Dare boldly

Inspiring acts of grace in everyday living


6 Comments

Courage. Curiosity. Humility.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a university student involved with Engineers without Borders. His group have undertaken a project at the university to understand homelessness and poverty, and then, to create a project that raises awareness, and funding, for Calgary’s efforts to end homelessness.

During our conversation, he told me that they would be walking around campus asking fellow-students questions to gain an understanding of what they know about homelessness. He read me some of his questions and asked, “Can you suggest any other questions?”

“As people to name the words they can think of to describe people who are experiencing homelessness,” I suggested. “You will get words like poor, lonely, lost, addict, bum, scum, lazy, good-for-nothing, scary, dirty, and a host of others. I’m curious if you’ll get the word, ‘human’.” In all my years of asking people that question, I have never heard anyone call someone experiencing homelessness a human, or human being, I told him.

I hope he gets it. I hope someone can see beyond the labels deeply enough to know, people experiencing homelessness are human beings, just like you and me. It’s just the circumstances of their lives have lead them somewhere they never once imagined they would be.

At the Foundation where I work, we recently created an impact video to kick-off an I Heart Home —  3 Things initiative we’re launching to inspire people to get involved with the vision of ending homelessness. We showed the video for the first time on Tuesday morning to the Board Chairs and CEOs of agencies working in the homeless-serving sector. Yesterday, we showed it to members of the Client Action Committee (CAC), a group of individuals with lived experience of homelessness who provide insight and guidance on our practices and programs towards ending homelessness.

The individuals in the video are all members of CAC. Sometime ago, I read that the 3 key attributes of a leader are Courage. Curiosity. Humility. Each of the 8 people in this video demonstrated great courage in sharing their story. They also demonstrated curiosity because they didn’t know what the final piece would look like, they just trusted in the process and were humble in their belief that in doing it, they would be making a difference.

They are right. They are making a difference. This video impacts. Deeply.

Thank you Lorne, Darren, Nigel, Phil, Theresa, Randy, Horse, Lynette. Your courage inspires each of us.

Thank you also to Paul, Brent and Mike the crew from Corkscrew Media who helped bring an idea into beautiful expression.

Making a difference with this video is as easy as sharing it widely with your social media networks. Please share.

Thank you.

 


9 Comments

What is home?

I have started a series of art journal entries on the theme of “Home”.

It was inspired by my work in the homeless-serving sector where ‘What is Home?’ is a question that is asked everyday. It also stems from my passion to stand at the intersection of art and writing to explore my creative essence and how/where they intersect with the things I am passionate and curious about in life.

Creativity connects me to my essence; that divine space within each of us that speaks to who we are when fear, worry, habit, our pasts and our experiences do not interfere with our natural expression of who we are.  I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talking with guest Brene Brown in one of her Magic Lessons podcasts and Brene Brown said that before she started her shame research, and before she wrote The Gift of Imperfection, she would have said she was not creative. “I have a job.” Since researching shame, and how to live whole-heartedly, she has uncovered startling research that speaks to how many of us (in the research 56% of those she interviewed) were shamed as children about our creativity.

These are the first two paintings in the series. I have no idea how long the series will be, or where it will take me. The joy is in the exploration, the uncovering, the allowing what is calling out to be heard, and what is chasing me to appear, to be brought into the light of creative expression.

No matter where your story begins, it's never too late to begin again to create a new story.

No matter where your story begins, it’s never too late to begin again to create a new story.

 

01c8dbc6fb7013347f447a45db11dc05d0112d78e2

Home is that place where no matter how bad your day, you always know you have somewhere to lay your head to dream of better days ahead.

 


3 Comments

A Homeless Shelter is a Place to Belong

seeking_human_kindness-homeless-hub-york-uniWe all need a place to belong.

In the homeless-serving sector, a shelter is where many people find a place to belong, and for some, it is the first place they’ve ever felt like they fit in.

It’s what makes a homeless shelter work. At a shelter, people find a place to belong that does not judge because they have nothing, or are broken, or lost. A shelter accepts you as you are.

You don’t need to prove your worth. At a shelter, you’re worth can’t be found in the things you possess.

At a shelter, you don’t have to pretend you’re not broken. You wouldn’t be at the shelter if something in your life wasn’t broken.

At a shelter, you don’t have to fake you know exactly where you are going. Nobody planned on being there and, up until ending at a shelter’s doors, everyone has done everything they could think of to avoid ending up at the one place they never imagined they would be.

