Tag Archives: ending homelessness

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.  🙂

 

 

 

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.

 

 

#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.

 

The Gift Project #storiesofhope

It is alive.

It is real.

It is ready for you.

baner-copyThe Gift Project has come into its own existence.  A little idea has become its own reality because of the generosity and creativity of Paul Long, Alexis Maledy, the amazing people at Corkscrew Media, Six Degrees Music Studios and Keys to Recovery.

Thirteen courageous and caring people shared their stories of recovery, of finding hope and home, after journeys through addiction.

These are powerful, compelling stories that touch deep and dig into the heart of our humanity, our shared human condition, our desire for connection, our need for belonging.

I hope you will join me in sharing these stories. In posting them on your social media pages. Pressing the LIKE button beneath each one.

And, as I build up The Gift Project’s social media presence, I hope you will follow along… and maybe even share one of your own stories of hope and encouragement in recovery.

Many blessings. Much gratitude.

http://www.thegiftproject.ca

HomeSpace: a home in our community for everyone.

Today is the release of the preliminary report of the Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness held October 19th in Albereta.

PIT Counts are interesting beasts. They provide a moment-in-time snapshot of homelessness in any given city. They are not the de facto scientific answer to who is homeless, how long they’ve been homeless, or what are the issues contributing to their state of being.

They are a moment in time of those counted on a given night.

Yet, often, media see the PIT results as the measure of a city’s success, or failure, to end homelessness.

The PIT number only tells part of the story. The part where we count who is on the streets or in shelter, incarcerated with no fixed address, or hospitalized with no fixed address on that night.

The more important data is how well a city is doing at housing those for whom home was a long ago place. How well those who are housed thrive in housing. How much is health, physical and mental well-being improving.

In Calgary, we are doing a stellar job of ensuring the system of care is strong, responsive and proactive. We have agencies who work together to share data, discuss housing plans, develop strategies to ensure the system of care is using its resources as impactfully as possible.

Challenge is, the economic climate, the lack of affordable housing especially for those with lower incomes, is limited in our city.

We need housing.

homespace-logoWhich is why I am so proud to work for an organization that had the courage to take the bold move of transferring its $60 million housing portfolio to an independent entity so that organization could focus on the development, building and management of housing for the h0meless-serving sector and vulnerable Calgarians.

On Friday afternoon I stood amidst friends, colleagues, agency partners, government officials and stakeholders as HomeSpace Society was officially launched.

It was exciting. Moving. Thrilling to see this dream that was seeded in the early 2000’s become a reality.

Some of my favourite people from the Foundation where I work have moved over to HomeSpace — and the enthusiasm, commitment and passionate excellence they carry with them is inspiring, and hopeful.

They know their job like no one else.

They know what it takes to move a project from concept, to land acquisition, to development approval and to final build.

They know what vulnerable people need for housing and to stay housed. And, they know how to work with the funded agencies who provide supports to tenants so that those for whom homelessness has been a long time reality can let go of the ‘homeless identity’ to claim their new way of being in the world, ‘at home’.

It took a lot of hard work, commitment, vision and patience for HomeSpace to become a reality.

Congratulations to everyone involved. From CHF management, board members, and team to the entire team at HomeSpace, and everyone who played a role. Job well done!

I’m excited about what the future will bring for vulnerable Calgarians, the homeless-serving sector, and our city.

This morning we will be talking about the people experiencing homelessness on one night in our city. And while we won’t be talking about those who are housed, it’s their story that must be told, because that the bigger picture of how Calgarians are making a difference, together!

Silly statements and other limiting words

I am talking with two of attendees at an event. They are both Indigenous Peoples. Both well-versed in sensitivities around Indigenous issues.  Both have been discriminated against. Branded as ‘other’. Felt the disdain of those who call themselves ‘white’.

I tell them about my awakening at an Indigenous training course I took a couple of weeks ago.

“I have never stopped to think about the richness and depth of Canadian culture as being grounded in Indigenous Peoples,” I tell them. “I have fallen for the discourse that our history as a nation began when white man arrived.”

It didn’t. It began thousands of years ago with a culture that is deeply connected to the land, the elements, nature and a desire to walk softly upon the earth.

“Discrimination and ‘other’ thinking is pervasive,” I say. “I participate in it without even recognizing I am participating in it.”

One of the men mentions the statement we make as a Foundation at the beginning of all our events acknowledging that we are standing on traditional Treaty 7 land.

“You know that calling it ‘Treaty 7’ land is a reference to colonization,” one of the individuals mentions. “For many of us, it is a reminder of all that has harmed us, not strengthened us.”

I am taken aback.

It is subtle this discrimination, this ‘other’ thinking.

Later, I am at a roundtable discussion on the National Housing Strategy the Federal Government is currently in the process of drafting.

Our host is a public figure. An elected official. Well-respected. Well liked. He has always been conscious and considerate in his approach to homelessness.

