Friday, December 21, 2007

The Miracle of Christmas

Over 2000 years ago, a mother and father huddled together in a tiny stable and witnessed the birth of their child. The story of the Christ child’s birth has lived throughout the years. It touches all our hearts, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer. No matter if we believe He came to earth to ‘save our souls from Satan’s power’, or if he was simply a powerful prophet, or just a great man whose story has survived the ages, His birth represents the power of love to create peace in the world and to restore our spirits as we celebrate the miracle of life.

Christmas is a time to celebrate. A time when we are connected in love to the miracle of one child’s birth long ago that reminds us, every year, that we too are miracles of birth inspired by the act of love that ignites our journey of life – in all its limitless possibilities.

Last night, as I wrapped presents and reflected on the meaning of Christmas, my spirit lifted. Sitting in my cozy living room, surrounded by twinkling lights and festive bows and crinkly wrapping paper, I felt connected to the millions of other parents, grandparents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers who wrapped and taped and lovingly placed gifts beneath a twinkling tree – a tree that we had decorated together with those we love as we shared in the joy of hanging each ornament, old and new, upon its fragrant boughs. As I wrapped and hummed a Christmas melody (and sipped a glass of cheer!), I felt the power of Christmas surround me. As I placed a pretty bow upon each gift I thought about the person to whom I was giving and my heart was filled with love. In that love lay the true meaning of Christmas. It wasn’t in the gifts, or the giving. It didn’t lay in colourful disarray piled beneath the tree, but in the love that filled my heart as I thought about my daughters, family and friends whom I love so dearly and who mean the world to me and who create such meaning in my world.

What a miracle Christmas is! 2000 years ago a child was born and from His birth has grown this night where the world stops, and takes a collective breath as we join in a song of love, faith, hope and joy. 2000 years ago a child’s birth gave birth to my evening last night. I sat alone and felt the power of that moment touch me. I took a deep enlivening breath and felt my heart expand in love. In that breath, I was connected by the circle of love into which I was born and which encircled my daughters as I embraced the miracle of their lives to change my life. For just as the Christchild was a gift of love for his parents, and ultimately the world, with my daughters' births I was given the greatest gift of all -- the awesome reminder that life is a miracle and each birth a precious gift of love; powerful, enduring, everlasting.

This Christmas, as I reflect upon my life, I am reminded, once again, of the power of love to heal, to make peace and to create miracles. And that is the true meaning of Christmas for me. A celebration of birth, of life, of love. A healing. An awakening. A miracle that wraps us all in a never-ending circle of love.

Here at the Drop-In, we see miracles every day. Small ones. Big ones. Infinitesimal ones. They're the miracle of an addict asking to go to rehab. A mentally disabled person getting the care they need or in the words of thanks from a senior getting a home of their own in Bridgeland Manor. They're in a stranger's kind words to a person lying on the street and someone else coming in to volunteer their time, or to drop off a donation. Miracles come in many forms at the Drop-In and with each one we are reminded -- we are not alone.

We can't do what we do alone. We can't do it without the help of the countless thousands who donate their time, energy and resources to make a difference in the lives of those who have nothing. Thank you.

Merry Christmas to each and everyone of you. May your spirits be light, your hearts full of love and may your world be filled with the limitless possibilities of the miracle of your life as you live each moment, filled with love, gratitude and joy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Generosity of spirit on the street

People are amazing.

Yesterday we filmed a new TV commercial for the Drop-In, part of the series called, Little Things. The film crew, about 8 people, had all donated some of their time -- an amazing gift as it cut the cost of the already discounted budget by half!

When I arrived on the set on the 8th Avenue Mall at the entrance to the Telus Convention Centre, two gentlemen were talking in front of the large plate glass windows where the cameras were set up. I wondered if they were the actors, (they looked the part) or not -- they were the actors. We chatted for awhile and then the crew went inside.

The plan was to film through the plate glass windows looking out at the street and the two homeless characters outside. The camera would pull back to reveal two well dressed business man having a coffee at a stand-up bar.

The setting outside was surreal, and very believable. One man lay on a piece of cardboard on a grate on the sidewalk while the other sat on a bench behind him. From beneath the grate, two dress steamers blew steam up through the grate outside. A well provisioned shopping cart, complete with bags of bottles hanging off the sides sat at the edge of the grate while a park bench was lined up perpendicular to the windows behind which we watched the scene unfold.

At one point, a crew member went out to give one of the actors direction. As he was talking to the man lying on the ground a female passerby approached, her body posture combative.

"Is this man bothering you?" she asked the man lying on the ground, her gloved hand pointing at the crew member, her voice filled with concern.

The crew member looked at her, surprised. "No," he replied. "We're filming a commercial. He's an actor"

Embarrassed, the woman quickly apologized and left, leaving us all with a sense of awe that she cared enough to intervene, even when the odds were against her. We were all touched by her concern for the homeless actor on the ground.

Awhile later, the actors were alone outside as everyone was busy getting ready inside. Two police officers approached, prepared to move the actors from their resting place. The Director and I raced outside and moved the officers along before they ticketed our actors!

Another woman, carrying a big paper shopping bag, walked by and stopped to chat to the two 'homeless' actors.

"Here," she said to one of the actors as she pulled a big woolen sock out of her shopping bag.

"Merry Christmas" and she handed him the sock filled with toiletries and Christmas goodies which she had been intending to bring down to the Drop-In along with the other socks in her bag.

"Oh no. I can't," said the actor. "I'm just playing the role of a homeless guy for a commercial."

The woman didn't believe him. "Please, take it." She waved the sock towards him.

He gestured to the camera and crew hiding behind the glass.

"Oh!" She laughed. Waved at us and carried on her way.

Joe* is a client of the shelter. He wandered onto set later in the day. He stood and watched the action outside that wasn't really action as the filming had not yet started.

Eventually he came inside.

"Hi," I said as he stumbled towards me.

"Hey! I know you!" he exclaimed in friendly recognition.

We chatted for awhile, his words slurred. He's quick minded. Funny. Self-deprecating kind of humour. "I auditioned for a movie role," he said. "They told me I was too good looking."

"I can understand that," I replied with a smile.

"I could be in this movie," he said, motioning to the actors outside. "I could go out there an pick bottles. I'm the world's greatest bottle picker."

"They'll want you to be sober, Joe," I replied gently.

"Oh that." He scoffed, waving his 'to go' coffee mug in front of him. "Everyone always wants that." He paused and grinned at me. "I gotta drink to get through my day."

"Can I get you some more coffee?" I asked pointing at his mug.

"Aahhhh. I cannot lie to you," he said grinning sheepishly. "It's beer." And he tilted his head back, lifted the mug to his lips and took a long, satisfying swallow.

It was a day of contradictions. Another homeless woman stumbled onto set. Set her backpack on the ground and started to chat amiably with the actors. We watched from behind the glass. They obviously didn't tell her what they were doing there. From her jacket pocket she hauled out a pack of cigarettes and offered them both a smoke.

The generosity of someone who has nothing.

I filled a coffee cup, grabbed a couple of sugar and creams and took it out to her. "Would you like a coffee?" I asked.

She looked at me, nodded her head up and down, her body moving in constant jerky bobs. "Nice," she said. "Nobody gets left behind."

She took the coffee, sweetened it with the sugars, picked up her pack and continued on her way.

The actors continued to hold their positions. People continued to walk by, most trying to avoid looking at the poor derelicts lying on the ground.

A school group wandered past, a mother hastily grabbing her son, tucking him under her arm as she pulled him closer to the side of the building so that they could pass as far away from the scene as possible.

A well-dressed, affluent looking business man walked by. He glanced furtively at the scene of the two men, one lying on the grate, the other sitting on the bench smoking. His face was a study of disgust.

Some walked by, dropped a coin and continued on their way before anyone could object. Others hurried by without looking.

Contradictions. Generosity of spirit. Coldness of heart.

It was all part of the parade of life that unfolded yesterday on the street where so many people live.

Thank you to Trigger Communications & Design Ltd. and Joe Media -- you guys are awesome!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

There aughta' be a law!

Written by: Nurse James, Staff

I am on the second floor dinning hall at supper time. It is a Sunday night, and it is busy.

Even though I am the Nurse for the Drop-In Centre, I frequently come out of my office and help the staff on the second floor, especially around supper time. I get to hang out with the clients, which gives me a chance to know them a bit better and to work with the staff.

Tonight it pays off to know the clients by name and mannerisms.

I spot a client about ten meters from where I am. I am talking with another client about flu shots, and I observe a female client with an unsteady and unbalanced gait. Now I know that working where I do, and at night, this certainly is not an unusual or isolated occurrence. At any give time we have many inebriates and clients that are in a drug induced state. But like I said, knowing this client and seeing her walk the way she was walking was unusual to me.

I cautiously approach her and ask if she is OK. I say cautiously because I know that she is not a drinker nor a heavy drug user and I do not want to seem accusatory in any way.

She has a black eye, and she has several bruises and areas on her forehead that are swollen. Conversing with her for less than two minutes I determine that she has suffered a head injury.

She tells me that she was assaulted leaving the train platform yesterday. She tells me that she was knocked unconscious and that she woke up an undetermined amount of time later, confused, disoriented. A little bit later, she woke up some more and realizes that three hours have passed and that she is not at the train station any more, she is downtown somewhere.

She calls her boyfriend on the phone and he comes to find her and takes her to a Medical Clinic not far away.

She does not have an Alberta Health Care Card.

