Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


When Hope Is All There Is to Hold On To. (a story)

Photo by Corey Motta on Unsplash

Why are you here? he asked, pulling down the black hoodie covering his head.

To see you, she replied, reaching out to touch a stringy strand of oil dark hair that hung limply along his cheekbone.

You’ve never really seen me, he said. Why start now?

She stepped back. The pain of his words piercing her like sleet driving into the night.

That’s not true.

Yeah? Then why’d you leave me? Why’d you let me go?

She swallowed. Closed her eyes for one brief moment. Opened them wide and looked into his. Deep blue into deep blue. Mirrors. Reflections. Gene pools spilling over with familial bonds cascading through the years. His birth. Precious. Filled with promise. Anger. An arm swinging, hitting. The father. A dark figure. Gone. Leaving her and her baby. Alone. Afraid. Young mother. Young child. Struggling. Fearing. She’d lost him for awhile. Got him back. Worked hard. But he kept running away. Leaving. Never really settling in upon his return.

I didn’t let you go. They took you. I was always there. I just didn’t know what to do. Her words rushed out. A stream of letters tumbling in a frothy brew of discordant notes, pouring into the void between them. Never enough. No never enough to fill that space. But they were all she had to give.

You were supposed to know. His voice hissed. Steam rising. A pool of heated water shimmering with words unspoken.

You were supposed to know.

She sighed. Her shoulders rose. She arched her neck. Raised her chin. A silent prayer. Grant me the serenity to accept…

His anger.

His pain.



He was but a child. A boy. Runaway. Running to. Running from. Running.

She was…

no longer a child. Legal age come and gone long ago in the pain of childbirth. She grew up in the rush of his screaming fight to enter the world ripping her apart. Teenage girl to mother in one cut of the umbilical cord.

She’d never had a chance to catch up. to untie the knots of her past. To become his mother without yearning for someone to mother her. But still she kept running after him. Reaching out to catch him.

Reaching into that place where he kept running to. Running. Fast. Hard. Into that place where pain recoiled and fear froze in the cold reality of his life. Street teen. Addict. Panhandler. Words that collided on the frozen landscape of his life lost to the street.

She was eighteen plus eighteen. Eighteen at his birth. Eighteen years since he came into this world.

It was his birthday today. She came to find him. To invite him for lunch. Tea. Coffee. Anything.

and here she stood. A mother pleading for her son’s life. A mother standing before a son whose life was so far away she did not know how to reach him. Did not know how to find him amidst this life she could not understand.

He had run away. Again. For the … she had lost count.

she had followed him. Again. Finally finding him. Here. In this place where he said he fit in. Belonged. Knew. who he was. Who his friends were.


She looked around. The room was crowded. People sat at tables. Heads down on folded arms. Chatting. Playing cards. Reading. Staring into space. People sat and walked and hung about. Busy room. Chaos.

She’d been here before. The last time. She hadn’t found him then. She had found him now. She had to try. to reach out. to reach him. To reach within his hardened heart.

I’m here now, she whispered quietly into the space between them. She stepped one step closer. closing the gap. Closer.

It’s not enough.

She stepped closer.

You’re being here. you’re too late.

It’s never too late. She spoke the words. Desperately wanting to believe them.

He smiled. Briefly. A flitting upward motion of his lips. Like hers. Full-bodied. She looked at the sore beside his mouth. Red. Blistered. Cracked. Crack sore.

She ached to touch it. To heal his pain. To take away the drugs that were eating him from the inside out.

She kept her hands to herself. She looked into his eyes.

It’s never too late.

I wish that were true, he said. I wish… and he stopped. His blue eyes flitted around the room, darting from left to right. Up. Down. He blinked.

I don’t know. and he repeated himself. I don’t know.

That’s okay, she said. You don’t have to know. Let me help you.

I’m not ready.

I am. And she paused. I know it’s taken me too long. I know I’m late. But let me help. Let me…

he shook his head.


She gulped. Breathed deeply. Reached into her jacket pocket. Pulled out an envelope.

Let me give you this. And she handed the enveloped across the space between them. Pushed it into his hand that hung by his side.

He gripped the envelope. Crumpled it. Held on tightly.

