It is a big day today. For the past week, a group of artists from This is My City Art Society, have been painting and affixing large-sized photographs of the community to the exterior walls of an old rooming house that the Calgary Homeless Foundation purchased last year. In May, the tired old house will be demolished to make way for 30 units of affordable housing for formerly homeless individuals. it is part of the RESOLVE Campaign and the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s housing first initiatives.
And first, before it comes down, we are giving it a facelift. Dressing it up for the kick-off party that will be happening today in celebration of the past and future of what is possible when we share a vision of ending homelessness.
Friday, one of my co-conspirators in The Basement Bombshells Art Collective, Tamara, joined me for the day to paint alongside the other artists at the house. It was an awesome day. We laughed. Share stories. Ideas. Inspiration. We painted mailboxes and window frames. Doorsteps and door frames and windows and trees. As people walked by, they stopped to chat. About the house. Our work and also to share their thoughts on the need for affordable housing in our city and their support of the project.
It is not always the case. That people support affordable housing in their neighbourhood. Sometimes, fear of the unknown, fear of what they think they do know, fear of what they believe will happen to their community if ‘those people’ become their neighbours, diminishes people’s capacity to see the benefits of building homes for people experiencing homelessness.
They think their safety will be compromised, their property values diminished, and maybe even, their parks taken over by ‘those people’.
It is ‘those people’, that gets me working harder to find common ground.
When we speak in us and them, we separate ourselves from our humanity. We put a rift in our human condition. Because, ‘those people’ are first and foremost, people. They are human, just like you and me. What’s different for them is the condition of their lives, not their human being.
Yes, for many, addictions take a toll. Poverty extracts its price. And lack of social networks, lack of support, of self-resilience, impact each person’s capacity to weather life’s ups and downs.
Once housed, and as long as individuals and families receive appropriate supports, the factors that cause such dismay and disruption in their life, and in community, begin to abate. Addicts begin to see the path more clearly, people with mental health issues begin to find themselves again, and lives begin to change.
It’s not easy. It is not a straight path. But getting out of emergency shelters or leaving sleeping rough outside and moving into stable housing makes a difference.
Just as the decay to the house we were painting didn’t happen over-night, the tearing apart of someone’s life doesn’t happen over night. It is a slow process of slippage, of one agonizing step after the other away from what people want towards that place they never imagined they would end up, homeless.
In my almost ten years of working in this sector, I am always in awe of the desire of the human spirit to survive. It is strong.
Working in a shelter where over 1,000 people a day come through its doors, I was always amazed how fiercely people fought to stay alive, to keep their space on earth filled with their presence.
It is humbling and inspiring.
We are born to live. And even when all the odds are stacked against us, even when the only thing we have left to hold onto is our story of how we got to be in this space, we still fight to keep it. We still fight to stay alive.
This afternoon, dignitaries and community members will stand together to mark the beginning of the end of homelessness for 30 Calgarians. It will take hard work, commitment and time to build their new homes.
But it will happen.
And in its happening, the past will be set to rest so that the future can be built on solid ground today.
This past week, we transformed the exterior of an old house. Today, we will come together as a community to celebrate its history, commemorate its past and share our dreams for its future.
If you are in Calgary, please do drop by anytime between 2 – 8 pm to say hello, place a wish in the Wishing Tree and to view what can happen when people come together to transform a house, and homelessness. Amazing things happen when people stand together to make room for change.
This is Where I Belong
A community building event to celebrate the past and prepare for the new.
222 15th Ave SW
2 – 8pm.
Come and view the art, place wishes in the Wishing Tree and enjoy community.
Thank you to The Calgary Foundation, CHF and RESOLVE Campaign member Cedarglen Living for supporting this important initiative.