At the Clinic the Nurses and the Doctors tell her that she is not severely hurt. Send her on her way without checking to see if she needs more of an assessment.

They tell her to return when she has insurance.

As I am talking with her I can see that her left pupil is greater in diameter than her right pupil. The pupil size troubles me, as I know that this is a sign of an internal head injury.

She is having trouble speaking and remembering things, this is another indication she has a head injury. She cannot remember where she was or what she did for three hours. These are all indicators that she has a head injury and that something is wrong.

I advise her that she needs a Doctor and she tells me no, she already tried that route.

I talk with her a little more, and I convince her to see a Doctor that I know from CUPS. She agrees.

The Doctor at CUPS looks at her and calls CUPS transport to have a CAT SCAN and MRI done on her.

She goes to the Peter Lougheed Hospital.

She has a concussion and bruised retina.

The neurologist tells her it is a good thing that she came to see them. Her concussion is mild and will pass within a week or so, but the eye needs to be assessed more thoroughly.

She returns to see me a day later and thanks me for 'strongly advising her' to see a Doctor. As she tells me what the Hospital found on the CAT SCAN, she can see I am not happy at all. She asks if I am upset.


No, I am not upset. Upset is what you get when you spill your coffee in your lap. Upset is what you get when you lock your keys in your car. I tell her I am more than upset.

I am furious. I am extremely disappointed that something like this can happen in our city.

Calgary is one of the most diverse, wealthy cities in North America; maybe the world. And STILL this happens? Someone with no fixed address and poor is told by some Medical Professional that they will not see her and treat her injuries because she has no insurance?

I am more than upset. This should not happen in this day and age. With all of our vast knowledge and our claims to be civilized this person, this human being is slighted and told to come back when she has insurance.

There outta be a law...oh wait a minute. There is a law. Hospitals and Clinics cannot refuse to see a person based on income or insurance status. But STILL it happens. It happens a lot more than I would like to think it does.

I am also happy. Happy that she is alright, and that with proper ongoing treatment, maybe she will have normal vision in her left eye.


Written and submitted by: Nurse James, Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre

DISCLAIMER: The articles posted on this blog are the personal views and commentary of the individual writers.

Song of Joy

Last Thursday night, we had graduation at the Dale Carnegie course here at the Drop-In. In a gesture of generosity and kindness, John and Faye Fisher, who own the franchise, provided the course as their charitable contribution. They wanted to do something to make a difference and improve the lives of those who give so much every day at the Drop-In.

It was a beautiful event, filled with heart-filled stories of people's lives becoming more than ever imagined possible. Of hearts learning the words to songs they've yearned to sing. Of eyes opening wide to the beauty within. Of minds listening to the unique voice behind the speaker.

The assignment for last night was to talk for two minutes about a specific time during the training where one of Dale Carnegie's principles helped each of us do something differently. And then, to spend a minute talking about six months from now as if six months from now was reality.

For me, I talked about the form I had to fill in when registering for the course. One of the questions asked what was my vision for my life? The first lesson in the Dale Carnegie course focuses on building a foundation for success -- thus, it's important to write down dreams and goals and to identify at least one thing I can do differently to be successful -- and then make a plan to do it.

Now, I have always resisted dreaming. Always resisted setting goals. Not that I haven't had any, but my fear of articulating them kept me from actually putting them to paper and then taking the necessary steps to move towards them. Too many voices from childhood clamoured to overrun my dreams with their insistence that I was stupid, or dumb, or simply wrong for dreaming. My fear kept me mired in building sandcastles in the air because I was terrified that anything I did to make my dreams concrete would be washed away beneath the laughter of others. I was afraid of falling and thus, told myself I couldn't fly.

Last night, I stood up in front of the group and claimed my dreams. I stepped into the centre of my light, and cast away my fear of standing in the darkness of my dreams vanishing into thin air because I was afraid of living them. Last night, I spoke of my dreams and claimed my right to create them as the centre piece of my very own wild and precious life.

Last Thursday night, I was privileged to share in my classmates and co-workers doing the same.

What a powerful, moving and inspiring event. To witness wings unfold. To watch in awe as they expanded into the delicate and vibrant beauty of their owner's light shining for all to see. To sit humbled in the glow of the greatness and the magnificence of the hearts beating around me to the beautiful sound of their dreams awakening and their unique voices singing a song of love and joy.

It was magnificent.

For these past three months I have been privileged to hear the stories and to see into the hearts of people who give themselves everyday to the care of those who have lost their voices. Like our clients at the Drop-In, many of us never knew how beautiful our voices were and are. For some, because somewhere in the past someone told them they sang off-key, or perhaps because someone silenced their voices through fear and intimidation and abuse, their voices had never been heard.

Last night, I heard voices in song so pure my tears flowed in awe. My heart beat a wild tattoo of joy.

There is nothing more beautiful and powerful than the human spirit opening itself up to love. Nothing more inspiring than passionate voices rising above the cacophony of the past and singing out in joy for the freedom to be all that they are meant to be.

I was in awe last Thursday night. These are my co-workers. My friends. These are people I admire. I care for. People who inspire me. Who challenge me. They show me how to see and hear the humanity in the people we serve and who, through their example, teach me the meaning of being a magnificent human being filled with gratitude, humility and love.

Thank you to John and Faye, and to the amazing people who assisted in the course -- Matthew, Aaron, Evan, Michael and Patty. Your commitment, dedication and generosity of spirit have created a new world of opportunity for all of us who were privledged to be guided by you through the course of the 12 week program. The difference you have made is seen in the enthusiam and passion we bring to the job every day -- and the fact we can 'take them there' without hesitation! Thank you.

Friday, November 30, 2007


I went to a hockey game last night. I was invited by a friend whose company has a private box. Needless to say, the private box was spectacular. Food, wine, careful attention to our every need.

I'm not much of a hockey fan -- but sometimes it is fun to go and experience life on the other side of opulence. That rich, phat place where anything is made possible by the unlimited supply of the coin that fuels our economy.

Quite the polar opposite of the environment at the Drop-In. That place where there isn't enough money in the world to mend the broken psyches of those who have fallen so completely on the road of life.

Money doesn't heal addictions. Money doesn't mend broken spirits.

Only people can do that.And for those who have lost their footing on the cold hard pavement of the facts of life with no coin, money has no value except to buy you more of the poison that flows into your veins with the incessant monotony of a tap that will not quit dripping.

At a couple of points last night, two players whipped off their protective gear and got to the business of pummeling each other out. The fans went berserk. Screaming. Hollering. Yelling. Cheering the pugilists on, the crowd rose as one. Arms punched the air. Feet stomped the concrete concourse. The arena went wild.

I've seen behaviour like that at the shelter where I work. Two men duke it out. A crowd gathers goading them on. Mayhem ensues for a short while until staff quickly step in and pull them apart.

In the hockey arena, the referees step back and wait and then enter the fray only after an appropriate time has passed when they consider the crowd's hunger for the drama unfolding on the ice has been satiated. The players are sent to individual boxes to cool it off. When their time is up, they get back on the ice and go at it again, confident that their untempered display of aggression will be rewarded by the crowd should they go at it again.

Sometimes, at the Drop-In the police are called and the fighters are arrested and sent to individual cells to serve their time, until such time as they are released to go at it again. They have no confidence it won't happen again. Theirs is a violent world. A world in which the only thing they carry is their attitude and the aggression they hold up like a shield to fend off anyone who dares to question their right to go at it again.

There's a world of difference between the men who got out on the ice and fought last night, and the men who fight in the real, hard world of getting by day by day in a shelter. Two separate worlds. Same humans.

In one, the human beings are compelled by their nature to assert dominance in the field, on the ice, in the arena of life where their actions become part of the excitement that fuels the game. In the other, the men are acting out the same drive to be dominant, to protect whatever turf they can mark, to defend their position -- right or wrong. They are morally condemned by the same world that condones fighting in the hockey arena as a socially acceptable tradition of men being men. One ends up in the penalty box and earns a million bucks. The other ends up in an 8x8 cell and earns a record that's criminal. Go figure.

The question is: Where on earth do we get off on rewarding fights in the arena and penalizing those who fight in the arena of life where every toehold is a hard won battle of spirit over the drive to numb the pain of living on the edge of desperation?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fear of the unknown

Earlier this week, I gave a presentation to a group of teachers on a Personal Development day. There were 16 of them, and one of them was late. We sat in the boardroom chatting while we waited. One woman's cellphone rang. It was the missing teacher.

"Come to the building and ring the buzzer," the teacher who answered the phone said. "That way you won't have to park across the street in the parking lot and walk to the building alone." And she went on to give precise instructions on what to do and where to go.

Now, that walk across the street from the parking lot is in full view of the building. It is monitored by cameras. It consists of walking out the gate of the parking lot, ten feet to the roadway, crossing the road, and walking through the gates to our building and up the 50 feet of driveway to the front doors. Staff and volunteers do it every day. We have never had an incident of a staff or volunteer being accosted on that short walk.

I was curious. "What is it you fear might happen to her if she walks from the parking lot to the building?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm not really afraid," she replied with a smile. "It's just scary to walk across the street by yourself down there."

"And what makes it so scary?" I probed.

"Well," and she hesitated. "Look at the people around. Who knows what might happen?"

"What do you fear might happen?" I asked again.

She replied that old stand-by, "I don't know."

Most times, we do know. We're just afraid of saying, or facing the truth.I know what this woman feared. She feared her friend might be raped or or knifed or murdered crossing the street to the shelter. She feared her friend would feel fear crossing the street. Whether or not the fear is real, the feeling of it is scary. I asked her if that was the case.

