Next Tuesday, June 9th, from 3 – 7pm, the Calgary Homeless Foundation will be inviting the public to join in the kick-off of construction of two new housing projects , Aurora on the Park and Providence House. These 24 and 25 unit apartment buildings will become home for formerly homeless Calgarians. Part of the RESOLVE Campaign, they mark another step, many steps, forward in our collective vision of ending homelessness in Calgary.
There is a lot of hope around these two buildings. A lot of belief in the future, the possibility of lives changing, homelessness ending.
For the kick-off event, we have contracted This is My City Art Society to yarnbomb the entire house. For two weeks, artists and volunteers wrapped afghan blankets and skeins of wool around the building and its fixtures creating an art piece that not only draws attention from every passerby, and is also encouraging people to come from other parts of the city to take a look at, it also signifies what can happen when a hope becomes a dream, becomes a possibility, becomes reality.
The finished art piece is incredible. The house is all wrapped up in beauty, whimsy and a sense of warmth and hominess, ‘just like grandma’s’, as one reporter said in his TV piece on the house.
More than grandma’s, this house, and the building that will eventually be home to 24 people who will live there and be supported through each step away from homelessness, represents hope. Hope for a better quality of life. Hope for a better future. Hope for change that makes a real difference.
This project is all about hope.
Ask someone with longterm lived experience of homelessness what kept them mired in that place of no fixed address and they will often reply, “I had no hope anything could be different.”
It is a common refrain.
“I gave up on hope while I was homeless.”
Homelessness, by its very nature, is filled with loss. Your belongings. Home. Family connections. Friends. Job. Life as you knew it is lost.
And then there’s the other losses which are harder to measure, more difficult to see, even though they are felt deeply by those experiencing them.
The loss of hope. The loss of believing you can create different in your life. The loss of knowing where you belong. The loss of feeling accepted, worthy, part of the greater world out there just for who you are. In homelessness, you lose your ‘things’. You also lose your sense of self.
While at the house on its final day of yarnbombing, I was speaking with one of the artists with lived experience of homelessness. He told me about finally getting a place of his own, a year ago this week. “I hadn’t realized until I sat back in my own living room and started counting the time I was homeless how long it had been,” he said. “Seven years.”
What kept you there (at a shelter) so long? I asked.
“I lost all hope,” he replied.
Each day became like the last. Every day predictable, even in all its uncertainty. If it was Sunday, the dinner was this because volunteer group A came in on Sundays and prepared the meal. Monday, it was group B. He could go to work at some temp job, get paid a fee and know, hoping for anything different was futile. He had no hope. How could things be different?
There was no sense to hope for anything different, he told me. It was always the same old, same old.
And that included the feelings of losing your sense of self, of your own worth, competency, ability to create change. Like hope, it evaporated with every passing day until without even counting down the days, the light was gone and all hope of ever finding your way out of the darkness vanished.
How did you eventually get out? I asked.
It was through art. Through connecting with This is My City Art Society and getting involved in their initiatives, he began to see another path, another way.
With every streak of paint from a paint brush, with every bit of creation and connection made with the world beyond the shelter, hope came alive.
On Tuesday, June 9th, we will kick-off the construction of 49 units of housing for formerly homeless Calgarians. There are two buildings in different communities, both of which have embraced the idea that ending homelessness begins in their backyards.
In 2008 when Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness was launched, there was only a hope that this could happen.
Today, it’s a reality.
We cannot give up on hope.
If this can happen, what else is possible?
This is still part of my Ultimate Un-guide series. Ending homelessness is all about holding onto the hope that it is possible, and then, taking action to create the possibility.