You know if it’s money I’ll just spend it on drugs.

Pain. Sharp. Cutting. Another arrow to her soul. She breathed. Deeply.

That’s your choice. Pause. Can I take you for lunch?

No. Pause. Thanks. I just ate. And he swept the hand that held the envelope out towards the room. Here.

I gotta go. Pause. He turned away. Light hit his face. Streaming in through the cloudy glass of a window. She saw him through the years. Young boy running. Stomping through mud puddles. Tears and fears and cries she could not relieve. She saw him running through the years. He turned to walk away. Stopped. turned back.

Thanks for coming down. He held up the envelope. Thanks for this. Pause.

she waited. Silently.

I know I look a mess. I got out of Detox yesterday. Words began tumbling out. I’m still clean. He held up the envelope again. I’m not really going to use it on drugs. I wanna get straight. Stay clean. I’m looking at a course. Here. Maybe go back and get my GED. Get a job. I wanna let it go but I gotta do it my way. I gotta find my own path. I can’t keep running back to you and back to here. And if I come back to you, I’m scared I’ll just come back here. So I need to start from here and see where I go. I gotta do it my way.

She bit her lip. Held her breath. the right words. The right words. She prayed.

I’ll always welcome you back. No matter what. And she paused. Took a breath. No matter what, I’ll never quit loving you.

He stood in front of her. This boy/man searching for his way. Searching for the path out of the darkness.

Yeah. I know.

And he turned, pulled his hood up over his head and walked away.

She stood. Watched his back fade into the crowd of grey and black bodies sheltered beneath the roof of this place where so many like him waited out the time until they found the courage to take the next step on the path away from where they were lost.

She stood and watched and knew he was doing it his way. She would do it hers with heart held open in love.

She stood and watched and said a silent prayer of gratitude. He was safe. He was alive. There was hope.

©2019 Louise Gallagher


I wrote this story some time ago shortly after I stopped working at a single’s adult homeless shelter. I had forgotten about it until I found it in a file this morning.

I share it today in honour of all the mothers and fathers who never give up the hope and all the children who feel lost and without hope. There is always hope as long as life continues.



When children are stressed, the world is not a happy place.

Yesterday, in a comment on my post, To Be Happy, We Need Boundaries, Mark Kolke wrote,

“Kids without clear lines wander/experiment in ways that can lead to confusion and unhealthy behaviour […]

We all want to do good but don’t always do good – so it is important we have a deep early grounding in what is OK vs. what we should have twinges of discomfort about. These things, clear or fuzzy, stay with us all our lives.”

Every day at the family emergency shelter where I work, I see this statement in action.

Kids under stress doing things kids under stress do.

Add in stressed parents and the challenge becomes even greater. How do you cope effectively with your children’s under stress behaviours when you are experiencing extreme stress too?

Being in an emergency shelter is stressful for everyone, so there is little opportunity for the stress to be eased. Thus, little opportunity for the kids to not be doing things kids do under stress.

The brain science is simple. The solution isn’t.

Stress impairs a child’s brain development.

Continual stress creates toxic stress = compromised brain development

(factor in)

human growing process,

(end result)

Emotional, mental, physical impoverishment into teenage years and adulthood.

We can’t end adult homelessness if we don’t end homelessness for children.

A family emergency shelter is not the problem. Nor is it the solution.

A stable, predictable home environment is the solution, but how do you create ‘home’ when the parents themselves have never had the benefit of an environment conducive to healthy brain development?

See, that’s the crux of it. For many of the families we serve at the shelter, poverty is an intergenerational cycle. They have never known anything other than the stress of living in a home where everyone is struggling to make ends meet, lessen the pressure of never having enough and coping with the instability and limitations that come with parents under stress.

What parents do. Children do.

Every parent wants to do what is right and best for their children. Every parent wants to ‘do better’. But, when your starting point is so far below the poverty line, you can’t see beyond the stress of never having enough, it becomes even more daunting to rise above the line to do better for your children.

I wish some days I had a magic wand that would heal all the wounds we cannot see but are so clearly evident in the behaviours of the children we see at the shelter.

I don’t have a magic wand.

