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.

Friday, August 10, 2007

No fairy tale ending on the street

In memory of those who did not make it out alive.

I stood on the street, dressed in a skimpy black camisole, a mini skirt barely covering my lace-clad legs. I tottered on six-inch stiletto’s that made my calves ache just thinking about them. Their thin soles couldn’t keep my feet from feeling the harshness of the cold hard concrete. Even worse, I wasn’t sure they’d be much help if I had to run. I could barely stand.

The night was crystal clear. Above me, a yellow slit of moon sliced through night’s dark blanket strewn with stars sparkling like diamonds scattered on black velvet. It was a night to wax poetic, but I was cold and frightened. I was a forty something would-be hooker standing in the night. I wanted to go home.

When a city police Staff Sergeant who had assisted me in my research into teenage prostitution suggested I stand on the street, it sounded like a good idea. I didn’t know any better.

“You need to know what it’s like to go eye ball to eye ball with a John,” he said. “It’s the only way you’ll understand what these girls endure.”

My ego immediately went on alert as I blurted out the first thing that came to mind when faced with the prospect of putting my body up for sale on the dark side of the street.

“What if nobody stops?” I asked. Mine was not the prime age for a street worker. I didn’t need a nameless john to tell me I was undesirable goods, past my ‘best before’ date.

Don,* one of the two detectives who had been shepherding me around over the course of my research quickly responded, “Don’t worry. They’ll stop for anything.”

How reassuring. I felt better already.

And so, there I was, several nights later, dressed to kill, or at least to be bought, standing on a street corner, waiting for a man. On either side of me, scantily clad girls stood in pools of incandescent streetlight. They held their smiles in place and watched the trolling cars like Barbie dolls lined up in a dollhouse, waiting for Ken to ride in and sweep them away. Further down the road, Don and his partner Jeff watched over me from within the darkness of their unmarked police cars. I prayed I wouldn’t need their help. If I did, I prayed they’d hear me calling before it was too late.

The girls knew why I was there and welcomed my presence as if I was a sorority sister visiting from out of town. During the previous months I had spent countless hours talking with them, drinking coffee, as they learned to trust me.

“I’m not here to judge you,” I told them. “I’m here to understand.”

There was one girl, ‘Tiffany’ whose response jarred me. “Why would anyone want to understand,” she said. “Doesn’t make sense.”

I wasn’t sure if she meant ‘trying to understand’ or being a ‘ho’.

“Both,” she replied. “You can’t understand because you’ve never been here. You don’t know what it’s like to do this every night and to know there’s never going to be anything else for you to do. Doin’ this,” and she swept her arm to encompass her well-endowed attributes stuffed into a tight chemise, “doesn’t make sense ‘cause you know you’re gonna’ die and nobody cares.”

Tiffany wanted to go to hairdressing school. She wanted to ‘get out’, but was lost in the abyss that opens up the moment you sell your body that very first time, and get sucked into the pain of being a ‘ho’. She was too frightened; too overwhelmed by the circumstances of her life to believe she could crawl out to the other side of the street. She didn’t believe anyone would be there when she got there. She’d turned her first trick at 14. At 18, she was a seasoned pro. All the choices in her young life had led her to this place of no other option but to ‘keep doin’ what I’m doin’, because, as one 17 year-old girl said, “It’s all I’m good for."

It was a refrain I had heard often from these children in women’s bodies doing work no mother’s child should have to do.

It was a terrible life, but for most of them, it was the only life they knew.

That night, I did go eyeball to eyeball with a john, with many of them in fact. And, it hurt.

I stood on the street as the cars circled. Around and around the block. Slowly. Methodically inspecting the flesh exposed in the night. I didn’t want to display my wares. I stood, my ice-cold hands clutching my borrowed fur coat tightly around my neck, hiding my scantily clad body from preying eyes. I avoided making eye contact with the johns driving by. I avoided doing anything that might make them stop.

But it didn’t matter. A small dark blue hatchback slid to a stop at the curb in front of me. A tall, lanky blonde man sat in the driver’s seat. He leaned over to look at me through the passenger window and motioned me over. I tottered on my stilettos towards the door. He rolled down the window. I smiled nervously. Leaned into the open window and said, “Hi.”

“Nice night,” he replied.

I glanced nervously around. My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember any of the lines the detectives or the girls had told me to use. Except one. My ‘get out of trouble’ line that Don and Jeff had told me to use if I felt at risk. Who were they kidding? Just standing there put me at risk.

I looked the man in his piercing blue eyes. “There are too many cops out tonight,” I said, my right arm vaguely gesturing to the cars driving along the street. “I’ll meet you down the alley around the corner.”

The man didn’t question my comment. He nodded. Agreed to meet me and started to pull away as I stepped back from the curb. My mind was racing. I felt stupid. Embarrassed. Frustrated. I’d forgotten everything I’d been taught about what to say and do. And now, I’d blown my first real chance to talk to a john.

Knowing I would have to get into Ron’s car while the john waited aimlessly for me to appear, I waited for him to drive away before beating my retreat.