"Well.... It's possible." she replied.

"Absolutely," I agreed. "But can we talk about what is the fear you're feeling in this instance? It is ultimately, part of what my presentation is all about."

The woman graciously agreed.

"Who are these people you fear?" I asked the group.

Several people spoke up and said, "But I don't fear them."

I disagreed (politely). "You walked to the building in a group and when one member came alone, you made sure she didn't have to walk across the street alone. I remember the first day I walked into the building for an interview. I was terrified. I stood in the lobby and wondered what on earth am I doing here. This is a scary place."

"Oh, I'm not scared being in the building," the woman with the cellphone said. "I just don't like walking into it."

"The people inside are the same people who are outside," I replied. "What's the difference?"

"Well, there's no staff out there. Anything could happen."

"Yes. Anything can happen. Who and what are you to trust? Your instincts or your fear of the unknown?" I looked around the group. "And what I want to do today is challenge your thinking so that we can dispel your fear of the unknown. Who are the homeless?" I asked.

The words came out. Addicts. Mentally challenged. Runaways. Working poor.

"Those are all labels," I replied. "The labels help us make sense of something we don't understand. The labels help us separate from who 'those people' on the street are, and ourselves. They help us maintain our difference. But, if we peel away the labels, what do we have? We have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, next door neighbours, the old guy down the street who spent his life savings caring for his wife and lost his home. Peel away the labels and we have everyday people lost on the road of life."

On that morning, I trusted myself to ask tough questions of a group of people who came into the shelter to learn about something they didn't understand. To do that, I had to ask them to question their fears, to confront them and to step into them.That woman was afraid of having her friend cross the street, not because of the people, but rather, because of her fears of the unknown.

Now -- I don't think it's a good idea to walk in this neighbourhood after dark. And I do acknowledge if you've never been in the Drop-In before, coming here can be scary. But, to let fear limit learning, to let it keep you from walking across the street -- that is fearful.

I believe it's important to be vigilant. But, to fear 'simply because', is not healthy. We expend too much energy fighting the unknown and lose our ability to recognize when our intuition kicks in warning us of people and circumstances we need to fear.

On that morning, 16 people walked away with an understanding of what they fear. As I told them at the end, "What separates us and people who are homeless is an address. What we share is fear. We fear them. We fear what has happened to their lives. We fear the street. We fear what it is that takes human beings so far from home. And we fear that it could happen to us too."

Heads nodded around the room.

I continued. "They fear the street too. Fear is the predominant emotion on the street. Fear is real. It's up to us to stay real with our fears and not give into our imagination's desire to drive us into fear when we are safe."

For those who are homeless, our fear of them surrounds us every time we meet on the street. It breathes into and out of our pores. In our fear, we lose the ability to understand, to hear what they're saying, to look at them through different eyes.

Being homeless is not a game. It's not a cakewalk. It can be deadly -- not for you and me crossing the street, but rather, for those whose lives are eroded day by day by the fear that permeates their lives every day on the streets they walk.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The world beyond

Every Tuesday night I work with a volunteer at Project Forward. The purpose of Project Forward is to provide clients financial management tools and life skills that will help them deal with their barriers to re-integrating back into mainstream society.

Last night, one of the clients who attended is a man in his late twenties. Tall. Slim. Like so many other clients, homelessness caught him by surprise. He's a father. A Licensed Practical Nurse by training, but the sudden onset of 'cervical dystonia', a neurological disease believed to have been caused by a reaction to the drugs he was taking for bi-polar disorder caused the basal ganglia in his brain to mis-function. He can no longer work. Where once he could lift a 180 lb. patient with ease out of his wheelchair, suddenly he was weak, unable to control the activity of his limbs. His speech became slurred. His neck twisted, his head tilted down towards his shoulder and spasms rocked his body.

"My bi-polar disorder was causing me to do bizarre things," he said, his head tucked into his chin, his hands gripping the arms of his chair to keep them from shaking. "It was awful for my wife and kids and then, when I started taking the drugs to help me with my bi-polar, this happened. My marriage broke up. I can't work. I've applied for government assistance but I can't get it until I see a neurologist. I can't get an appointment with a neurologist for two years. My family want me to come home but my kids are here. I don't want to leave them and so I wait. Here."

He motions with his head to the room around him. We're on the sixth floor of the Drop-In. In the boardroom. A quiet place one floor up from the fifth floor where he has a transitional bed. "I'm grateful I don't have to worry about where I'm sleeping every night," he says. "But I sure wish I wasn't forced to take handouts."

He gazes out the large plate glass windows that overlook the river valley and the hillside beyond where we sit in the boardroom. The river is dark, its water's glistening with reflected light. On the hillside, lights twinkle. The sky is indigo blue. Deep. "The view sure is beautiful up here at night," he says with a smile.

He always has a positive thing to say. "It's all I've got," he says when I mention his attitude. "If I don't keep thinking positive I'll drown in this place. I can't let that happen."


French philosopher, Voltaire, wrote, "Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats."

For this man, life became a shipwreck because of a disorder he did not choose, did not ask for, did not want.

Yet, he's singing in his lifeboat. Smiling every day as he sits on the second floor, working as a volunteer, talking to people, trying to lift their spirits with a joke, a warm look, a listening ear.

"I always like seeing you when I'm on the second floor," I tell him. "You make me smile."

"It's your smile that makes me smile," he replies. "Guess it's true. Smiles are contagious."

He's right. They are.

In this place where so few have anything to smile about, a smile is sometimes all we can share. And yet, a smile can make a difference between seeing only darkness and despair, or the possibilities of what can happen when we shift our attitude and look out the windows at the world beyond.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Art with Heart creates a magical night to remember

“The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire
and before art is born,
the artist must be ready to be consumed
by the fire of his own creation.”
Auguste Rodin

Tracy Gardner had a spark of an idea. She would teach people how to paint beautiful paintings in the style of the Masters and then she would create a magical evening in which she, along with her students, shared their creations with other Calgarians. And thus, Art with Heart was born.

On October 25, Tracy and 31 artists from her Midlake Art Studio put on a display of 65 pieces of art that touched the hearts and minds of more than 200 people who gathered at the Safari Lodge at the Calgary Zoo to participate in her dream. Funds raised totaled over $23,000 but, even more than the monies raised, it was the incredible beauty of the art that inspired everyone who attended.

“It was breathtaking to walk in and suddenly see the art on display,” said Dermot Baldwin, Executive Director of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. “The colours, the tones, the visual impact was almost overwhelming. From the painting of a native woman sitting on a blanket to Tracy’s superb rendition of a mountain goat standing on a ridge, every painting brought its subject to life in living, vibrant colour. It was spectacular.”

Master of Ceremonies, Judy Gabriel of City TV, did a tremendous job of moving the evening along with grace and ease. The story of her own journey through homelessness as a child when her family fled the war in Ethiopia to eventually call Calgary home touched everyone’s heart.

Guest Auctioneer, Frank Hunt of Century Services, kept the live auction hopping by encouraging people to step forward and bid on the 3 oil paintings donated by Midlake Art Studio artists, Dale Bruce, Tracy Gardner, and Keith Hornby. As well, Frank kept participants in the bidding wars when paintings from Drop-In artists, Reg Knelson and Max Ciesielski, were on the block. When the blanket box created by the WoodWork Shop of the Drop-In came up, the bidding was fierce, but, along with the help of his two 'Vanna Girls', Liseanne McDonald and Megs Strachan, Frank handled it all with aplomb. Thank you Frank. You made a difference.

The evening celebrated musical and theatrical arts as well. Harpist Adrienne Schipperus soothed any ruffled spirits with the dulcet tones of her harp. Sitting amidst the beautiful paintings, Adrienne looked like a Masters portrait come to life. John Harris’ classical guitar sounds kept the crowd in the foyer entertained as they browsed through exciting non-art items up for silent auction.

The evening also included a performance of Chairs, a relevant and thought-provoking seven-minute play about homelessness, written by Alexis McDonald and performed by, Aaron Ranger, Stephanie Rubletz and Telly Hunt of By-Product Theatre.

Thank you to all these performers for contributing to a magical evening to remember.

Special thanks go to the artists who put enormous time, effort and love into each painting and who tirelessly assisted in setting-up the displays and dismantling the show when the night was over. Thank you:

Johanna Baarda
Peggy Bell
Judy Bunyan
Eileen Buzan
Maryjo Edmison
Angela Eyck
Bernie Fernando
Tracy Gardner
Heather Golden
Lynn Hardman
Keith Hornby
Carol Irving
Lynne Jones
Janice Kirkman
Bruce Koch
Janette Lennox
Rose Mellersh
Susan Miller
Anne Mulligan
Diane Niesz
Harvey Reimer
Mary Slimmon
Yvonne Smyth
Joan Sommerstad
Laurie Sommerville
Shelia Sterna
Gord Stuart
Ron Turnbull
Carol Turner
TR Turner
Loraine Ure
Max Ciesielski
Reg Knelson

Sincere appreciation to our generous sponsors who donated to the silent auction and made it such a huge success:

Anonymous Donors
Artists of Midlake Art Studio
Bonvida Wines
Dale Bruce
Cactus Art Supplies –
Cottonwood Golf & Country Club
Ted and Rilla Darragh
Tracy Gardner
Grower’s Direct, Riverbend
Calgary Hitmen
Keith Hornby
Kensington Wine Market
Midlake Art Studio
Oaktree Carpets
The Palette Coffee Shop
The Siding Café
StreetSide Development Corporation
The WoodWork Shop -- CDIRCS

A very special thank you to the Khanahoff Foundation. Their generous sponsorship ensures all proceeds from Art with Heart can be directed to and other programs and services that impact the lives of the clients at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre.

