Tag Archives: homeless

as seen on tv

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from as far back as i can remember my favorite chore around the house was sweeping. not sure why but sweeping always relaxed me and put me in a good mood. cleaning my room?

ha! yeah right.

not much as changed over the years. give me a broom and a ground full of dirt and i’m as happy as a pig in the mud. ok, maybe i’m overstating this a bit, but not by much.

i got to flex some of that sweeping muscle tonight at work.

we recently had to evict one of our clients at the rebuilding. my manager and all the staff worked hard with the client in order to keep him in the building but it just didn’t work out. unfortunately for the client that means (most likely) he will have to go stay at the men’s homeless shelter again.

it’s most regrettable. this building exists to give affordable housing to men who are harder to house than most, not make them homeless, but that’s exactly what happened.

one of the stipulations for living at the rebuilding is going through monthly apartment inspections. the apartments are fully furnished with a bed, couch, fridge and other furniture. a worker drops in once a month to make sure everything is still in good condition (except regular wear and tear) and that the living space is kept in a healthy way for the client.

the client we had to evict was a hoarder.

now, i’ve watched shows on tv before on hoarding but it’s a whole other thing to witness it in person.

walking through the door of the apartment a few weeks ago was a task in itself. stuff piled around the door made it hard for me to squeeze between the door and the door frame. the amount of stuff piled high along the walls, practically spilling over, made me nervous walking through the hallways. i reflexively used my hands as a makeshift hard hat in case anything fell. random items pulled from trash bins plastered on the walls and spilling out of the closets. clothes thrown everywhere and anywhere, hanging from doors, curtain rods and makeshift closets. more clothes than i’ve ever owned in my entire life.

because bed bugs have been a problem in our building (and really, the whole city), making sure our clients keep their apartments relatively clean is of paramount importance. their apartments don’t have to be spotless by any stretch, but they do have to keep them tidy.

interviews are being done down at the shelter this week to see who will be coming up and filling the vacant apartment. before that happens we have to clean it up. thankfully we were able to hire a local company to come and take most of the stuff out (i’m told 3 full pick up truck with trailer on the back loads!). that leaves the cleaning for us.

so with a broom and a dust pan in hand i attacked the apartment with some serious zeal.

it didn’t take long for it to hit me. the man who used to live where i was now sweeping had no home anymore. tonight when i leave work and walk home, i have an apartment to go to.

he doesn’t. not anymore.

one of the hardest things i’ve found about working with guys on the street is keeping them housed. whether it’s mental illness, conflict with landlords/neighbors, unwisely spending rent money on something else (like addictions), etc, there’s always a few problems that arise that make it hard to keep my friends adequately housed.

after all these years of working on the streets with people dealing with homelessness, i’m no closer to a solution than i was when i first started.

i’m frustrated and sad, puzzled and mad, wishing there were easier answers.

but i suppose life is not like that.

no easy answers here.

 

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if excuses were only enough

i had all the reasons and excuses i could think of not to go and still, there i am covered head to toe in snow, walking down my street in the middle of a blizzard. excuses begin to poke and jab my mind, trying to convince it to turn around and head back to my warm apartment. each snowflake that scrapes at my eyes gives the excuses more confidence to continue their harassment.

i almost buckle.

the walk isn’t long. at the end of my short street sits the queen elizabeth hospital. it, too, is covered head to toe in snow.  i avoid the sidewalk snowplow and then a sliding car on my way to the entrance.

my years of athletics pays off again.

knock on wood.

the wide glass doors open as i’m approaching the entrance. another set of doors open as well and welcome me into the hospital lobby. i see a few people busy hurrying to separate places in the hospital.  a quick pause to de-snow myself a bit.

i don’t like hospitals.

i push the big white elevator button with an arrow pointing towards my feet. automatically the door to my right slides open. a large coffee spill accompanied by a bright cone indicating ‘slippery surface’ are my ride mates to the next floor.

i start thinking about what i’ll say..

the elevator door opens to a large corridor that makes me instantly recall  creepy movies i’ve watched in the past.

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more excuses come rushing in, though these of the more irrational variety.  as gripping as the picture in front of me looks, these excuses are much easier to shrug off and i make my way down the hallway.

