All about the homeless-My small perspective

I have been trying to formulate my thoughts about several trending issues that I am noticing in regards to homelessness in specific.  The first being that there are many ways to help people, and all of which are good, but not all of them are beneficial.  There a millions of ways to contribute and be a helper and before I began my volunteerism even I was encouraged to do some of the following:

-Bring an assortment of clothing directly to the people in need.

-Bring pillows and sleeping bags to people who were sleeping in cold weather.

-Give money whenever and wherever possible.

-Purposefully seek out those in need to do any of the above.

From my perception, it seemed like I was filling an obvious need. Someone was cold, here have a blanket. Someone was hungry, here have some food. Someone was thirsty, have some water. Need some money? Okay, have the five dollars sitting in my pocket because I probably would have spent it foolishly anyways. After careful examination I have come to conclude that all of these acts of kindness may be perpetuating the problem of chronic homelessness, and doing away with any dignity that said person may have. It’s not the material needs that need filling, it’s the needs of the heart and from my perspective the heart is something that can only be filled by the Lord.

The chronically homeless are some of the most resilient and resourceful people I have come to meet. The people I have met who do not suffer from debilitating mental illness, can tell me in one sentence, what agencies offer what, where a meal can be found every day of the week and who to speak to when there is a bigger and more pressing need. These folks know their communities and they know where to go to find whatever they need, so bringing blankets, and clothing to campsites is not only frustrating professional efforts, it’s also doing this:

52663abbotsfordcampfromabove1

This is a photo of a local homeless camp in my community.

It’s creating an enormous swath of garbage, that neither we can contend with, nor they. So in attempt to educate myself and other people, I would say do this:

-Donate your time to an established agency. Time is of the essence, Keep it simple, don’t complicate their lives with clutter any more than it already is. Give these people your time and your attention.

-Donate your material donations to charities that support the homeless in an Eden Model sort of way.

-If you must give to the homeless, be mindful about what you are sharing. Is it something that they can pack up easily and take with them? Is it lightweight and easy to manage? Does it produce a lot of waste? Is it something that is weather resilient? And if it is none of these things then send it to a supporting charity to be sold for profit and used in a more constructive way.

So what do the homeless need if it isn’t material possessions? and why not material possessions?

Many of the chronically homeless people lead unhealthy lifestyles, not all of course, but many of the people. To clarify, I mean that many of the population suffer from chemical dependencies, mental illness and overly dysfunctional lifestyles. Materialism isn’t a necessity for someone who is constantly on the move. Surviving is the most important thing, and finding means for which to cope with whatever devastating circumstances brought them to the streets. Many of the people who I have been blessed to meet are very private and it’s very difficult to draw them out. Others have survived so long outdoors and independently that becoming part of society again is a daunting task.  It seems insurmountable to conform to societies standards of what is “normal”, and the rebellious nature of people who have lived without the various comforts of mainstream society is more enticing than to conform. This results in chronic homelessness.

What is it that people need that live so differently than you or I? To be poetic, I suppose I’d say “Love”. Love doesn’t have to be the act of giving stuff. However appreciated the items are initially, underneath we are all human and we just need to know that other people care and have an honest desire to build true friendships with us and be accepted no matter where we are in life. Friendship offers more dignity than any amount of money, clothing, food, or drugs can ever provide. Getting to know a person who is part of the marginalized population not only bridges the barrier between their world and ours, it opens up a door of opportunity for said person to see what a healthy relationship looks like and to realize that they are worth it.

The second would be “Hope”, which is seeded from meeting people who will meet them where they are at. It doesn’t take much to take away ones purpose in life. It can be having your children taken away because you can’t control your addiction. It can be the loss of a loved one. It can be the simple act of having close personal relationships destroyed by a chaotic lifestyle and being discouraged from producing new friendships. It can be the damaging effects of childhood abuse, or growing up separated from your family because you come from a cycle of abuse that spans generations. It can be the effects of colonization that plague so many of the aboriginal peoples in Canada, my own biological family included. Homelessness is not exclusive and has no boundaries for which it can be produced. The only way to truly know what causes it, is to get to know someone who is living it.

Housing is an important factor to consider but however great it sounds to us, it sounds confining and distasteful to those who are presented with it. Why is this? Well I’d say it has a thousand faces as well. Most people have experienced prejudice from those who are not homeless. They are ignored or treated poorly, called names and abused. Those who are offered a roof and some stability will take some time to adjust to it, specifically if it is someone who has lived outside for many years. Four walls is physically uncomfortable for these people. It’s not as great as you or I might imagine it would be. When I think of this, I think of a fellow who came into the shelter one night. He was an elderly man who had lived on the streets since the early 70’s in Greater Vancouver. He was so distraught and anxiety ridden about having to stay inside that he curled up into a ball in his bunk and wouldn’t eat. The only thing that kept him from walking out the door was the fact that he was still recovering from pneumonia and was too sick to spend time outdoors. And then there are those who thrive with the idea of a new opportunity and take off flapping and slowly find themselves falling from the metaphorical tree. The platform that they have jumped from is not a strong enough foundation to set them on a successful path. The good intentions of their hearts are outweighed by the destructive cycle that they are coming from and ultimately they too will return to their previous lifestyle.

Why is housing so important? Not only does it offer stability and safety, it encourages one’s health. People who live outdoors are stricken with many health related issues that come with poor lifestyle habits and being exposed the elements. Feet will often have blisters, develop fungus, ulcers, or have frostbite to name a few. Respiratory health is greatly affected and pneumonia and other infections will flourish due to poor nutrition, lack of proper sleep and effects of the elements. Mental health and substance abuse is highly likely due to circumstantial reasons. Heart attack and stroke risk increases for many of the same reasons. Stress will also cause a variety of issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, circulatory issues and anxiety. All of these health issues are easier to diagnose and managed when an individual is living in a safe place that offers the right supportive network. However, on the other side of the coin, without the housing option, rapport must be built with these individuals so that in the event that housing is not successful that someone will still be looking out for them. Someone will still need to care enough to know whether said person needs help, or has an emergency which brings me back to the point that a relationship of hope and love must be fostered.