Beyond food and shelter, a homeless shelter represents a place of belonging for those who feel outside the norm. It represents community. Safe haven. A place of last resort. A place where you know having nothing doesn’t matter. Everyone else is in the same boat.

And, it is a place for human kindness. a place where conversation happens. Friendships blossom. Lives change.

“Hey, I got a lead on a new place but I’m looking for a roommate.”

“I’m trying to find a way back to [and they name a country, province, town, or an area somewhere in the city], but I need a ride.”

“Know anyone who’s hiring?”

“I hear ABC has a couple of spots for the next month.”

“Got an extra smoke?”

“I’m workin’ on getting outta here. I just gotta find a place to rent that I can afford.”

As individuals move into and through and hopefully, out of a shelter, one of the biggest struggles isn’t always to find a place to live. It’s to find a place to belong, out there, like they felt, in here.

One man, Karl*, spent four years struggling to move beyond the shelter doors. He was a natural leader. Once, he encouraged others on his floor to contribute their bottle money to buy a young 10 year old a gift because she’d donated her birthday money and created a blanket drive for the shelter. Addiction kept him trapped until gradually, he gave up on staying drunk and reconnected with his former life, eventually moving out of the shelter. But he was lonely.

“In here, I know who I am,” he explained one night, six months after he’d moved out and turned up at the doors, drunk and hollering for access. “Out there, I’m a nobody. A peon. Just a face in the crowd.”

We are all just ‘faces in the crowd’ but when the crowd are the people we know, people we work with, play with, volunteer with… When our crowd shares a common bond, sense of purpose, we feel more connected. More safe. Welcome. Part of something that stretches us beyond the daily routine of: Get up. Get dressed. Go to work. Come home. Watch TV. Have a brew. Go to bed. Repeat daily.

Being a face in a crowd where we feel a sense of belonging gives our daily life purpose, direction. We are moving with the flow. Not standing like an island being buffeted by the waters raging around us.

And in that place, where we see ourselves reflected in the faces of those around us, we don’t feel different. Lost. Alone.

We feel like we belong. And in that belonging is the possibility of something different. Maybe. One day.

But until that day, at least here, we have a place where we know we fit in. A place where we belong.

 

 


2 Comments

Let us gather by the fire: #longestnightyyc

 

solstice-fire-copy

Let us gather by the fire
and cast away all fear
of darkness.

Let us gather by the light
to remember those lost
to the darkness.

Let us gather
in darkness and in light
those we remember.

Photo by Sandis Helvigs @ https://unsplash.com/collections/256462/fire

Winter solstice brings with it the promise of lengthening days and spring blossoms yet to bloom.

In the solstice, we are invited to breathe deeply. To dig deep into our own darkness to find the light of our humanity. In that light, we are invited to share our kindness, truth, beauty and Love.

Last night, almost 100 people gathered in the dark to share their kindness and truth and to remember those who have passed away in darkness that is homelessness.

This year, the event was held at Olympic Plaza, a light-filled space where skaters twirl on the ice and the twinkling lights glitter on a giant Christmas tree.

We gathered by the tree, almost 100 people strong, to read the names of those who have passed away. Behind us, laughter rang out as children slid across the ice and parents cautioned them to ‘take care’, ‘slow down’, ‘don’t fall’.

Homelessness is like that ice. Smooth and slick. It lures you in with its promise of an easy slide over the rough spots to ‘the other side’.  Believing the ice will hold, you step onto its glassy surface, hoping, wishing, praying it will hold you until you find a safe harbour far from the cold.

For some, that safe harbour becomes a shelter, a place designed to provide emergency supports to help you weather the harshness of the bone-chilling cold that consumed you long before you stepped upon the ice. Too often, that emergency space becomes a permanent refuge as you become trapped in the icy grip of having no place to call home.

The difference between those skaters who slid and twirled across the ice last night, and our solemn gathering of friends and family of those who lost their lives to homelessness was laid bare in the sparkling lights of a giant Christmas Tree.

That tree represents the promise of a new life, new beginnings, new possibilities about to come.

Trapped in homelessness, there is little promise of a better tomorrow. There is no cautioning call warning you to slow down, turn here, look there. In homelessness, there is only the steady downward slide towards a place you never imagined you’d find yourself, a way of life you never dreamt would become yours.

