Monthly Archives: January 2011

things, they are a changin’

i hate meetings. this unfortunate character flaw (is it?) is that much more unfortunate seeing as i have more meetings weekly than i care to sit through. im not talking about one-on-one meetings with guys on the streets. i consider that just hanging out, even if theres more work involved than just hanging out. im referring to the larger meetings for the shelter im required to attend and listen as people (albeit very good, compassionate people) move their mouths and emit words for the simple fact that they like to hear themselves speak. ive coined a new term to express my frustrated state of mind – linguistic narcissism. its being copyrighted as i write this. 

so after leaving one of these delightful get togethers and with a few hours to spare before work, i hit the main downtown drag looking for tim. it was snowing pretty heavily as i slid down spring garden road but i could still see tims dog, rocco a couple blocks away. i listened when my mom told me carrots would give me good eyesight. tim and i grabbed a bite to eat and talked. he promised me to come down to the shelter tonight, which he did, girlfriend in tow. prayer does work.

flash-forward to the next day..

thursday was the grand opening of our new hangout spot on gottingen street. with the help of some kind sponsors, paul and i were able to acquire some ‘prime’ real estate on the main drag. gottingen reminds me of east hastings in many ways. lots of drugs, lots of store fronts boarded up and lots of wandering people looking for something, anything. on thursday we introduced them to something else – a place to get out of the cold, grab a warm drink and relax with some friends. its not the prettiest place to look at (needs some reno work badly and a fresh coat of paint) but from the moment we opened the door you could tell it was just what these guys wanted and, if i may be so bold, needed.

eugene, a struggling addict who has been splitting time back and forth between my shelter and another in the city, spent most of the day with us in our space.  as he left he gave me a giant hug. ‘thanks,’ he said. ‘this is just what i needed.’

its exactly what i needed to. thanks, eugene.

thanks to all you have been supporting this project.  your help is more appreciated than you know.

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january 24

due to a lack of sleep and mandatory playoff football watching this entry is a day late. im sure you could care less about those details but i was hoping to 1) get some sympathy (attention seeker) and 2) gloat about BOTH my football teams winning and advancing to the superbowl. im sure my gloating will cancel out any sympathy that might have been coming my way.
saturday morning was again spent talking with a (still) beardless ron eating eggs and bacon. ron is inching closer to retirement age and, by his account, no longer in need of coming out for meals at the mission. ive tried to convince him that he still needs to come by if only to hang out with friends and drink some coffee. hes thawing to the idea but slowly. ron doesnt seem to have too many friends and has admitted on few occasions that he holes himself up in his room most of the time without much contact with the outside world. an all too sad reality for many pensioners in our country. so i told him we should grab coffee and hang out sometime. he seemed shocked at the idea and i quickly withdrew the advance afraid i had pressed some boundary of his i was unaware of. ron told me that in all his years frequenting the mission and other similar places for food around the city, he had never once been asked to hang out and have coffee. i told him we needed to change that this week and hopefully we will.
later that night at the shelter i met david. david had missed his return bus back home and came to st matts to crash for the night. while doing intake we got talking about his reason for being in halifax. he explained to me that he was had come for cancer treatment. several hours earlier his doctor had dropped a bomb on him – he had eight months to live. trying to take the edge off a bit i tried to reassure him that ive known many people who have outlived their doctors expiry date by quite a long time. he just hung his head and told me that he had already outlived his previous due date and that he felt life beginning to slip. he began to cry as he told me he had to head home to tell his wife and 13-year daughter the bad news. all my sympathetic  words running through my mind seemed far too insignificant for me to say so i just sat quiet and shared his pain with him.
life doesnt always seem fair..
i managed to get home and grab a few hours of shut-eye before dragging myself down to pax. luckily church is pretty close to my apartment so ive not far to drag. with the help of paul we managed to get seven of our guys from the shelters out to the service at pax. brad spoke well (as always), drew played a mean guitar and community was at its very best. some of the guys told me after that they didnt think church was anything remotely like it is at pax. they actually felt welcomed and comfortable. go figure  a church being welcome and comfortable to be in. 
still havent seen tim and his family at the shelter. it reached -15 tonight..