Are there any people who successfully leave the streets and get healthy? Absolutely! With the right dose of TLC, housing doesn’t seem so scary, and eventually neither does clean time and learning how to interact with people. Many times, these people go on to become addictions counsellors, or mental health workers and give back to the communities from which they came from. Other times they find love, marry and have families. Sometimes the success involves being reacquainted with loved ones and family members, and the healing begins. Ultimately there is hope and lives can be changed.

These thoughts are merely the tip of the iceberg for the issue of homelessness and for me. I know that I need to learn more and as I do, I will continue to share my knowledge with others to bridge the gap and to aide in understanding between everyone, and specifically between those who do not understand the plight of the homeless person. With that, I leave you with this wonderful little TED CLIP that I found. I enjoyed it very much and eventually this is what I can envision for me.

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Aba Washded

regalia

The point of my volunteerism is to accumulate the appropriate number of hours to help my application into the BSc Psychiatric Nursing program. I actually thought I’d be learning about mental health and dealing with mental health issues such as addiction, poverty etc. This opportunity has given me the hands on experience so far, every week is a new and interesting shift that I enjoy very much, but all the while I feel like I’m being taken down another path that I wasn’t prepared for or anticipating at all.

If you recall from a previous post, I made mention about relating with an aboriginal woman and her husband. I had the humble opportunity to pray with these people and to be a part of whatever plan God(Waka) had for their lives. It occurred to me that day that this lady felt like I was more relatable than the other people at the shelter simply because of my heritage. I’ve never had this sort of interaction with another person before. In all honesty I often feel like I forget that I am a First Nations woman. It’s not as though I mean to forget; I wish I could imagine my life knowing the traditions of my people, but I wasn’t raised within my cultural heritage. As far as I was concerned as a child, I was Dutch just like the rest of my adoptive family and my small country community.

I can remember grade one at Neerlandia Public Christian School. Nearly all the children in my grade one class were related in some fashion or another. Most had blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin, the telltale marks of their Dutch heritage and I had brown hair, brown eyes and most notably brown skin. I wasn’t entirely alone though, my biological cousin Cody and his brother Joseph were being fostered by family nearby and also attended the same school. I remember gravitating towards my cousins because they looked like me. I quickly made friends with Cody and together we would play in the back of the school yard, climbing trees or hiding under the bleachers.

I’m not certain I noticed any racial treatment at that point, but later as I moved on from NPCS, and to a new school in Barrhead, there was one particular boy from which the taunts would come from. “Squaw!” he’d shout at me, other times he’d laugh and call me as a “Savage”. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of either term, and therefore didn’t allow it to bother that much. Later, I discovered that this boy also had some aboriginal blood running through his veins, and chalked his behaviour up to humour because it seemed ironic that he would find it necessary to pick on me.

As I grew up, I would often poke fun at myself. Making light of the fact that were no other Indians within my circle of friends. I’d be the first to crack an Indian joke or do my best vocal impression to make people laugh. It never was made certain whether or not those who laughed were laughing at me, or with me? I suppose deep down I felt ashamed for being Aboriginal and not Caucasian. This wasn’t brought on at home, I was loved for being exactly who I was. My parents making effort to take my sister and me on annual trips to my reserve for the Pow Wows or to partake in pow wow dancing lessons or to visit my Grandmother.

I recall the sound of the drums at the Pow Wows, and seeing the beautiful regalia worn by the dancers and the intricately decorated dresses. I remember the smell of campfires, and sweet grass as we’d listen to the singing off in the distance. I remember my first pair of moccasin’s, handmade by a member of my family, and how sweetly they smelled. Smoked leather, sewn into special moccasin’s just for me. I remember pulling them out of my mother’s drawer at home from time to time, and putting them up to my face, breathing in the scent and basking in what little I knew about my heritage. This scent is one that will always remind me of another part of myself.

Until recently I didn’t find it necessary to be aware or embrace this part of myself, but I discovered that by not accepting it, or embracing it and being proud of it is having a detrimental effect on how I relate to the people I encounter while volunteering. Sadly the Aboriginal population is strongly over-represented in the homeless population and if I am to work in this sector, I need to do some soul searching and discovery.

My first effort to investigate my heritage was to take my children to an aboriginal beading class across the river in Mission. I arrived at the Friendship Center early in the morning and after discovering that my children couldn’t really participate in the structured activity that involved advanced beadwork, we were invited to stay and make bracelets instead. Sitting down beside us, an old Grandmother and her Husband began to chat us up. She inquired about where we were from and then began posing questions about my family. Where did I come from, who was my family, and what “tribe” did I belong to. I found it interesting that she called it “Tribe” and not the usual term of “Band”. I assumed it would be idle chit chat, until I answered her question about my Nakoda Sioux heritage. She began to ask who my mother was (apparently my people are Matrilineal and therefore it is valuable to know your mothers line) and after answering her to the best of my ability, and offering up an apology for not knowing many details, she said something to me that I was struck by. “So you’re trying to find your way are you? You young ones always find your way back you know” all the while giving me a knowing smile that curved softly over her lips. I continued to talk to her until it was time for us to leave, and as we were leaving she said “The Elders come here on Saturdays, and we have meals at lunch time three times a week. You should come back and visit with them”. We said goodbye to the Grandmother and her husband and as I was driving away, her statement to me about finding my way back lingered in my mind.