It began with an idea and became an evening to celebrate amongst good friends, old and new, who shared a love of art, good food, and laughter. Consumed by her desire to make a difference, Tracy Gardner and the artists of Midlake Art Studio created a magical night that everyone who attended will always remember.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Where hope lives

It was a tough day for staff and clients at the Drop-In on Friday. When I got to work, the roadway was closed off with crime scene tape. Police cars, firetrucks, an ambulance littered the road. Clients and other passers-by stood outside the tape silently watching.

A man had been stabbed. He's going to live. But it was dicey for awhile.

I felt the ennui all day. The seeping away of energy. The sadness. The sense of futility, of why bother thinking, of what's the point questioning.

The point is, I care, as do the other 177 people who work at the Drop-In. As do the clients who considered the man who was stabbed one of them. As do the countless people who support us in our work of making a difference in the lives of those who believe they cannot make a difference.

Working at the shelter is important to me. Recently, someone asked me, why are you so passionate about working with homeless individuals. My answer, "because I believe it's important to help those without voice find their voices. It's important to give voice to the things that steal our voices."

Once upon a time, I lost my voice. I gave it up. Gave it away. Gave it over to an abuser who told me they had the right to take my voice and had the right to speak up for me. I gave my voice to him and in the process, I made a mistake that hurt me and those I love.

No one can take my voice -- unless I give them the right. When I give them the right, I abdicate all responsibility for my life. And when I give up on my life, I'm giving away my power and ability to make a difference.

And that is wrong -- for my life and for those I love.

When individuals turn to the street, to drugs and alcohol to soothe the pain raging in their hearts and minds, they are giving up their voice, their truth, their song.

That hurts.

I can't change what they've done, but I can make a difference by helping those who have been wronged by their actions and the actions of those around them to find their courage, their strength, their belief in themselves so that they can give voice to their dreams once again.

Antoine de Saint-Exubery, author of one of my favourite books, The Little Prince, wrote, "If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

On Friday, a man was stabbed across the street from the shelter and I felt hopeless for awhile. I saw the sea of futility, of hopelessness of despair and lost sight of hope and my belief in the immense capacity of the human being to change, to make a difference.

When I give up hope, I give into the voices who would say, "Them homeless, they deserve what they get." "Let them die on the streets." "It's their own fault." "They chose to be there."

No one chooses an addiction -- addicts nor addictions are that discriminating. No one as a child dreamt of being an addict or of being homeless. No one dreamt of the day they would crave a drug so badly they wanted to die. When believed they would die without it. And no one dreamt of the day when the label they carried would be, homeless, of no fixed address, vagrant, bum, blight on society, scourge and countless other labels we ladle out to explain away what is happening in our society.

Regardless of the circumstances of their lives, regardless of whether they have an 'address', or not, no one deserves to be stabbed. No one deserves to have their life threatened, or fingers chopped off because they didn't pay up for their drugs (as has happened to three clients over the past week).

While I don't agree with drugs and other addictions and I don't agree with what the media sometimes call, the 'high risk lifestyles' of many of our clients, I believe until such time as they can see that the life they're living is killing them, they need my help and the help of others to keep hope alive long enough for them to see the endless immensity of the sea of possibilities for change.

As long as someone is alive, hope is alive. But when they die, hope dies with them.

At the Drop-In, we keep hope alive. If we do nothing else, keeping people alive, and as safe as possible, is essential in the battle against addictions, poverty, violence, and crime. As long as we continue to do what we do, we will have an impact. We will keep hope alive.

With hope, there is always a chance for someone to put up their hand and say, "This life isn't working for me anymore. I need to make changes."

Last week a knife ripped through a man's body and anger ripped through me. In my anger, I wanted to give up. I wanted to turn away, to take the easy route, the safe path.Today, my anger has abated and I feel hopeful again.

I can't change someone's life. I can change the feelings of hopelessness that pervade their lives when they give up hope of ever being different, of ever having a different life. I can hold onto hope as they hold onto their lives desperately searching for the answers to the question they are afraid to ask, and too afraid to confront.

I can't stop someone from being stabbed. I can't stop anyone from picking up a needle and shooting poison into their veins. I can keep hope alive until they find the courage, and the strength, to start asking themselves the tough questions that will lead them away from the life they're leading back to the homes and the families who love them.

I can keep hope alive until they find the courage to stop and look and listen to the world around them so that they can see there is always a possibility for change. I can keep hope alive long enough for them to believe they can do it differently.

For those who support us, who donate their time, energy, financial and non-financial resources, you too are helping us keep hope alive. With your help, we make a difference in the lives who have given up hope of ever living life differently.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Last night I headed down to the Drop-In to help serve Thanksgiving dinner. I was a bit concerned about how dinner would progress. We were anticipating about 1,200 people for dinner, and on Friday, there hadn't been enough volunteers signed up to help out. I needn't have worried.

Over the past few days both radio and TV have promoted our Thanksgiving dinner. By the time 6pm rolled around, over 30 volunteers had turned up to help out and lend a hand serving the meal. Normally, we do not allow young children into the shelter to volunteer. But, a couple of families turned up with their younger children and Cindy, the chef on duty, in the midst of organizing mashed potatoes and gravy, slicing turkey and heating up veggies, found jobs for each of them.

What a gift the children were to staff and clients. They added a 'lightness of being' to the evening. One client commented as I walked passed, "This is great. Everyone's watching their language!" And it was true. Where normally some clients don't think much about the words they use, the room became filled with courteous discourse as everyone made an effort to be on their best behaviour for the sake of the children. Clients quit bickering amongst themselves and staff stretched themselves to encompass our youthful guests at a mealtime that is often fraught with stress as they juggle keeping an eye out for trouble makers and ensuring everyone gets fed. It was a beautiful meal.

As the children worked with their parents to carry each plate filled with turkey and all the fixings to our guests, they concentrated on not spilling a drop. When they reached an individual, they each looked up, gave a shy smile and said, "Happy Thanksgiving". As each guest received the meal held out in a child's hands, they stopped, smiled back and said, "Thank you." Some whispered a gentle, "God Bless," others, simply nodded their heads in gratitude, their emotions too strong to give voice to. But, in their exchange, recognition of the human spirit that connects us all was lit and hope awoke in everyone's heart.

Last night serving dinner, I watched faces transform, hearts break open and minds open up to possibility. Those shy smiles plucked heartstrings. For some, they set off memories of Thanksgiving dinners past, for others they opened up the possibility of dinners to come, hopefully in better times, better places.

A smile is such a simple thing, and yet, such a precious gift. The smiles from those young children will live on in the hearts of everyone at the shelter last night. Dinners will come and go, but those smiles will continue to ignite spirits to the possibility of change. Those shy smiles will continue to keep hope alive.

I left the Drop-In last night filled with gratitude. For the families who came out to help. For the staff who do such an amazing job day in, day out. And, for the clients for whom a child's smile carried such a blessing. Their lives are not easy, but, they keep getting up in the morning and starting over again. Some will be there for awhile. Others will move on quickly. No matter how long their stay, their hope that one day life will be different gives me hope too. I can't change their lives, but as those children reminded me last night, I can share my smile, willingly, freely. Sometimes, it's all I can do. Sometimes, it's all I need to do to acknowledge their presence on my journey as we touch eachother's hearts with gratitude.

As the volunteers left, they walked down the aisle between the tables where satisfied diners sat back, their bellies full, their lives perhaps a little less bleak. As the volunteers passed through, the clients clapped in gratitude. The volunteers were a bit taken aback, embarrassed, except one young boy and his brother. They raced along, chasing each other down the aisle. To them, this was just another part of life they'd never experienced before.

Cindy, the frenzy of getting dinner ready finally over, stood at the bottom of the stairs to thank each volunteer for their contribution. One little girl, her kitchen-helper hair net still in place covering her blond hair, stopped in front of Cindy, put her arms up and gave her a hug. "Thank you for letting me help serve dinner," she said.


It doesn't matter what side of the street you're on, gratitude is a force that can change lives. I am so very grateful for my blessings, for my family and friends, the joy in my life today, for my freedom, for a job I love and for people I admire with whom I work.

May your life be a plentiful banquet of good friends, bountiful food, love and laughter. May gratitude fill your heart and open up the limitless possibilities of your life today as you give thanks for all that you have and all that you can be when you live fearlessly and passionately. May you smile throughout your day.

Friday, October 05, 2007

It Is Not What Happens; It Is What We Do With It. By Dave C.

Written by: Dave C., Senior Supervisor

A decade ago, I was tired. I had been running my entire life believing the reward for all my pain was around the next corner. At each corner, was another corner. The maze of desperation had no exit thus I sought the ultimate escape. My suicide attempt failed and I was hospitalized. I sought salvation from doctors and medications. The glimmer of hope faded when nothing changed. I believed the world was divided between winners and losers; between the loved and the unloved. I believed I had been shorted in the lottery of life and I was destined for an existence of emptiness. I hid from my hollowness in the oblivion of addiction. My resources ran out and I ended up on the streets.

Coming from the suburbs, previously having experienced the inner city from sealed car windows as I drove by, I expected the worst. To my surprise I wasn’t mugged, stabbed, or even judged. The people I met were as lost and as hurt as me. The people I met welcomed me.