IMCU.

i flick on my phone to see if this is the place.  it is.

i have no idea what the ‘m’ stand for but i’m fairly certain that the other letters spell out ‘intensive ____ care unit’. i’m not really sure what to expect when i enter. i take a deep breath and open the door.

‘hi, may i help you?’ asks the short, kind-eyed rn.

i ask her where i can find my friend.

she points down another corridor, though much shorter than the last. i thank her and make my way towards bed 7.  i see him before he sees me.  he doesn’t recognize me at first. he wasn’t expecting company.

who visits homeless guys in hospitals?

‘hi, dave. how are you?’ i ask.

‘hey, lucas! i’ve been better but i’m alive,” he replies.

we talk and catch up on the past couple months. i know dave from the streets of halifax. i wrote about his incredible survival about 5 months ago, when he was jumped by a couple of punks and left for dead, and his fight with a garbage truck when it scooped up the bin he was sleeping in.

after updating me on all the injuries he received from those incidents, he brings me back in time a bit.

‘i was born almost 10 weeks premature. they didn’t think i’d make it. well, i’m here now!’

it appears dave has the nine lives of a cat, because, by all rights, he should be dead by now.

i put it off question longer than my mind can take until it can’t take any more.

‘why are you here?’ i blurt out.

his eyes drop and he explains how a head cold he got while staying at the men’s shelter turned into an infection surrounding his heart. and if one infection wasn’t enough, two more have since jumped on board.  he now has 3 separate infections surrounding an organ than we can’t live without.

dave is rather casual while describing it. he doesn’t seem depressed by the diagnosis nor overly thrilled about it. he says it hurts when he coughs. like thousands of needles poking out his lungs and esophagus.

right then he coughs, and i can almost feel the pain he feels by the look on his face.

his optimism makes me feel optimistic, too, even if i know it’s only make-believe. the vicious kicks to the head from the robbery and the crushing steel walls from the garbage truck couldn’t kill dave, but these infections probably will.

this is what i was afraid of.

i was afraid i’d have to say goodbye to another friend from the street.

and it looks like i was right..

i track down the nurse who was attending to dave earlier in our visit and ask her his chances. she shakes her head,’i’m technically not allowed to tell you anything without his consent, since you aren’t family.’

‘is he going to die?’

i ask but i don’t really want to hear the answer i fear is coming.

her eyes drop.  people’s eyes always drop when they give bad news.

‘it doesn’t look good..’

i head back to dave’s bed to say goodbye for the night. i pray with him and say i’ll see him tomorrow.  i tell him to get healthy so we can move him into the new apartment he just got before he became sick.

‘..you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  what is life?  for you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.’ james 3:14

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back from the dead

for the first couple days all i could go on were the stories i had heard others tell me. anxiety began setting in a bit, though the anger stood front and center and ready for action. my mind has functioned the same way for so long. you hurt mine and i will hurt you.

my blood boiled inside of my veins.

then i finally saw him.

bruised, bashed, beaten and broken.

before today, dave looked every bit the homeless man he was. he even shuffled his feet in the stereotypical way you might a imagine a beggar doing so. his unruly hair and unmanaged beard also fit the stereotype. he collected cigarettes butts from bus stops to gather up enough tobacco to roll his own cigarettes. his fingernails and teeth stained yellow and brown from his habit.

but that was only dave’s outer appearance. you can’t even come close to judging dave’s book by examining his cover. what he may appear to lack on the outer shell, he more than makes up for inside.

i’ve known dave for almost 3 years now. met him through a few of the other street guys i was working with at the time. dave had told me about the hassles the local police had been given him for panhandling. they had barred him from panhandling in a certain area that was a big money-maker for him. instead of listening to the police, he continued to go back to the spot and work his ‘trade’. a man’s gotta eat.

eventually the police began giving him ridiculously priced fines knowing full well that he couldn’t and wouldn’t pay them. our tax dollars hard at work, ladies and gentlemen of halifax.

dave and i began to hang out and talk on a frequent basis. it didn’t take long for me to realize that dave was a genius. he knew his way around computers like he had created them. his understanding of philosophical and economic matters made me a bit envious at times. geography, history, psychology, sociology, physics – you name it, dave knew it.

and all this without a shred of arrogance or pride.

humble as a hummingbird.

