Thursday, May 24, 2007

What's going on?

Submitted by John Rowland

I just recorded the 18th name of a Drop-In Centre Client who has died in 2007. It is only May 24th and we are set to match the year 2004, when 19 of our clients died – over the entire year. We are back to where we were in the mid 1990’s and the rate of death we were experiencing amongst the population we serve prior to the expansion of the shelter system.

Why is this happening? The individual deaths have occurred for many different reasons so there is no pattern, or obvious cause. The average age of the individuals who died is 47 years, with the oldest being 62, and the youngest 18. I have no good explanation, other that to suggest that stress, and lack of hope is causing people to give up.

John Rowland is the Data System Coordinator at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre.
Photo courtesy of

On Ending Homelessness -- One brick at a time

Submitted by: John Rowland

In Calgary, like many other cities we have reached a crisis point with respect to homelessness. Being homeless is no longer the fate of the select few, but now can be said to be the fate of many in Calgary.

A family in the University area community where I live in is example of this. The father in the family works as a senior manager in a large company, (Not oil & gas) and the mother works full time in retail where she has held the same job for 10 years. Their son is in French emersion at the local school. They are now facing homelessness after the modest apartment building they live in was purchased by a group of investors. Within two days they received first a $700 rent increased, followed the next day with an eviction notice. Now they face an uncertain future, as they cannot find housing. While they have some money saved, they do not have enough saved to purchase a house. They do qualify for a mortgage, but the prices that are being charged would leave them nothing to live on. If they pay the rents that are being asked, they will not be able to save, assuming that they are able to find a place to rent. The classic “catch 22”, except that they are middle class.

The situation being faced by the poor is far more daunting. While they do have some income, they do not have enough to get in the game. They at best live hand to mouth, and saving is out of the question. For some homeless men, even when they have money, they cannot find housing, since they are “homeless”, and landlords consider them too great a risk. This leaves them without hope.

For the homeless person, most of the opportunities for housing open to them are EXPLOTIVE, AND UNSAFE. They can move into a house with several of their “friends”, and expect that their belongings might be stolen or the landlord unreasonable. They can also expect that one of their “friends” will fail to pay the rent, or have a party to which the police will be called. A woman can expect that SEX will be part of the deal, or a man might be called on to partake in illegal activities. Most likely one or more of the people they live with will be drinking or using drugs in excess. If they do not wish this, they have to go to the shelters.

What does hope look like for the Homeless person?

I believe that hope is a “one brick” process. It has to be founded on baby steps that can be managed with the expectation that people will fail. There has to be capacity to catch them when they do to ensure the fall is not too hard, or too far. Housing the poor has to be about allowing them to achieve and get ahead within their limited means. Like the middle class family, the poor need to be able to build their lives one brick at a time. The bricks cannot be too big, or they will not be able to manage them.

One Brick is getting part time work, or some income however small.

One Brick is finding an affordable room to rent, in a safe place. A safe place, where they will not be exploited, or robbed. A safe place, where they know that they will not be evicted because someone else did not pay the rent. A safe place, no matter how small. A safe place, where they know that they can still make the rent if they loose their job. A safe place, where they know that someone will take notice, and care when they have a bad day. Ultimately a safe place is somewhere that they can belong.

And another brick. With belonging comes the next brick; accountability -- personal, and within the community. Accountability, because it matters what other people think, when they value the relationships they have. Ultimately belonging, and accountability come from being a part of a community.

How does belonging create community, especially for the marginalized? When a child steals a piece of candy, the parents do not evict the child, but rather address the behavior and its impact on the family. They might make the child return the candy, or perhaps the child will have to lose a privilege. That the child stole the candy is not a surprise – it is an indication that help is needed, not shunning. That the homeless person fails should be no surprise either. But like the child, their belonging should not be the issue. How do we support them when they fail, so that they can succeed next time is the issue.

Success of another brick

Failure reinforces failure. Success reinforces success, and this is the next brick. Homeless people need to be assisted to succeed. This requires investments in supports. It requires creating affordable rooms for rent, in places that can be staffed by people who understand and support them. It requires creating environments where relationships can happen with people like themselves, struggling with the same issues. They need to be in environments where they hold each other accountable. As with the child who stole candy, they need to learn how their actions impact those around, and how they risk losing relationships they value. It will be only by experiencing success at this level that most will be able to place the next brick, and the one after that, and the one after that, and if one brick is knocked out, know that the whole wall is not broken.

Ultimately, ending homelessness is in recognizing that all of us need to build our lives one brick at a time, and as the bricks get bigger, fewer and fewer of us are able to place them in the wall. Most of us get a little help along the way, but when the bricks get too big more help is required. The 19 year old moving out for the first time needs to be able to place the brick, in the same way that the homeless man rebuilding his life needs to be able to place the brick, as does the middle class family.

Submitted by John Rowland, Data System Coordinator, Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre

Photograph: Ian Britton
Courtesy of

Monday, May 14, 2007

Love and Gratitude at the Heart of Tzu Chi Benefit Concert

Saturday night, Roger Feria Jr. and The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Calgary Chapter (Tzu Chi) led by Commissioner Chuan-Chih Wu held a benefit concert for the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. One Sunday a month, the group has sponsored a buy-cook-serve dinner. Throughout the ten years of their service, along with the food and energy they bring, they have touched the hearts of clients and staff with joy and warm, loving smiles.

