Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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When the only answer is, I survived.

 

No. 37 — #shepersisted series
http://louisegallagher.ca/shepersisted

A woman arrives at Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work, seeking refuge. She is pregnant, alone, scared.

Her life has not been easy.

Poverty. Abuse. Addictions.

They’ve all taken their toll.

She’s had other children. All have been apprehended by Family Services.

She desperately wants to keep this one. She desperately wants this time to be different.

She has known no other way than the hard road.

Will she find a softer landing this time? Will she find the help she desperately needs so she can proudly call herself a mother, without the shame of the past haunting her?

Will she be able to hold her child in her arms? Watch her go off to her first day of school, graduate from high school, go to college, get married? Be there for the significant milestones? The milestones at which no one was ever there for her.

There is hope.

For this mother and so many other mothers like her who have only known the hard road and are now, finding shelter, sanctuary, healing at The Inn.

Every day mothers like this mother, and fathers and grandparents too, who have not had an easy road find their way to the Inn seeking that one thing they seem to have lost completely, hope.

And at the Inn, they find it. Along with the possibility of a better tomorrow for them and their children.

It’s not easy work. But then, being born into poverty, moving thousands of miles from a war torn land only to find yourself destitute, without a place to call home, is not the easy road either.

See, we all want to be good parents. We all want to believe we are doing our best to provide for our children, to create safe and loving homes where they can grow up knowing life is not as hard as we’ve known it.

We all want to believe.

And then life hits. And we stumble and get back up. Sometimes, if we don’t have the resiliency to withstand life’s stumbles, the getting back up is not far enough to bring us out of where we were. And we stay trapped.

And then, as we struggle to rise up, judgement from others hits too.

It’s your own fault, they say. You’re an addict. You have no education. No skillset. Look at you. What have you done to improve yourself? What have you done to make it better? My parents were immigrants, they managed. Why can’t you?

Sometimes, the only answer is, I’ve survived.

I’ve survived to this moment, right now, where I am reaching out for help.

I’ve survived whatever life has thrown in my path until this moment, right now, where I am able to see the possibility of a different path.

I’ve survived, war, famine, terrifying journeys in a small boat where I had to pay my entire life savings to cross an angry sea so that my family could have hope for a better future.

I’ve survived. And now I’m here. Can you help me?

Every day, children and their families come to the Inn seeking hope for a better future.

They’re not seeking fame and fortune, the keys to the city, a pulpit to stand on.

They are seeking hope, possibility, a future.

And everyday we provide shelter, sanctuary and healing so that better is possible. So that the future is not as grim, or hard, or bleak as the past.

We take the long-view. The view that says, to create better we have to start with the small steps right now that will move a family back home as quickly as possible without too much disruption to the delicate fabric of a child’s developing mind and body. From the sanctuary of home, we can work together to create healthy relationships, healthy parenting, healthy eating habits… whatever is needed to create a healthy environment for children and their parents to thrive and live without the fear of homelessness rearing its head on some dark and terrifying horizon.

For that mother, the one who yearns to see her child grow up, hope is there. Possibility exists. But only if we create a path for her to be safe at home without fearing the past will always be her future.

She’s at home now this mother, but there are hundreds more like her, yearning to revel in the joy of watching their children grow up free of the past that brought them to their knees.

We can’t do this work alone. We don’t. There are others working with us, committed to making a difference. Committed to helping children and their families find their way home.

Everyone can help. Everyone can make a difference.

It begins with changing our minds about why people fall, because if we believe it’s their fault they fell, whose fault is it they survived?

 


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#BadLuckCanComeToAnyone – homelessness can’t

A friend (Thanks Nick Falvo!) sends me a link to a Tweet by Helen Clark, former leader of New Zealand.

It’s a catchy hashtag — #BadLuckCanComeToAnyone

But when it’s used in comparison to homelessness? It’s just not not true.

Homelessness isn’t caused by bad luck, unless of course you think it’s bad luck to be born into poverty, or suffer from untreated mental health issues or an addiction, or suffer from all sorts of aspects of the human condition for which there are no resources and little help.

Homelessness isn’t caused by bad luck, and it doesn’t come to ‘anyone’.

It arrives at your front door when there’s no other place to go. It arrives, unwanted, when you’ve run out of options and have no other alternative than to walk away from the one place you desperately tried to hold onto, but couldn’t because there were no social supports available to assist you when you desperately needed them.

Bad luck can happen for anyone, but homelessness happens to those for whom access to education, resources, supports, financial aid and social services are lacking.

It happens when cities grow and push people out of the areas where they could afford to live and push up the price of housing to a cost they can’t afford.

It happens to people who do not have the resilience to withstand environmental and economic disasters, to weather the storms of life and still find themselves standing at the end of the line looking for resources that don’t travel that far down the line.

