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2010 Homelessness Hunger Strike Relay - Day 1

March 15, 2009 

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa
K1A 0A2 

Via Email 

Dear Prime Minister Harper, 

This morning I awoke with a chill in my bones and trepidation in my heart…..or maybe it was fear.  The reality that my hunger strike was to start in a few short hours at noon actually turned me off the thought of cooking the bacon and eggs that I picked up yesterday in preparation for my last meal for a week.  I skipped breakfast and spent the early morning contemplating what I was about to do and why I was doing it. 

My thoughts ran from the foolishness of my endeavor (that was the fear talking) to the shame that so many of my fellow citizens in this rich and bountiful country live with hunger every day.  I thought about the increasing rate of homelessness.  I thought about how from 1967 to 1978 I didn’t remember seeing homeless people in Newfoundland, but that on my last trip to St. John’s in 2007 I saw so many people on Water Street who had fallen through our tattered social safety net.  I also thought of the first and only homeless person I had met in my first 22 years back on the East Coast.  Georgie was his name and I remember seeing him occasionally on the bus as I went to music lessons downtown.  Georgie would sit on the bus rocking back and forth in his seat and he would greet everyone who got on the bus with a cherry “Hi, I’m Georgie!”, and he would then resume his rocking.  Sometimes I said “Hi” back and he would smile.  This morning it was Georgie and those like him that occupied my mind as I got dressed in a strangely methodical way.   

When I arrived at Pigeon Park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside it was very cold and sleet fell.  It’s the middle of March already!  It reminded me again of the fact that the homeless do not have the luxuries that I have of sleeping in my own bed in my own home.  They do not have the luxury of turning down a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs.  The cold dampness of this grey day is something that the homeless can not escape with the ease that I am afforded in my comfortable life. 

I met up with the organizers of the 2010 Hunger Strike and was introduced to the people that were just finishing their week of fasting.  They were pale, they were gaunt, and I started to shiver not from the cold, but for fear of my own wellbeing.  Will I have the strength to see this through?  If I keep my thoughts on those who suffer day after day in the hunger and the cold maybe that will keep me going. 

At noon I was handed a wooden spoon with a red ribbon on it which has become the symbol of our hunger strike relay.  I hesitated before taking it even though I knew it was only symbolic.  I listened intently to the stories of the people who had already done their week-long hunger strike in the days and weeks previously.  “Drink lots of water.”  “The first two days are hard as hunger is constantly on your mind.”  “The last two days your mind gets a little wacky.”   

I have missed two meals today, a snack, and right about now I’m supposed to be eating dinner with my wife.  Meal three and eighteen more to miss.  I’m hungry and I have a slight headache but water seems to be help.  I will busy myself this evening with a few household chores.  I’ve also downloaded a report from the UN Human Rights Council to the General Assembly which deals with issues of poverty and housing.  I’ve also downloaded a report that was only published last week from BC’s Office of the Auditor General entitled “Homelessness:  Clear Focus Needed”.  I figure that I better get some reading in before hunger starts to impede my concentration.

More tomorrow,        

Yours truly,

Robert O’Dea

Vancouver BC 

cc.      Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Official Opposition

          Jack Layton, Leader of the NDP

          Libby Davies, MP

          Jenny Kwan, MLA

          Mayor Gregor Robertson

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