A good day for community building

We planted flowers yesterday. We raked the lawn, tidied the hedges, swept the walk and laughed and joked and connected as a team and a community.

We were at one of the buildings owned by the Calgary Homeless Foundation to help out with spring cleaning. It was fun and fulfilling and, it was a break from ‘the office’.

And when we finished, we went to a local pub for a late lunch and laughed and joked and shared in the harmony of having spent some time outside working together.

A year ago, this was a problem location. The neighbours were up in arms. A group of citizens were banding together calling for the shutting down of the Foundation’s housing first programs in their neighbourhood.

We had meetings and talks and emails and phone calls. We worked together; the agency that manages the programming in the building and works with the tenants, all of whom have long-term lived experience of homelessness; the police who respond to calls and were concerned by the high level of calls from the building. We worked with the community, the businesses in the area and the Alderman’s office to find a path to common ground, to that place where the label ‘homeless’ doesn’t equal ‘criminal’, undesirable or any host of other names we throw at people whose lives we do not understand and whose condition often scares us.

This was our second year of planting flowers and gardening at the building. No one came out to help last year. No one came out to chat.

Yesterday, one of the tenants came out and helped us garden.

Yesterday, a woman sat on the front steps and shared snippets of her journey.

Yesterday, a woman chatted from her balcony and told us how pretty the flowers looked. Another man chatted from his balcony and eventually came down to chat some more and have his picture taken.

And as I was leaving, another man called out to me from behind his screen door. “Didn’t you use to work at a shelter?” he asked.

“I did,” I told him.

“I remember you,” he said. And then he shared what it was like to be housed. To have a home. To have a place to call his own. “It’s hard,” he said. “I don’t always remember how to be here.” and then, he laughed. A shy, quiet laugh. There was no nervousness in his laugh. No trying to hide some unnamed discomfort. It was an honest commentary on his situation. “It sure is better than living in a shelter and on the streets,” he added.

Later, at lunch, I chatted with the restaurant manager with whom the managing agency from the building and I had met last spring to talk about his concerns about the building and its tenants. “It’s been quiet since we met,” he said. “The agency has done a fantastic job of dealing with our issues.”

It is always the challenge of this work. Our perceptions. Our fears. Our misconceptions interfere with seeing there is a path to common ground. There is a way to live together in harmony. It may not be ‘normal’, but it can be better than living on separate sides of the equation, fighting each other for our right to stand our ground.

We say, not in my backyard, in the hopes that by declaring our sacred ground, we will not have to step across the line to see the view from someone else’s perspective. We hope that by holding onto our fears, we will not have to drop our guard to acknowledge that we each have a right to find our way home, no matter our condition.

To find common ground, we must let down our guard.

Yesterday, I worked alongside my team on the ground around a building that houses formerly homeless Calgarians.

It was a good day for community building.


9 thoughts on “A good day for community building

  1. What a great day on so many levels! You are impacting the lives of so many people Louise.
    This is awesome!
    I can feel the uplifted spirits from yesterday 🙂
    Val x


  2. I wish i really was this age and I met you earlier in life. You are an inspiration. I am sure that you inspire many young people to follow in your footsteps hearing your stories. You make me want to be better.


  3. Nicely done, Louise. This is very inspiring. We have a fear of homeless and a sense that we ‘can’t help’ as one. But here you’ve shown us that we can, as a community. I recently saw a short video on a social experiment where people posed as homeless on the street and their family member walked right past them…it was a set up but it was effective in showing how invisible people on the street are and how we would rather look away. It inspired a post that I wrote but haven’t published yet.


  4. Hopefully, next year, more tenants will feel confident enough to join you in the ‘community spirit’. I imagine, for some, rebuilding a life, and feeling worthy of company may take some years to evolve. Still, a conversation from a balcony is a first brave step, Louise… Well done to you and your colleagues.


  5. I did a lot of community work when I was sill in college, so i understanding the satisfaction that comes with it.

    Even the smallest success counts. I guess most of us are hardwired to want to be part of great things. That’s why we tend t join the bandwagon when we realise that what someone is doing is making a difference.

    Louise, just keep doing this great work and sooner than later, the community will jump on.

    Thank you for sharing. You have reminded me of a part of my life that seems to have gotten lost in the rubble of everyday living. Yeah, I need to get community work back into my life.


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