What I do have is the opportunity to create better so that those families who do come to the emergency shelter for support, find a more inviting path out of the stress of poverty and  homelessness into a world that is more supportive of their desire to provide a better world for their children.




We are all players in homelessness

I was in Vancouver over the weekend visiting my daughter, her husband and my grandson. He’s 8 months old, his life a beautiful big slate of possibilities not yet explored or even imagined.

Three weeks ago, my daughter and her family, along with 43 other tenants who lived in the same apartment building in downtown Vancouver, were summarily evicted the day after a fire destroyed 10 units completely and caused extensive damage in the building.

My daughter and her husband had insurance. They have family they can stay with while searching for a new place. They have the means to afford to find and move into a new place, and they have the resilience that comes from a lifetime of relative privilege that has given them emotional reserves to fall back on to hold them up as they journey through these difficult days post fire.

So many others in the building don’t have those same opportunities. They are senior’s, single mom’s and dad’s faced with enormous damages and losses plus the challenge of having to find a place to live in Canada’s second most expensive renter’s market.

At the family emergency homeless shelter where I work, families arrive at our doors every day seeking shelter after a housing crisis has hit.

Like my daughter and her neighbours, they didn’t plan on the crisis and are doing whatever they can to weather the storm. In this case, bringing their family to an emergency shelter. What is essential to the families we serve is what is essential to my daughter and her neighbours – finding safe, temporary shelter while they seek new housing. Housing that is safe and sustainable. Housing where they can once again be at home in that place where their stories of new possibilities begin.

Everyday families come to the emergency shelter seeking shelter. Like my daughter and her family who are staying at his parents, or their neighbours who are staying with family, in motels or on friend’s couches, the shelter is not their home. It is the place they are staying as they navigate their path back home.

As my daughter and I wandered the streets of Vancouver, checking out shops for furniture and baby supplies for their new home, we talked about the unexpectedness of this event in their lives and its impact. They are moving to a new neighbourhood. Her son will no longer be swimming every week at the Y around the corner or sitting in the park with her across the street watching the puppies play or the birds in the trees.

“Will my son remember what happened?” my daughter wondered. “I just want to get him back into a routine. Get him settled in his own room.”

It has not been easy, but they are doing their best.

I am sure her thoughts are similar to those of the parents who come to the shelter. How much will their children remember? How will they be impacted? How do they get them settled quickly in a new home?

Faced with the crisis of being without a home, they are doing their best to ensure their families are safe. On their journey home, some people will need a little bit of extra help and support to make it happen.  But no matter what, every family needs a place to call home for their children where a better future is always possible.

It is easy in homelessness for those of us looking ‘in’ to think the crisis is all the fault of the adults involved. That it is their choices that caused the problem.

No one caused the fire that resulted in my daughter and her neighbours being evicted, and not having insurance is not the problem either. The same is true of the families who come to a family emergency shelter. No one human caused their homelessness. Lack of a social network, lack of social policies that protect the vulnerable from greed and the man-made attributes that contribute to a highly-overpriced housing market are all players. Our human condition’s need to accumulate wealth, to build bigger and more without thought for those who are not able to take advantage of the same opportunities are also contributors.

And the part that is so daunting, that makes it so hard to witness children experiencing homelessness day after day is the fact, it is the children who pay the ultimate price. They are the one’s who suffer the consequences.

Homelessness is not the problem, just as those experiencing it are not the problem.

We all are contributors and benefactors of its root causes. We all buy into and pay forward the creation of this state called homelessness through the things we do to create ‘better’ in our own worlds that have unintended consequences, and sometimes intended consequences, in another’s world. In our complicity, whether overt or covert through our silence, we are all impacting the futures of the children who are its innocent victims.


If you would like to help the families who were impacted by the Thurlow Street Fire that resulted in my daughter and her family and neighbour’s evictions, you can support their GoFundMe campaign HERE.


Sleep is worth the time!

Beaumont never worries about sleep

I don’t often give sleep its due.

I tend to ignore it or at least take it for granted.

A life-long early-riser, I struggle to sleep in, to keep sleep as a priority, regardless of how tired I am.

Sleep was on my mind this morning as I struggled to get out of bed and move into my day.