In homelessness, there is no warm fire to gather round with family and friends, toasting marshmallows and sharing stories of your time together playing on the ice. There is no steaming mug of hot cocoa complete with marshmallows waiting to warm you up.

In homelessness, there are only the dark, deep nights of winter calling you constantly further onto the ice until the safety of home becomes just a distant memory, a long forgotten dream.

In homelessness, becoming marooned on the ice is a real and constant danger.

Last night, we gathered to remember those who never found their way safely back to their homes. We read their names, shared stories of their lives, listened to the drum beating, the voices chanting and for a moment, there was no homelessness, no question about which side of the street you lived on — the dark or the light.

There was only us. Our common humanity. Our gathering people come to remember.

Thank you to the Client Action Committee of the Calgary Homeless Foundation for your vision and commitment to making sure no one is forgotten.

Thank you to Vibrant Communities Calgary for your generous contribution of hot chocolate, cookies, and bus tickets for those who needed them.

Thank you to the Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Syd and Brad in particular, for the meal beforehand, the drumming and the prayers.

And thank you to everyone who gathered together to remember those who lost their lives in homelessness. You will not be forgotten.

May we all find hope in the dark nights of winter. May we all find peace.

 

 


4 Comments

#LongestnightYYC

Today is Solstice. The Longest Night of the Year in the Northern Hemisphere.

After months of travelling deep into the darkness, today, the sun will rest low upon the horizon. There she will rest three days before slowly beginning the long journey back to summer Equinox. In her journey back into the light, she will breathe hope into the promise of spring bursting forth with new blossoms. She will breath possibility into the new buds bursting open. In her warm embrace she coax all beings out of hibernation.

She will breath. In and Out. In and Out. And we will rejoice in the sun’s welcoming rays.

For today, we remember.

We remember, the long journey here to this longest night. The long walk into the darkness and depths of winter.

This journey into the darkness of shadowed days where the sun moves back and forth in ever-shortening arcs giving night room to hold reign upon earth.  The darkness is not something we can avoid. Pass-over, under, or by. The darkness must be savoured, explored, journeyed into as we explore the essence of our creative spirits resting in winter’s embrace, breathing deeply into the knowing that soon, the cycle will continue, the earth will journey closer to the sun, and summer will once more hold us in its rays of light.

longest-nightFor today, re remember.
We remember, those for whom the journey here on earth ended in another season. We remember those whose hearts stopped beating on one final note and breath escaped their bodies to nourish life no more.

Today, we remember.

We remember, those who followed the sun’s journey and have now entered the eternal deep and left us here on earth without their smiles, their hopes, their presence. Who have left us here with only the memories of those we loved, cared for, dreamed with, and about. .

Today, we remember.

Tonight, if you are in Calgary, we are holding The Longest Night of the Year Memorial at Canada Olympic Park. Please join us in remember those whose long walks into the darkness never lead them home.

 


3 Comments

A Tree for Christmas #storiesofhope

She hadn’t had a Christmas tree in four years. Not because she didn’t want one. She never gave up wanting one. She didn’t have one because for four years she didn’t have a home to put one up in.

And now, she does. Now, she has a place of her own.  She has a tree.

It’s not a large tree, but in her one bedroom apartment, it fits perfectly. “I love the smell,” she says as she ties another silver ball onto a branch. She breathes deeply. “Oh wow! This is so exciting.”

I am sitting in a chair watching her, chatting, attaching hooks to each ball in preparation of its placement on the tree. Joelle had agreed to have her photo taken for the brochure as a way to give back to the agency that has, as she describes it, ‘saved my life’.

I knew Joelle* when she was staying at the shelter where I used to work. A tiny birdlike woman, chronic health conditions, addiction,  a messy divorce, life missteps left her without a home, or the ability to work. In her weakened state, she became one of those who ‘fall through the cracks’ and end up on the doorstep of shelters across the country. Struggling with life, poor health, poverty, addiction, they run out of resources to keep a roof over their head and find themselves knocking on a shelter door.

If they’re really lucky, and there’s a focus in their community on affordable housing for those living on the margins they will get a place to call home, just as Joelle did.

On this day, just before Christmas several years ago when I still worked at an emergency shelter, I watched Joelle carefully place decorations on the tree and was moved and touched and reminded of the delicacy of this thread called the human condition. A thread made up of tiny moments that link us to the wonder, and sometimes sorrow, of being human, of being part of humankind, alone, yet not alone. Together, yet separate.

