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.


Can education end poverty, homelessness and discrimination?

I am at a dinner party. The people around the table are all successful by society’s norms. They have achieved status, good jobs, make contributions to their organizations, families, communities, society.

One of the guests states they know how to resolve the problem for Canada’s Indigenous people. “Give them goals,” they say with conviction, “and hold them to the outcomes.”

The other guests murmur in agreement. Yes. Yes. It’s what’s needed. They need to stop whining and start doing more to be productive members of society. Sure, we messed up, someone mentions, we treated them unfairly, but that’s in the past. It’s time to move on.

I chime in and ask if anyone around the table has read the Truth and Reconciliation Report. There’s a lot of head shaking, No.

So, we can sit here with answers when no one has read a report that provides clear directions on how to move forward in addressing the inequities and injustices that have created the trauma and crisis today.

Good point, someone says. But they still need to be held accountable to goals. They need to progress.

And who are we to say what that looks like I ask, when we don’t understand the people, culture, history and our role in creating the issues today?

I ask one man, the CEO of a large multi-national corporation how he would respond if a consultant, hired to help fix a problem in the organization, walked in and said, I know the answers. Here’s what you have to do. Yet, the consultant had not even looked at the organization’s balance sheet, annual report, strategic plan or interviewed leadership, etc.

The man laughed and replied, “I’d throw him out.”

Yet, it’s okay to act like that consultant about a situation you have not spent any time understanding.

There was a long silence and the conversation changed to another topic.


Yesterday, a reader commented on my post that education is vital. “… the answer is education. It lifts people, it lifts families, it lifts communities. And, while it is lifting people out of chronic cyclical poverty and its attendant problems, it lifts spirit, self-esteem/pride and empowers more accomplishment.”

I agree.

But it’s not just those experiencing homelessness, or poverty, or other social injustices who need education. It is all of us.

Recently, a man told me of his experience looking for a place to live. He arranged for a viewing of an apartment and when he got there, it was mysteriously, suddenly, unavailable.

You can’t tell the colour of my skin on the phone, he told me. But I could see his [the landlord’s] revulsion by the look on his face when he opened the door.

The man is Blackfoot.

It happens all the time, he told me. Sometimes, people don’t even bother to pretend. They just say, “I don’t rent to Indians.”

It doesn’t just happen to indigenous people, but to immigrants too.

Someone sees the colour of their skin, and doors close in their face.

Education is needed.

For everyone.

Discrimination hurts all of us. It fosters resentment, disillusionment, despair; entitlement, injustice, disrespect.

It creates Us and Them communities where the ‘have’s’ deny the ‘have not’s’ access to the resources and supports they need to be able to live without feeling the burden of poverty pressing them down.

It is not up to those who are being discriminated against to prove to the rest of us that they are equal, worthy or deserving. It’s up to each of us to let go of our thinking that someone else is not equal, worthy or deserving of our consideration, fair treatment, justice, dignity.

When we tear down the barriers we have erected to keep ‘them’ out of where we live, work, play and create communities, we create a world where tolerance, understanding, justice, and consideration for all has room to flow in all directions.

And that requires a willingness to learn — about the impact of our thinking we have all the answers for those we judge to be less than, other than, outside of our human experience.

We need to educate ourselves on the injustices we create because of our privileged thinking and belief that ‘they’ are the one’s who need to educate themselves to do better.

We are a planet of diverse cultures, faith, traditions, ways of being on this earth.

What we share in common is our human condition. And that is all we need to be equal to one another.

The rest… it comes with educating ourselves about the beauty in our differences, and learning to become compassionate in our view of how those differences make us each unique and richer in the experience of sharing our world in ways that create better, not just for the few, but for everyone.



What if homeless didn’t equal criminal?

The story is not new. An employer discovers the guy he hired a few months ago lives at a homeless shelter. He’s been doing great work but now the employer is scared and the employee must go.

When I worked at a homeless shelter we would ask clients if we could film them to include in different advertisements and videos we created to tell the stories of the shelter. Several times a year I would get a request from someone asking me to please pull the clip from our latest video or advertisement where their face appeared. Their explanation inevitably went something like this,

“I’ve got a job now. I’ve moved on and I don’t want anyone to know I was there.”


“I’m looking for work and I don’t want a potential employer to google my name and find me connected to that place.”


I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me, but people don’t trust homeless people and I’ll never get a job if they find out where I live.”

At the Foundation where I now work, we present annual awards to those who have demonstrated excellence in the homeless serving sector. As part of their recognition we include a booklet that lists the names of the nominators and award recipients as well as a brief story about the recipient from the nominators.

Last year, we changed our policy from including full names of nominators to just first name and last initial after one woman phoned me in a panic. “I googled my name and found the article I wrote about (name of person she nominated) and why I believed she deserved the award. I’ve been shortlisted for a job and I can’t risk the company finding out about my past.”

We pulled the booklet off the website, (it was from an awards ceremony five years ago) but could not promise the woman that Google would not have stored it in a cache somewhere. It was the best we could do.

And our best was not good enough.

Not because the employer ‘found out’. I’m thinking they didn’t because the woman did not contact me again.

Our best was not good enough because that woman, and so many others, live in fear that people will find out they were homeless. That they live or lived at a homeless shelter. That they used services designed for people experiencing homelessness. That they are somehow, in the views of many in our society, not good enough, broken, lacking and even, because they are homeless, criminals.

Most of us don’t spend our days worrying too much about the judgements of others. We’re not really impacted by the person behind or in front of us at the checkout. We know we won’t see that stranger in the elevator again so don’t really pay much attention to them.

We live in our bubble of ‘normal’ and move through our days without giving much thought to what others are thinking of us.

For someone experiencing homelessness, judgements come fast and furious.

They are heard from strangers walking by who hurl words at panhandlers that pierce like daggers to the heart.

From kids driving by in a car who think it is funny to hurl eggs at the woman pushing the shopping cart, or the man picking up empty pop cans from the street.

They are visibly homeless and thus, somehow do not deserve our respect or that we behave as decent, caring human beings.

For that man who lost his job because of his address, there is not much we can do. Discrimination of this sort is not illegal, and, even though we created a Homeless Charter of Rights, they are an idea, a beautiful wish for all mankind. They are not enshrined in our legislation.

And so, he will move on. He will chalk it up to another strike against himself, another let down, another put down that is just the way it is.

It doesn’t have to be. It can be different.

If we change. If we decide not to see people experiencing homelessness through eyes of condemnation and fear. If we decide not to equate poverty with lack of ambition, smarts or ability. Vulnerability as weakness. Homelessness as criminal.

If we change the way we see those whose lives have lead them into homelessness not as victims of their own doing, but rather as fallout from a social system that does not have the resources, affordable housing and supports people need to make their way in life, perhaps we will change our minds about who ‘the homeless’ really are. Perhaps we’ll see, ‘they’ are not us versus them. They are you and me, all of us.  Together.