It happens to people who have to make tough choices every day; do I put food on my table? Do I move because my landlord just jacked up my rent by $100 a month when I couldn’t afford it in the first place, but this is an expensive city and I won’t find anything cheaper anyway? Do I pay for insurance? Do I license my car which I need to get to work because there’s no bus service to the only job I can find? Do I risk a $250 ticket because I don’t have $3.25 to pay for the ride, but I have to file these papers to get the help I desperately need to keep a roof over my family’s heads? Do I buy the proper work boots to get a job or do I pay for my child’s school supplies? Do I pay for a course I desperately need to get a better paying job, or do I feed my family?

And yes, sometimes, the decision is to buy that next fix that will help you forget the dire straits, the stress and turmoil, the helplessness you feel living with poverty, anxiety, hopelessness.

But it’s not the addiction that causes homelessness.

It’s a result of the economic and emotional poverty that takes a toll. It beats down those for whom the lack of mental health supports, the stress of living with the constant strain of trying to stretch every cent to cover the days of the month, knowing there are more days than cents in every month, and keeps them trapped in poverty until there’s nowhere else to go but that place called, Homeless.

Homelessness is not bad luck.

People don’t ‘make’ a decision to be homeless or to be housed. They are forced into it because we make decisions as a society that result in people not being able to access housing they can afford, find help for their physical and mental health or attain a level of education that sustains them so they can weather life’s storms.

Homelessness is a symptom. It’s not the issue.

So yes, bad luck can come to anyone. Homelessness can’t, but it does, when we don’t ensure those living on the margins have access to the resources they need to climb out from the depths of poverty. A poverty we created through government policies and social frameworks that are not robust enough to support people who do not have the same good fortune as the privileged who were not born in poverty, or without mental health and physical issues they can’t afford to take care of.

Posing as homeless to raise awareness may help people shift their perceptions, but comparing homelessness to bad luck that can happen to anyone is not the answer.

We can end homelessness. But we, the collective, have to do things differently to make it happen. Let’s start with not calling homelessness ‘bad luck’.


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Preparing for the storm

Outside, the wind is picking up speed, the sky is darkening and the temperature is dropping.

A storm is forecast to move through today and with it, bring high winds and lots of rain. Already, it has blown blossoms off the apple tree in our backyard to carpet the grass like snow.

Like so many things in life, I can’t avoid the storm. I can prepare for it and take precautions.

Last night, I moved the umbrella off the deck and laid it on its side. I re-positioned some of the pots I’d planted with flowers this past weekend closer to the house, out of the direct line of the wind. I removed the lantern from where it hung and tucked it under the eaves where it wouldn’t get damaged and did what I could to ensure nothing would go flying around on the deck.

It’s all I can do to be ready for the storm.

Sometimes, the storms of life blow in so hard, we are unprepared to withstand their onslaught. Sometimes, we don’t have the resources, skills, resilience to handle their fierceness and must take cover from the storm.

And that’s where places like Inn from the Cold come in. They stand-by, ready to provide shelter, sanctuary, healing for those swept up by life’s unpredictability. Because, no matter the weather, in times of distress, we all need a safe place to land, a harbour to lay anchor in until the winds subside and the seas are calm once again.

From the sanctuary of that safe haven, we regroup. Take stock, learn new skills, repair what’s broken, build resiliency so that we can go back out into the flow of life and set sail once again towards our dreams. Stronger. More-prepared. Better provisioned to withstand storms and other unforeseen mishaps.

I had a great first day. It felt like coming ‘home’. Home to a place where the focus is on holding space for children and families to grow through life’s mishaps to be able to weather storms without crashing into the rocks again and again.

It felt like coming home to a team whose every act is imbued with deep, heartfelt passion and compassion to serve families in distress and ensure they can move on to better times, quickly and with grace, so that children can grow up strong and not become homeless statistics of the future.

It was a great first day.

I am content. Excited. Happy.

And I even got flowers!  An unexpected guest dropped in to wish me well on my first day, and with her, she brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Thank you KGB!

I am so blessed.

Namaste.

 


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A new job. New beginning. New everything!

Today I begin a new adventure. Today, I join the team at Inn from the Calgary, a not-for-profit whose vision is to build, “a community where no child or family is homeless.”

I feel excited. Nervous. Curious. Calm.

I am excited to be returning to the front-lines of homelessness. To be moving away from communicating from the ‘system planner’ perspective to being able to tell the stories of the amazing work the Inn does that has direct impact on children and families experiencing homelessness in our city.

I am nervous to be meeting new people. To be connecting with a new team who do not know me, and with whom I have had very little contact. I am nervous about ‘what to wear’ for my first day. About the little things that once the threshold is crossed, become commonplace — but until then, create fissures of unease, uncertainty because they represent the unknown. Parking. Coffee. Lunch. What will my office look like? Should I take all my stuff today, or wait a day or so? (You know, the photos and paraphernalia that make a space ‘mine’. 🙂 )

I am curious to be taking on a new role, to be discovering what makes the Inn tick. What makes it such an exceptional place. What creates such passion amidst those who work with and for the Inn.

