Yesterday, I had lunch in Bells Corners at a Vietnamese “Pho” restaurant with one of my good colleagues. I had asked him if he had ever seen “that homeless guy” who writes poetry on the corner of Sussex Drive and George Street. A majority of the time I get the same reply, “Yes, I’ve seen that guy before”.
A fixture on the same corner for more than two years, Dave Dessler or Crazzy Dave as he prefers to be called, may be homeless, but he isn’t faceless. With his messianic hair and quick, caustic wit, he has been “busking poetry” that tends to focus on what he senses at street level to survive. He doesn’t wave a hat at strangers and he never asks for money. Instead he spends his days etching rhymes onto stained pieces of cardboard in colorful shades of permanent marker. However, the poet is, in fact, tired of life on the street. “I’m so mentally and emotionally beat to sh–, I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”
Fortunately, with the financial backing of Steve Hambling, the president of a local ice-cream shop, Dessler’s poems have now turned into a book, Mindlessly Adrift: My Ottawa Streets, a co-effort with photographer Jean Boulay. Dessler, who admits to a “checkered past,” hopes the proceeds from the book will be enough to provide a small nest egg to establish his own housing. From there, he hopes to cobble together enough income — his street poetry, possibly a small home business — to get by on his own.
Dessler is one of well-over 5,000 homeless men and women living in the Ottawa area. It is extremely unfortunate that the homeless are still in large part society’s “visible” invisibles. There is an old saying, that if a problem is well defined then it is half solved. Part of that problem is awareness and it is also a big part of the solution. The poetry by Dessler reminds us of the unique individuality and creativity of the forgotten. We must ensure that no matter what problems befall any of us, even during the worst of times be sure to lend a helping hand. Let’s focus on random acts of kindness and work on promoting the social inclusion of homeless people by ensuring equal access to services so they can become a part in the life of the community.