This is the first time the Tzu Chi has created a Benefit Concert on behalf of the Drop-In. I was confident this event would be a reflection of the people involved and the deep love they feel for all humankind.

What an amazing evening transpired from their efforts! It was an evening filled with music from the hearts of superb musicians. An with many gifts that reflected each performers love of humankind and the music that connects us.

There were eight performers, including one performer, John Harris, who is the Drop-In's resident classical guitarist. The 300+ people who attended were treated to an evening of Mozart, Bach and inspired jazz renditions of pieces such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Piano, flute, saxophone and Ghuzeng (ancient Chinese Zither) as well as a remarkable soprano – each performer offered their unique talent as they wove together a magical evening of classical and jazz favourites.

To open the evening, 12 members of the Tzu Chi Foundation gave a sign-language performance of two pieces of music, one in English, one in Chinese, that focused on two universal themes: Love and Gratitude. The lyrics of the first piece, The Spirit of Great Love, are a reflection of what Tzu Chi believe is possible for all human kind.

The Spirit of Great Love

There is no one in the world that I don’t love
There is no one in the world that I don’t trust
There is no one in the world that I can’t forgive
All the troubles, pain, and worries, just let go.

There is no one in the world that I don’t love
There is no one in the world that I don’t trust
There is no one in the world that I can’t forgive
May this great love fill the world through all of time.

In Gratitude, the 12 members of the cast beautifully reflected the deep and profound relevance of gratitude in Tzu Chi.


The gentle breeze slowly passes through the botanical garden
Bringing warmth to the flowers and trees
The Still-Thought Abode resounds prayers of gratitude.

Tzu-Chi is a world full of gratitude
Where everyone feels grateful for everything
Gratitude purifies the Tzu-Chi world
Where gratefulness is presented in all places at all times
May blessings be with the Still-thought Abode
Where foundation for kindness spreads throughout the world
Delighted to see harmony within the society
The world resounds prayers of gratitude.

In 'ordinary' communication, we use words to tell our stories and communicate ideas. Often, we don't realize the relevance and importance of the 93% of our communication that is non-verbal. In their performance, the Tzu Chi performers demonstrated that no matter the language, music can bridge the gap of hearing and feeling by touching the hearts of everyone.

Like the Tzu Chi signers on Saturday night who used 100% of their beings to communicate the universal story of love that resonates throughout humankind, at the core of the Drop-In is our belief in the dignity and magnificence of every human being. When someone has lost their way and is lying bruised and battered on the road of life, we listen from our hearts and share our strength and courage so that they can see the possibilities of their life beyond homelessness.

On Saturday night, a group of performers opened their hearts and let their talents pour out in support of the Drop-In. For those of us in the room, that out-pouring inspired us to cherish our unique gifts, voice and our talents and to share them graciously and lovingly.

As I watched and listened to the performers on Saturday night, my heart was lifted, and I felt part of the incredible possibilities of what can happen when we put aside our differences and celebrate what it is we share in common through the universal language of love: Music.


Thank you:

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Calgary Chapter
Roger Feria Jr., Piano
Roger G Feria, tenor Saxophone
Sherrie Ashworth, Soprano
Sean Clarke, Flute
Marissa Feria, Piano
John Harris, Guitar
Marc Houde, Piano
Vicky Su, Guzheng
Emily Westell, Violin
Chuan-Chih Wu, Artist
Reg Knelson, Artist
Bernice G, Artist

Your generosity of time, talent and energy raised $5,600 for the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, and lifted the spirits of everyone involved.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Them Homeless

People love to quote statistics when talking about the homeless population. I guess it helps us to make sense of people that we know nothing about. Oh, so half of them are working, huh? Well, I guess that's okay then. Somehow it makes it better when we know things like this. But the numbers don't really tell the whole story, do they? I mean, think about the community that you live in. Maybe you live in a house in the suburbs. I bet half of the people on your block are working. I'm sure that some people on your block suffer from addictions, some probably have a mental illness, too. Some have been abused and some are abusers. I'm sure that lots of people on your block have low self-esteem. I imagine some of them are lonely as well.

But this is not the story of your community, is it? And this is not how you would define your community. I wonder why people always use these types of parameters to define homeless people.

The thing is this: In general terms, most people who find themselves homeless are very much like people who live in homes. Weird, huh? Some of them are grumpy. Some are very nice. Some of them work, some don't. A few panhandle, most don't. Some have addictions, some like a beer after work. Others are not very good at volleyball. Some call their moms every night, while others write letters to their children. Some even fit into multiple categories. Yes, some are grumpy, have jobs, addictions, excel at volleyball, but never phone their moms. You see, they're people. Nothing is black and white.

I think the thing that gets me is the "they" mentality that many have about homeless people. When people ask me questions about my work, they often ask things like: What are they like? or Are they scary? And it's frustrating because when speaking of people that are homeless, we are not speaking of a cohesive unit that acts as one, but rather a very diverse community of all sorts of people--individuals--who are as different from one another as you and I. They are not "they". This may seem trivial, but the importance of understanding this is paramount to addressing the issues surrounding homelessness.

A quiet night last night. We slept 1073 people. And each of those 1073 people has a unique story to tell. Just like you or I. The only difference is they don't have homes.

Tim Gorman is a Night Supervisor