Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Breaking of a Man. Written by John R.

Statistics are supposed to be dry, but sometimes they make me cry.

It is hard to see the breaking of a man laid out by statistics. To see a man who is trying to do it all right; pay the mortgage, pay his bills, go to work and do everything he is supposed to do be reduced to nothing is heart breaking.

He first stayed two nights in 2005. He was sober.

He does not appear again for almost a year and a half, but now he is drinking heavily. He goes through periods where he seems to be trying very hard, and is always sober, but then things fall apart. He is hospitalized with a life-threatening infection and almost dies, but is able to make a full recovery.

Our records show he is staying with us more often, drinking less, but still struggling with the stress of meeting his financial obligations, and keeping his employment while living in a shelter. He might be offered a transfer with his work, but not to where he really wants to go; back home to the place that he has been paying the mortgage on for all these years.

When I see statistics like this, I want to cry, and then I get angry that we as Canadians allow this to be.

Written by: John R., Manager of Data Systems

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Love, fellowship, and support at the DI Written by Roger G.

I have at times prided myself on my work with clients at the DI, believing that I was a good listener and sometimes a useful guide. But one day this summer I was humbled to stand and watch tough love at work.

For a few months, we had two guys on 4th floor who I'll call Billy and Bobby. They were "good ol' boys", Maritimers both, and gave me some interesting challenges during their stay with us; never before or since have I had to put a lid on a game of Frisbee taking place in the hallway, for instance. One evening a young client from 3rd floor who I'll call Sam came to the door and told me he wanted to see Bobby. I asked him to wait at the stairwell door (we discourage visiting between the sleeping floors, and only 4th floor clients are allowed on the 4th floor) while I went and found Bobby, as usual, playing guitar on the smoke deck. I told him about his visitor, watched him meet Sam at the door, and got busy with something else for a couple of minutes.
Next thing I knew their voices were getting louder, meaning that I'd need to step in on behalf of dozens of sleeping men in hearing distance of the argument.

"We can see it in your face," was the only phrase I caught.

Billy joined in at this point, ushering the other two out the door and into the stairwell, waving a sign to me that they would take this outside and that he and Bobby would return shortly.

I followed even so, and caught the word "dope" as their voices receded down the stairs. Billy returned first, and got more honest with me than he ever had.

"I'm a crackhead, Roger," he said. "Sam is the one who helped me and Bobby clean up three weeks ago. Now he's having a rough time, and he gave Bobby his money today so that he wouldn't go out and spend it on dope. Now he wants it back, and we're not giving it to him."

Almost on cue, Bobby came back in the door with a determined Sam following close behind, and I watched as Billy and Bobby stood their ground with their friend; "No, we won't! We care about you; we love you, man."

The DI has a pretty firm policy against debt collecting in the building, not to mention keeping peace and quiet on the sleeping floors, giving me the authority to inform Sam that he must go back downstairs as I called on the radio for staff backup to make sure he would do so. In less than a minute Sam was facing Billy, Bobby, and 4 staff on the stairs, but he took only a few reluctant steps until I threatened that I'd call CPS if necessary. Finally he walked with Bobby and me down to the first floor and made no attempt to follow us back upstairs again when we left him, leaving me to reflect on how ignorant I am of what happens at the DI. But I also found myself feeling good about my job, knowing that there must be far more tough love happening all around me than I had ever imagined.

Billy and Bobby got their own place and moved out in August. I still see Sam in the building; he says "Hello", and shakes my hand. And I remember that, while there's a time and a place for a floor supervisor to speak up, when love and true strength are at work the smartest thing I can do is shut up and get out the way.

Written by: Roger G.
Night supervisor

Friday, October 10, 2008

If not me, who?

It is mid afternoon. I am walking on 4th Ave. back towards the DI.

On the avenue traffic speeds towards me, racing to reach the safety of the downtown core. It comes in spits and spurts, regulated by the light at the end of the bridge that connects this part of the city to the northern shore. I walk. Traffic stops coming. The avenue is empty.

Ahead, I spy a group of people sitting on a small knoll. Two men stand facing eachother. One tall. The other, hunched over. His grey jacket slumped back off his shoulders, his hands forward, palms facing up. The group is watching the duo. Faces turned up in anticipation of the drama about to unfold. Drama I am not prepared for.