In the darkness of my bed at night, fears would emerge. I tried to forget the past and the future by being grateful for today. I looked up and saw the roof over my head; I rubbed my stomach and felt the food digesting inside. I was ok and I said Thank You.

City streets are hostile when you have no place to call your own. While these streets were my home, there was no welcome mat in place for a person like me who had no money and no position. Signs such as “No Loitering” and “Restrooms for Paying Customers Only” reinforced what I always believed – I did not belong. New anxieties were added to the old thus I feared each step. While most shielded their faces from me or tried to look through me, a few acknowledged me. These moments gave me strength.

I feared the night for, while I slept in a room with many, I was alone in my despair. I again thanked the roof over my head and the food in my stomach. To this I added thanks for the kindness displayed by a few among the masses. Peaceful sleep followed this gratitude.

Survival and routine covered old wounds. Hopelessness extinguished want. I was safe and I no longer had to run.

A smile from a stranger penetrated my armor. The sincerity was overwhelming and it initiated a quest to discover what was being smiled at. I had always focused on what was wrong with me, that smile indicated something may be right with me. That smile lives in my heart to this day.

With that smile, my world began to change. I had found simplicity and complacency, a place to hide from myself. This no longer sufficed. Like a slow burning acid, that smile penetrated my soul and forced me to re-enter the world I had fled. I knew the demons of the past were lurking outside my lair but the love inherent in that smile gave me the courage to move on.

Most of my life I thought I was living in anguish. My journey from the shelter towards myself taught me the true meaning of hell. It was long and arduous. I had to face the demons I had been running from for most of my life. Through the help of others and through the strength of that smile, I was able to embrace these demons, thank them and let them go.

Today I am free. Today I am loved. My journey through hell taught me two things:

1. We are all winners if we choose to be.
2. We are all loved if we allow ourselves to be loved.

Ten years ago, I was living in a homeless shelter. Today I am employed as a Senior Building Supervisor in one of the largest homeless shelters in Canada.

It is not what happens; it is what we do with it!

Written by: Dave C., Senior Supervisor

Friday, September 28, 2007

A series of short poems by Mark C.

Written and Submitted by Mark C., Night Staff

The Battle

Some people cry
Others hold it in
But in the end
The Win

To cope with life
One needs the tools
To survive addiction
You are no fool

To start is tough
The walls need to come down
The fight is on to win

By using the tools
Your strength grows strong
To land that winning blow

One who tries
Is the one who wins
The spoils…Recovery
So try.


Someone once told me
That life is only what you make it
But I have another philosophy
And that is…

To live life as you want
And not to let anything stop you
If you try, you will do it
If you don’t, then don’t

But always remember that someone cares.

Self Confidence

This is something that everyone has
And others try and build
For some, it’s a piece of cake
Others need help

This something I’ve had trouble with
Because I would always put myself down
And believed I couldn’t
But it’s changing due to many people

Friends are there for support
Family is my backbone
But most of all it’s my heart
That continually shows me that I do.

The Drop-In

The Drop-In is a place
Where all are welcome
To have a meal
And a place to sleep

The Centre is a place
Where someone can find a friend
Someone that will listen
And give support

It’s a place
Where you aren’t judged
Where you’re an equal
Where you’re given a chance

The Drop-In is home
To the Homeless.

Finding Me

For many years
I’ve fallen down
A range of emotions
Were forced underground

My game was easy
So I thought
But in the end
All was lost

To cope with lfie
A challenge to save
I’m going to be O.K.
Just one day

Being away is my strength
Being honest my savior
Being me… Powerful.

Written by Mark C., Night Staff

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Which one will you feed? By: Roger G.

Written by: Roger G., 4th Floor Supervisor

The problems of victory are more agreeable
than the problems of defeat,
but they are no less difficult.
Sir Winston Churchill

A Cherokee elder sitting with his grandchildren told them, “In every life there is a terrible fight—a fight between two wolves. One is evil: he is fear, anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and deceit. The other is good: joy, serenity, humility, confidence, generosity, truth, gentleness, and compassion.” A child asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The elder looked him in the eye. “The one you feed.”

On Sunday night I spent a few minutes on the 1st floor [of the Drop-In]. The weather was cold; all the mats and floor space were full by 10:45pm. The staff spent the rest of the night keeping the peace among 223 clients, and turning away another 45 at the door. I don’t envy them. Turning people away was perhaps the hardest part of my job in the three years I spent working on 1st floor.

Instead I feel a bit guilty, as I make my way back upstairs where, much to my surprise 2½ years ago, I was made supervisor on one of the transitional housing floors. After making innumerable mistakes and learning from some of them, I’m still there. My 1st floor co-workers tease me sometimes about my ivory tower. A fixed number of beds, restricted to sober clients. I rarely have to deal with fights, shouting, EMS, or CPS. And I get to drink my coffee sitting down.

Back on my floor, I talk for a couple of minutes with R. at my office window. He’s had a rough week working with the temp agencies. He did have a steady job with a good company and friendly, supportive co-workers but, like many people, he couldn’t handle the night shifts. Getting a good sleep during the day at the Drop-In can be a hit-and-miss operation, especially having to balance it with the daytime-only availability of our meals and laundry facilities. He’s discouraged today, and nothing I say to him seems to come across as support. After he walks away I close my eyes and let it go, and I see a tiny 3-inch angel fluttering just past his right shoulder. He’s not alone, after all.

A short while later the TV and client computers are shut down. My own computer work of housing stats, logs and lunch lists are waiting, but I end up talking for 30-40 minutes with D. He says he felt so proud of himself being clean and sober for several months this year, and wants to hang on to that. D. has a complicated life. For that reason, and because he broke a few ribs this summer, I bring him back for a moment to that most basic life function; I walk him through a simple yoga breathing exercise. Just moving his arms up and out in a slow gentle circle is painful for him.
Half an hour later J. comes to the office for some Ibuprofen. On his third visit to a clinic in August he finally got decent medical care for the open wound and infection that was complicating his broken foot. He gets the last stitches out of his foot in two days, but he’s still limping badly and apparently has no physiotherapy or rehabilitative exercises forthcoming, so he’s left hoping his foot will just regain its strength and mobility naturally. We also talk at length about his efforts to wean himself off of the methadone program; the importance of going slow, and of planning ahead.

He knew M., who stayed on this floor up until 3 weeks ago. M. wanted to get off methadone too, and get his life back. Did he go too fast, at the end? Did he have a game plan for what to do next? A couple of weeks after his last dose of the methadone, his bed was closed after 4 days no show, no call. That was 10 days ago. If we get no word from him by our last night this week, then we’ll downsize the 9 bags of stuff from his locker that are now in our storage room. We’ll hang on to personal effects like letters or pictures for a year. The books will go to the bookshelf, the clothes will be washed and sent out as donations.

Which wolf will win? Which will we choose to feed, with our attitudes and behaviors? These are questions I ask the clients. I try to find creative ways of doing so. Will I ever manage to reach each of the 146 men on this floor with worthwhile questions? I doubt it. I’m sure, though, that there’s more than one guardian angel here, floating over people’s shoulders.

Monday morning comes, and we turn on the lights at 5:45 a.m. as always, and announce the day’s forecast over the PA. I walk the hallways to wake people up, and unlock their lockers as needed. I warn a repeat offender that if he leaves his dorm a mess again I will close his bed. I give bag lunches to guys going out to work. I try to make sure there’s a cup of coffee for everyone.

D.’s 4 hours of sleep seems to have done him wonders, and on his way out the door he thanks me for our talk.

Written by: Roger G., 4th Floor Supervisor

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One man's steps make a difference

When "Jukie" Daly walked up the hill in Thunder Bay and stood at the base of the statue of Terry Fox, he began to cry. Terry Fox is his idol. The man who made a difference in his life and captured his imagination when he was a young teen. And there he was, standing at his feet.

He'd been walking for a couple of weeks by the time his feet stopped at the bottom of Terry's statue. He'd been taking one measured footstep after the other leading him forward towards his goal of walking from Toronto to Golden, B.C. He figured it would take him another eight weeks. It did.

"I just asked God why I was here. He said, to get walking. So I did." Jukie told me when I sat and chatted with him yesterday afternoon and asked him what inspired him to take such a journey. He'd made it to Golden, B.C. On Foot. He's now staying at the Drop-In, resting-up before flying back to Toronto on Friday.

He doesn't have an entourage. He doesn't have a coterie of handlers following along in his footsteps, or driving beside him. Jukie walks alone. "But I'm not alone," he says when I ask him if he was ever scared on his journey. "God walks every step with me."

As he travelled across Canada, Jukie stayed in shelters along the way, unless the town in which he stopped for the night didn't have a shelter -- then he found a hotel to put him up. "The people were nice where ever I went," he said. "God kept providing me everything and every one I needed on my path."

A quiet man. A solid faith. Jukie is 30. His mother and step-father own a bible camp in Durham, Ontario. He grew up reading the Bible. Loving the stories of Jesus. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to be like "The Legend" as he calls his hero, Terry Fox.

He walked from Toronto to St. Johns, Newfoundland last year to raise funds for a women's shelter. This year, the Mission for whom he works thought a longer journey was in order. Jukie agreed and started walking.

His mahogany skin shines, his dark eyes glow with enthusiasm. His responses to my questions are measured, slow, easy. "I have many gifts," he says. "I didn't want to have to tell God I'd wasted his gifts when I met him at the end of the road. He gave me a voice to speak and feet to walk. Best I use them wisely."

Jukie doesn't think what he's done is all that spectacular. I disagreed. "Many of us think of doing something like you've done Jukie. Few of us seldom put our thoughts into action. You are an inspiration."