“you are still alive,” i say as i sit down beside him at the table.

“they don’t know how but ya, i am.”

dave’s arm is in a sling overtop of a blue hospital shirt, resting on the left arm of his new wheelchair. his eyes are both blood-shot and his face is a mess, to say the least. his left eye is worse where they hit him with a large rock. dried blood lines his ears and nostrils.

my blood pressure is rising again.

“what happened, dave?” i ask.

in a robbery attempt to take his gst cheque, a group of young adults attacked and beat dave to within an each of his life. they used a large rock to initially knock him down and then their feet to knock him unconscious. a witness to the assault said they had kicked him in the head 16 more times AFTER dave had been knocked out.

sickening.

“but ya know what? i forgive them, or at least my heart wants to forgive them,” dave explains to me. “jail is going to eat those young kids alive. as much as i wish they hadn’t done this to me, i wish they hadn’t done it to themselves.”

all i can think about is what i would do if i got my hands on those punks and dave, even in his pain, finds the ability to forgive those who inflicted that very pain on him.

i’m humbled.
but his story gets worse.

after getting out of the hospital, dave crawls into a cardboard trash bin to make a bed and get some sleep. he wakes up to crashing and banging and his whole world being turned upside down. he then finds himself inside of the back of a large garbage truck. the lid closes tight, shutting off the outside world. then the crushing starts..

can you imagine?!

seriously, try to imagine this scenario happening to you. you get jumped and almost killed in a violent mugging, and then as soon as you are released from the hospital you are thrown into the back of a garbage truck that begins squeezing you to death.

dave talked about the experience in great detail.

he felt his collar-bone snap and his arm begin to bend. the cardboard helped cushion a bit of the crushing at first. eventually there was no more give. pain all over his body. he told me he didn’t know what to do so he began praying.

desperately praying.

the crushing stopped.

he began pounding on the side of the garbage truck with his free arm and yelling for help but no one could hear him. the crushing started again. he began praying again.

it stopped again.

he kept praying desperately that the truck would stop so the driver could hear him and free him from his steel torture chamber. it does. the driver stopped to gas up and hears dave pounding on the side of the truck. he opens it up and gets dave out and to the hospital.

“crazy, hey?”

“no kidding!” i reply. “God must have things for you to do still.”

he nods his head.

“i definitely believe that, lucas. i’m convinced of it now.”

dinner was about to be served at the shelter so i had to run back into the kitchen to help serve but told dave i’d be back after. he smiled and nodded. afterwards we sat and chatted more about his ordeal.

“you sound different, dave.”

he spoke less like a man who had just been crippled by two life altering incidents and more like a man re-energized and recharged to take life by the horns.

“i know. something clicked,” he tells me. “it’s time for me to make some changes, not only to myself but to the world around me.”

i hope he’s the one to lead the revolution. nothing would make me happier.

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unexpected

so i’m sitting on my couch reading an interesting article on my laptop, legs propped up on my coffee table with a bag of chips well in reach.  sounds nice, eh?  it’s a good friday afternoon.  phone rings and i see a number i don’t recognize.  thinking it might be a potential boss calling me i pick up expecting a business conversation.

wrong.  pleasantly wrong.

‘is this lucas?’

‘yes it is,’ i reply, attempting to sound as polite as i can.

‘hey, its jeff (last name removed).  i’m glad i remembered your number.  wasn’t sure i did.’

i met jeff shortly after i moved to halifax almost 3 years ago.  half a dozen years younger than me and a temper like a hand grenade, jeff was homeless when i met him.  he split his nights between two of the men’s shelters and the out of the cold shelter where i worked.  we got to know each other staying up late watching movies while i worked overnights.  he would usually come in late looking for a bed and some food.  i’d make him some grub and we would talk life while watching old westerns.

classic guy thing to do.  ha!

jeff had a problem saying ‘no’ to the wrong crowd.  instead of turning and walking away, he got sucked into their bad choices while making his own along the way.  it wasn’t long before the law caught up with him and decided he needed to spend some time away from regular society.  at the time i didn’t know where he had gone.  some times guys disappear.  sometimes it’s for the better, other times it’s not.