Suddenly, the taller man flips the younger man to the ground. He laughs. Says something I can't hear to the crowd. I want to hear nervousness in their responsive laughter. I could be imagining it. The taller man leans over the body of the man he's flipped to the ground. He tears the earphones from his head. Rips the CD player from the pocket of his jacket. He looks around. No traffic. He musn't see me. Or, if he does, he doesn't see the threat in a lone woman walking down the street. He stands up. Lifts his boot and stomps it on the head of the man on the ground. He steps over the man and sits down with the group.

I am stunned. Not quite sure I actually saw what I saw. I am alone. One person. A group of four or six sitting on the hillside. I know the tall man is the dealer. I know the others are his clients. I know I need to do something. I don't know what. I am at risk. I keep walking. I look for a police cruiser. There's normally one in the neighbourhood. Around the corner, at the side of the hotel, I see one.

I walk over. The officer knows me. I tell him what I witnessed. "I'll check it out right away," he says. With a wave and a parting, "I know where to find you if I need you," he flips on his lights and spins around, turns the corner towards the group. I walk back to my office.

Behind me, I see the cruiser in front of the tableau of people sitting on the hill. I know nothing will happen. I know the man whose head was stomped won't say anything. I know the group will not reveal the perpetrator of the drama that unfolded. I know all this and still I want it to be different. I want them to stop doing what they're doing to kill themselves. To stop hurting eachother. To stop giving up on themselves and life and living. I want them to awaken.

I have no questions today. No answers. I know I cannot change the world. I know I cannot stop anyone from speeding down the wrong way on a one way street to destiny. I can only do what I can do. I can only give my best. Do my best. Be my best. My best is good enough.

And still my heart cries. My soul weeps for those who have lost their way and find themselves in the hellhole of an addiction, living on the street, living by their wits, living off the drugs dealers peddle that keep them from turning away from street life back to mainstreet.

Yesterday, in the self-esteem course I was teaching one of the students asked me after we had talked about attitude and the benefits of staying your course to reach your goals, "But how do I do that when I get out of rehab and have to come back here? How do I quit using when everyone around me wants me to keep being who I was and keeps encouraging me to go back to my old ways?"

"Do you want to go back to your old ways?" I asked him.

His response was fast and vehement. "No."

"I don't have the answer for you," I told him. "All I can tell you is, the choice is yours. If getting out of here is your goal, measure every step you take against your goal. Does it take you closer, or further away from where you want to be?"

"Yeah, but these guys are my friends. When I won't go partying with them, they make fun of me, they even pick fights with me."

"Friends don't hold you back from attaining your goals, but an addict will always try to keep you from breaking free," I told him. "If you break free then that means they could too. And what addict wants to know they can get away from the thing they use to ease their pain? You are an inspiration, and a curse. In you, they see the possibilities. And possibilities are scary."

"So, I could be a role model?" he asked. (We had spoken of the kind of man he wanted to be earlier. A role model was key.)

"You are their role model. You are their light, their hope, their possibility. They're afraid of what you're doing but they want what you're doing to be possible for them. Facing their desire, however, is scary. What you've done is the unknown. The dealers got what they know and he knows how to keep them using."

"Yeah," he agreed. "The last thing the dealer wants is to lose another customer."

Another student piped up. "Who cares. There'll always be another one after the last one."

The reality of addictions. "There'll always be another one after the last one."

For that young man lying on the hillside, there is always hope he will awaken. As long as he stays alive. For the dealer, there is always hope he will awaken too. As long as he stays alive. Perhaps one day he will face the consequences of his actions. Perhaps one day, someone will do to him what he did to another human being and he will awaken from the darkness.

I don't know. I do know that to give up on those who are lost is to give into the darkness of their despair. To give up would be to give over control to those who would want to deal with impunity in the underbelly of someone's addiction. To give up would be impossible.

I am proud of the work I do. I am proud of the people I work with. The courageous souls who will not give up on anyone, even when that person has given up on themselves. I am grateful for the work I do. I am grateful there are those who will not give up, who continue to fight for the oppressed all over this world. I am grateful for the officer who so quickly responded to my call. I am grateful for the students in my class yesterday who are courageously moving forward, even while they struggle to make sense of the world around them. I am grateful I live in a world where possibilities exist, where spirits can awaken to the beauty of our human condition, where ever they are in the world today.

I am grateful I can make a difference.

If not me, who? If not now, when?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Because of My Uniqueness. (By Jerry)

Jerry wrote the following as part of an assignment in a job-readiness training program he was taking here at the DI. These are his experiences, his words, his beliefs.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author only.