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talking with tim

i met tim tonight as he panhandled one of the main drags in halifax, just a stones throw from the shelter at st matts. he was done up in several layers to combat the dropping temperature towing along his white two year pit bull and a ‘please spare some change’ cardboard sign. i usually dont give panhandlers money. over the years of working on the streets ive seen what most panhandlers spend their money on and its not usually not the neccessities. i was already playing with a few bucks in my pocket when i spotted tim and my hand was already out of my pocket dumping the metals in his beat up timmys cup before i had a chance to think twice about it.  sometimes spare change is a great way to start a conversation.  i highly recommend it.

i stood and spoke with tim for a little while talking about his dog, the tent he and his girlfriend lived in (its january!) and the baby they would be expecting in 8 months. he explained to me how it would be a miracle baby since his girlfriend had not had a menstrual cycle in over 6 years. 6 years?! crazy.. i mentioned to him about the shelter down the street. he said that he wouldnt leave his dog out in the cold while he slept somewhere warm. i told him while being quite noble he didnt have to leave his dog outside as the shelter had a separate room with crates for peoples pets.

he talked a little bit about his situation, while again i encouraged him to get inside for the night.   we shook hands again and said our goodbyes.  it was roughly 5 below at the time we spoke and i hear its supposed to drop to 10 below at some point tonight.  cold weather to be camping in…

hoping he listens to me and gets his family out of the tent and into the shelter. i told him the food was pretty good and it was pretty quiet. it might have sold him.


say a quick prayer for tim and his family when you read this.

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where did community go?

where did community go?  and how do YOU work towards building community, both locally and globally?

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morning thoughts at brunswick


ron shaved his beard.  went from having a santa clause beard to just a burly moustache.  barely recognized him when i walked in the door.  he could tell and gave out one of his boisterous laughs.  i start every saturday morning at mission sitting down beside ron and having eggs, bacon, toast, and if we’re lucky, fresh fruit.  it was a lucky saturday.  ron doesnt like the bigger crowds so as the mission fills up he gets rolling.  ten minute catch-up and hes out the door.  the vintage christmas sweater (a la two reindeer on the front) has been retired  and gone.  the thing needed to go but its a sad day nonetheless.

dave is there.  talks recipes with me.  for those that know me well know thats funny.  i cant cook.  the other day dave came over to pauls with us to hang out and have breakfast.  he decides to take over the kitchen and create.  30 minutes later im eating one of the best breakfasts ive had in years.  maybe longer.  now we’re in talks to get something going on the regular.  it dwarfs eggos and coffee any day.

donnie and i talk about his dog, prison and coming to pax with me on sunday.  he misses his dog back home, hates prison but is “strangely fascinated with it” (his own words) and doesnt think he can wake up early enough for church.  i remind him its 1030am.  he tells me to flip a coin.

tons of volunteers come out from pax to cook breakfast and serve.  as much as i love sundays at pax, real church is done on saturday mornings at the mission.

nap time.


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sometimes i think i come across a bit too pessimistic. i like to think its just being harshly objective. toma-toes, tomat-os. i guess my bag of sugar isnt as deep as others. i blame it on my design. 

graveyard shifts at the shelter require two people working – myself and a volunteer. most nights are pretty quiet. a big difference from my days at first united. for one, first united slept anywhere from 300-400 a night. st matts only 15. slightly different. working graveyards back at first united meant a busy shift. a large portion of the first united population lived their lives at night, for all the reasons you can imagine. it also tended to be the time where most incidents occurred. completely opposite where i am now. except for jason and jay, everyone else sleeps through the night. some nights i get so bored i want to kick beds to get a conversation going. ive been told thats not allowed. accidental kicks included.

im not crazy about watching movie after movie (we have a tv in the hangout room) and my eyes dont feel like reading all that often at 3am in the morning, so trying to draw some conversation out of the volunteers has become my new sport.  i must say, im pretty good  at it, too.

the other night i was partnered up with a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed social work student whom i had no problems pulling conversation out of. the tv stayed off as we talked through the night about everything from political theory to favorite burger joints in the city. being as she was a social work student the conversation eventually drifted into her field of study. i asked her pointedly if she planned to change the current system or just fit in as ‘another cog’. while she didnt identify with being just another cog (cant imagine why) she argued that the system, while not without its difficulties and problems, was working well and getting better. this is where my harsh objectivity, er.. i mean, pessimism came in.