Fighting a cold puts me on the other side of tired. You know, that place where your bones feel weary and your head heavier than the rest of your body.

I don’t always give sleep its due.

Sleep was also on my mind as I was reading the over night shift reports this morning from the family emergency shelter where I work.

It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep in a homeless shelter.

There is constant movement, emergency lights in the hallways, unfamiliar surroundings, noises on the other side of your cubicle wall as children whimper and parents struggle to calm their anxious states of mind.

Sleep is not part of the homeless experience. At least, a good night’s sleep isn’t.

The challenge is, without sleep it’s hard to think clearly, to process and plan. to remain positive and hopeful.

When sleep is at a premium, sleep is always on our minds.

Like new parents, sleep is often absent when you need it the most.

Yesterday, my eldest daughter called all excited. She’d had a good night’s sleep! My grandson isn’t big on sleeping, yet. Since the fire that tore them from their home on October 4th, his sleep has been even more disjointed with the turning upside down of his world.

For my daughter, this has caused more angst at a time when there’s lots of it to go around.

Suddenly being evicted from their home. Staying with her husband’s family. Having to find a new place to live, dealing with movers and cleaners and insurance companies while also trying to advocate for the other tenants in the building who have not been well-treated and in many instances, are faced with the loss of everything as they didn’t have insurance. All of this has caused her sleepless nights.

A good night’s sleep is a gift.

I’ve been thinking about sleep recently. I’ve been teaching myself to give into it a little more and be a little less judgmental of myself in my need of its healing grace.

Sleep is restorative. Sleep is healing. Sleep is vital.

I hope you all had a good night’s sleep.



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Early morning light and other awakenings

From where I sit

Sunrise comes later in the lengthening shadows of autumn days growing shorter and nights longer.

My body wants to stay in bed, to remain snugly curled up under the covers just a little bit longer.

My brain says, ‘get up. It may be dark but it’s morning. The day is awaiting.’

And so I arise.

I make my latte, take Beaumont out and settle at my desk as he settles on the floor beside me. Outside, the light from the walking bridge I can see from my window shimmers on the surface of the river flowing beneath it. the room behind me is reflected in the glass. The blanket of night that engulfs the world is broken by dark leaves on the trees that line the water’s edge. They stir gently in the early morning stillness, their dark silhouettes etched upon the surface of the shimmering water flowing in the night like a delicate filigree of lace. The headlights of a car moves through the darkness, crossing over the bridge that spans the river further to the south. The sky is dark.

I am wrapped in the warm cocoon of our home. A candle burns on my desk. A floor lamp casts a halo of light around me. Soft piano music plays. I am safe. I am warm. I am content.

At the family emergency homeless shelter where I work, morning has begun. Wake-up call is long past. Staff are turning on the hallway lights and families are stirring. Children grumble about the darkness of the morning, begging to sleep just a little bit longer. There are soft whispers, crying, a burst of laughter, the sound of a book falling to the floor from where it slipped off someone’s bed. Parents stretch and crawl out from beneath their covers, one rush to gather their things and reach the showers before someone else, the other rushes to get their children ready for the day. They prod and chide their children, telling them to ‘wake up. Hurry up. Get dressed. Get moving. And don’t forget to brush your teeth.

Morning has broken.

A new day has begun.

For many of the families who found safety at the shelter last night, the day will be a continuation of the last. Endless rounds of speaking to their case manager, connecting with other agencies and support workers, seeking housing, jobs, supports of every kind..

And waiting. Lots of waiting. for someone. Something. Nothing. Just waiting.

They’ll feel tired. Depressed. Like they want to give up. But they can’t. Their children are counting on them to find their way out of this mess called ‘homeless’ back to the place where they belong. Home.

At some point, possibly, a worker will ask them for a piece of paper they will realize they’ve forgotten, or lost, or simply misplaced in the turmoil of homelessness. And the process of filling in whatever form they were filling in will have to stop, and wait, for the right piece of paper to be found.

At some point, possibly, they’ll open a door that leads to another and then another only to find, that first door was the wrong one. They don’t quality or fit the criteria of that program. And they’ll return to their starting point and begin again. Waiting.

it is a daunting task this trying to end homelessness for your family, even with the support of case managers and other workers. It is daunting.

