Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Tribute to Augie -- written by John R.

He had a gruff voice.

He growled at my kids, but he did not scare them.

For me this says it all. Augie was one of those gruff men, with a soft interior, and my children knew this instinctively. No matter how much he barked, they were not scared. He barked at them telling them to be careful, and then gave them his chair so they could play with the cameras. For my children he was one of the most important people in the Drop-In. There were sad when they found out he had passed away. [Augie passed away, Wednesday, April 23, 2008]

He was a man who was both differential to me out of respect, yet willing to assert his authority by calling me on my cell phone to remind me that I had a master key signed out, and had not returned it.

He always told me that he did not want “Alan on his case”, but I always knew that really it was because working security in the Drop-In was a matter of pride for him. He did his job to the best of his ability.

For those of us who have known Augie for a long time, we know that there are two sides to the man. He was a gentle giant; there is no doubt about that. But neither is there any doubt about the past that he worked to put behind him. I would be curious to hear from someone who knew the old Augie what he was like. I can imagine, but I will never know.

Augie always expressed gratitude to the people who gave him a chance to live differently than his past, especially a woman from Edmonton who gave him a job in a hotel. He spoke to me several times about this women (who’s name unfortunately I do not know) and how by giving him a job when no one else would when he got out of jail, she turned his life around.

I think in a similar way, the staff at C110 who listened to Augie as he struggled to build a life in Calgary, and then when the Drop-In gave him a job doing security on the construction site that became this building also gave Augie something important to those of us who are human.


I may be wrong, because I never heard Augie say this, but I think working security for the Drop-In was Augie’s way of making up for all the other stuff in his life. His way of contributing something good to this world.

Augie, thank you for showing my children what a kind caring person you were. Thank you for letting them play in your chair.

Submitted by: John R.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

His Guitar -- written by Nurse James

Written by: Nurse James

It’s late April, at 8:45PM and our lobby is packed. It is snowing outside and cold. Minus 8, with windchill, minus 13. It’s very busy at the Drop-In.

*Jesse*is playing his new guitar in the lobby on the first floor. He received it as a gift for staying sober.

He plays a good rendition of Johnny B. Goode, and then goes onto some other Drop-In favorites; House of the Rising Sun, Rambling Man. He starts his version of Wild Horses and a young man joins in to sing with him. Soon the two are really in sync and as Jesse plays, his new partner belts out a five-minute rap song about street life and coming together and living at the D.I.

The crowd is right into the song, lots of people clapping and whooping along to the five minutes of singing and rapping.

Jesse swings his guitar over his head and with his arms bent backwards and his guitar inverted, begins playing the song faster and faster. His partner sings and raps faster and faster along with him.

As the song winds down and comes to a close, many in the lobby are on their feet cheering and clapping. The song ends, Jesse takes a bow and embraces his rapper friend. Everyone is now standing and giving the two a standing ovation, including the staff who are present.

It is a happy time. I am glad to see that so many can find so much joy and comfort in the short impromptu concert. Happy that so many are enjoying themselves despite the fact that they have next to nothing. Happy to see that so many people, from so many varied backgrounds and ethnic groups are standing together as one to cheer on one of their own.

They own so little, yet they have so much to live for. So many little opportunities, yet so much love, joy and attention they have to give to each other.

The laughter and smiles coming from the clients in the crowd is a stark contrast from the dreary attitudes that are usually present on a cold blustery day.

This is one reason I cite when people ask, “Why do you work at the homeless shelter?” Sometimes, they even ask me why I choose to come here instead of working elsewhere?

Because of the people I tell them.

The people here are like nowhere else. The people here are so close, and so caring. They have so much fun with so few items and possessions.

The short but energetic jam session had me seeing hope, not despair, laughter, not sadness, and something that a lot of people in this world crave and need the most, a sense of family and belonging.

*Not his real name*

Written by: Nurse James

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hope for a better life

He was 53 the first time he tried crack. After a lifetime of sobriety, he still wonders today what made him do, what in retrospective, turned out to be a really bad idea. But, on that night, ten years ago, when a buddy came over to watch a movie and offered him a snort on his crack pipe, it seemed like not too bad an idea.