He stopped. Honked his horn. Leaned over and opened the passenger door.

Did he want me to get in? That was not on my agenda. Don and Jeff had been adamant. Under no circumstances was I to get into the john’s car. No matter what, I was to stand my ground on the curb.

I walked towards the open door.

“Just so I know I’m not wasting my time, can I see what you’ve got beneath your coat?” he asked.

I almost laughed. I wanted to cry.

I was still gripping my collar tightly. Surprised, not sure what to do, I opened my coat and displayed my wares.

The man smiled. “See you around the corner,” he said as he pulled the door closed and drove off.
I stood there, momentarily stunned. Should I have said, ‘Thank you’?

Quickly, I walked back down the street to Don’s car. He was laughing at me when I got in. Even though I wasn’t wired, he had a pretty clear idea of the situation.

“I was wondering if you were ever going to open your coat,” he said as I climbed into the passenger’s seat and slammed the door shut.

“I forgot everything,” I wailed. “All I could remember was my getaway line.”

Don laughed. “Don’t worry about it. The guy will wait. Figure you’re not turning up, or got another offer and he’ll move on.”

Sure enough, within a few minutes, the dark blue car drove slowly around the block. Once. Twice. Three times. And then he disappeared.

After ten minutes, Don gave the all clear for me to ‘get back out there’.

Reluctantly, I left the safe confines of his car and moved back to my corner.

I felt like a piece of meat. The cars rolled slowly by. The men inspecting the girls. The girls luring them to stop. Beside me, girls got in and out of cars with the regularity of a Swiss watch. They’d be gone twenty minutes; the car would return, they’d step out, reclaim their place in the night and do it all over again.

A car rolled up. A baby-seat in the back. The driver motioned me over. I bent down into the open window, remembering to let go of my grip upon my coat.

“You looking for some fun?” I asked in my most alluring voice.

The man smiled nervously.


I looked pointedly at the baby seat. Stepped back from the open window. Straightened up and said, “No thanks. I’ve changed my mind.”

He drove off in search of another girl.

And then, the dark blue hatchback reappeared. The driver looked at me as he drove past. He pulled around the corner. Stopped the car. Got out and walked towards me.

I felt trapped. Cornered. No one had prepared me for a john getting out of his car.

He walked towards me, his hands held open, palms up. “I don’t get it. You didn’t turn up.”

I wanted to run. To reply, “You don’t get it? Ha! I don’t get it. You’re a young, good-looking man. You wear a wedding ring and you’re down here? What is it you don’t get?” But I didn’t dare.

Instead. I improvised. I stood my ground and replied, as confidently as I could. “I changed my mind.”

“Why? Am I too young?”

Pimps don’t like their girls to take on younger guys. They seldom pay up and are more likely to rough up the girls.

“Yeah. That’s it.”

His hands flew up into the air. “I’m twenty-six.”

“Well, my man says you’re too young.”

That stopped him.

He turned around without a word and walked back to his car. No john will mess with a pimp. It just isn’t worth it.

It was a very long night. Eventually, cold, disheartened, tired; I walked back to Ron’s car and told him I’d had enough. I couldn’t take any more.

We stopped for coffee at a Tim Horton’s and Don and Jeff asked me my impressions. I started to cry.

“It was hell,” I said. “Nothing could prepare me for this.”

That night, I didn’t have to perform any sexual acts. I didn’t have to step off the security of the concrete to get into a stranger’s car. I didn’t have to indulge in sexually charged conversation to rev up a john’s libido as he turned down a darkened alley and shut off the headlights so that the real business could begin. My night didn’t include grimy money exchanging hands, headlights slicing the night as the car started up and two strangers drove silently back to where it all began so that it could continue on with the next one and the next one and the next one.

It was still hell.

But, when my night ended, it was over for me. I was lucky. I could go home.

For the girls left standing in the dark, there is no end to the night. They are hooked. Some on drugs that quiet the pain of knowing too many men called john who call them ‘ho’. Others are simply hooked on the pain of believing, they are powerless. There is no hope for change. This is all they deserve.

I left the street that night, sadder, colder and a lot humbler. I turned my back on the darkness, got into my car and drove home, tears streaming down my face. I opened my front door, stepped across the threshold and quietly walked into my daughters’ bedrooms. They were safe in their beds. I watched them in their sleep and imagined their dreams filled with fairytale castles and happily ever afters. I imagined their futures, bright with the promise of their lives today and an unshakable belief in the sunrise tomorrow.

In the night, the moon has turned full circle. Its golden orb waxed then waned. My daughters sleep, protected from the chill of the night. Somewhere out there in the dark of the city, a child stands. She waits. Her Prince Charming arrives. Not on a white stallion but driving a blue four-door sedan, baby seat in the back. His license plate reads, "BEST DAD." She leans over, exposes her breasts. His hands grip the steering wheel. He feels a tightening in his groin. They agree on a price. She opens the car door. Momentarily she stops and stares up at the moon. There are no fairytale endings on the street, only survival. She gets into the car and they drive away.