Not because it’s impossible. It’s not. There is help to be had. Supports to be gained. Homes to be found. People willing to guide you through the paperwork and tasks.

What’s daunting is waiting and the sheer overwhelming sense that pervades every pore of your body when your entire life has felt like one continuous struggle to not just get ahead, but to get your head even a tiny bit above the ‘poverty line’. To get enough food, education, health care, child care, money to support your family.

Dreams are lost in the darkness when the dreamer cannot fall asleep with the peace of mind necessary to calm troubled spirits and anxious thoughts. Dreaming doesn’t happen when the dreamer knows the roof above their head is insecure, there isn’t enough food  in the cupboard to stretch beyond the next morning or enough money under their pillow to meet the number of days remaining in the month.

Dreamers don’t sleep soundly in the midst of poverty grinding away at every fibre of their body stretched out in a bed they never knew how to make more comfortable for their family. Not because they didn’t want to, but rather, because they’ve never known the comfort of having enough to dream about what true comfort could feel like.

Morning has broken.

I am grateful for the quiet of my morning. The peacefulness that surrounds me. The slow quiet awakening of my day.

And I am grateful that on this morning, just like every morning of the year, there are those who are willing to walk with the children and parents who awaken in the early morning darkness of a shelter and help them turn on the lights so they can find their way home.



What does ‘Homefullness’ mean to you?

Photo by Hajran Pambudi on Unsplash

When my daughters were pre-teens I decided to volunteer with an organization that worked with troubled teens.

One of my first meetings with a director of one of their programs was at a building where they provided short-term housing for youth in crisis because of relationships at home. On this day, as I walked up the stairs towards the building, a young girl was exiting. She saw me, stopped and asked me where I was going.

“I’m going to meet someone,” I replied.

She grabbed one of my hands, dug her nails into the flesh and stated forcefully, “You can’t go in there.”

As calmly as I could, I looked into her eyes and said, “Please let go of my hand.”

She kept digging her nails into my flesh so deeply she drew blood. And all the while she kept looking into my eyes and repeated, “You can’t go in there.”

I calmly kept looking into her eyes as I repeated, “Please let go of my hand.”

She paused, looked at me and I repeated, “Please let go of my hand.”

Finally, she did.

She walked away and I walked into the building.

Shaken by the encounter, I told the man I was meeting with what had happened.

He sighed and smiled sadly and told me that she had just been informed she was going home that afternoon. She didn’t want to and had probably done what she did to draw attention to herself and to create a situation where they wouldn’t let her leave yet.

How tragic that home did not feel like a safe haven for her. How sad she wanted to stay and not return to her family.

I’ve thought about that young woman many times over the intervening 20 years since that incident. I’ve wondered what happened to her. Where she ended up. Did she have a safe, secure home today?

Yesterday at a meeting, we were asked to consider the question, “What does ‘homefullness’ mean to you?”

Is ‘homefullness the opposite of ‘homelessness’? As in, instead of being considered ‘less than’ because you don’t have a home, you’re full of possibilities and potential because you have a home.

For me, it’s a word bigger than just a place to lay your head, to come home to everyday. It’s about belonging. Security. Feeling welcomed, wanted. Safe. A place where dreams are planted and love grows.

I work in a world where home is none of those things for the people we serve because home is not part of their reality.

For many, home doesn’t even feel like a dream because the only vision of home they have is what they’ve seen on some TV comedy show where everyone laughs at the exploits of the main character and everything always ends up well.

In their worlds, things don’t always end up well. In fact, their entire existence has been built upon the reality that nothing ends up well for them. Nothing. Ever.

And I wonder… how many of the parents we serve today are like that young girl I encountered on those steps many years ago?

Without ever having known what it means to feel safe at home, without understanding how home, and family, are nurturing, caring, safe spaces, how do you create ‘home’ where you children feel safe and nurtured?

Child homelessness is a complex issue. But there is one fundamental fact that cannot be ignored. Without a safe and caring home, a child will struggle to find a safe and caring place to belong in the world. In that struggle, they will act out in order to get the things their heart so desperately yearns for.

