It will be home to 30 individuals with long-term lived experience of homelessness.
Housing. Supports. Community. Possibility.
These things will be there too.
Yesterday, we celebrated the official opening of Stepping Stone Manor, a 30 unit permanent housing apartment building with supports for individuals exiting chronic homelessness in our city. Dignitaries, builders from the RESOLVE Campaign who are supporting the building of an additional 7 – 10 more such buildings in our city, agency partners, neighbours, all came out to be part of the celebration.
Those who spoke had great words to say. About how we need more affordable housing. How ending homelessness begins with housing first. How people experience homelessness because of societal issues, not because they choose it. How addictions, divorce, mental health issues, all these things contribute to someone becoming homeless — but only when we do not have the necessary richness in our social welfare system to provide access to the supports they need to live their lives with dignity. When we do not have enough richness in our communities to build or safeguard someone’s resilience so they can weather life’s ups and downs.
It was inspiring. Exciting. Affirming to hear the speakers. To see so many people come out to be part of the event.
And then, Michael spoke. And what was a ‘hey let’s celebrate what we’re doing to make a difference’ became, ‘let’s remember that we don’t do this ‘for’ people so we feel good, we are doing it with them so that in the possibilities created, we have a better chance of becoming a better society where everyone knows that they belong, where everyone is treated with dignity, respect, kindness, care.
Michael spent 20 years living on the streets.
He slept in the woods. Used and abused drugs and alcohol.
He felt the shame of being imprisoned for things he’d done. The way he had become, the way he so often felt and was treated as ‘less than human’.
Fifteen months ago, Michael was released from prison and the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) started supporting him in his transition away from the streets, away from reacting to his life through crime, to finding the path he is so firmly committed to walking. The path of a brave, honourable and caring man.
“Housing is everything,” he told the crowd of 60 or so guests. “It gave me a place to begin again.”
He talked about the support CJHS has given him through housing. How it helped him make the decision to enter rehab. To get clean and sober. To walk a different path than through substance abuse and crime.
And it helped him see clearly the difference he can make when walking this path.
“I could look at the last 20 years as wasted or I can look forward to the next 20 years as an opportunity to do better,” he said.
His decision is to see the future through eyes of possibility, hope, growth, strength.
Last week, in a conversation with Michael about speaking at the event, he told me he still struggles to release his shame.
“You don’t deserve to carry shame,” I told him. “You deserve to carry pride, courage, strength.”
Yesterday, I watched a man step out from behind his past to claim his right to stand tall, to stand proud, to stand for what he believes in.
The chance to ‘do right’ for himself, his community, his people. The right to let go of the past. The right to build a new life on the path of his choosing. The right to see himself through eyes of compassion, love and hope. The right to be the true human being he is, not the one he was labelled before he awoke to his capacity to make a difference by being the difference he wants to create for all his relations.
Yesterday, I witnessed a man stand tall. He shone bright and in his light he illuminated the path for all to see; Ending homelessness doesn’t happen because one man decides to get off the streets. It happens because we as a society collectively take action to create paths away from homelessness for everyone. Where we all recognize that one man is every man, woman and child who has not had the opportunity to find their way home, not because they didn’t want to, but because there was no path.
Yesterday, a brilliant human being courageously stood tall and spoke up. The path is clear. We must all work together to end homelessness. It is the right thing to do.