*All names are fictitious

Thursday, August 02, 2007

First impressions lead to a memorable experience

By Charlotte Stokes, Summer Student, Public Relations Department

Yesterday, Doris a volunteer in the kitchen at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre noticed I was wearing a wool sweater.

“Do you like wool sweaters?” she asked.

“I do,” I replied not thinking any more about her question.

Today she showed up with a bag of wool sweaters for me that she doesn’t wear anymore. This generous and selfless act is a perfect example of the character of the staff and volunteers at the Drop-In.

I started working at the Drop-In in May of this year. My position as a summer student is “Public Relations and Resource Development Assistant.” As much as my job does entail that, it also involves so much more. I consider this to have been a great opportunity working here. Not only did I get to take part in an exciting summer job, I got to see what the Drop-In is really about.

Now I’ll admit, I had never been to the Drop In before this summer job experience, and it wasn’t really at the top of my list of things to do either. I am sure that I was naïve and thought what the majority of Calgary’s population thought: the Drop-In is just a place where ‘the homeless’ can come and sleep.

I was so wrong. On my first day, Louise Gallagher, head of Public Relations here at the Drop-In, took me on a tour of the entire facility. I was amazed to learn about the amount of meals that the kitchen serves each day, and the security in the building that keeps clients, volunteers and staff alike safe. I was in awe of the vast amount of programs that the Centre provides for its clients, the clothing store and its efficient ability to organize, the opportunities that the Centre provides for clients who are looking for employment. I remember feeling educated, impressed, and most of all touched during this tour.

One of my favorite parts of my job is watching the people I give tours to react with the same awed faces that I had the first time I took the tour. Tours of the Drop-In are important. They provide a way to show people of Calgary what the Drop-In is doing to improve the quality of life of people less fortunate than them.

I can’t say that having the opportunity to work at the Drop-In this summer changed my perspective on homelessness, but I can say that it gave me one. Coming into this job, I can honestly say that I didn’t have a large knowledge base on homelessness. With that first step in my learning experience, I’ve got a whole new perspective.

Early in the summer I had an opportunity to attend a meeting for the planning of Homeless Awareness Week. This was a huge eye opener as well as another step in my learning experience. I had never realized that there were so many organizations working with the same objective: to improve the quality of life for today’s homeless population. I was amazed at the compassion and extreme concern of the members of this organization. I don’t think I ever realized that so many people had made careers based around helping the homeless. I always thought of “helping the homeless” as a volunteer task. This just goes to show that if you are passionate about anything, in this case, helping as much as you can, you can make a career out of it. These organizations cannot be ignored. Power in numbers prevails in this case, and by the strong numbers of people creating awareness on homelessness, I really believe that the current state can only get better.

Another aspect of my job involved writing for the Drop-In’s seasonal newsletter. This task entailed interviewing staff, volunteers and clients of the Drop-In. I got to interview John (I have used fictional names for clients), a client who was formerly in accounting who bravely bared his soul to me, telling me about his journey that eventually ended him up at the Drop-In. I was given the privilege of talking to friends of a Drop-In client who had passed away, leaving his artist’s legacy behind. I was given a run down of everyday activity for the Drop-In’s Registered Nurse, learning from him about his unique approach to the profession and the clients.

There’s been something that’s touched me every day during my time here. One day Louise appeared in my office with an elderly man named Vic. Vic is a volunteer, and his intention was to come in once a week and sing for the clients. Vic set up his music stand in a small corner in the day area on the second floor. He sang old songs and hymns with all of his heart and a voice that was powerful and passionate. Vic continued for an hour no matter the small audience that he had collected or even some of the heckling that occurred. After he was done singing I took Vic on a tour of the Drop In, and he said to me “I can tell that I am getting through to a couple of them, and that’s all that is important.” It is kindness and concern like this that makes the Drop-In the unique place that it is.

Earlier on in the summer, Louise had told me about a young girl named Tamara who was making and selling jewelry so that she could donate her profits to the Drop-In. I was immediately impressed by the drive of this girl, only 12 years old, and her desire to help. I got to interview Tamara as well as her mother on the phone, and then got to write an article on this young philanthropist. Imagine my excitement a couple of weeks later when I got to give them a tour! I met this 12 year old girl, clearly so mature and so selfless for her age. Tamara and her mother were both extremely impressed by the Drop-In, but not as impressed as I was with the compassionate nature and drive to make a difference that they both possess. On the tour, we walked by the multi-purpose room with the sign, “Dedicated to Mother Teresa” over the entrance. Tamara and her mother told me about the Mother Teresa quote that they live by: “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

This inspiring quote by Mother Teresa really proves to be true when I look around the Drop-In. Everyone here is doing small things; whether it be the organizing of an art program, or going out of their way to check up on a client’s health. All of these actions are all part of the bigger picture, the Drop-In. When these small acts come together with the overriding compassion evident at the Drop-In, a difference can really be made in the face of today’s homelessness.