When I got home, I began to tell Chris about this encounter and just as I reached the part about the Grandma and her friendly smile, I began to cry. Why was I crying? I didn’t have anything to be unhappy about. I had a safe home while I was growing up, I love my mother and father very much and I’ve been given many wonderful opportunities that many of my fellow people have not. As I pondered the question longer, it occurred to me that I don’t want my children to grow up with the stigma associated with being “half Wašíču” or a Half Breed as my paternal Grandmother cleverly referred to them as. I want them to hear the beating of the drums and feel the heartbeat of the people in their veins. I want them to know that being half aboriginal and half white is not bad, but places them in an interesting place in to walk in both worlds as I do. I want them to know they are special and loved. I’m sure I will get more opportunity to share this sub journey with you all but in the meantime I want you to hear a sound that is very dear to my heart. The sound of the drums from a proud and beautiful people…..my people.

Ish Nish

Have a listen below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Sk4j1pX4dE

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Emergency Shelter Part 3- Through the eyes of the Maker

So my views are ever changing the more I immerse myself in the world of the homeless.  I feel like I’m learning so many new things.  This has been such an extraordinary experience for me in so many ways, that I am glad I get to spend time just sharing it with all of you.

Before my first shift, I worried I would not be able to relate to the people inside.  I worried about being inexperienced in this field, about not knowing what to say to people, and worried that my life hasn’t been as tumultuous or chaotic to the same degree.  Even the workers who work there; some of them have been homeless themselves, and others have battled addictions and can easily relate.  I, on the other hand, look pretty green.

So where to begin?  It’s been nearly three week since I last shared anything and I’m not sure where to start.  There are a few things that really stuck out to me though and I’ll begin by telling those.

Bill and Sheila…well, as it turns out, Bill was asked to leave for being disorderly and causing trouble. He actually camped outside the building nearby and when I arrived one morning he was there, shouting at me from the darkness.  I couldn’t seen anyone, and found myself a little uneasy that someone was shouting profanities at me from somewhere in the blue black space of early morning.

As it turns out Bill was beginning to cause trouble with the other folks, and had been removed by the police.  Meanwhile, he chose to build himself a small fortress nearby while waiting for Sheila; however,  Sheila didn’t join him.  She expressed that she was tired of this ongoing pattern and didn’t know what else to do about it.  A menagerie of resources and various recovery societies were thrown her way; but, she eventually left the building too, to join up with Bill.  This appears to be an all too common pattern.  Co-dependency is quite common in relationships where one or both partners suffer from addictions.  I felt sad for Sheila when I realized that without Bill she felt hopeless, and without purpose.  Her purpose was Bill, to help him, to fix him, to be a support for him in times of trouble.  She seemed unable or unwilling to realize she was only perpetuating the problem for both of them.  I will keep my eyes peeled for them on the streets…in this case, misery does love company.

I recently finished reading a book called “In Her Skin” by Kate Holden.  It is a memoir written by Kate describing her life as she fell from grace.  A prestigious university graduate living in Australia, who then becomes addicted to heroin and begins a life of prostitution to support her habit. I began to ponder what it would be like to relate to someone who’s world was so entrenched in a life of prostitution.  I had hoped that I’d get time to prepare for such an encounter, my plan didn’t quite go that way.  “Julia” was there on this day as well, apparently she had arrived from the hospital late at night and had been sleeping ever since.  Except now it was time to assist the workers in waking up the guests.  All I was aware of was that there was a woman who might be hard to wake, and if it were so I was to go and get some help.  I didn’t know she was a heroin addict, and I certainly was not aware that she was also a prostitute.  Flicking on the lights in the woman’s dormitory room I began to quietly call out the names of those listed on my sheet of guests.  Each woman groggily opened her eyes and acknowledged me, except Julia.  She was a petite woman, no more than five foot three, with spindly limbs and dyed red hair.  She appeared tired, and her cheeks had the telltale sallow look beneath her eyes.  The physical marks of drug abuse marred her arm, which dangled down the side of the bed.  As suspected, she was fast asleep.  I managed to get a little closer and finally, after three attempts, she awoke. Thanking me for waking her, she quickly got up and disappeared down the hallway into the washroom.  After about a half an hour or so, I noticed that Julia hadn’t come out into the common area, she was in fact nowhere to be found!  Where had she gone I wondered?

The other workers suggested that she might have stepped outside for a cigarette, however I just had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that this wasn’t the case.  I suspected that she had left the building to go score.  Not long afterwards, Julia returned from wherever she had been and there she sat on her bed, doing what the workers called “The Nod”. Sometimes I thought she was going to fall flat on her face, and instead of completely hunching right over, her leg would instinctively shoot out in front of her to keep herself stabilized. It wasn’t until later, while I was helping her clean up her things that were strewn all over the floor, that something caught my eye. Tucked under the bed were a pair of shoes; black stiletto platform heels….work shoes…duty shoes. I pulled them out and handed them to her and she hastily shoved them inside her bag. Call me overly observant, but while she was shoving the shoes in her bag, I saw what appeared to be a lace sky blue piece of lingerie poking out as well…the kind that you might wear “to bed” or something.  I wondered if this was the other part of her work outfit.  It struck me as very sad.  Julia was someone’s child, she has a family somewhere who is either not missing her, or is desperately missing her. Or maybe she’s around them often, and they just miss the Julia she used to be before the drugs, or maybe they’re all on drugs and this is just normal for everyone, I’m not sure.  Whatever the case, I was struck by this encounter.

Last week was entirely different for me. Shortly after the guests began to wake up for the day, some men were washing up in the bathroom and a fight broke out. Had this been fifteen years ago and had my frontal lobe been less developed, I probably would have jumped square in the middle of it.  Instead I stayed safely behind the counter, watching and wondering what was going to happen next between the two men who were exchanging rude comments.  Screeching and screaming erupted and fists began to fly and chairs began to sail across the common area as one fellow threatened to kill the other.  “Call 911!” shouted one worker to me, as he hauled over to the two men scrapping and attempted to diffuse the situation.  It wasn’t even 8 o’clock in the morning yet and now I was calling 911?  I could feel the adrenaline begin to pump in my veins as I watched the one fellow pull the shirt over the head of the other, and pummel him hard in the head.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“Um, yes…I need police to come to the***** please? A fight has broken out and two male guests are getting really out of control”

“Can you please confirm the address for me? is it ********?”

