Like all of us, I’ve been following the news of the pandemic and worrying about what will happen next. But as anyone who follows me on social media or even here to some extent knows, my actual day to day pandemic life is pretty much normal – maybe even better than normal.
I have steady work from home that I love. I exercise every day. I cook interesting foods, take more classes and go to more shows, albeit online, than I did pre-pandemic. I’ve been lucky enough that very few people I know have tested positive or been sick. But is this the real experience people are having in Toronto? What is happening outside my bubble?
One obvious thing is that the homeless are having a very hard time. I see more panhandlers on the streets, but with the pandemic fewer and fewer of us are carrying cash so they’re coming up short.
My daily exercise often takes me in to the ravines which are for the most part really pretty. But for many they provide a place to sleep that feels less vulnerable than on the streets or in a shelter where close quarters could result in an infection.
Last night as I was riding on a trail next to the Don River, passing many on expensive bikes while runners ran with AirPods in their ears and $200 shoes on their feet, a sight caught my eye. On a concrete embankment (like a tiny ghat) right next to the cold river were three men. Two already asleep in sleeping bags, another siting up and eating.
A few kilometres north on a recent trail run down a low-traffic mountain bike trail, I came across a couple of spots where people were living.
In this one, someone had used plastic tarps to create a makeshift shelter. Nobody was in at the time but it looked as if people were there recently.
Down another path but literally in the shadow of a highrise with million dollar condominiums was this tiny shelter. Inside was a small mattress. This one likely hasn’t been occupied in some time given the state of the fabric curtain on the front.
In other city parks people have set up more conventional tents as well. The contrast of the tents and people in need with the tourist sites and conspicuous consumption all around has never been more evident since I’ve lived here.
Recently I also saw another set of graphs from the Toronto COVID dashboard. These really highlighted to me the blind spot I have in terms of my privilege and made it even more clear that my experience is not a common experience for everyone.
The take-away from this is that if you are economically comfortable you’re likely to be much less affected by the pandemic in Toronto. And if you’re white, it’s even more the case.
And then, comparing Canada’s experience to the rest of the world’s presents even more of a contrast. On many levels I’ve been put, in great part by the accident of my birth and what I do for a living in the most privileged of situations.
It is a clear message to me to keep this in mind and continue to help where I can, when I can.