Joelle’s tree was a gift. A gift from a woman she met during the summer while in hospital for six weeks receiving chemotherapy. The woman, Sarah, was in the next bed. For six weeks the two women from very separate and different walks of life connected. They talked and shared and when Joelle got out of hospital, Sarah took it upon herself to create a welcome home for Joelle in her new apartment.

And that’s where the magic kept unfolding.

Being released from hospital into homelessness is one of the tragedies in our social fabric. For Joelle, being released back to the shelter was a given. Until through Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness and the housing the shelter provided, Joelle was housed.

She was provided the basics, furniture, dishes, but the place still lacked that feminine touch, that sense of — ‘Joelle’. And then Sarah,  stepped in and ‘prettied up’ the place. She held a house-warming for Joelle, inviting her lady friends to come and create a place of comfort and beauty for this woman she’d met while lying in a hospital bed, recovering from her own serious medical condition.

I sat and watched and chatted with Joelle and I knew it was there. In that room with us. It was palpable.

The spirit of Christmas.

The best of our human condition dancing in the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree that was a gift from a stranger who has become a friend and who continues to take the time to ensure this woman for whom life has not been easy, finds a less stressful, more beautiful path.

“What does having your own place this Christmas mean to you?” I ask Joelle as she tosses tinsel and reminisces about Christmases past.

“It means I get to spend it with my daughter. We get to be a family.”

 

And there it was, all over again. The meaning of Christmas shining in the light of one woman’s eyes filled with wonder as she decorated a tree and dreamt of spending time with the ones she loves. And in the wonder of the moment I was reminded  once again that Christmas is not in the baubles and glitter, the gifts or the Christmas cards strung along a mantle. It’s right here. Right where we are. It’s a place to belong. To be welcomed. To be together. A place where family meets and connects to what makes magic happen — our human condition shining in Love.

It is Christmas. No matter where we are, no matter how far from home we have strayed, may we all come home to the heart of sharing peace, love and joy at this special time of year.

For stories of Christmas and recovery and having a home, please visit The Gift Project.

baner-copy

This article has been revised from its original version posted in 2010.  I have changed the names of the individuals involved.


2 Comments

Listen to this!

Awhile ago, my team and I at the Foundation where I work, developed a short video about ending homelessness.

Our purpose was very clear — we wanted to inspire people, motivate them and engage them to think about homelessness not as the story of an individual who has made ‘bad’ choices, but as a societal issue that we have the capacity and power to change — when we work together.

When I was meeting with the production company to discuss talent for the video, as in– who should be ‘the voice’, I suggested a young man I’d met at a concert produced by the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre.

Jordan Williams is a talented, compassionate and passionate young musician. He infuses everything he does with the stories and experiences he’s gathered as a young Aboriginal man who has faced homelessness, discrimination and other hard times and allowed the circumstances of his life to forge  him into a kinder, more caring and thoughtful human being.

 

Jordan Williams shared his voice with us so we could create a video that awoke people to the possibility that they can play a role in ending homelessness.

Thank you Jordan for your heartfelt and enthusiastic commitment to making this project into a reality.

Thanks also to the crew at Foundry Communications for guiding this project into reality. To Paul Long for writing an awesome script and to the team at Six Degrees Music & Production for the awesome sound work — and for creating a space for everyone to feel right at home in the studio!

Want to play a part in ending homelessness?  Here are some ideas on how to get involved.

Volunteer. Emergency shelters are always looking for people to serve meals, sort donations, help clean. Check out Propellus (Volunteer Calgary)– or a similar organization in your area, to find out ways to volunteer, or, contact an agency directly.

Donate. Canada Helps is a great site to find charitable organizations in your area to help you match your passions to your giving.

Create — it’s easy to create/host an event that will raise funds for an organization. At the Calgary Homeless Foundation we have the Dinner Party — invite a group of friends for dinner and make a difference. We provide an entire toolkit on how to get the dinner on the table while inspiring your friends to dig into good companionship, conversation, great food and the art of making a difference.

Be a Social Media magnet — like the FB page of an agency you’re committed to helping. Share their posts on your social media so your network can connect with their network and… make magic (aka change) happen.

Heed the call–visit the Calgary Homeless Foundation FB page, watch the short video Homelessness Doesn’t Stand a Chance, click on Like, and SHARE! (you’ll have to scroll down three or four posts to find the video — it’s pinned so will always be near the top)

There’s a whole lot of gratitude and thankfulness coming your way!

Thank you!