Tag Archives: first united

a day at the mission

i’m far too tired to write well right now, so excuse my limited abilities.  it’s been a long day and considering how very little sleep i got, it turned out pretty darn well.

irish came over this morning.  we haven’t hung out in close to 3 months.  a combination of conflict, mental health and stubbornness, we both share fault in.  today we put all that behind us with a couple manly hugs and talking it out.

reconciliation is good.

i’ve begun volunteering down at soul’s harbor rescue mission on wednesdays, so after irish and i caught up we headed down there to help out.  irish ended up volunteering as well so we got to serve alongside one another again.  pretty awesome being able to do that with another close brother.

we got busy fast and stayed busy for the better part of two hours.  indian goulash soup and turkey sandwiches were the choices for lunch.  sandwiches were a big hit.  the indian goulash, not so much.  we couldn’t keep the coffee pots going quickly enough for the demand.

just another day at the mission.

a young fellow around my age comes in with a large, black great dane.  the dog is wearing a backpack of sorts that’s blue and behaves extremely well.  i introduce myself and welcome him and his dog to the mission.  he introduces himself as brad and his large canine companion as staynes, his seizure dog.

brad explains to me that he gets multiple seizures a day and has been affected by them for the better part of 12 years.  a few years back they trained staynes to be his care companion.  apparently great danes can smell seizures ten minutes before someone has one.

this blew my mind!  i’d heard of dogs being able to detect cancer in people but never about this.  having stayne with him enabled brad to live a much healthier and safer life, because when she knew he was about to have a seizure, she nips at his wrists to warn him.  he is then able to lay down and clear himself of any danger.

i make a comment that his dog would have been the ultimate wrestle partner for me when i was a young boy.

‘you wanna wrestle with him?’

i think he’s joking but he looks serious.

‘for real?’

‘ya, just don’t poke her in the eyes.  she hates that.’

so do i.

so he lets me wrestle with staynes.  in the rescue mission.  full-out.  staynes, the 115 pound great dane pup (she was only 8 months old) against lucas, the 200 pound volunteer with a sore back and a bad ankle.  we even have a captive audience.

i win.  still undefeated in all dog wrestling matches.

brad is staying at one of the men’s homeless shelters down the road.  he explains how different it is than the shelter

he worked at back in east van.

excuse me?  east van?

‘which shelter did you work at?’ i ask.

‘first united mission on east hastings.  you’ve probably never heard of it.’

what are the odds?

it turns out brad started working at first united a little after i moved to halifax.  same shelter, even same position.

coincidence, my ass.  this smells a little like divine intervention.

then like that, i’ve made a new friend.  i agree to come down to the shelter later this week to hang out and share some first united stories.  he agrees to allow me to wrestle with staynes again.  round two of lucas vs. staynes.

after brad leaves popeye challenges me to a game of crib.  popeye’s name really isn’t popeye but everyone calls him that because he looks like popeye from the cartoon.  he’s always around the mission hanging out, cracking jokes and playing cards.  he figures he’s suckered me into a game of crib that he’s going to win at.


despite my inability to play crib very well (i’m still learning) i win the first game.  he shrugs it off to beginners luck, as do i.  then i win the second game.  he shrugs again, smiles a big mustache smile and shakes my hand.

‘good on yer, boy!  you got me good.  lets do it again next week.’

two games of crib, one wrestling match with a great dane and reconciling with a good friend.
either i have a horseshoe stuck up my backside or God’s blessed me with quite a day.

ps. i don’t believe in luck.

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deeper grief

they always come out of left field.


i lost another one of my friends today to addiciton.  he wasnt much older than myself.  losing africa hurts a lot.  much more than i ever thought it would, but then again, i never pictured losing africa.  for whatever reason i thought he would make it out alive.

i hate being wrong.

i met africa my first day on the job at first united.  i was standing in the lobby talking with a new coworker when in walked a very tall, skinny african man wearing a giant hat with large sunglasses.  he didnt walk so much as he stumbled into the building.  as soon as he saw me, he stumbled over to shake my hand.

