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?