Yesterday, I walked up to a humble man sitting at a table on the second floor of the drop-in and asked a simple question. One of the staff had told me about him, suggested I might want to talk with him and write an article for our newsletter. "Will you tell me your story?" I asked him. His response was a simple, "Yes. That's why I'm here. To share my story and to share my love of God."

My response was more measured. I was concerned. I didn't want to hear a sermon. I wanted to know about his journey. My fear was of my own making.

Jukie never preached. He sat and quietly told me about seeing a fox, a bear, a moose on his journey. About the semi-trailers roaring past, the cars honking their horns when they saw his Canadian flag and the plain sign he carried that explained his journey. "Jukie's cross-Canada walk to support women's shelters". His eyes lit up when he told me about seeing the splendour of this country surrounding him and about being committed to putting one foot in front of the other, one after the other, so that he could reach his goal, step by step.

I can learn a lot from Jukie. We all can.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Doing the right thing

Contributed by: Nurse James, Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre

This morning, as I was leaving my residence to come to work, I closed the door to my unit, and was immediately greeted with an unmistakable and instantly recognizable odor. I looked around the hallway, and did not see anything out of the ordinary. When I exited the building however, I saw a shape between the lobby doors that can best be described as a lump of clothing in the fetal position. I knew right away that it was a person curled up around the small radiant heater that is in the lobby of our building. Several other residents went thought the doors as fast as they could, ignoring the intoxicated and somewhat dirty fellow laying on the floor.

I faced a small dilemma. I wanted to let the man alone, and not bother him, yet at the same time I knew it was only a matter of time before someone in the building either roughed him up and showed him the door, or called the police. Neither one of which seemed the best choice to me. The police would undoubtedly force him to leave the building, maybe even fine him, which could easily top 200-500 dollars, depending on the officer and what he or she charged him with. Or worse, place the young man in jail.

This being Homeless Awareness week, I was keenly aware of the coincidence that this was happening in my building. As a healthcare professional at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, I was even more aware of the situation as I deal with homeless individuals everyday. But there, it is part of my job. Here I was, at my place of residence, wondering what the best course of action should be.

What do I do?

Wake him up and offer him a ride to a shelter? Not a viable option, as that opens up all sorts of moral and ethical issues.

Leave him there and take the chance that a not so understanding tenant beats him up to teach him a lesson? Again, not in my nature.

Should I myself call the Police ( I dismissed this thought immediately) and have him removed? I felt ashamed I even thought of this course of action.

Let him sleep it off?

I chose to wake him up and ask him to leave. Dealing with this situation everyday at work, I was cognizant of the reaction I might receive.

I leaned over, and in a gentle but firm tone asked him to wake up.

He rolled over slowly, opened his eyes and looked a little sheepish.

I stated that he was sleeping in the lobby of a very busy residence, and that I was concerned that he faced challenges from others and risked having the police remove him.

He got up, thanked me for my concerns and left the building.

Did I handle the situation properly, should I have done something different? Offered him food?

Did I somehow offend him? Embarrass him?

I don't know, but knowing that I chose to treat him with respect and show him kindness rather than attitude, I hope I did the right thing...

Contributed by: Nurse James, Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre

Am I Non-transferable?

Contributed by: Erika Barootes, CTI Instructor

Imagine being told that there is a “land of opportunity and equality”, where anyone’s dream can come true. A place where you can be recognized and rewarded for the skills you possess. The preachers of this wondrous land refer to it as North America, known as the land of milk and honey, a location that is envied by many for their lifestyle possibilities. North America is a continent that travelers come thousands of miles to experience first hand.

Immigrants come to Canada in hopes of seeking the most remarkable career opportunities. Upon their arrival, many are discouraged to find out that the education received in their native countries is not credible here. These individuals also find that language barriers keep them from receiving the recognition and prestige they deserve. They come with expectations and dreams of what they will aspire to be, only to be limited to jobs people with no education or experience are eligible for.

The question at hand is how would you feel if you dedicated time and money to receive a Bachelors of Arts Degree or an Accounting degree, you learned a second language and upon these accomplishments you were told that your efforts would not be taken into consideration when applying for a job? It is plausible to assume that, 'disappointed' might be the tamest word held in your thoughts. Now imagine leaving your friends, your family, and your life back home and have nothing to show for it.

This is a coast-to-coast problem in Canada. Many immigrants could be great assets to companies but a majority of degrees or diplomas do not transfer over. It is also unjust that these individuals were not informed prior to their venture to a new land they hope to call home, that their years of education would be irrelevant. Experience in their fields of expertise and their learning exceeds many of those with six figure salaries, however, they are left working in warehouses, washing dishes, and driving taxis, depending on minimum wage and tips in order to provide for themselves and loved ones.

Not only is previous education omitted, many immigrants have trouble finding jobs that deal with customer service or communicating with people in person or by telephone. The reasoning behind this is because of their thick accents and how corporations do not want to send out the message that their companies hire people that cannot “properly” speak English or French. These voyagers from foreign lands try to adopt the Canadian culture, language and lifestyles while still maintaining some or all roots of their old country. Who are we to say how much or how little of “Canadian” ways these residents need to adopt before being considered one of us?

ESL is an enormous obstacle. Once an individual has hurdled the first obstacle, and he or she is recognized as fluent in English, they then have to be accepted into a program, similar to their training back home ,in order to receive the Canadian recognition for previously obtained knowledge. This process seems tedious and irrelevant considering the information is embossed in their brains.

In the CTI application prospective students are asked their education history. Many of the students who have immigrated to Canada, have beyond high school educations but cannot find a job due to the language barriers or non-transferable degrees. These individuals enroll in the CTI program, which is perhaps not ideal for them, because they do not have employment prospects in their field of expertise. They choose to receive industrial certifications in hopes of working in a warehouse, driving a forklift or working on the oil rigs. CTI offers these people the requirements to find permanent employment but nothing that is on par with what they deserve for their post-secondary education.

That is not to say that immigrants traveling to Canada will find little or no success. There are several colleges offering programs to assist immigrants in receiving rightful recognition for their qualifications in Canada. The question is, how can these Canadian newcomers become informed of these opportunities? It is up to the city of Calgary, and the communities within to encourage everyone to be the best that they can be and to have access to these opportunities.

Written by Erika Barootes, Caglary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. CTI Instructor

DISCLAIMER: The articles posted on this blog are the personal views and commentary of the individual writers.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A lesson in life from a homeless teen

Last week I attended a workshop on ending homelessness. The focus was on youth. One of the members of our table of 8 was a young woman currently living in a transitional shelter. When she was 17, and entering grade 12, *Tara ran away from home. When asked why, she said, "I wasn't safe at home." A scary thought to think the street is safer than your home.

For Tara, it was a wise decision. After spending some time on the streets, Tara knew she had to do something different. She ran to a woman who had befriended her at the local Boys and Girls club and that woman became her advocate. She helped Tara find an emergency bed and from there Tara moved on to a transitional bed in a long-term shelter where she now lives.

Last spring, only one year behind schedule, Tara finished Grade 12 and will be attending College this fall to pursue her studies in Social Work.

There were several youthful voices added to the mix of social workers and agency representatives at the meeting. It was a dynamic conversation about what's happened in their lives to encourage them to make change now, before drugs and prostitution and abuse sucked the life completely out of them. The teens were open, frank, positive. Their attitude was, yeah, it sucks when home is the place you feel most unsafe. But hey, I'm safe today. Let's get it on.

For the adults, it was more challenging. We wanted to talk about how we've failed these teens. How we continue to fail children today by not being better parents, better guardians of the innocence of their youth. We wanted to focus on how the system is broken. Who, what and when it all fell apart.

If we could learn anything from these teens it is to quit looking back, to quit measuring where we are today against the failures of yesterday. To start focusing on where we want to go based on the success stories that got us here so that we can start building new pathways to success. To be more forgiving -- of ourselves. Sure, we'll make mistakes. We don't know everything, and we definitely can't do it all right the first time, but we need to keep doing, not just talking, about it.

Seated at the table beside me was a 50 year-old native woman. Jan ran away from yet another foster home when she was 17. She hit the streets and fell into the life of a junkie and prostitute. Lost, frightened, without any sense of belonging or a connection to her native culture, Jan spent twenty years wandering aimlessly, searching for herself between the highs, and lows, of street life. Today, Jan is clean and sober. She makes a modest living, enough to support herself, and is committed to speaking up to create change in a system which she believes failed her throughout her life.

But Jan is still a victim. "I have no identity," she kept repeating throughout the morning. "Foster parents wouldn't let me have my identity when I was forced into 'care' as a youth. When I go back to the reserve now, my people shun me. They make fun of me. They want nothing to do with me. I have no place where I belong. I don't know who I am."

During one of these discourses, I turned to Jan who was sitting next to me and commented, "You've managed to kick an addiction, get off the street and create a life for yourself today. I'd say you're one powerful woman."

Jan couldn't focus on my words about what she'd done right. She was stuck in telling what had gone wrong.

I don't deny that amongst cultural/ethnic groups, natives are disproportionately represented on the street. Every colour. Every sex. Every size, shape, intellect, faith are represented on the street.

The street does not discriminate. It accepts all comers.

And that's the challenge.

There are no boundaries on the street, and in recovery, the boundaries we place are self-erected. No matter the circumstances of our lives, getting over the hurdle of our own limits is the first step towards getting free of victimizing ourselves through the past.

