed the bridge. There was a slight but steady drizzle. Being from Vancouver Island this didn't deter me. If you didn't do anything because  it rained you didn't do anything.
I crossed; at the other side there was the lake, and on the shore the old Palais Royale where the big bands use to play in the '30s.  It had recently been restored to its old splendour. I hesitated, imagining the music and the busy dance floor. Even Frank Sinatra sang here.  What a place this must have been.  Parkdale in all it's glory days.
I continued along the lakeside pathway. Past the Boulevard Club with its big covered dome where the rich come to play in our Parkdale.
Before I reach the Legion I notice along the shoreline lovely trees, at least a hundred years old. Then nestled in a corner of the shoreline, under these trees I see an old large umbrella.  A torn canvas stretched from one tree to the next. Logs were positioned to make seats. This was obviously the summer home of the homeless.  But as the weather got fiercer they moved to better shelter under the bridge. 
I continued my search for the "home under the bridge" forgetting we were back to standard time and it was quickly getting dark . . . I got to the top of the hill and there was the bridge, but on the other side of the expressway. No way I could cross.
Back I went along the now dark lake pathway with the rain still at a slight drizzle.  All of a sudden it was pitch black with the neon signs of the expressway gleaming and the lights of the highrise condos along the lake creating a picturesque backdrop.
How ironic, all these condos now surrounding our lake and no low-cost housing that would prevent the homeless from having to find shelter under the bridges. 
But a backdrop it was and I had to get back over that bridge and home.
The search will continue in the daylight for my homeless friends in Parkdale.
My Parkdale