see, i believe our system is the band-aid system (a term stolen from a homeless guy i once befriended). problems present themselves and like little five-year olds we break out the package of band-aids to fix them. it doesnt matter how big or small the problem is. heck, it doesnt matter if its a tumor, we still use band-aids. really expensive band-aids too which makes this process that much more stupid. now, if i go to the doctor and he discovers i have a tumor, placing a superficial dressing overtop of it seems rather (you guessed it) stupid. id probably leave his practice and convince anyone else i know using his medicine to seek help elsewhere.

we have the same problem in out society. we have a lot of different cancers (no, not people) that plague our communities – addictions, child and family abuse, mental illness, poverty. theyre all symptoms of a sick society, and like the common cold, we rarely go much deeper to identify and remedy the causes. that would be too much work for us, right?

so whats the solution?  i just rant, i dont claim to have the answers..

but sesame street does, or at least it did. if we recalled a lesson from the voices of our childhood – big bird, cookies monster and grover – who remind us of the importance of knowing, appreciating and interacting with the “people that we meet each day”, maybe we’d begin to build healthy communities. maybe as we’ve grown older we’ve lost touch with the important stuff.  maybe we need to stay home tomorrow morning, turn the channel on our tv’s to sesame street and take some notes.

the following is something i found recently.  “the simplest things are often the truest” – richard bach.


How to Build Community:

Turn Off Your TV

Leave Your House

Know Your Neighbors

Look Up When You Are Walking

Greet People

Sit On Your Stoop

Plant Flowers

Use Your Library

Play Together

Buy From Local Merchants

Share What You Have

Help A Dog

Take Children to the Park

Garden Together

Support Neighborhood Schools

Fix It Even If You Didn’t Break It

Have Pot Lucks

Honor Elders

Pick Up Litter

Read Stories Aloud

Dance In the Street

Talk to the Mail Carrier

Listen to the Birds

Put Up a Swing

Help Carry Something Heavy

Barter For Your Goods

Start a Tradition

Ask a Question

Hire Young People for Odd Jobs

Organize a Block Party

Bake Extra and Share

Ask For Help When You Need It

Open Your Shades

Sing Together

Share Your Skills

Take Back the Night

Turn Up the Music

Turn Down the Music

Listen Before You React To Anger

Mediate a Conflict

Seek To Understand

Learn From New and

Uncomfortable Angles

Know that No One Is Silent

Though Many Are Not Heard

Work to Change This

— read on random poster

see, im not completely pessimistic.


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1000 days

what can you do in 1000 days?

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did you make one?

everyone seems to be against new years resolutions. not just this year either. resolutions are rarely popular. only a few people ive spoken with have actually made plans for the new year. why is that? someone i asked explained their reasoning to me like this…
‘the beginning of the year should be no different from any other time of the year to make changes in your life.’ i agreed then as i do now but still argue that that shouldnt preclude january first from being a good starting date for change. seems everything is set up for 01/01/11 to be a good day of determined change, whatever that may look like. why not accept/embrace it and make some goals? why not do that ‘thing’ youve been meaning to do for so long? why not accomplish that other ‘thing’ thats been in the back of your mind for the past few years? afraid to accomplish something? some people certainly live their lives that way, whether they set out to or not.
i dont normally make new years resolutions. i used to have the same snarky reaction to resolutions lots of people use. i figured they were pointless, but something changed. sort of like a smack in the face but without the sting. a growing desire for something more, something all together different. hard to explain with words. at least with words that dont make me seem crazy, though im sure i wont be able to hide that for too much longer here..
the point of this piece is to encourage. we all want change. physical, political, economical, spiritual, mental, etc. its the way we’re hardwired. so scare off laziness and shun boredom and do something. plan something to do this year and just do it (thanks, nike). create a goal and get it done. make it big. some of you, make it really big. stop listening to the naysayers or stop being one yourself. take the opportunity to make some awesome changes in your life and in the life of the community around you. its not as hard as it seems. plant a tree. volunteer to coach kids. vote for once. heck, plan a revolution, just dont steal my idea! while getting into the gym and getting into better shape or saving up for the big trip to mexico or cuba or las vegas or wherever is nice idea (and unimaginative and altogether vain) what i think we need in 2011 is more people aiming higher on the totem pole.
ya dig?
ok, im done sounding like tony robbins.
happy new years, guys.


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