And I am calm. Whatever will be, it will be what it is. As long as I stay present to my intentions of being open, curious and humble, as long as I stay centered within my core self, as long as I am committed to being and bringing the best of me with me, I have nothing to be nervous about.

Life is an ever flowing river. It moves and changes and bridges opportunities, new experiences, different perspectives. It constantly brings with it interesting ways of engaging, learning, becoming aware of what I don’t know, while also becoming aware of how to apply what I do know in new ways.

I am going back to work tomorrow after a two week ‘break’.

It has been two weeks filled with creativity, with opportunities to take a break and moments to get fully engaged in the wonders of what fills my life today.

And, in the process, I have passed an anniversary of sorts once again — only to discover — I had completely missed the significance of the date — until FB Memories pointed out that on May 21, 2013 I had written a post that marked the date called — Ten Years. I am Grateful.

I am so grateful for time. It moves with the flow of life’s river, carrying us further from one moment to the next and in its flow, we leave behind the moments that no longer serve our journey.

In my case, forgetting the significance that Sunday was May 21st is a gift. It is a blessing. It is a testament to how I continue to flow into life’s healing waters, immersed in the joy and wonder of all that my world is today.

I start a new job today. The work I know. What I don’t know, yet, are the people I will be working with, and the people they serve. What I don’t know, yet, are the stories. Of those I will be working with, and those we serve.

What I don’t know, yet, is how much I don’t know…

And that’s what makes me excited. I like to know before I leap.

Tomorrow I leap knowing I have much to learn, much to offer and much to share in and with.

I am excited. I am a story-teller by nature, and at Inn from the Cold, the stories I will be telling all begin at that place where families find themselves at home.

Namaste.

 


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The ending of one thing is the beginning of the next.

I handed in my resignation last week. I will be saying good-bye to the Foundation where I’ve worked for the past 4.5 years and moving on.

I am excited.

I am sad.

Sad to be leaving the amazing people I work with. People who inspire and challenge me every day to do my best, to give my all and to be committed to do what it takes to make a difference in the world of ending homelessness.

I’m excited because I’m going back to the front lines. Back to an agency that works directly with families impacted by homelessness, where I will be able to tell the stories that touch my heart and awaken my spirit every day to the amazing capacity we humans have to survive and move through life — in darkness and in light.

It is what inspired me so much when I worked at the adult shelter for six years prior to joining the Foundation. Every morning 1,000 people awoke, people whose lives were in tatters. People for whom life had not always been kind, who struggled to find themselves in this world somewhere other than homeless, and yet, despite the hardships, who still woke up every morning and took another step and another.

I may not always have been aligned with the steps they took, but I was always in awe of the power and will of the human spirit to see beyond the darkness to find the light of possibility.

On May 4th, a chapter in my life will end and on the 16th, I will begin another page.

The ending of one thing is the beginning of the next. 

My decision to stay in the sector was inspired by a very wise woman who asked me where I wanted to land for the final portion of this part of my working career.  In a place where you aren’t telling the stories you love, or at the front lines where you know the stories you tell make a real and lasting impact?

I don’t want to end this part of my working career feeling like I wasn’t 100% immersed, committed, intentional in what I’m doing. When my beloved, C.C., and I talked about my next move, I told him I don’t really want to retire yet. I want to end my career on a high note, not on a ‘ho hum’.

I enjoy my work at the Foundation, (really love the people) but the work does not engage my heart entirely. And when my heart is not 100% engaged, I am not 100% in my life. My life is always better when I am 100% in.

The ending of one thing is the beginning of the next.

On May 4th, I shall end working in a place that has provided me a sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than myself, of knowing what I’m doing is making a difference.

On May 16th, I shall be joining Inn from the Cold as their Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations. In my new role I’ll be working with a team of committed, passionate people who believe, ending family homelessness is possible.

I’m excited.

I believe that with the right programs, right housing and right people, we can do it. End family homelessness.

We’ll do it together. We’ll do it as partners in a bigger system of care that ensures everyone has access to the right resources, right housing and supports that are targetted to ensure ending homelessness in their lives, and in particular their children’s lives, is possible.

And what can be more important than that? To ensure every child grows up knowing they have a home to begin a new story of their life. To ensure every child has the opportunity to grow resilient and strong, in the place where they belong, home.

I am excited.

_____

About the Painting:  

I created the painting above sometime last year using a gelli print pad. I printed the bird on polka-dot tissue paper and collaged it onto the canvas.  I have been playing with PicMonkey, trying to learn its many possibilities — learning new software is challenging, and fun. It can also sometimes be frustrating. But, it’s always worth trying.  🙂

 

 

 


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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.

 

 


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#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.