Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


13 Comments

Will you choose compassion?

I had an OpEd published in our local newspaper on the weekend. It was about homelessness and choice.

There were many voices of support. Of people applauding me for my words and insight.

I like feeling connected to people who agree with me. It’s immensely human and makes me feel good!

But what about those who wrote in to disagree? Who believe, even though I wrote that homelessness is not a choice, it’s a lack of choice, a lack of resilience, a lack of many things — that homelessness is a choice. That if people just got jobs and cleaned up, their lives would be all better.

In the face of their words, I don’t feel so connected.

Their words cause me despair.

Their view of the world causes me consternation.

In the face of their differing worldview there is a part of me that would really just like to call them names, tell them they’re wrong, tell them to ‘get a life’.

Yet, their views have as much right to be heard as mine. Their views are equally as important to the conversation as mine because in their words the truth of the world according to their view rings true.

What will I choose?

Will I choose to condemn and complain?

Or will I choose compassion.?

Will I listen to understand, not to judge?

Will I create space for common ground, rather than a battleground?

In those moments of dissent, finding compassion, acting with integrity, being present is vital.

Because if I lash back, if I choose to discount or ignore their voices, then I am creating a world where us versus them is the norm. Where my voice is the only voice that matters to me and they can damn well go… blah blah blah.

Bottomline, when I respond from a place of condemnation, I am contributing my worst, not my best.

To understand another’s point of view, to find common ground, we must stand with open mind and heart. We must listen deeply without judgement and be willing to be vulnerable.

To be vulnerable, we must choose compassion.

Namaste.


2 Comments

What is home?

Yesterday, I watched a woman receive the news she was getting housed.

It was emotional. Moving. Humbling.

A single mother, she arrived at the homeless shelter, two young children in tow, with no other options, nowhere else to go.

“It’s been a long month,” she told me when we chatted after she received the news. “And now this part is over.”

She moves out this weekend. Into her own place where she and her children can begin to rebuild their lives after the trauma of the past.

When her case worker told her the news she broke down. Crying. She hugged her children. Her case worker. Everyone in sight.

She jumped up and down. Did a crazy dance. Laughed and cried all at the same time.

And I remembered.

A time years ago when I received a box of kitchen supplies.

I had been living with my sister and her husband in North Vancouver for the months after the relationship that had almost killed me ended.

Finally, I was moving into my own place. Albeit the ground floor suite of their home, but it was my own place.

I had few possessions.

Everything my daughters and I owned had been put into storage a year and a half before when we first left our home in anticipation of moving into the house ‘that man’ had promised we’d bought together.

The house never materialized. The money disappeared and so did all our belongings.

Auctioned off eventually as the monthly rental he’d told me he paid had never been paid.

My sister had a friend who was moving to the states and was giving away a bunch of her kitchen stuff.

She gave it to me.

I remember sitting in my bedroom at my sister’s home and opening that box. I started to cry. Suddenly, all that I’d lost came sweeping in. The beautiful set of china my mother had given me. The hand-painted glass plates I’d brought back from Greece. The carefully collected and cherished possessions of a lifetime of living and growing and building a home and a life with my daughters.

Gone.

In that one box I was reminded of what was lost, and what could be.

Suddenly, I had ‘things’ again. The lightness of being devoid of household possessions was gone and I was grounded at home.

Since that day so many years ago, I have gone on to rebuild my home.

This morning, I sit at my desk by the window at the front of our home, overlooking yard and trees and river. The window is open. Birds sing. The leaves rustle in the gentle morning breeze. The river flows with the depth and constancy of the Love that surrounds me and fills my world with such beauty.

Dishes, appliances, household clutter can be replaced, but what could not be taken away, and never needed replacing, was the love that constantly sustained me and carried me through those dark days, the Love that is present every day of my life.

I watched a mother begin her journey home yesterday.

She was elated. Excited. Happy.

She too does not have many possessions, and while she doesn’t have a sister helping her rebuild her household, she does have an incredible network of agencies working with her to ensure she and her children have a solid foundation upon which to build a better future.

A future where fear and abuse, uncertainty and trauma do not have to be the focal point of her journey.

A future where her children can go to bed at night confident they will not be awoken in the dark by screaming and crying and broken dishes on the floor.

