Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Where hope burns eternal for all humankind

Robert the Magician gets lots of oohs & aaahs! and How did he do that?

At the family emergency shelter where I work, 25% of the families we serve are new immigrants to Canada. For many of those families, the past was filled with uncertainty, turmoil, fear of death by starvation, violence, or war.

On Friday night, along with my amazing friend Wendy C., I acted as Host for the monthly birthday party we hold for the children at the shelter. Thanks to the generosity of the Children’s Hospital Aid Society who cover the cost of the parties and volunteers who come in to put the party on, the event is a fun-filled hour and half of birthday party games, cake, and ice cream supplied by Fiasco Gelatto.

On Friday night, as I watched the guests and volunteers intermingle, play games, eat cake and laugh at the antics of a magician who came in to entertain them, I was struck by how much alike we are, in-spite of our differences in skin tone, height, colour of hair, faith, place of birth, and a host of other visible differences within the human form.

Everyone loves birthday cake!

We are more alike than different.

We all want to celebrate the birth of our children. We all want to create happy memories for them. A world where they will grow up to be strong and free.

And, like parents the world over, we all like to remind our children to say please and thank you. To not make a mess. To ‘use our manners’.

We adults spend an inordinate amount of time talking about what makes us different than them. In some cases, we frame it in language of ‘better than’, more deserving, more entitled.

Yet, when we scratch beneath the surface of the human body, we are more alike than different. When we dig into what motivates us, what drives us in the world, we share so much in common. And, when we stretch beyond the circumstances of our birthplace, we find ourselves on the common ground of our sharing this human condition where ever we are, no matter where we go.

On Friday night, as I served up cake and passed out little tubs of ice cream, I wasn’t serving homeless children and their families. I was part of the joy and hope a child’s birthday brings into the world. I was part of creating a memory for children whose family circumstances have brought them to a place they wish, for so many reasons, they’d never had to visit, but while they are there, are determined to make as safe and caring and memorable for their children as they can.

It may not have been the perfect place, but for those mothers and fathers for whom the shelter is currently their safe respite, it was the place where their children will remember how much fun, laughter and cake they got to enjoy!

I witnessed humanity on Friday night. It had many skin tones. Many sizes. Many beliefs. And like humanity the world over, the thing that brought us all together was the celebration of a child’s birthday. In that celebration, hope burns eternal for all humankind.

 

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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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Building a path out at The Inn

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

She arrives via taxi at the door of “The Inn”* in the early morning hours. Her two year old in tow, another child due in six months. One hand grips her child’s hand. In the other she carries a few plastic bags of belongings. That’s all she has.

She came to Canada a couple of years ago when she married her husband. His brother knew her father. It was all arranged. He came to her village to make her his bride. He’d been in Canada for several years and wanted a wife from his country of origin.

She didn’t know him. She didn’t know what the future held. But she knew that to stay in the famine and discord of her homeland would mean an uncertain and terrifying future.

Since being here she has barely been let out of their home. She cannot speak English. She has no friends. No family. No support.

At first, she takes the beatings her husband regularly doles out as part of being here. But then, he threatens her child. She cannot stay and does what women the world over do, every day, every night. She flees to save her child.

At ‘The Inn”, staff quickly kick into gear to find a translator. To create a safety barrier between this woman and child and her husband who has arrived to take them home. Though she cannot speak English, her desires are clear. She will not go.

A translator is found via a phone service. Staff work with other agencies, government reps and the translator to build a path to safety for the woman.

The Inn is a family emergency shelter. It does not have the same level of security as a domestic violence shelter and staff are concerned the husband will return. The woman, through the translator, is adamant. She wants to stay.

A plan is created and space is found for her on the second floor with the 7 other women and their children who are already staying there.

For now, she is safe.

Unless, the government steps in. Because that’s her new challenge.

When she fled her abusive husband she also left the man who was her immigration sponsor. Without him, her immigration status is in jeopardy.

Again, staff work with the translation service to find help. Legal Guidance is called in. The lawyers go to work.

For now, she is safe. From abuse. From deportation.

For now, she is receiving support. Her child is being provided early childhood development coaching to mitigate against the effects of so much uncertainty, so much fear, and the abuse he witnessed in his father’s home.

It is imperative, this work. To ensure his young mind is not permanently scarred, that his healthy development from childhood to adulthood is not impaired by the trauma, he must be given tools and opportunities to find healthy ways to express his emotions and grow into a loving man.

His mother still lives in fear and uncertainty. Will she and her child be allowed to stay in Canada? Will she be forced to leave her Canadian born son behind with his father? What is the future?

Stories like this unfold many times a month at Inn from the Cold. Families arrive seeking shelter, sanctuary, healing. They come with their children clutching a toy, their hands full of their few belongings, sometimes several suitcases. They have run out of places to go that will let them stay for a night or two. They have run out of options. They need support. Help. Guidance.

Family homelessness is not a choice. It is an outcome of diverse and challenging circumstances that lead children and their parent, or parents, to the Inn’s door. They don’t want to be there but once there, they quickly discover a place where they can sit with their children at a dinner table and feed them healthy meals. They find a place where help for their children is readily available. Where they can obtain parenting and vital life skills that will help them navigate their current uncertain times into a more sustainable, livable future.

The goal is to move children and their families out of shelter into housing as quickly as possible. When the stars align, when the right housing, the right job, income and other supports can be put in place, it can happen quickly.

Sometimes, not being able to find the right housing or lack of access to income lengthens the journey.

At the Inn, family advocates and case managers work as a team to pave the way to all the pieces falling into place so that children can grow beyond the trauma of homelessness in a family space where love, kindness, caring and support create the pathway they deserve to a brighter future.

I am in my second month of being at Inn from the Cold.

I am blessed to be surrounded by so many passionate and committed people who see a future where family homelessness is no longer the reality for children and their families.

Namaste.

*To protect identity, this woman’s story is a combination of several stories.


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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.