For Tara, the past is simply the road that led her to where she is today. Is it perfect? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But Tara isn't bemoaning the imperfections of her life today. She's celebrating herself. Treating herself with respect, doing what it takes to build a better future for herself by focusing on what she can do today to make a difference, not what made her life different in the past or what makes it different today than the lives of her classmates.

In life, hardships abound. So does joy. Wonder. Adventure. Opportunity.

Oprah Winfrey said, "Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity."

Regardless of what happened in the past, Tara looks at herself as one lucky teen today. She isn't relying on luck, however, to get her to where she wants to go. She's preparing herself for the future by educating herself, learning new tools, new ideas that will change her life forever.

For Jan, there's little room for new learning as she remains stuck in 'her story' about what happened to her in the past. Finding fault with a system that is not perfect, Jan continues to abuse herself with the notion that there's nothing she can do to change her life today.
Long ago, Jan lost touch with her native heritage. Today, she struggles to find herself in a world that doesn't welcome her because.... well, she says it's because of the colour of her skin.

For Tara, the world was not a welcoming place. So, she created her own welcome mat. For the other teens at the meeting, it was an opportunity for them to share their stories, and for people like me to open up to the wisdom of youth, to be inspired by their courage to stop the abuse happening in their lives by learning to treat themselves with dignity and respect. They're teaching the world how to treat them. They're mighty powerful.

Sitting, hearing these teens tell their stories, I wondered, Where in my life am I stuck on abusing myself with the notion the past determines who I am today? Where am I limiting who I am today by keeping myself stuck in the past?

Monday, August 27, 2007


Written by: Nurse James. Drop-In & Rehab Centre Nurse

She’s walking around without any shoes, no socks. It looks like she has been without footwear for quite awhile. She limps badly; her feet are covered with blisters and open lacerations. Probably infected. She knows who I am, but does not come and see me.

As the Nurse at the Drop-In Centre, I can approach clientele and ask if I can take a look at their stab wounds, lacerations, blisters and trauma from fights; but if they do not want to see me, I cannot force the issue.

She comes to my office a few days later after a client prompts her to seek me out. Tells her I am an OK person, that I care. Won’t hurt her.

She is malnourished, skinny, and very apprehensive; she looks to be in her early 50’s. I am not shocked when she tells me she just had her 35th birthday. She looks like crap.

She sits and I wait for the story, her story. Every homeless person has a story. You can vary the details a little from time to time, but it usually sounds very familiar.

Her story I have heard over and over again. She was twelve (or 10, or 14) her uncle touches her. She feels scared, violated.

It’s her fault maybe?

No can’t be, she did nothing wrong.

A month later her uncle visits again. He touches her again, this time more aggressively.

Her mother beats her for lying.

She stops talking. Tears well up in her eyes. I tell her it’s ok to talk, to feel scared, to feel angry. Its not that she says. She cries because I listen, do not judge her, do not make her feel like she is lying. She is crying she says, because it looks like I want to listen, want to help.

She asks about her feet. She tells me she has been without shoes for two weeks. She has been on a binge for a month (crack, meth, alcohol, she does not say which, I do not ask) and when she sobers up she realizes she is not in Calgary and starts walking. She walks for three or fours days. She gets to the Drop-In Centre and stakes out a corner on the main floor for a few days before she finally comes to see me.

Her feet are in bad shape. She needs a Doctor at a Medical clinic. She refuses. You can do it, she asks? She is scared again. I can treat her I say, if she is willing to follow my direction. She agrees. For the next four days she comes to my office without missing a day. I apply bandages, antibiotic ointment and flamezine (a type of crème for burns that works well on really bad blisters). Her feet heal remarkably well, I am impressed. She has stayed in the Centre, away from drugs and alcohol. She has listened to my direction about staying off her feet. I see her one more time. Her feet look better. She has socks; someone has donated a pair of shoes.

She smiles, says thank you and waves as she walks out the door.

I do not see her again.

Written by: Nurse James. Drop-In & Rehab Centre Nurse

Friday, August 24, 2007

Homelessness is not a Crime

Written by Lee Stevens -- Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. Staff. Afternoon Shift

One evening while I was working during supper service a client approached me and asked if he could use the washroom. I opened the door for him to use the intox washroom when he muttered “I certainly don’t want to get another fine” I asked him for more clarification when he pulled out a ticket for $300 he had just received for urinating in public. “I just really couldn’t hold it since I just got surgery on my bladder” he explained then lifted up his shirt and revealed his surgical scar to me. Even if this guy didn’t have bladder complications the absurdity that a person who is homeless would actually be issued the maximum amount for a fine of this type I immediately joined in on his frustration, until he interrupted me “I really gotta go.”

That incident took me back to November 20, 2006 when it became illegal in Calgary to spit, urinate, defecate, sleep on benches in public or even put your feet up on any city structure. These restrictions were enforced under the bad behavior bylaw number 54M2006. Individuals who are caught demonstrating “bad behavior” will face fines ranging from $50 to $300 and even up to six months in jail based on the Calgary housing action initiative forum, 2006. I first heard about this new bylaw when I was at work, and was quick to realize that this bylaw was clearly targeting the homeless.

From watching the news I was furious to hear that the policy makers from city council claimed that the new bylaw had nothing to do with the homeless, and that it’s intent was to prevent people on the red mile from behaving badly. I believe the bad behavior bylaw was proposed by those who are fed up with the increasing numbers of homeless individuals who are panhandling and loitering in the city streets, and instead of attacking the root cause of this issue city council has decided to punish those who are homeless.

The city of Calgary’s most recent statistics of the homeless population in Calgary are staggering. The number of homeless individuals recorded in Calgary is 3,436, an increase of 32.3% since 2004. [Ed. Note: it is estimated the homeless count has risen by 15% in the intervening year since the official 2006 Homeless Count by the city of Calgary.] The number of homeless persons enumerated on our streets [those not sleeping in a shelter] was 429 which is an increase of an alarming 237.8%!

Surely people who work in the downtown core have noticed the increase of homeless living on the street, and it is no coincidence that this bylaw was introduced at a time of sharp increase in the number of homeless people. It is precisely these homeless individuals who are most at risk of being caught urinating, defecating, and spitting since they have nowhere else to perform these necessary bodily functions. By penalizing individuals from sleeping on benches, panhandling, and loitering in public places the city is attempting to “hide” the fact that they have done little to solve the housing crisis; it is also a case of out of sight out of mind.

It has been suggested that the bad behavior bylaw infringes on human rights, and essentially makes it illegal to be homeless. The Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees the right to life, liberty, and security, as well as equality of rights without discrimination.

As an advocate for the homeless I am strongly against this bylaw. Since it has been passed, and in addition to the most recent case another client has been issued a ticket for $80 for spitting in a garbage can. The ticket read “improper disposal of waste.” I am sure many other fines will surface as a result of this bylaw with people who cannot pay them because they are homeless. The effects of the bad behavior bylaw on the homeless population is an example of how social policy can actually create more barriers for the most vulnerable members of society, and why it is so important to solve the causes of homelessness instead of the effects.

Written By: Lee Stevens


Tso, W. (2006) Public behavior bylaw passes despite charter issues. Retrieved March 18,
2007 from

The City of Calgary. (2006) Retrieved March 18, 2007 from

Calgary housing action initiative. (2006). Retrieved March 18, 2007 from

Written by Lee Stevens, Caglary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. Staff. Afternoon Shift

Disclaimer: The views posted on this blog are the personal views and commentary of the individual writers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Written by Tim Gorman, Building Supervisor, Nights

A telephone call is made by a staff member based on a log concerning a missing person. Routine stuff. Shortly after, about 2 AM on a Tuesday morning, a vehicle shows up with the missing person's brother. He's fidgety and eager. Danny, the staff member who made the call approaches me. Yeah, that guy's brother's here. What should we do? Some red flags go up in my mind. Confidentiality, stuff like that. Sometimes missing persons don't like to be found. But I find the guy sleeping outside in front of the doors to the old building. He's under a blanket with some girl. Hey, buddy, I guess your brother's here. Do you want to see him? He's maybe in his late thirties. He wipes the sleep from his eyes and sits up. Yeah, ok. I point out his brother half way down the driveway. That's him, over there.

And that's about it. I walk over to his brother, not close enough to be personable. He's coming. The brother's eager anticipation turns to joy on his face at the sound of my words. I'm just as eager but for some reason I don't let on. He opens the door to his vehicle and people pour out from behind tinted glass. A mom. A dad. A sister-in-law, maybe? But it's the dad who gets me.

The missing guy seems to take forever to walk the 40 or so metres to the vehicle. Enough time for my memories to flood back from the corner of Woodland and East Hastings about 11 years ago. My own dad has tears streaming down his face. He's travelled from the prairies to the coast to search the streets and alleys of the downtown eastside. He's looking for me. He's been searching for about a week. And now he's hugging me and asking me if I want to come home. I'm a little afraid to hug him because of my smell but I do and I say, Yes. He's gotten so much older since I saw him last, but still, his hug almost breaks me in half.

And now, in the driveway of the DI another dad and another son are hugging. But the image that's seared in my mind happens a few seconds later. The found guy is hugging his mom now. But I can't take my eyes off the dad. He's taken a step back from the family and for an instant he turns his head back, looks skyward and smiles. It was only an instant, but it told of all the years. The years of pain and longing and hope all come to pass. Pure joy, I guess.

The family gathers around and the sister-in-law shows off photos on a cell phone. This is your neice. Stuff like that, I imagine.

If I wasn't the Building Supervisor, I guess tears would have been flowing down my cheeks.

