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Water Today Title November 20, 2017

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Street Beat

This story is brought to you in part by Seismic Waterfinder

Glass of Water


By: Jessica Lemieux

As a follow up to my week-long quest for a glass of water - which took me from restaurants, fast food chains, to drive thrus and retail shops - I decided to investigate how this request might be met when coming from others. Specifically, this week, I looked into how the homeless were greeted with the same request.

How are homeless people treated in comparison to the way I was treated? Are they given water or are they immediately asked to leave? Does the response vary depending on location? Do restaurants have a specific policy for who they will give a glass of water to, or does it simply depend on the person who is asked? What specific factors might affect the way in which restaurants respond to this request? These are the questions I had in mind as I approached restaurants in Ottawa's Byward Market .

According to a former manager at The Heart and Crown who preferred to remain anonymous, the response to someone asking for a glass of water depended on specific factors. “When I was in the Market, if any homeless person came in who was unruly, intoxicated, or in any way a disturbance to other guests, [such as] being loud, we would kindly ask them to leave. That said, there were several occasions where they would come in and we would serve them water, as long as they were nice and polite."

Owner of The Senate, Steve Ryan, explained that, at their establishment, they would never refuse anyone a glass of water. Ryan said, "Do people really do that? People would actually say no to giving someone, homeless or not, a glass of water? We don't get approached with that question very often here, but I can't imagine an instance where we wouldn't give them [a glass of water]. Ryan asked a nearby server what his personal experience with this situation has been. The server replied, "This actually happened to me two days ago. A homeless person came in and asked us for a glass of water so I gave them one. They were really polite, and I would feel too bad not to [give them one], anyway." Ryan explained that they also have plastic takeout cups that they can give to people so they can take their water to go.

A manager at Cornerstone, said their approach is typically to give everyone who asks a glass of water, but that it varies depending on the demeanor of the person who is asking. The manager explained, "Yes, we typically give [a glass of water] to homeless people who ask for one. The only reason we don't, is when they're being aggressive or making rude comments to the hostesses, which happens a lot more at this location than others. We've had a few issues in the past where that has happened and we've told them to leave."

The manager continued, "It's convenient for us because we have a water station set up outside [in the summer], so it's ideal for us to be able to give people a glass of water without them having to come inside the restaurant. An issue we've had in the past with giving homeless people a glass of water inside the restaurant, is that patrons have complained that they felt uncomfortable, which is something we need to take into consideration." The manager added, "We've also had some instances where, after we've given them a glass of water, they hang around and ask our customers for spare change, at which point we ask them to leave."

A server from Lonestar explained that they typically discourage giving out water to homeless people as, in the past, it has led to many problematic situations. "We don't have a specific policy here, but, in the past, when we have allowed homeless people to come inside for a glass of water, they have refused to leave afterward and would bother customers for food and for change. This is obviously extremely uncomfortable for our patrons and we want to avoid those instances at all costs."

"We've also had several instances where homeless people have jumped over our patio, and stolen food, so we really try to avoid all exchanges. Of course we don't group the actions of every homeless person together, and depending on the circumstance, there are times where we would give out a glass of water. But at this location, we have had a lot of bad experiences, so we typically try to avoid it altogether."

A bartender from Blue Cactus echoed those sentiments. He declared that letting homeless people come into their establishment, under any circumstance, is very stressful and has been awkward in the past. The bartender explained, "We have an extremely open concept bar, bottles of liquor can be grabbed very easily, and it happens to us on a weekly basis. In the summer time, as our windows are all completely open to the sidewalk, we have homeless people constantly approaching customers for food and money, in which case we have to ask them to leave."

It being a hot and humid day in Ottawa, I set out to get the perspective of the many homeless people who wander around the market.

I approached a person in a wheelchair, perched on the corner of Rideau Street and Dalhousie Street, who agreed to answer my questions.

"I don't often do that but I have never been refused when I have. If I do go into a restaurant people often just laugh at me and say rude things, so I try to avoid it."

"I am constantly refused access to the washroom though, no matter what, which [restaurants] are not allowed to do."

Next, I asked someone who was sitting along the path, between Rideau Street and George Street, the same question. "Yeah, every time I try to get a glass of water from a restaurant they refuse and tell me to leave. All the places here do that," he said, adding that that was all the information he wanted to provide as he walked away.

Outside the Salvation Army, on George Street, a group was sitting on the sidewalk asking people for money. I approached a few of them and asked if they'd mind answering some questions. A lady, who immediately introduced herself as Roxanne LaCroix, was eager to voice her opinion. "They never give us water. They look at us like we aren't even human. Like we're garbage and they don't even want to look at us." LaCroix continued, "At some point or another, I've gone into almost every spot in the Market and uptown, too, and no one would ever give me a glass of water or let me use the bathroom."

One of the people sitting next to her added, "They never ever give us water. Just yell at us to go away. How do people expect us to get jobs or anything when they won't help us out at all or even look at us. Today we even got kicked out of the Rideau Centre because we were trying to cool off on this 40-degree day. People have no compassion."

I then contacted the Mission to get their stance on the topic. Shirley Roy, Media and Community Relations Manager, was able to offer some insight.

"Making sure people hydrated is absolutely a priority for the Mission. We hand out cold bottles of water, here, to people staying at the shelter. We also walk around outside, on [hot] days like today, and hand out cold bottles of water all around the four block radius that surrounds the shelter, regardless of whether or not a person is staying with us," she said.

"When there are heat warnings, like today, it's extra important for us to make sure those who don't actually want to come in, are still getting water. We also have water fountains for anyone to come in and get a drink of water at anytime."

When asked about what the Mission's stance is, on whether or not restaurants should be obligated to give water to homeless people, Roy replied, "I think it's great if business owners are able to accommodate giving everyone a glass of water, regardless of the fact that they may be busy. There is no regulation that says they have to, so, if they have time and are able to, you'd hope they would. You'd hope people wouldn't discriminate on the basis of how someone looks, and in any case, you don't necessarily even know if someone is homeless or not, anyway."

Email newsdesk if you have had good or bad experiences with getting a glass of water.

Related Story

Can I have a glass of water - Part 1- Ottawa West (Kanata)
Can I have a glass of water - Part 2- Ottawa East (Gloucester, Vanier)
Can I have a glass of water - Part 3- Downtown (Ottawa's Byward Market and Gatineau's Promenade du Portage)
Can I have a glass of water - Part 4- Central Ottawa (Lansdowne, the Glebe and Centertown)

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