Hello, I have been asked to relate an experience of “discrimination or prejudice towards me based on my appearance or living situation”, and how I reacted to it. There are two situations that come to mind so I pass them both along.

It was a warm sunny May day about eight years ago. Although it was warm, the wind was blowing and thus messing with my otherwise well tended tresses. I was not having a particularly good day, and really just wanted to be left alone and pursue my own interests.

I was heading east on 7 ave. (between 9 and 8 street), when from a group of midlevel office people that were sitting on the steps of an office building I hear, “ Hey look, Encino Man.”

It took me two or three steps to fully register what the “gentleman” had said about me, but when realization did hit, I stopped, turned around, walked back to the group, stopping in front of the quipster.

In my most restrained manner I said, “ I’m sure that you’re parents taught you better manners than that.”

Whereupon he said, “ Oh sorry, should I have said Mr. Encino Man?”

I am sorry to say, I slapped him, (ok, maybe I’m not sorry), told him that “his grandparents should have done THAT more often”, and walked away.

This may not sound like a large transgression in the big picture of life, but then you have to understand just how often in a month, week, or day that something like this or worse happens. How often does a row of vehicles at a stop and go light hit their power locks as you are walking down the sidewalk?? As if I’m going to carjack them while they’re stuck in traffic!! How about the mother with stroller and toddler, who crosses the street rather than walk by you. Let us not forget about the two little old ladies at the department store who purposefully go through the door eight feet away even though you were holding the door right in front of them for them. This is the type of attitude I have to deal with day in and day out.

The following is another specific example of unprofessional behavior. It might be noted also that it is not always in ones best interest to retaliate against prejudice. This incident happened in the middle of winter. At one time in the not too distant past, the drug trade was driven across the river and into the environs of the neighborhood coffee shop.

I was being driven back downtown about six in the morning intending to be dropped at the coffee shop. Upon pulling into the parking lot, it was evident that the police were rousting the nefarious element hanging about. As to be expected, the car was surrounded, our identification checked and we were freed to leave.

Rather than go to the coffee shop, (too much action about), I figured to grab my coffee at the Esso station. On the walk across the lot it came to my attention that the police had a cruiser in the south west corner of the lot with an officer announcing through the PA system that, “ You crack heads stay on that side of the bridge. You have no business here. Go back to your side of the bridge.”

This was being repeated over and over by the officers. It should be made clear that the people he was talking to were the fellows who work everyday, and are picked up by their rides or bosses at the coffee shop. The majority of them weren’t druggies at all!!!

Though I was miffed, I made my way without incident into the station and poured my coffee. While waiting to pay, one of the officers that checked my friends and me came in. I said to him, “I understand the concern of the businesses and neighborhood about the criminal element and activity in the area. But is it really necessary to group everyone under one umbrella?”

The officer understood that I was talking not only about myself, but also about the people just wanting to come over to conduct their normal daily routine before going to work. The reply given to me was, “ If you look like them, talk with them and act like them, then you must be one of them.”

The camel screamed, its back was finally broken.

In a state of controlled cold fury I looked directly into the officers eyes and said, “Using that premise, looking at you I should see a guy who leaves his family at home on a Saturday afternoon, goes to a fellow officer’s house for a barbeque, drinks his face off all afternoon, jumps into his sports ute all f'd up, drives the wrong way down 22X, has a head on with another vehicle killing all four occupants two of whom were children. It’s a good thing I’m not that cynical yet.”

(The incident I have just described DID happen with an officer of CPS. The outcome was that the officer was suspended with pay pending his successful completion of a twenty-eight day treatment program whereupon he was reinstated to the force.) The officer immediately left the store, which is when I realized that I had made my point too well. When I left the store, the officers were waiting for me. They called me to their car, I was apologizing as I was nearing them. Fortunate for me these officers were not blinded by their biases. I received a dressing down, but was allowed to leave unscathed.

These are just a couple of examples of the type of bias and prejudice that I endure on nearly a daily basis. Generally I accept people’s comments, actions, and behaviors, it was not always this way. Often I get asked why I don’t change the way I look. To this I always say, “What does it matter how I look compared to who I am.” Richard Nixon was clean cut, Adolph Hitler was groomed and brushed, yet they were both less than nice people. It is nice to know that not all people have phobias about people like me.

There are times where because of my uniqueness I am hounded.

I guess I’ve got to accept the good with the bad.