A future where tomorrow has the possibility of being better than today because every day gets better when you live without fear of never having enough, of not being able to pay the rent, or put food on the table.

A future where your mother has room to breathe freely, to dream and to plan on how to make her dreams come true so that her children can grow up strong and free, living the lives she’s always dreamed they would have.

I witnessed a mother get the news she was going home yesterday.

My heart took flight.

Namaste.


3 Comments

Kairos Blanket Exercise

I am standing on a blanket. This blanket is one of six spread out on the floor, each one touching the next. They represent Turtle Island, or North America as it’s called today.

I am standing on this blanket as a participant in the Kairos Blanket Exercise. I am excited to begin this learning journey. I am unaware of the power of the next two hours in front of me.

Take up all the space of the blankets the facilitator urges us. Claim your land.

There are about 30 of us standing on the blankets. We all work for Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work.

Most of us are non-Indigenous. Some are immigrants. Others born on Canadian soil of ‘settler’ families.

And the story begins.

For the next two hours we become more and more cramped on the blankets as one blanket after another disappears as do some of the participants.

“You are a child who was sent to Residential School,” the facilitator tells one of my co-workers. And they move off the blanket to stand at the edge of the circle.

“Your child was taken from your arms,” a woman is told who is holding a doll. And the facilitator grabs the doll from the woman’s arms and puts it on the floor at the edge of the circle.

“You were swept up in the 60s scoop,” another participant is told and they too join the others standing outside the circle.

Smallpox. Other diseases. Poor nutrition. Suicide. Land appropriation. Adoption. Assimilation. Slowly people disappear from the constantly reducing area the blankets cover until only a handful of us remain on a tiny blanket in the middle of the room.

“You are the survivors,” we are told.

I do not want to cheer. I do not want to clap. I want only to cry.

So much carnage. So much loss. So much pain.

“We do not do this exercise to make people feel guilty, or to make them sad or angry. We do it to raise awareness. To educate. To share the story of Canada through an Indigenous lens,” the facilitator tells us.

It is a story not told in schools. Or text books. Or movies.

It is a story of a nation’s past where fairness, equity, freedom of all people was not for everyone, just the civilized. Indigenous Peoples were not considered civilized. They were deemed savages.

It is a story of the stealing away of an entire people’s lands, dignity, pride, way of life. Of forcing new culture over an existing one in order to make them more like us. To make them seem less different. Unique. Connected to one another.

It is told in a way that makes it possible to understand why, ‘getting over it’ is not so easy, not so possible.

This story.

I am familiar with it. I have read the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. Participated in other Indigenous learning circles. I have worked in this sector for over 12 years. In this sector, unlike on Turtle Island, Indigenous Peoples are over-represented.

They carry the scars, the wounds, the trauma of a past where their way of life and who they were was deemed unfit by those who usurped power and claimed a land as their own, even though it was already claimed.

This is my country.

It is the land upon which I was born. On which I live today.

We call it Canada.

Once upon a time, it was called Turtle Island.

Our history is not a clean white page in a book unmarred by trauma or dark deeds. It is not a history of treating everyone with dignity, fairness, respect, even though that is the history we’d like to tell.

We have this shared story of our past which we must be willing to talk about, to understand so that we can move beyond the things we don’t want to see, to create a country we do want to have, together. As one people.

A country where the past is not a shadow marred by the darkness of what was done. It is a place where all people’s know, no matter their place in the past, today we are all of one land, one country, one humanity, and one shared story.

“Meegwetch” (Thank you in the language of the Haudensaunee, the Peoples of the traditional territory upon which I was born).

 


6 Comments

What will happen to the unborn child?

They come because they are scared.

They come because they have nowhere else to go.

They come because if they don’t, what will happen to their unborn child?

At Inn from the Cold right now, there are nine pregnant women staying under the shelter’s roof.

Nine.

I can’t imagine what the soon-to-be-moms are feeling. Thinking. Experiencing.

Becoming a mom is fraught with questions. Fears. Insecurities. Uncertainties.

Being homeless and becoming a mom?

I can’t imagine.

But I can imagine why they’re there. I can imagine that whatever the circumstances of their lives, they want their child to have a better chance at life. And having a safe place to stay is a good beginning.