“Yeah, I think so”

“Okay, We’ve got two patrol cars en-route to your location, estimated time of arrival is about 3-5 minutes”

Meanwhile, the girlfriend of the one fellow, who also was staying at the shelter, jumped into the fight and began to scratch and punch the opposing man.  It was insane, and it happened so fast.  The man with the girlfriend suddenly began to shout at everyone, calling all the guests junkies and losers.  He insisted that nobody knew who they were messing with, and that he could kill everyone.  He suddenly came towards the counter and in a rage, screamed in my face, “Give me my bag!”.  Dumbfounded I just sat there, not knowing what to do.  I could feel my face go red and my hands were shaking because of the adrenaline in my system.

“Which one is it?” I squeaked out.  I’m not even sure it was a squeak.  It may have been a whisper.

“Do I need to come back there and get it myself??!!” he roared.

“Which one is it?” I repeated.

“It’s the **** blue one you idiot!” he said to me.  Hastily, I grabbed the blue one and shoved it towards him across the counter.  For a minute I seriously thought the man was going to jump the counter and come after me, that’s how angry he was.  Since I wasn’t qualified to go and assist with diffusion techniques that the workers were desperately trying to engage in, I just sat there and began to pray quietly in my head.  I asked the Lord to come and quiet the hearts of the angry people and to protect each of us, and my prayer was answered.  Shortly thereafter, the man and his girlfriend were shuffled out into the waiting area and the opposing man was taken into a back room, effectively separating the two men.  Moments later, in walked two constables who immediately took over and the hostility began to quiet.

And lastly, there was the common law couple who slept on the floor in the foyer.  The man had just had surgery to do damage control to an infected injection site on his arm.  With a shunt still inserted for drainage, the hospital shipped him and his wife off to the shelter. Upon arrival, he discovered that there were no beds available and that they’d have to leave. Being the caring people they are, the two night workers decided not to send these folks out into the pouring rain and allowed them to fall asleep in the waiting area until morning. When morning arrived, the wife, who was first nations, refused to take her sickly husband out into the rain and promptly sat down and would not move. The workers began to devise a plan as to how to remove these people from the building, and I noticed she kept looking at me. I was trying to place my finger on why she kept trying to capture my attention and then it occurred to me, “Oh ya…I’m native too”.  This lady wasn’t much older than me, and she appeared very weathered from drug abuse.  She was missing more than a few teeth and looked like she could use a hot shower and a warm meal.  Instead of being offered a warm meal, like everyone else(the guests) who was beginning to filter in and out of the meal kitchen, these people were given paper bags full of prepackaged food.  She looked annoyed and hurt that nobody offered to let them come in for a meal.  Soon she began to get upset.  I could see her starting to raise her voice at people out of frustration.  She began to tell the workers that they were terrible people for not letting her and her husband into the shelter.  Meanwhile she kept looking at me through the glass, watching me, and it almost seemed like she wanted me to come over to her.  Again, because I’m overly curious, I decided to do just that and I engaged in conversation with her.  As it turns out, she and her husband are from a reserve close to Calgary.  They had come down here to visit some friends, had gotten carried away with partying, and had spent all of their money.  She had been pulling tricks on the side so that she could buy their drugs, and when her husband had developed a bad infection from the needles they went to the hospital for help.  After the hospital performed a minor surgery on his arm they had sent the couple in an ambulance off to the nearest shelter because they could no longer stay in the hospital. What she really wanted was to just get home to Calgary, and no one was helping them. Because it was morning, she asked me if she could use a bathroom, I obliged.  Using the master key, I escorted her and her husband down the hallway to the washroom.  As we walked she began to cry and I quickly turned to them and said,  “Hey, I don’t mean to be pushy or anything but I really feel like I need to pray with you? Do you mind?”.  Her face crumpled like a small child’s and she began to nod her head yes, her shoulders began to heave up and down in silent sobs as she walked closer to me, “I just want off the drugs” she cried to me.  Perhaps the stress of the entire circumstance that they had found themselves in was just too much, and upon offer of comfort she had finally let it out.

I’ve prayed for people before, strangers that is, and I’ll be honest, sometimes it doesn’t really feel as genuine as it should.  This day however, it felt like I was praying exactly what I was meant to pray and the words just flew out of my mouth with a gentle confidence.  I squeezed both of their hands as we stood there in a little triangle in the hallway, totally consumed by the moment.  I asked the Creator God (I wanted to be culturally sensitive to her as she was native, and I knew that she would connect with this terminology), to reveal himself to them and to shine light into dark places for them.  To guide them and keep them safe.  I prayed that He would offer them shelter and that He would provide a way home for them.  Short and sweet.  I ended it with “in Jesus name Amen”.  Thank the good Lord because not long after, the boyfriend/girlfriend duo who had broken out into a fight were subsquently banned and removed from the list, opening up two beds for the native woman and her husband.  They were taken directly through the intake process and found themselves on the other side of the door.

These are only a few stories that I can remember in clear detail.  There is a new found respect that I have for people who “live rough”, or who struggle with addiction.  I too have had my share of experience dealing with addictions, but not in the same way.  I am beginning to understand the culture and expectations that surround people who are homeless, and it has fanned my wee little fire into a burning flame.  Tomorrow I will go back again, and I hope this time it won’t be quite so exciting.

I have chosen to include a song that speaks to my heart, it’s called “The Maker” by Daniel Lanois, but this version is a cover by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds.  Listen to the lyrics and enjoy.