“I figured I had a strong foundation that proved I was not the ‘addict’ type,” he told me when he dropped by my office for a visit. “I’d never even tried marijuana. I didn’t drink and I’d always preached to my kids about the dangers of drugs. I figured it wouldn’t hurt me to try it, just once.”

That ‘just once’ led to a ten-year odyssey through drug abuse. “When my buddy was leaving that night, I gave him some money and asked him to get me some more. There wasn’t any question that I wasn’t going to smoke it again. I was hooked,” he said, shaking his head in dismay.

It didn’t take long for John to sell his welding truck and pawn everything he owned. In need of money for his addiction, when his supplier offered him the opportunity to run a crack house in the northern city was he was living, he quickly jumped at the offer.

“I didn’t look like your average crack dealer,” he said, his blue eyes twinkling. “I was 53. Slimmer in those days.” He pauses to pat his belly. “I was forty pounds lighter when I was using,” he adds before continuing to tell me about his crackhouse days.

“I ran a tight ship,” he says. “We were in an upscale area of the city. The Mercedes and BMW’s of my clients didn’t raise any eyebrows when they parked in front of the apartment building for fifteen minutes and then left. We only operated from 7pm to 7am, not the 24 hour stuff of flophouses. People came in. They bought. They left. Whatever was left over when the sun came up, me and my partner would smoke. We’d do that for 3 or 4 days and then one of us would crash. And the cycle would continue. My suppliers thought I was great. I always paid them first and on time. Never caused them any trouble.”

And then, about four years after beginning his journey into hell, the apartment was raided. “I was lucky. I didn’t happen to be there at the time,” he says. “So, when my supplier came to me and asked me what I was going to do, I told him I was getting out. Because of my age, the poor state of my health due to my heavy use and my history with the gang that supplied the drugs, they let me go.”

John came to Calgary and began the slow process of recovery. “It wasn’t a straight path,” he adds. “I went into a treatment centre and in 2002, when I got out, I hooked up with a younger woman who was also getting out of treatment. That’s a recipe for disaster. Two addicts, fresh out of treatment with no place to go.”

It’s one of the aspects of recovery that John finds difficult to understand. “We put people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs through treatment and then we make no provision for what they’re going to do, or where they’re going to go once they’re out.”

John and his lady-friend ended up in a low income apartment building in the inner city. “We both had jobs but the building was rife with lots of opportunity to buy drugs. We were too fresh into recovery and couldn’t resist the lure of using together. But just on weekends,” he adds with a chuckle. “During the week, we’d both work to pay for the drugs we’d do on weekends. Eventually, weekends became longer and workdays became fewer and suddenly, we were both back out on the street.”

They ended up at the Drop-In, homeless and addicted once again. “The staff and counselors did so much for me,” he says. “Eventually, I made it up to the fifth floor into transitional housing and Amanda and Darce (Drop-In counselors) really got me thinking about my life and what I wanted to do and how I was going to get there.”

He knew he was getting too old for street life. “I was committed to change and knew that for it to really happen, I had to break the cycle of my drug usage. The first step for me was to get out of the downtown core completely so that I could get away from my old haunts and the people I used with.”

John found a new job and took shared accommodation in a suburb as he began the process of cleaning himself up again. A year later, with sobriety firmly in place in his mind and heart, John has his own apartment in the inner city and has worked continuously for the same employer.

“I don’t have a lot,” he says, “but I appreciate what I’ve got so much today because I know what I’ve got to lose if I fall off the wagon again.”

To keep himself on track, he volunteers his time with the Nursing and Social Work Programs at the U of Calgary and the SafeWorks nurses at the Drop-In.

“I love working with the students,” he says, a big smile on his face. “I take them around, show them the places I used to be and where addicts still hangout. It helps me stay sober because it reminds me of where I never want to be again.”

He admits he never gives an addict money. But, he will share his story about how he beat his own addiction. “I want them to know there is hope for a better life than being an addict.”