Recently, the Inn changed the parameters around who can stay at the family emergency shelter. In the past, (based mostly on the fact that space is limited and the shelter is constantly full) only adults accompanied by children were invited in.

But what about all the unborn children someone asked? What about the first time, soon-to-be mom without children accompanying her?

It was the grim reality that her unborn child was at risk if we did not provide the mother shelter, sanctuary and healing, regardless of who is accompanying her, that opened the doors to all pregnant women at the Inn, regardless of how at or over capacity we are.

It is an important decision.

A life-giving decision.

In homelessness, self-care is not high on the agenda. The trauma, stress, turmoil, angst and all the other factors that pull someone into the despair and hopelessness associated with homelessness, take a significant toll on an individual’s ability to make good self-care choices.

For women who are homeless and pregnant, homelessness impacts not only their life, but the life of their unborn child; that innocent, precious life that is forming within, unaware of the condition of life outside the womb.

Ensuring the mother receives prenatal care, that risks are minimized, that some stability is instilled into her life is critical to the development of her unborn child.

And so, the Inn opened its doors to pregnant women unaccompanied by children.

It is the right thing to do. The best thing to do to provide these unborn infants the best chance at life.

There is no special funding for supporting pregnant women. No pot of money waiting to be dipped into just for this.

It doesn’t matter.

We will find a way.

Because, if we don’t, what will happen to the unborn children? How will they make their way into this world? How will they know life?

______________________________________________________

Yesterday, the Inn announced the total raised during its 6th Annual Claire’s Campaign. The goal of $900,000 was surpassed with $1,072,708,25 raised by over 750 donors.

Thank you Calgary!

That means, along with being able to provide vital programming for children and their parents, we’ll also be able to provide pre and post-natal care to mothers, like the one I wrote about on Monday.

I am grateful.

And still I am haunted by the question, what will happen to the unborn child?

Being able to access emergency shelter is vital. Receiving prenatal care is critical. But a home is essential.

We need to do better. All of us. Everyone. To ensure we create a community where no child or family is homeless.

Namaste.

 

.


5 Comments

And still she haunts me.

She is sitting in the lobby of the family emergency homeless shelter where I work. Mid-thirties. Tired looking.

She glances at me as I walk in. I smile. She smiles back and then looks down.

In front of her, a dark blue baby carrier sits on the floor, a pink blanket draped over it.

I walk over, sit down beside her and ask if I can see her baby.

She smiles the smile all mothers give when showing off their infants and lifts the cover.

Inside, a tiny infant lays sleeping. She is beautiful and perfect and so peaceful looking.

I want to cry.

She is fifteen days old.

I tell the woman how beautiful her baby girl is. She smiles at me and whispers a quiet, ‘thank you.’

There are so many questions I want to ask this woman. So much I want to say. But I do not have the right to badger her or pry into her life.

I wish her well and leave.

She haunts me.

This mother and her baby daughter. Sitting silently in the lobby of an emergency homeless shelter.

She haunts me in that place where the heaviness of poverty oozes out like a damp fog rising up from the marshes lining a pond. Dank and cloying, it soaks up the air around it, drowning out all sounds. All hope.

That place where I want only to hold the children close and find safe haven for their mothers.

That place where I want to heal the world and change the trajectory of lives seeped in trauma and despair.

Where I want to rail at politicians and policy-makers to stop talking about ‘what needs to get done’ and get doing it. Now. Right away.

Precious little lives are at stake and we are setting them up for more trauma, more despair, more loss of hope and possibility and dreams.

And I do none of these things.

I continue on my way, doing what I know I can do to raise awareness, raise our consciousness of our capacity to create a better world, a more peaceful place for all the children and all the mothers and fathers too.

I continue on my way doing the things I do best.

And still, she haunts me.

What more can I do?

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

You can help end child and family homelessness.

One of the things I can do is ensure that people know how they can make a difference. I work in the homelessness serving sector because it’s where I feel ‘at home’. The cause resonates within me.

For many, working in this sector isn’t possible.

Giving is receiving.

We can each give what we can to ensure the agencies at the front-line are able to support young mothers and their infant baby’s like the one I met the other day.

Every penny makes a difference.

Every penny counts.