God Bless…D

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Part 2- Emergency Shelter-I’ll be homeless for Christmas

homeless

Christmas night was amazing to say the least. Not because anything fantastical happened or anything rowdy, but it was clear that that the folks at the shelter had lifted spirits and it glowed and seeped from them. I’m not sure if it was the combination of a Christmas supper at a local church, or perhaps the fact that they received sweaters and gift bags made up by elementary children. Whatever it was, the people were grateful and happy.

All except “Suzie”.

Suzie was there the first time I volunteered and I didn’t really get to speak to her that day, however today I noticed her. She sat there among the other guests, her face in her hands and tears steadily leaked from her eyes. I decided that I would go and find out why she was crying. I grabbed a small Christmas chocolate from a treat bag that was in my purse, and as I sat down in the chair beside her I quietly and discreetly pushed it closer to her so that she could see it. “Thank you” she said as her fingers fumbled to open the wrapper. I introduced myself and she gave my her name also, and from there I continued to ask her if there was anything the matter and stated that I had noticed how she was weeping and was wondering if there was anything I could do. Suzie proceeded to tell me about how all of her family was gone and had passed away. She was the only living member of her family left and she had nowhere to go on this holiday. How sad I felt for her at that moment, however not long after she began to ask me if I had access to the pain medications in the cupboard at the back. She had some doctor prescribed narcotics present there and according to her, she was due to have them at any moment. She called them her supper time medications. I reminded her that I was only a volunteer and that I wasn’t able to get her the medications, however she was welcome to go and ask the staff to bring them out for her. “But I’m in a lot of pain you know. I hurt all over and it never stops.” Had she told me this a moment earlier I would have sympathized even further, but I sensed that this request had more to do with addiction and coming down than anything else. I know it might sounded presumptive that my train of thought would go this direction with just one statement, but for whatever reason I just had a feeling that this was the case, rather than that of a medical condition. I gave her a one armed hug and tried my very best to let her know that I cared about her wellness.

After our encounter, I walked into the back and quietly questioned the staff about Suzie’s request for more of her meds, and I was not surprised to find out that she was addicted to narcotics. For a moment, I truthfully wondered if she preyed upon the emotions of new staff/volunteer members to manipulate the situation for extra medications, but ultimately I decided that despite everything she needed friendship and very much deserved love to help her through the holidays. She was hurting in a way that could not be healed by narcotic medications and even though I couldn’t see the wounds, I sensed that they were there.

Much to my dismay, my friends Bill and Sheila were not there this night. I supposed that they had either left by free will or had been asked to leave, or there was a possibility that a relative had offered them hospitality for the holiday. Whatever the case, I hoped that they were safe and not cold.

Sometime during my shift, I noticed her. She would come over quietly and stand near the doorway to the office. Staring ahead unblinking, with eyes that appeared to be half open. “Miranda” was a young woman who had just arrived the day before. She was very quiet, and appeared to be very stoned to be truthful. She didn’t say anything for a while at first, and then cautiously she came forth and asked for her medications. The staff obliged and handed her a bubble pack full of a variety of different coloured medications. After popping them into a dish for herself, she picked out two pink oblong pills and held them out to the staff woman. “Take these ones away” she said. “I don’t like these ones”. The staff woman took the medications and said to the other staff “Where do we put these?” and she was instructed to throw them into the garbage. Upon her better judgment the staff woman opted to place them into a plastic bag and close them up in the medication drawer. Before she was able to put them into the drawer, I asked to see them? Overly curious…probably but I had to know. I looked at them and noticed a small little R imprinted upon one side. Of course…Risperidone aka Risperdal. I knew this drug. I knew it because it’s a popular anti-psychotic medication, taken by many people who suffer anything from dementia, to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. I was able to educate myself to it’s effects when I had taken a nursing pharmacology class once. “Why on earth wouldn’t she take this?” I thought to myself. Perhaps she didn’t like the side effects that came with it, however I speculated to wonder what would happen to Miranda in the next few hours without the drug in her system.

A short time later, while handing out snack, in came “John”. My friend who called me “Boss” the previous shift. “Hello John, How are you today?” I said to him. “Hey there! I’m doing really well, thanks for asking” he replied to me. Something seemed different this time, I was trying to place my finger on it when suddenly he appeared to my side and began helping me once more. Had I not known better, I would have assumed he worked there based on the way he engaged with the other guests. Now I was even more curious. There is definitely something different with John this time, I thought. As it turned out, John was clean. He had stayed so for the past two days and was very proud of the fact that he hadn’t “scored” in a couple of days. While listening to him speak, I found that he was very well spoken, sounded educated, and possessed an air of authority when talking to the other clients.  I began to ask him what was keeping him from staying clean longer, to which I had hoped he wouldn’t take offence. None were taken, luckily, and he was kind enough to tell me a little about his upbringing, and his adoption into a christian family. His father was a pastor, and he had learned a lot about his faith via his father. As the years went on, he had fallen in with some influential people who were headed in a downward spiral, and thus landed himself on the streets addicted to drugs. He proceeded to share with me a vast background of theological knowledge, and we discussed our faith openly.  I was surprised by his knowledge of Christian doctrine and theology, and had wrongly presumed that he would come across as ranty or strange, however I was wrong.  He sounded like a fellow with the gift of teaching, and I wondered if perhaps he was missing his calling. Shortly after our discussion, I took leave into the office area and found myself quietly praying for him.