I am listening to the conversation. To my peers around the table talking about the content in the documents before us.

On a page referring to the themes to be covered by the Strategy is a list identifying those who need extra consideration due to the specialized needs of their demographic/human condition. ‘Homeless, seniors, youth, families, people with disabilities’. There is no mention of Indigenous Peoples.

Someone mentions the omission. The elected representative is surprised there is no mention. He comments that he doesn’t see how it could have gotten so far into development with such a glaring omission.

“Perhaps it’s like the language we use without thinking,” I say. And I ask him about a comment he had made earlier in the session. “You said, ‘We are not going to make silly statements like, we’re going to end homelessness. We know we’re not.”

How is that a silly statement, I ask. It is aspirational. Forward-thinking. But silly?

There is a pause and then they talk about how they were referring to the timeline. He tries to justify the statement until someone else around the table also speaks up in support of my question. “If the government plans on ensuring everyone has access to housing, won’t that mean we end homelessness?”

Another pause.

I stand corrected, the elected official says.

Language.

We get hung up in our words. Use them to divide and conquer. To separate and clarify.

We make words the ground upon which we stand, the positions we will not cede, the space we will not move from.

And in the process, our language becomes the battlefield upon which we stake our claim to be right. It becomes our battery of defenses against another so that we don’t have to give up our right to stand our ground.

It was a short week and a tough one. A week where words spoken awakened my consciousness to injustices caused by the language of Treaties that continue to define and marginalize an entire Nation. A week where language failed to inspire by its use of silly statements about what we can, or cannot do, amongst a group of people passionately committed to ending the very thing they called silly.

I believe passionately in our human capacity to create possibility from the seemingly impossible.

I believe we are all one humanity. One human race.

But the words I heard this week, and the ones omitted when they needed to be spoken, are cause for concern.

How can we stop discrimination? How can we end homelessness when the very words we use continue to mire people in the limited thinking of the past? How can we inspire one another to do better when the words we use build walls and tear down confidence in our ability to contribute our best?

 

Panhandling: to give or not to give.

He is walking towards me, along the island between the opposite lanes of traffic. He stops several cars in front of me, jumps off the cement onto the roadway, gets close to the window of the driver and starts to gesticulate wildly in the air, occasionally thumping his chest and the cardboard sign he holds against it.

A hand reaches out of the window, gives him something, I assume money.

He moves to the next car. Repeats.

Nothing happens.

He gesticulated more wildly until eventually throwing his hands up in the air, screaming something at the driver’s window and moving onto the next car in line.

He does this until he is beside my car. He starts to wave wildly. I smile and shake my head, ‘no’. On principle I do not give to panhandlers who walk on the road at stop lights. It is dangerous and it is against the law.

He flings his arms up into the air, angrily shaking his sign in front of him.

I do nothing.

He keeps shaking and yelling. I do not open my window.

I do want to cry. To tell him to stop it. To not abuse drivers in such a way. To not use a busy street as his opportunity to gather coin.

I also want to tell him to stop trying to shame me into giving him money. To make me feel guilty.

But I know that is not his ‘doing’. It is my feeling in response to his doings.

The light turns green, traffic begins to move and I drive on.

He remains on the median waiting for traffic to once again stop.

I think about this man as I drive. How I felt angry, frustrated, sad. How I wanted to cry.

Long ago, when I started working at a homeless shelter, I quit giving to panhandlers. I realized that our city offers many opportunities for people to get food, shelter, support. Giving on the street limits my opportunity to leverage my contributions on ending homelessness by giving to those doing the work.

And on a personal level, I want to feel good about my giving. I want to give because I feel it is the right thing to do. It is helping to end homelessness, not contributing to its presence on traffic islands and street corners.

And there’s the rub. We may end homelessness but we will not end people panhandling simply by ending homelessness.

Mental health issues, addictions aside, people panhandle like that man yesterday because it works. Out of the 10 cars he will probably approach every 3-5 minutes, if he gets just one person to give him $2, he will raise about $20 – $40 in an hour. Multiply that by three or four  hours a day, and he will have garnered a good return on his investment.

Challenge is, it’s dangerous. It does not support the bigger picture. And it’s against the law. Which means, when we give to someone who is breaking the law because of the location of their panhandling, we are contributing to law-breaking and albeit one could argue it is a small way, we are tearing apart the underpinnings of a just society.

I do not know the story of the man who was panhandling yesterday. Many of the panhandlers I know who do use traffic lights as their location of choice, are housed. They use panhandling in such a way to supplement their income and because it’s a habit.

I almost cried yesterday. Not because I didn’t give, but rather, because the man asking was so emotive in his asking, I questioned whether or not I was a ‘good person’ by not giving.

I know I am but in that moment in time, I almost felt coerced into colluding with someone’s belief that my giving would make all the difference in the world to them, or at least make them go away. I know it won’t.

Namaste.