We are the future

April 4th marked the ninth year anniversary of Marc Christophe's death. I remembered this only yesterday, because we do not talk about it. He died alone, taking his own life at a young age. He had a history of frequent drinking, one which dated back to before I was born. I don't like to think of him in that apartment, but I must. And when I do, which is often, I wonder how it can be that an individual could feel so alone and so disillusioned with the life that they would leave behind the beauty, joy and love that they are entitled to as a harmless and caring beings on this earth. With time I've learned that these moments of despair have been needlessly repeated because of the way in which we have come to systematically turn our backs to people in need.

This was my uncle, and I miss him everyday.

I live in the East End of Toronto, in the only remaining borough in Canada, East York. It is a largely middle class neighbourhood, and the residential areas are particularly detached from the surrounding main streets that are home to numerous restaurants and bars. Walking along the Danforth you will notice people drinking at all times of the day, and you will see people who have the physical scars that poor health coupled with habitual alcohol consumption will leave. It becomes noticeable that people are served even after they are visibly past a considerable level of inebriation. The tables will not have been cleared, and you may notice several bottles and glasses. You may hear slurred speech, and most likely be spoken to. People often walk into the streets, nearly getting hit by oncoming traffic. I don't like seeing these types of things, but as a young person residing in this community I have an obligation to talk about it, and the right to express my desire for change.

Individuals are allowed to make their own decisions, but it is important that we ensure that these decisions are informed and that healthy alternatives are explored. People choose to use substances for a variety of reasons. Some people to end boredom, to have fun and be more social. But the reality remains that some people use substances to dull pain, fill lonely days, cope with depression and other psychological illnesses. There are biological causes to these symptoms, but many of them are environmental as well. Regardless, both biological and environmental symptoms can be cured only if we take the time to care for them. We must not disregard the institutions, programs and organizations that we have in place to confront this issue simply because they have failed us on numerous occasions. Rather, we must look at the components that are in need of reform. We must strengthen them at their core.

The social net is weak. Often, it closes at 4 pm, Monday through Friday. Often, it is a friendly voice on the telephone, although compassionate, it may seem incredibly far away. There are so many people doing amazing work, but the stitching together of these efforts is easily unstitched at times. Too often the term “hard to reach” is applied to a demographic that is waiting to be helped. I argue against the use of this term. People are not hard to reach; they might be your sister, your mom, and your brother. They might be your neighbours, or the young person seated beside you on the train that looks battered and has been sick all over their winter coat. Or they could be someone like my uncle who was a father, a son, and a dedicated worker.

I do not have all the answers, but I strongly believe that together we can work towards answering them. As young people, we need no longer be passive recipients of policy and political decisions that shape our day to day environments and the landscapes in which we live. We must engage ourselves as much as we can because there are people counting on us to use our voices and fresh perspectives to shape the approaches of our time. We owe it to ourselves, and the people who have passed.