“You picture in your sympathy their life of only pain
And unlike you and what you do they have never tasted fame
Be careful with your presumptions brought on by another’s dress
There might just be a forgotten jewel behind the eyes of the homeless”
Behind the Eyes of the Homeless
Lyrics & Music by Lenny Howel
Homelessness is a place of loss.
Loss of home. Loss of belongings. Loss of job, money, family.
Homelessness leaves you yearning for a place where you can be accepted, however you are, however you’re at in the way that you are when you walk in the door, if only you had a door to walk through.
Often, we think homelessness is about a lack of belonging or connection. It’s not.
There is a community in homelessness. A community where people connect over their shared human condition and find themselves feeling hopeful once again that maybe this place called homeless will not last forever. Because in this place you know, people see you, watch out for you and are looking out for one another.
On Saturday night, I found myself in that place where community runs rich and deep. That place where community celebrates our shared humanity exactly where we are, exactly the way we are when we walk through the doors – The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre (The DI).
The occasion was a ‘house concert’ like no other. In front of over 100 guests seated in the multi-purpose room turned music hall for the evening on the sixth floor of the DI, the clients, staff and volunteers who have participated in the six month long song-writing initiative, presented their finished pieces. “Shelter from the Storm” was the inspiration of DI staff members, Michael Frisby and Steve Baldwin over a year ago. For the past six months, under the guidance of Calgary singer, songwriter, actor and former Poet Laureate and Artist in Residence at the DI, Kris Demeanor, the participants explored the meaning of song and its ability to draw us closer, to cross barriers, to build community and build bridges between the hearts and minds of humankind.
I was in awe. Moved. Brought to tears. Laughter and joy.
I was reminded once again about what community truly is. It’s not about the homes we live in secure behind guarded gates, or the cars we drive in that separate us from the noise of the streets. It’s not about designer labels that set us apart or the money we acquire to fill our desires.
Community is about people. People coming together to share and explore and support one another, where ever and however they are at, on this shared journey called ‘life’.
On Saturday night, I was embraced in the warmth and care of the community that is the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre and I was reminded that miracles are all around us. That we are all mysteries to one another and we all have this human capacity to shine bright, even in the darkest spaces.
The evening adventure began as I drove onto the DI property. An orange t-shirted volunteer guided me to my parking spot. Another smiled and guided me to the entrance for the event through the underground parkade. A volunteer manned the elevator. I didn’t know if he was a client or a general volunteer from the host of thousands who support the DI every year. All I knew is he was happy to see everyone who walked onto his elevator for the ride up from the basement entryway to the sixth floor. He wore a leather top hat, a tailcoat and sported a smile that could melt the ice around the most stubborn of hearts. In the brief seconds it took to ride up, he had everyone laughing and feeling like there was no where else to be but on that ride to experience, “Shelter from the Storm”.
I had the gift of witnessing humanity shining brightly on Saturday night. It was at a homeless shelter. A place where in most people’s eyes, despair, deprivation, lack are the only things people share.
At ‘Shelter from the Storm’ the things that were shared are beyond price, beyond label, beyond quantification.
At ‘Shelter from the Storm’ I witnessed human spirits rising high. I felt surrounded by the love that comes when people set aside their differences to find, there is no such thing as ‘us and them’. There is only ‘us’. One humanity giving and sharing and finding the songs that break us wide open to see, we are the same kind of different, unique, beautiful and magnificent in all our human conditions.
Huge kudos to Michael Frisby, Kris Demeanor and all the clients, staff and volunteers as well as the donors and sponsors who made ‘Shelter from the Storm’ move from just an idea into possibility. You are amazing.
Kudos also to Sled Island for having the vision to include this incredible event in their programming.