He struggles to stand up. Reaches out for support. There is nothing but the sidewalk below him.
He stumbles. Extends one hand out in front, searching for the ground.
And he crumbles. Slowly. Quietly.
I hurry across the street towards where he lays, a silent body on the ground.
When I reach him, I kneel down beside him. I can smell the alcohol before I get close. “Are you hurt? How can I help?” I ask.
He opens one eye a crack, looks up at me. “I need an ambulance,” he mumbles.
I call 9-1-1 on my cell.
As I’m talking to the operator, a co-worker walks up. “Can I help.”
I motion to the phone. She stands in silent support.
The operator asks me all sorts of questions about the man’s condition.
“I don’t think he hurt himself in the fall,” I tell her.
“Yes. He’s conscious.”
“No. I don’t see blood.”
“I think he’s inebriated.”
“He asked for an ambulance.”
She promises help is on its way.
The man lays silently on the sidewalk. Eyes closed. Barely breathing.
I touch his arm.
“Can you hear me sir?” I ask. “The ambulance is on its way.”
He squints through one eye. Examines me. “I don’t want to go to the Emergency room.”
“Perhaps they won’t need to take you,” I reassure him. “But they need to look at you to make sure you’re okay.”
The absurdity of the statement strikes me as I kneel beside him.
He’s not okay.
He’s not been okay for a very long time.
.And I marvel at the human spirit. At its capacity to contain such pain, such sorrow, such sadness and still survive. That it can seek succor even in the darkest places. That it can attempt to drown out its suffering and still search for solid ground to break its fall.
And I marvel at our human capacity to see our fellow humans with so much loathing and disdain we will attempt anything to drown out their culture, their history, their family and spiritual connections.
I have seen many men like this man.
Warriors who have lost the battle.
Warriors who are so lost in the fight to forget the past, who they are, who they could be, they swim in a sea of intoxication, barely breathing, barely able to keep their heads above the water.
And they fall.
Like a flower caught in a spring frost. They fall before they ever have a chance to bloom.
The Aboriginal population comprises 3% of the total population of Calgary.
They represent 21% of the entire homeless population in our city.
Except for the choices we made over a century ago to drag them away from their native culture, to treat them like animals, children, pests, being homeless, being drunk, being lost is not a willing choice.
It is an outcome of more than a century of colonization. Of abuse. Of treatment fit for no one.
It is the result of years of collective abuse against an entire population who did not fit what our forefathers believed was the right way to be on the lands, in our cities, in our society. And we carried our forefathers’ beliefs forward into residential schools, reservations, and other inhuman treatment.
I knelt by a man crumpled on the street yesterday and waited for help to come.
And I wondered, how do we stop the bleeding we can not see? How do we change the course of time so that this warrior does not fall again and again in his attempts to wipe out a past his parents before him and their parents before them never imagined would be theirs or his?
As I waited a police car drove up. An officer got out, walked towards the tableau of me kneeling by the man on the ground, my co-worker standing behind me.
“It’s okay. I’ve got this,” the officer told me before speaking to the man on the ground.
“Are you Brian?”
The man on the ground looked groggily up at him. “Paul.”
“Okay Paul,” said the officer. “Let’s get you up.”
The officer turned to where I waited, still holding my phone. “It’s okay. He’s one of our regulars.”
“I called an ambulance,” I told him.
“You didn’t need to do that,” he replied.
“It’s what he asked me to do,”
The officer laughed. “I’ll call the DOAP team. They’ll come and get him and take him to Alpha House.”
And he tells Paul what’s happening and Paul nods his head and struggles to sit up.
The officer reaches out a hand. He is not gentle. But he is not rough. He is firm.
“Here. Take my hand.”
And the man reaches up and takes his hand.
My co-worker and I hesitate. “It’s okay,” says the officer again. “I’ve got this.”
And we turn and walk slowly away. When I look back, the man is sitting on the bench where I’d first seen him. Shoulders slumped, head nodding forward.
The officer stands beside him, feet firmly planted, hands on either side of his waist, holding onto his belt with its many weapons.
And they wait for help to come.
If you are in Calgary and see someone who is in distress please call the DOAP Team. they are a compassionate response to people with substance abuse issues on the streets. (403) 998 7388
DOAP — Downtown Outreach Addiction Partnership: The program has been designed to link Calgary Police Service officers and Emergency Medical Services medics who come into contact with individuals with substance abuse issues in the downtown area with the appropriate social service agency
Alpha House — Alpha House is a non-profit charitable agency that provides safe and caring environments for individuals whose lives are affected by alcohol and other drug dependencies.