prison should be a wake up call for people.  some people get it while others find the same bad crowd inside jail that keeps them entrenched in the lifestyle.  i’ve heard my fair share of guys on the street tell me they became better criminals in prison, sharing ‘war stories’ with other inmates, how they deceived, stole, assaulted and ripped off their way to criminal glory.

criminal college – you may have gone in for break and enter but come out slinging crack in the north end to junkies, hookers and weekend warriors.

this is a classic reason why the punitive justice system doesn’t work.  when you simply lock up offenders up behind metal bars, you aren’t doing them or the community at large any benefits.  while others may argue the offender doesn’t deserve anything since they broke the law, it stands to reason that the community would be better served by rehabilitating criminals instead of creating holding pens where they are put on ‘time out’ for a while.

punitive justice makes the prison industry and all those invested in very wealthy while helping very few others.  restorative justice is a different way of thinking about crime and conflict.  a united nations committee on restorative justice defined it in as ‘a process whereby parties with a stake in a particular offence resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.’  restorative justice is concerned in holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way, repairing the harm caused by the offence, achieving a sense of healing for the victim and the community, and reintegrating the offender back into the community.

sounds better, doesn’t it?

restorative justice.  look into it.

i digress..

unfortunate for jeff, he didn’t get the wake up call the first time to prison.  he kept the same company behind bars as he did when he was free and it only served him poorly when he regained his freedom.  the second go around sounds like it jolted him.

‘i can’t go back to that life, man,’  he says to me. ‘i want to do right by my family and by myself.  i’ve been doing a lot better since i got out but i’m afraid if i don’t do something more i’m going to mess up again.  i need help though..’

i gave jeff my phone number almost 2 years ago after he told me he wanted help.  i offered to talk with him about housing options and health-related resources.

he never did call..

until today.

‘is your offer still on the table?’ he asks me.

‘i never took it off, jeff.’

‘thanks, lucas.  i called hoping you would say that,’ his voice noticeably excited.  ‘i promise i’m ready to take this stuff seriously now.’

‘i hope so.  i’m no savior, though,’ i explain to him. ‘i can help you figure some things out and put a plan together but i’m no miracle worker.’

that’s where you come in, God.

if you’re reading this, please do me a favor and lift up a prayer for jeff.  addictions be broken, past be healed and restoration done.

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changing my perspective

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spring has come and with it the unpredictable weather changes that often leave me wondering what to wear when i leave the house.  if i bring my jacket, the sun pours down its bright, warm rays and i’m sweating large beads of sweat down my face.  if i don’t bring my jacket, the skies open up and the rain soaks me.

it doesn’t seem like a battle i’m soon to win.

yesterday was another one of those days.  i had errands to do and the weather had decided it would not be cooperating with me.  it would rain and then stop and then bluster some wind and mist into my face then stop again.  i cursed the weather underneath my breath (cursing it out loud might look to others as if i was crazy) and told it to seek help for its schizophrenic behavior.

seroquel anyone?

on my way into the bank i noticed an elderly man sitting outside the front doors holding a sign.  his silver metal cane rested against the telephone pole as he sat on what looked like a walker.  his sign had a plastic tupperware bowl taped to it for people to drop some change in.  i read the sign as i reached for the door handle.

‘please help this man in need.’

i nodded his way and he did the same.

‘not the best day for panhandling, hey?’ i asked the man.

‘i’ve seen worst,’ he replied through a bright smile.

i entered the bank and got done what i needed to get done.  as i left the building a couple were just passing by the elderly man and placed some change in his plastic bowl.

‘thank you so much for your kindness,’ he said to them as they hurried onto the cross walk.

i had more errands to run and with little time to get them all done as the work day was winding down.  i could talk with this man for a bit, i told myself, but needed to be on my way soon.

‘how are you doing today?’ i asked him.

