Only in Calgary can you enjoy all four seasons in one day. Yesterday morning spring arrived with refreshing rain and its promise of the earth’s rebirth. By noon, summer’s heat bore down as people stripped off protective layers of clothing to expose pale skin eager for the sun’s rays. Fall’s chill descended by early evening. The sun disappeared behind sullen grey clouds and by nightfall, sleet had turned to snow. It’s been snowing ever since. The wet, heavy kind that’s awful for driving but perfect for creating snowmen and other wonders of winter.
If you’re homeless, winter is not a wonder. Driving is seldom an issue and seeing the snow as an opportunity to take part in a recreational sport is not on the list of “Ten things I must do to survive the winter”.
When you’re homeless, the snow is an enemy. It soaks through clothing and shoes, results in frostbite and the possibility of lost digits. Snow and cold lead to aches and chilblains and the relentless search for a warm, safe place to hang out in. Snow brings colds and under grey skies, good humour evaporates as desperation and depression descend with the snow clogging the roadways.
The snow is not welcome when you’re homeless.
But then, the homeless are not welcome in most areas of the city.
Mostly, the homeless are considered a problem. A crisis. A situation that must be dealt with. Like the pristine snow blanketing the city, we search for ways to sweep the homeless out of view. With each new carefully drafted chapter of “Ten things we must do to end homelessness” we hope that out of sight will lead to out of mind and the problem of the homeless will be solved, or at least disappear.
Outside, the snow falls and soon it will disappear. It’s inevitable.
Getting off the street, finding a home, rebuilding lives; that’s not inevitable, at least not for some.
There is no shovel big enough to end homelessness
The homeless are not something we can shovel out of the way, nor sweep away. They are not a statistic or a number that quantifies their presence but says nothing of the individuals populating the carefully constructed graphs depicting the growth in homelessness in Calgary. i.e. May 10, 2006 Homeless Count: 3436 representing a 32% increase since the count of 2004.
The homeless are people. Individuals. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces. The homeless have names. They have stories. They have a past and while the future may not look too bright for some, they all share in the dream that somewhere there is an answer to their homelessness. Someday they will find a way to change their lives.
Some lives end before change happens
Every day at the Drop-In we work with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces. We work with people who have lost their way. Some are trying to forget their pasts, some can’t forget it. Some believe there’s a better tomorrow waiting for them, someday. Some believe it’s impossible.
Every day at the Drop-In we participate in changing lives. We witness lives moving out of despair into hope. And we experience failure.
Two men were murdered Saturday night and with their passing all hope that their lives could change died. They will never have the possibility of a better tomorrow.
One of the men was an inspired artist. He was talented. Gifted. He had intermittently been a client of the Drop-In several years ago. Mostly during those times when alcohol overtook his ability to weather the storms of life and he looked for refuge in a bottle. When he stayed with us, he would draw. On scraps of paper. On paper towel. On anything staff gave him. Beautiful black and white sketches honouring his heritage. He didn’t talk a lot, but through his art, you could catch a glimpse of the awesome soul within. Complex. Intricate. Beautiful. Wounded.
Hope is a long and winding road
Today, the snow falls and the artist is gone. His talent. His many gifts have passed with him.
Any hope he had of finding his way out of the darkness is gone with him. Any hope his family had of their son coming home is gone.
While we sit and write reports, check our numbers and carefully graph our formulae of where and what to do with the men, women, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews who populate our streets, hope dies. Every day.
For those experiencing homelessness, the road is winding, the future grim. At the Drop-In we accept those who come through our doors exactly where they’re at. We provide them a safe, stable environment. We do not tolerate drugs or drug dealers. We do not condone violence and weapons. Our clients cannot be safe when they fear for their lives.
We believe that in helping people stay alive, in providing them the essential services needed to not succumb to the indignities of being homeless, they will have a chance to find the spark that will ignite their imaginations so that they can begin their journey home. In time, they will find the courage to take those first steps into a life that is a reflection of who they are meant to be, not who they’ve been labeled since losing their way.
No matter the weather, our doors remain open
In this city of over a million people, one man’s death will not remain in the headlines long. Like the snow quickly disappearing under the sun’s rays, his memory will blend into the past as he becomes a statistic in the homicide record of the city.
Yet, there is still hope for those who walk the streets in search of a better day, as long as we remain constant in our belief that what we do makes a difference. We believe that providing support to those who have lost their way on the road of life will affect how they get up tomorrow. As each person picks up the dream of beginning the long walk home, we believe they will be strengthened by the knowledge that no matter the season, no matter the weather, when they needed a place to rest, the Drop-In’s doors were open.