It is only human. We act out when we don’t know what else to do to get the things we most desperately want. To feel safe. To know Love. To have a sense of Belonging.






The Lunch Date

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The last time I saw him he was not looking good. I feared for him. Knew there was not a lot I could do to change the trajectory of his life and so I prayed for him that he find comfort and ease no matter where he was.

And then, he turned 65.

“My old age pension kicked in,” he told me on Friday when he dropped by my office for a visit, and to take me to lunch.

Originally he was coming for a coffee. When he called me in the morning to see if I had time for a visit, “I have lots of exciting things to tell you,” he said, I looked at my jam-packed day and didn’t see how I could do it.

But, I know this man. To try to set another date would not work. He wouldn’t call the next day as promised, not because he wouldn’t want to but rather, because he lives in the immediacy of now and to put him off would translate to, ‘she doesn’t want to have a coffee with me’.

I had no means of getting in touch with him. He doesn’t have a cell phone, nor a home phone.

He is homeless.

A veteran of the streets, he has lived for over 20 years at Calgary’s largest single’s homeless shelter.

In the end, he was late for our coffee date but in time for lunch.

“Do you want to walk over to the coffee shop at the corner?” I asked him when he arrived.

“Why don’t I buy you lunch instead?” he queried.

“You don’t have to buy me lunch” I replied.

“I want to,” was his simple answer.

Leaving his backpack in my office, we walked down the block to a cafeteria style restaurant in an office tower down the block.

Together we examined the food selections as staff and some customers checked us out. We made an interesting couple. A grey-haired woman in business attire and an older, visibly homeless, man.

When he’d arrived at my office I was relieved to see how much better he was looking. When I complemented him on his fresh haircut and trim mustache, he told me about turning 65 and getting his monthly cheque.

“I’ve got a counsellor working on getting me housed,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a slow process but I’m in no rush. I kind of like it where I’m at.”

Where he’s at is sleeping every night on a mat in the shelter’s Intox area, all his possessions in a backpack or stuffed inside a small locker. There are two keys to his locker. He has one, staff of the shelter the other.

I have known him for over 12 years. One of the first artists to come to the art program I started at the shelter when I worked there years ago, he is incredibly talented and vulnerable. Gentle of heart, a questing mind, he is proud. Sensitive and single-minded.

Once, while driving him to a play he was involved in he told me he wasn’t going to go through with it.

“No one understands,” he told me. “And they definitely don’t care.”

As we drove and I listened to his story of how the Director didn’t ‘get him’ and the whole thing about being involved in the play was futile, I asked him to tell me the lines he had written for his part in the play.

“I am a father, son, brother, uncle, friend. I am a carpenter, an artist, musician, poet. I laugh. I cry. I smile. I bleed. Which of these are diminished because I am human?”

“You will never get anyone to understand if you do not speak up,” I told him. “And if they do not hear your story, how will they learn to care?”

He continued on with that play and went on to perform in many others, including in the off-Broadway production of Requiem for a Lost Girl in New York City.

He almost chose to not go to New York too. He was having challenges getting his passport and wanted to give up on the whole adventure. I went to the passport office with him and supported him as he completed the process. That trip was one of the highlights of his life.

We all want to quit sometimes. To say, ‘why bother?’.

What this man has taught me is that fear is always present. When we reach out to others, when we step into our fears, into the broken places of our lives, the fear is still present, but it is diminished in our not being alone. In that place, anything can happen, including miracles.

On Friday, a man bought me lunch.

We chatted and laughed together. I showed him pictures of my daughters and grandson. He shared stories of his world today. Of his ‘trap line’, the regular route he travels everyday to collect bottles for extra cash. About those who save bottles just for him, about the restaurants along his route who make sure to separate the bottles from the trash and those who don’t. He talked about old times and his hopes for the future, his dream of once again being involved in Requiem for a Lost Girl should it be remounted. And the possibility of getting a home.

In sharing time together I was reminded once again how fortunate and blessed I am to do the work I do, to have had the opportunity to walk this path with so many beautiful hearts.

I had lunch with a man of Friday.

He reminded me of how beautiful the world is, no matter what side of the street we are on, when we walk together and share the stories of our lives.

I am grateful.