Finally before I finished wrapping up the snack and washing the dishes, a woman who I will call “Karen” came up to me. She appeared to be very sick. Her nose was all red, and she had a terrible cough. “Can I get some of that tea please?” “Of course!” I replied. She began to tell me how she had suffered with this terrible cold for nearly three weeks and couldn’t seem to shake it. With this in mind, I handed her a plate stuffed full of tomatoes and carrots and told her that they would give her some desperately needed vitamin C. Once I had noticed that she was done her tea and veggies, I brought her two glasses of clear juice and a fresh cup of hot tea. For what it was worth, I wanted Karen to know that I cared about the fact that she was so sick, and that I wanted her to feel better. Not long afterwards, she came up to me and said “Thank you for all of that, it’s been a long time since I’ve been taken care of.” The smallest of gestures can have the biggest impact, and I thanked the Lord for putting her needs on my heart.

The events of the evening were completely different than the first time around. I hoped that I was able to effectively love on these people. I wished for more time, because three hours just didn’t seem like a long enough time. I hope that my next three hours will be another opportunity to shine light into dark places. Thanks for reading, till next Time!

Love, D

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Part 1-Emergency Shelter

 homeless-dinsmore

I am living far from home in a new community, in another province. Homelessness is a rampant issue in my community, and in the surrounding communities nearby. Forty five minutes away from my cozy abode, lies the notorious Downtown Eastside of Vancouver…East Hastings Street. The core of homelessness in the lower mainland. Where drug dealers lurk in the alley ways disguised as regular people, or perhaps even corner gospel preachers to avoid detection. Where people buy drugs out in the open for all to see. Where people exchange sexual favours behind dumpsters to aid their drug addictions, and unfathomable lifestyles. Where people curl up to sleep in doorways covered in tarps and cardboard. Where people go missing and oftentimes, where people die.

East Hastings Street is not where I went last night, but it does set the scenery for the sort of atmosphere I will encounter as the populations are very transient. These people moved fluidly between several of the communities called “Greater Vancouver”. Staying for a time, and then moving on. It is in one of these bedroom communities that my experience will take place.

I had agreed to meet at the shelter for 6pm. I had driven close up to the building and discovered that there was no parking available for me due to the influx of people arriving for the regular community dinner hosted by the establishment. I would have to park a short distance away, in a neighbouring parking lot. I will admit this concerned me, as the parking lot was not well lit, nor was the path I would have to walk to get to the shelter. I was a tad worried that someone might jump from the bushes and demand my purse or worse. Why would I even think such a thing? I have no idea. Nervousness perhaps?

Upon arriving, there appeared to be some confusion about my presence. Apparently the coordinator had failed to announce to the evening staff that I would be there to assist and henceforth there was no name tag with an entry key fob available for me. After a small investigation and a couple of phone calls, it was decided that it would be okay if I stayed. A small door was opened within the waiting area and I was allowed to go into the main office area.

Immediately upon walking into office, I smelled it. A sort of obnoxious and acidic odour wafted up my nose. Immediately my eyes swept the room on the other side of the locked half door, in it were tables and chairs, a small kitchenette and plastic theater style chairs positioned in front of a small bookshelf and a flat screen television on the wall. I watched as the cleaning lady was washing the floor with a mop, back and forth in a rhythmic motion. She was trying her best to clean up after an “incident”. A guest had vomited there in the main area only moments before. I knew this smell, and I recognized the stench of the chemical cleaner trying to mask its odoriferous flavour, a harsh bacteria killing floor cleaner used in hospitals. Yes…that’s precisely what it was.

Soon after my assessment of the scenario, a gentleman who worked there began to ask me questions. How did I come to volunteering there? Why am I volunteering there? He explained his background in psychology and briefly shared with me how he found his way to this place of work. He spoke of how much he enjoyed it, all the while finding it emotionally exhausting and had recently taken on a less frequent role.

After my introduction to this fellow and his shift partner, a woman about my age, he offered to show me around. I was taken to the men’s bunks, and the women’s bunk’s and the bathrooms. I was shown the kitchen and the intake area, as well as the stock rooms where a large industrial washer and dryer were posted. My role was laid out in such a way that if things got out of hand, I would man the desk and assist with things like laundry, serving snacks, and helping guests to get settled for the evening. I was also told that I could visit with the people and play games with them if I had the time to do so, and I was strongly encouraged to engage in conversation.

Immediately I began to notice a large difference in how many women versus how many men were there. I suspect that there were about as many women as I can count on one hand, perhaps less, and probably fifteen or so men ranging anywhere from early twenties to seventy years. This was also evidenced by how many bunks were available for women versus men. I inquired about this stark difference and the gentleman hypothesized that it was because men struggled with homelessness more so than women, thus there were more beds available. I was a little surprised by this I must admit, based on my own experience on what I had seen, there appeared to be just as many women on the streets, but perhaps less chronically. I concluded after further discussion that the numbers were more reflective of women being less likely to utilize an emergency shelter for safety reasons, or to stay on the streets long term.

As the shift went on I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow who came in to the shelter who appeared to be walking funny. Why was he hobbling I thought to myself? So of course, I went over and I asked him. After a brief introduction where we exchanged names, and small talk. I will call him “Mark”, even though that is not his real name.  I asked Mark what had happened to his feet. He explained to me that he had recently gotten a job and yet the only work boots that he was able to come across were those given to him from a community resource society, and they were slightly too small for his feet. Mark wasn’t much for complaining, but when the blisters that had formed on his feet had gotten too large, he ended up going to outpatients at the local hospital to receive treatment. The hospital advised him not to puncture the blisters until four or five days post, and this being the fifth day he was determined to cut them open. He proceeded to ask for a needle, and the shelter staff quickly obliged and off he headed towards the bathroom to tend to his blisters. Quickly, I rushed after him. I’m no specialist by any means, but I do know a thing or two about wound care, and basic first aid. I stopped Mark before he was able to enter the bathroom and asked him to show me the blister. He began by pulling off his woollen socks, and exposing his soiled feet. He explained that he had not been present during the day to have a shower, and was not allowed to have a shower in the evenings due to policies in place at the shelter, and so his feet were rather brown with dirt, and also quite smelly. I advised him that he needed to wash the area really well before he drained the blisters. I also explained that if he didn’t wash the area thoroughly and also his hands, that he could invite a slew of bacteria into the open wound which could potentially cause a nasty infection. I turned and quickly grabbed some gauze pads and some medical tape from the first aid kit and sent him on his merry way.