A few phone calls are made and throughout the building staff members start looking over balconies and gathering around security monitors watching the scene in the driveway unfold. And for a few quiet moments, most of us stop doing what we're doing: stats, cleaning bathrooms, washing socks, putting out small fires, whatever. I don't think any of us said much. What would you say anyway?

Okay, I've gotta go do lunches now.

Submitted by Tim Gorman, Building Supervisor, Nights

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Personal Perspective -- and a really good question

Written and submitted by Jennifer S, -- Counsellor, Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre

After I disclose to people what I do for a living I am often asked, “What is the major cause of homelessness?” I believe that homelessness is not an individual issues, it is a societal matter that needs to be addressed accordingly. People become homeless when all of the theoretical safety nets that are in place have failed. People end up residing in a homeless shelter or on the streets with no physical shelter because all other agencies, government bodies, institutions, and personal connections have failed.

Homelessness is so much more than just not having a place to reside. Our clientele have many obstacles and barriers to overcome such as poverty, mental health, childhood trauma, abuse, domestic violence, addictions, physical disabilities, isolation, neglect, disease, and issues associated with aging (to name a few). Not only do the client population which we serve need to attend to some of the before mentioned underlying issues; they also have to contend with the societal biases that have been placed due to being labeled “homeless.”

There are so many exceptional stories that I could submit regarding the client population at the Drop-In. I am well aware that although I have the title of a Counsellor within the agency, I am in no way singular from the other staff members that clients entrust to share there incredible stories with. However, I have decided to focus this particular entry in light of the recent publicity our clientele, location and agency is receiving. As everyone is aware there has been an increase in reported acts of violence in and around our centre. A number of these incidents have had the end result of death.

I would like to address a headline I read last week in the Calgary Sun, it is as follows: “Drug addict assaulted, killed”

What does that bring to mind I ask? Both personally and professionally I am enraged. How long are we going to idly stand by as a society and watch these vulnerable people not only be marginalized but also murdered? I am appalled and disgusted with the human race in that on a continual basis we perpetuate human biases at every given opportunity. Not only in life but also in death our clients are judged on the fact that they live outside of what society deems as “normal.”

We have heard that prostitution is the oldest profession; moreover, it is viewed as being immoral and some type of character flaw for both the men and woman that work within this high-risk profession. If it is such a well know fact that the sex trade is a dangerous, undesirable profession, then why is it that we are doing nothing to protect the individuals engaged in this subculture? Oh my mistake, we take away the Johns cars and send them to John school. Yes, the Johns that are exploiting our children and abusing the sex trade workers should be arrested.
But what about the sex trade workers?

Have they ever been given a voice or an opportunity to speak to the larger community? Has anyone asked them what they want and how they feel?


They are a statistic.

They are ostracized by society.

The majority of men and women involved in the sex trade are there to survive. Some do not have the skills or experience to work in a minimum wage job. Some are trying to put food on their children’s plate. Some are running away from the childhood abuse and trauma they have suffered by the people that were supposed to protect them. Many are supporting an addiction that takes precedence over all else. I believe that the apprehension of the “Johns” vehicles is society’s way to clean up the sex trade workers and put them a little closer to danger. The police force seizes a John’s vehicle and then auctions them off to private citizens. Where is the money being distributed that is made through these seizers and auctions? Is it being allocated to set up programs that are going to help the individuals involved in the sex trade?

We all know the answer.

By no means is this going to stop the sex trade workers from going to the stroll, nor is it going to stop the pimps from living off the avails or johns from picking up the workers.

The men and women involved in the sex trade just won't be turning tricks in cars anymore.

They will be forced to turn tricks in back alleys and private dwellings which in turn will increase their risk of being raped, beaten or killed.

Will their screams be heard?

Will anyone care?

Will anyone come to his or her aid?

I think we know the answer.

Sorry if I come off sounding facetious; however, I am disgusted with all of these band- aid solutions. What is it going to take until we, as human beings, are able to display empathy to individuals that are not the cookie cut image that society indoctrinates us to believe?

Disclaimer: The views posted on this blog are the personal views and commentary of the individual writers.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Good cause. Hopeless case.

On Saturday, a crew of 300 volunteers dropped into the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre to help clean up in and around the area. The volunteers were from across Canada. They were here for a conference organized by their church. As part of the agenda, they devoted a day to making a difference in the community. For three hours, I took a team of 21 volunteers along the river pathway east of the Drop-In. We walked beneath a canopy of trees, strolled the concrete pathway, lugging our bags and picks, our hands enveloped in latex gloves. We picked up cigarette butts, pieces of glass and paper, old clothing left on the river bank, pop bottles, plastic bags and other debris. I carried a special container to hold the needles and syringes we found until they could be disposed of safely.

We laughed and chatted. Shared stories and jokes. A couple of the volunteers in my group were from Vancouver. The irony of leaving the garbage strike in that city to help clean up Calgary's garbage did not escape us.

As we wandered along the pathways people stopped and chatted. "Hey! Good work!" they called out as they rode by. "Nice to see people getting out and pitching in." Some of course, had to support us from the negative side of the street. "It's about time you people did something." "If you got rid of the druggies the garbage wouldn't be so bad."

We humans are funny creatures. We talk about leaving a legacy and then leave garbage lying around with seldom a thought about the impact of our debris upon other human beings and the environment. For those who are homeless, leaving garbage behind is sometimes the only sign they'll leave on a world that doesn't want to see them.

Being homeless isn't easy. I understand the proclivity to pick it up, use it, drop it and leave it. Not much has value when you're homeless -- especially yourself. Treating the environment the same way you treat yourself is an extension of the state of your inner world.

But what about those who aren't homeless? What about the 'normal' people who live in homes and apartments and still treat the environment like one big garbage can?

Yesterday, while waiting for the volunteers to arrive, I cleaned up around the area across from the Drop-In known as Triangle Park. On the road, beside the curb, was a pile of cigarette butts -- an entire ashtray full. Obviously, someone had stopped at the red light and while waiting for the green, dumped out their ashtray onto the road. Nice.

Every day in the media there are articles about the deplorable state of being homelessness represents. Armchair pundits shout out -- Shut down the shelters. Pull out the supports. That'll make 'em straighten up right quick. They'll have to get jobs or at least quit smokin' the crack that's makin' them sick.

If only it were so simple.

Last weekend, as I came back into the city from a weekend in Canmore, I stopped at an intersection waiting for a red light to turn green. On the cement curb diving east and west traffic, a young woman stood, hat in hand, looking for handouts. She smiled. She waved. She greeted people with shouts of, "Hey! It's all for a good cause." And, people complied. They rolled down their windows and tossed their coins into the bright orange cap she extended towards them. The light turned green and everyone continued on their way feeling good about themselves. They'd supported a good cause. And they had. A charity devoted towards finding a cure for a deadly disease is a worthy cause.

Parked on the grassy verge at the side of the intersection, the big blue and orange community van belonging to the charity was plastered with banners encouraging people to Give to the Cause. Volunteers leaped up and down, cheering, waving at the passing cars, encouraging those at red lights to open their wallets and support the panhandlers walking beside them. Drivers honked their horns.Waved. Called out cheers. It was a lively intersection filled with purpose -- and a cause.

On another corner, a homeless man walks between the waiting cars at the red light, a handmade cardboard sign held up against his chest. "Please help. Homeless. Hungry. God Bless." The drivers stare steadfastly forward, watching the light, wishing it would turn faster so that they can get away from this sign of what’s wrong with our society. No one rolls down their window. No one smiles at the scruffy-looking, dark haired, bearded man as he shuffles along the roadway, holding out his cap, asking for help. A man without a cause.

On one corner, a worthy cause. On the other? What label do we use? A hopeless case? An undeserving drug-addict breaking the law?

One deserves our support. What about the other?

Yes, the funds raised to support research into finding cures for disease are important. But what about their tactics? By mimicking the methods used by homeless individuals, are they not legitimizing the very tactic we deplore? The one warranting tickets from police attempting to deter the unacceptable practice of panhandling.

Someone empties their car ashtray on the street and drives on, leaving behind their garbage. We don't give a lot of thought to their passing by other than to possibly mutter under our breath, "some people's children" -- or words to that effect. Rains come and sweep away their garbage and we continue on with our day.

A homeless person drops their garbage on the sidewalk and disappears from our sight. We sweep away their unsightly mess and pick up all signs of their passing. We've got a lot to say about what they've done. A lot of names to call them. But hey! What can we do? They're just the homeless, good-for-nothing, lazy drug addicts. They've made choices. It's their own fault. Why can't they get a job like the rest of us and at least clean up their own mess?

Cleaning up the garbage on Saturday I found evidence of the thin line that divides us. We're all human beings. We're all under stress. We're all capable of making a difference; like the volunteers from communities across Canada who pitched in to clean up our neighbourhood. They don’t live here. They just wanted to help out. Every Sunday afternoon, a clean-up crew heads out from the Drop-In to pick up garbage. It’s an opportunity for all Calgarians to pitch in and make a difference. Aside from a core team made up of Alderman Joe Ceci, a few supporters, Drop-In staff and volunteers, few turn up to help.

Sometimes, what we do is not that different. We talk about making a difference and look for someone else to pick up the garbage. We lose our way on the road of life and look for someone else to give us directions. We search for labels that legitimize our efforts to change the world and stick to the side of the street we're on. Our eyes blinded by the rightness of what we’re doing, we don’t see what’s happening on the other side. Good cause. Hopeless case. It's all in our perceptions.