‘hi, im africa.’

his african accent and intoxication level made it difficult to understand him but i got the gist.  this problem stayed the same for as long as i knew africa.  the more he drank the thicker his accent got and the harder it was to understand him.  sometimes he would lecture me for minutes on end, all the while i couldnt understand a single word he said.

africa’s name wasnt actually africa, but a nickname given to him by his friends in the downtown eastside.  not very imaginative but pragmatism wins out in a world when remembering where you woke up isnt easy.  the tall black man would forever be known as africa and he didnt seem to mind it one bit.

a nickname usually means acceptance and when you are thousands of miles from home, acceptance is just what you need.

africa’s friends got him drinking rubbing alcohol one day and he became hooked.  addiction to rubby (as they called it) was not a pretty addiction.  for me, its quite possibly the worse one to watch someone struggle with.

africa had an apartment somewhere in the dtes but he spent most days and nights hanging out or around first united.  thats where his friends lived and hung out.  this was the case for a few of the guys i knew in the dtes.  they would get a worker in housing to help them get an apartment in hopes of getting away from their addiction and the people they consumed their poison with.  some lasted longer than others but, one by one, they all made their way back.

since i left vancouver ive lost 4 guys from just one group.  since i joined the dtes community ive lost over 15 people.  those are just the ones i can remember..

i hate losing my friends to addiction.

this doesnt seem get any easier..

when i decided to start giving my life to the poor years ago, i didnt think that id see this many people die.  people who i had relationship with, a connection, a friendship.

i didnt sign up for this.

i invited africa to a small church in east van with me one summer sunday.  the church was having a community party in the local park with live music, games for the kids and bbq.  as soon as i told africa there would be food there he was coming come hell or high water.  he marched there like a man on a mission.  for as rail-thin skinny he was, the man could pack down the food.  we could never explain where the food went.

a couple other guys came along as well.  edson, one of my favorite guys to talk with at the shelter, came along with us as did aj (edson is now married and living in northern bc and doing great!).  as soon as the music starts up africa is dancing.  by himself.  in a dance only he knew the steps to.

it was something else to see.

we laughed until our sides split. aj fell off his chair he was laughing so hard.

i like that memory.

just as quickly as i remember that memory, the reality that hes gone comes crashing back.  my heart is grieved deeply..

in fyodor dostoevsky’s ‘crime and punishment ‘, he says something that gives me great comfort in times like this:

“the darker the night, the brighter the stars,
the deeper the grief, the closer is God!”

thankfully, this truth is more real to me than anything else i know.

ill miss you, africa.


harry and africa


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poetry from the poor

aj is a friend of mine who frequents first united mission. we usually fake kung fu fight in the lobby (to the entertainment of those in attendance) or he boasts about dunking on my head in a game of one on one. itd be quite the accomplishment for a 40-something addict who stands at no more than 5’7. hes got a great sense of humor, a solid left jab/giddy up kick (he invented it) and hes become one of the clients i look most forward to seeing when i head into work. 

aj is a survivor of the residential school system. for those not familiar, the residential schools were a systematic attempt by the canadian government and numerous churches to destroy native culture in canada. the intention was “to kill the indian in the child” and to transform aboriginal children from “savages” into civilized members of the canadian society. assimilation to western norms. children were taken from their families at young ages and forced into these schools, severing ties of culture that ran between generations. there were communities where all children were taken.. 

it was the intention of the government that native culture and language become purposely supressed. even punishable by “tough love” tactics, to put it mildly. emotional, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse were experienced by children at the hands of their ‘educators’. upon becoming adults and elders in their communities, the abuse was passed on, creating a vicious cycle of abuse that still runs deep to this day. 

its an ugly part of our nations history that most dont hear about, both in the news and school textbooks. winston churchill was once quoted as saying, “history is written by the victors”. apt and rather fitting for this chapter in our nations history. 

aj gave me some of his poetry the other day. he entered a writing contest recently so he gave me a copy of what he submitted. 

i believe it quietly describes the turmoil within him. but i can only guess.. 

by the way, i asked him if i could post his poetry here.  he said yes. 


ajs poem

open doors, slammed doors 

closed doors 

here we go again, you cant numb the pain 

we always end up on hastings and main 

why is our lives so much in vain? 

our lives are so much in pain 

empty sidewalks 

empty roads 

why are our lives at our crossroads? 

you go pick up 

then its my turn to go 

this is an obsession 

there is no where to go?

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