I thought about the bacteria on the needle, and the possibility that he would be introducing infection by merely jabbing his skin with such a thing. I also did my best to tell him to run the needle over hot water for a while beforehand, as this was truly the only option available. Had I had access to alcohol swabs, I’d have chosen that route instead. It occurred to me that he probably didn’t care about this sort of thing, and being that my background is within healthcare, that it was more me that was concerned about it than him.

Soon afterwards, I pondered whether I had overstepped my boundaries as a volunteer. Offering up treatment advice on a wound when clearly I was not in that role. To be truthful, I couldn’t help it. I know how that sounds, but it felt natural and obligatory that I say something in order to prevent this man from further harm.

Following this, I was expected to bring out the snack and serve it to the guests. I began by fetching it from the kitchen, and I also prepared a large pot of coffee. On my trolley were two jugs of prepared juice, likely fruit juice of some kind. Not soon after I began pouring them, a native fellow came over and snatched one up from the table. He tipped it backwards and just before he was able to gulp it down, sat it squarely in front of me and said “This juice looks disgusting! Do you see that film on the top of it? What did you do, put vegetable oil in the jug? I’m not drinking that. It looks like S**T.” He turned heel and walked away disgruntled. Peering inside of his rejected juice cup, I would have to agree. There did appear to be oily spots floating on the top? What was it? I can’t say, but I probably would not have wanted to drink it either. He was the only guest who appeared to care though, within minutes both of the jugs were emptied. I began to clean up the cups and plates.

Later a fellow whom I will call “John” began to help me. He chattered incessantly about his day and referred to me as “Boss”. “Where would you like this boss?” he’d ask as he picked up dirty dishes and silverware for me. “Oh just over there by the dishwasher is fine” I’d reply. We carried out the task of cleaning up together. He appeared to have a touch of what I thought was OCD while doing this with me though. I could see that he was very concerned about the placements of the cups inside of the dishwasher, noting on how they ought to be positioned, and whether or not they were placed next to a cup of like size. I mentioned this to the gentleman staff, and he began to tell me about John. John comes in off the streets every night and is always high. He struggles with drug addiction and when he’s coming down, he cleans. It’s almost obsessive to some degree. John regularly stays at the shelter apparently. He will come and go and never commits to a plan, and thus has stayed homeless for many years. I could see that John wanted to help, and was eager to be useful. I found myself wondering what had happened to him in his life that had brought him here. He apparently calls all staff and volunteers “boss” and seems to enjoy the boundaries presented by living at the shelter, despite the fact that he doesn’t stay for long stretches.

Not long after my interaction with John, in walked two familiar faces. A couple that I had previously met while doing outreach on my own time. Delighted that I was able to lay eyes on them, I questioned the lady worker about their names. I wondered this because I didn’t want to be wrong before I approached them, hoping to jog their memory about our previous encounters. Bill and Sheila (not their real names) did remember me. I was thankful for that because it meant that I had built a bit of rapport with them already. Bill began to tell me about being evicted from their last campsite behind a building. There was some mention of having built a fire behind the building to keep warm, which had attracted the local police. Before vacating he admitted that he had gotten really high off of some heroine one night and had accidently rested his foot too near his fire which had caused it to burn through his shoe. This had terrible consequences and he ended up with a third degree burn to his foot which required significant treatment. Sheila did not bother to engage with me at all actually. I suspect that each of our encounters prior had been through an illicit haze, and she probably had no recollection of me unlike Bill, who clearly remembered me.

Bill and Sheila had been frequent guests of the shelter in past years. According to my counterparts, Bill was somewhat disruptive and had been asked to leave a number of times due to belligerence and non-compliance. Often hoarding food hidden within his clothing, he could be found consuming it in his bunk, or in the bathroom. This would lead to other guests complaining about not being allowed to have their own choice of snack in the building and of course became a source of dissension. Sheila however, was quite the opposite of Bill. She didn’t talk to anyone besides him and sat quietly at a table, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. I hope that I will get a chance to know her better in the future.

Finally, towards the end of my evening Bill came over to me. He said to me “Guess what? I found my Bible! I thought I had lost it but I guess I didn’t.” He offered to show me this Bible and he seemed to be quite excited about it. I encouraged him to show me and he presented a small red Gideon’s Bible. He was quite enamoured with the fact that it was an RCMP issued Gideon’s Bible and had been given to him by a local constable at the nearby detachment. Apparently one night when he was feeling rather down and hopeless and had gotten himself into some trouble, the officer who attended his situation had passed it on to him, and he had carried it with him ever since. Almost instantly I could feel that old familiar feeling swell up inside my chest. It feels like a rush of adrenaline almost, and then the idea…a prompting. “1 Corinthians 10:13” I said to him. “What is that?” he questioned me. Together we flipped through the small bible and I read allowed to him what it said 13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I poised the question at the end to him “What do you think that means?” to which he replied “I’m not sure? I suppose it means that God will help someone” and I said “That’s right…that’s exactly what it means. It means that God will help you when you feel tempted by something, and He’s got an alternative for you at that moment.” Bill gave me a ponderous look of furrowed brows and a curved upside smile, and eyed the scripture. He gave a half nod and closed the Bible.