If you have any extra coins you’d like to donate, please think about giving to Claire’s Campaign. Until noon tomorrow, your donation will be matched by Gary Nissen who contributed $250,000 matching dollars, Karen Zutter $100,000, the Hutchinson Family $50,000 and Cole Harris and Centron, $50,000.

Your difference will add up to a big difference in the lives of the children, mothers and fathers who come to Inn from the Cold in search of a safe way home.

 

 


6 Comments

Do you see me? I see you. (a poem)

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

I see you
walking by, eyes
shifting away
from seeing me
seeing you

you think you know my story
you think you know
how
I
got
here
sitting on a street corner
hands outstretched
hoping you take the time
to stop and share
spare change

spare your judgement
you don’t know
me
you don’t know
my story
you don’t know
how
I
got
here

so let me tell you
it ain’t what you think
it wasn’t some lack of moral character
that could have been strengthened
by eating more fibre
or some weak willed spirit
that could have been stretched taller
by getting off the sauce
and getting a job.

no. I got here
backed into a corner
no way out
but down and out
because I didn’t have
what you took for granted
when you were born
on the other side
of never having enough
to make the money stretch
the whole month long

poverty’s a grind man
so keep your judgements
keep your dime
and go ahead
walk on by
like you don’t see me
sitting here
silently watching
like I’ve always done
your back
walking away
to the other side
of the street
where I don’t sit
watching you
walk on by.

 

______________________________

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash


2 Comments

Racism in My Canada? Yes. It’s true.

I speak three languages. No longer fluently. But I still can understand French and German and speak it to be understood if the subject is relatively simple and about daily matters.

I once took a course in speaking Mandarin. Another in Japanese. And one in Spanish.

What I’ve never done is considered taking a course in learning how to speak  Cree. Or Blackfoot. Or any of the other 60 distinct Indigenous languages of Canada.

And that’s what I find so disappointing — and at the same time possible — for myself. I can change that fact. I can choose to learn another language — and this time, I can choose to learn a language that will not only give me another way to understand my neighbours, but will give me an opportunity to play my part in Reconciliation.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned working the homeless-serving sector for the past 12 years, it’s that there is a lot of Reconciliation needed if we are to make a dent in the racism Canada’s Indigenous Peoples face everyday at the hands, and words, and actions, of non-Indigenous Canadians.

We are a country with a Big Problem.

And it’s not ‘Those Indians’, as someone called Indigenous Peoples at a dinner party awhile back, who’ve got the problem (though their lives are tragically impacted by it every day in every way and have been for generations).

It’s OUR problem. It’s Our Racism. Our intolerance. Our desire to pretend we don’t have a National crisis where infant mortality is higher for some than others. Where certain peoples are incarcerated at higher rates than the rest and life expectancy shortened by at least 10 years.

The problem is, we don’t want to face the fact, it’s OUR problem. We like to say,  “Look at us! We’re not as bad as the US and the way they treat African Americans. No. We’re better than that.”

No. We’re Not.

Better than that.

Just a quick glance at the chart to the left from a recent article in MacLean’s Magazine, “Canada’s Race Problem? It’s even worse than America’s.” shows just how serious the issue is in Canada.

The challenge?  As the article goes on to explain, “our Fergusons are hidden deep in the bush, accessible only by chartered float plane: 49 per cent of First Nations members live on remote reserves.”

I am having trouble reconciling that view of Canada with My Canada. The land of tolerance, equality, inclusivity.

But then, every day at work in a family homeless shelter, I struggle to align My Canada with the lives of the families I see coming to the shelter. They are 60% Indigenous. 25% new Canadians/immigrants.

They come with their hopes and dreams of building better lives for their children. They come fleeing the violence they’ve experienced on Reserves, Reserves we, the settlers, created and forced them to live on. They come fleeing hopelessness, desperate to create opportunity for their children so that they do not have to carry the burdens of poverty, racism, discrimination.

And what do they find in the city?

The very things they fled.

What’s their Canada look like?

It sure isn’t the same as mine.

So rather than expect someone else for whom trust has been broken again and again to step towards me, I think it’s time I took a step towards Reconciliation.

And one way to do that is to learn a language that will help me understand better what their Canada looks like.

Because one thing I know for sure… their Canada does not treat them the same way My Canada treats me. And that’s something I want to help change.