These are just a handful of stories that I am positive I will share with you again. In truth, I was able to interact with a number of individuals, but as memory serves me I can only best describe these few stories with greater detail.  Some of you might ask why I opted for a volunteer position here. What about this place made me want to participate? Well let me take you back to winter 2011. It was really cold that year, and my sister was staying at my house. One night we decided to drive into Edmonton. For whatever reason, we both decided that we should go and help the homeless. Something neither of us had ever done before. Together, we made up probably two dozen sandwiches and put together a care bag filled with personal hygiene items and warm things. Off we drove, the half an hour into Edmonton. We found ourselves down by the Bissell Center, and the Hope Mission. Due to the fact that neither of us had any idea about how to go about doing this idea, we simply drove around looking for people. Of course there we a lot of folks lined up outside of the Mission, hoping to get a bed for the night in the bitter cold. We ended up passing through an alley way, looking for someone who might be in need of something warm, and perhaps did not have any intention of finding a warm bed for the night. We found someone alright, crouched down at the back of a high rise building. This elderly man was huddled next to the vent, probably hoping to stay warm there for the night. Any air above -37 probably felt like a Caribbean vacation. My sister, being the more dominant one and opting to take the reins on our venture hopped out of the van and headed towards the man. She exchanged words and handed over the loot bag and a few sandwiches. I believe there was also an outreach worker there too, trying to coax the individual into a warm place for the night, but either way it didn’t look as though he was going to budge. When she came back to the van, I knew that this moment was going to be life changing for me. I felt a warmth in my spirit that I hadn’t felt before. I felt like a bleeding heart out there in the cold, driving around in my warm vehicle, searching for an opportunity to help. The ancient Greeks had a word for that feeling, it was called “splagchnizomai”, meaning; to be moved in your inner most parts, to have compassion for something. This compassion has brought me on several of those adventures into downtown Edmonton, and I’ve had the ability to share them with close friends as well. When I moved here to Abbotsford, I found an abundance of opportunity to feel this splagchnizomai. I believe that God gave us splagchnizomai for a reason, to aide us in discerning our calling. To help us feel something that is built into our spirit to feel, because it is what we are meant to do. It is because of this that I volunteer at this shelter now. It is because of this feeling that I feel compelled to visit people, and find campsites over and over again. To reach out to those who suffer from addictions, to those who had no home, and to those who are wayward and possibly hurting. Not only is it a spiritual calling for me, it is also a practical calling. I see a need, a health care need consisting of people who do not get help for physical ailments. This is in part due to the fact that they either, cannot make it to a hospital for treatment because of mental illness, or because they have experienced prejudice and mistreatment simply because they are homeless and do no look or behave like the rest of society. There is a need here, for one on one nursing care, something that can’t be found easily, and I hope to do it one day. Thanks for reading and I will make more of these posts along the way. Look forward to reading more. Please feel free to ask questions, or make comments. I appreciate all feedback and I am excited to share.

Love, D

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Jubilee

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”

Matthew 25:35

Jubilee is a Jewish term used to describe the fifty year anniversary of the restoration and emancipation of the nation of Israel. In our culture, we call our fiftieth wedding anniversary or perhaps the fiftieth anniversary of something huge and fantastical a jubilee anniversary. Sometimes we use the term in a name to mark an occasion, like Jubilee Park for instance in Spruce Grove, AB.

Abbotsford has a Jubilee Park too actually. It is nestled in the heart of downtown Abby, and boasts a vast expanse of green grass for which people could picnic at in the summer, and a nicely pea gravelled play area with a swing and playground set.  There are also many mature and wonderful oak trees that stretch upwards toward the skies. In summer I bet the park is beautiful.

Today I visited this park with my two small girls. We sat on the swings and I pushed them higher and higher as they giggled. We had fun.

 Jubilee Park

Believe it or not, but Jubilee Park is home to probably a dozen, if not more homeless people where if you look closely in the picture you will see a tent pitched in the background. They keep to themselves, a lot of them rising up out of their makeshift homes upon hearing the noise of children playing. I can safely assume that I am probably the only mother who has brought her children to play here in a while.

While the girls played, I scoured the area with my eyes, making sure there were no unsafe tidbits lying around, like perhaps a needle or anything dangerous. Nothing was to be seen other than untouched play equipment, even the gravel lay undisturbed, frozen in place by the cold air.  After a short play, we chose to leave. I watched the folks gather in a communal area. This area was guarded by what appeared to be a breed of scary dog. There were clotheslines, a cooking area and various other tents perched together. The people who live in this teeny sub community chatted amongst themselves, staring out at me with mistrust. I waved and smiled, continuing on toward my van. Upon exiting the park, I noticed big signs stuck to the fence, “drug war survivors” it said. “Community Housing” “Drug Addiction lives here” “Homeless have rights” and on it continued.

Like an arrow stuck in my chest, I breathed in sharply. Realizing that I was going home to a heated house in the country. I don’t have to stay outdoors all day if I don’t want to, I don’t have to fight for my life as I battle addiction, and I can look forward to a warm meal tonight, and know that I will wake up nestled in between warm blankets next to my husband tomorrow morning.

This reality makes me sad. I am blessed beyond measure.

Homelessness is a situation that has saturated our society. It exists in nice parks, in gross back alleys, along railways and next to heating vents outside of large buildings. It exists in my community.

I have been following a story since before I arrived in Abbotsford. “Community dumps chicken manure on homeless camp in Abbotsford”…and because of this disgusting show of non-support the people who were affected by the poo dump moved right into downtown in protest.

It is up to us to be the hands and feet of our Creator. The Bible has instructed us to feed and clothe the poor, to encourage and love unconditionally. When I visited this campsite today, because it is no longer a park, but rather a temporary home I felt that familiar feeling. The prompting that I ought to do something….so I will be collecting blankets and mittens and toques for the homeless in my community. This is only the beginning of something wonderful. I know that God will use my desire to help, to fulfill whatever plan he has for me. For now, I will pray and plan…searching for direction on what to do next.

Not everyone is like me, or wants the same things as I do and I know I will never fix the homeless, but if I can meet a need then I am willing. I will focus on that for now and wait upon the Lord.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Luke 3:11

 

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