‘well,’ he replied, ‘i’ve met some very interesting and generous people today.  it’s made this weather more bearable.’

i asked him about his cane and walker.  he explained that he had been hit by a drunk driver some 30 years ago, which left him crippled and unable to work much.  he told me about the newly graduated engineering students who had hit him head on while he was driving home one night and how he had learned to forgive them for their poor choice to get behind the wheel.

today, he lived in an old van that he plugged into a house to keep himself warm.  he made an agreement with the homeowner to give him money for the electricity that he used.  he spoke about how grateful he was for the relationship he has with this man and how kind he has been to him.

we talked about his travels across canada, his accident, the comforts and discomforts of living in a van, philosophical ideas and food.

‘are you hungry?’ i asked.

‘yes, but i need to make some more money before i can do that.’

‘how about i get us some chicken wraps?’ i offered.

‘why, that would be a fine idea!’

as i started to make my way across the cross walk, he yelled after me, ‘i still don’t know your name.’

‘it’s lucas.’

i returned with a few wraps for him to nibble on and a stuck a small book i had been reading into the bag along with the food.  he thanked me and was very gracious.  i told him that i had more to thank him for than anything else.

he looked puzzled.

‘before i met you today,’ i said, ‘i was having a rather frustrating day.  i was frustrated with the errands i had to run, the limited time i had to do them and the crummy weather i had to do them in.  after talking with you, all that seemed to disappear.  so, thank you.’

he removed the glove from his right hand and we shook hands.

thanks for the conversation, lauren.  i won’t soon forget it.

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balance

balance.

my life is a constant struggle between balancing and rebalancing.

relationships, jobs, education, ministry.

priorities.

balance brings with it peace, thus why our (or maybe just my) balance is so important.  it feels good to have a solid foundation underneath your feet.  especially where you are juggling a few too many balls.

one of the places i feel most balanced is at st andrews church on sunday evenings.  getting to share a meal and socialize with a lot of my poor and/or homeless friends is a gift that continues to keep giving me back way more than i put in.

pizza is always a guaranteed component of the meal.  each plate comes with a slice of pizza, then your option of a small plastic bag full of small slices.  this past sunday, the church that was hosting made a delicious (and from what i could tell nutritious) meal for the community.

kat and walked into the gym a few moments after the 5pm public prayer and grace. randy spotted us his way.

‘lucas!’ randy shouted.

i turned to see randy smiling, his right hand upon his now shaved head, rubbing the hairless surface.

‘i shaved my head just like you.’

randy is one of our original members of street soccer.  he competes in several special olympics events and does quite well considering he’s pushing 60.  he doesn’t move the fastest on the soccer pitch nor does he have the strongest kick, but he works hard and celebrates like no one else.  even a bad case of asthma can’t keep him away from playing.

‘my stomach still isn’t feeling well,’ randy said to me.  ‘the doctors at the emergency room told me to take it easy.’

randy can’t play but stays around to watch and cheer on his teammates.

that’s loyalty.

we had another big turnout of players.  international students have been coming more steadily, i guess seeing us as a place where they can play the game they love and integrate into canadian society.  our players have embraced and welcomed them into our little sports community.

i love how we do that.

i end up playing with sim, adele and holly on my team.

sim and adele go to school together at one of the local high schools.  both have immigrated here with their parents from countries in the middle east and north africa.  both have experienced difficulties fitting in here in halifax.  can’t tell if it has to do with bullying or just a difference in cultures.

it’s no fun when you don’t fit in.

but not at street soccer.  they fit in perfectly here.

sim is a talented, young soccer player whose only weakness is that he is so skinny that he gets easily bumped off the ball by larger players.  he took a hard spill this past sunday, knocking his elbow hard off the pitch.  two minutes later he was scoring goals for us again.
what adele lacks in soccer skills he makes up in sheer effort, though his skills have begun to develop considerably in the past while.  adele will often shout ‘no!’ after the opposing team or even his own team scores a goal.  it seemed quite odd at first, but after a while we noticed a pattern similar with that of tourette’s syndrome.  while it often takes visiting players a bit off guard, the rest of the players have become used to the loud outbursts.

just as some of our guys are dealing with depression or schizophrenia or anxiety or adhd or bipolar or whatever else, this is just part of what adele is dealing with.  street soccer is a no stigma community.

and i plan it keep it that way.

holly is one of kat’s friends who started coming out and playing with us several months ago.  holly is an athlete.  a former university basketball player, she holds her own on the soccer pitch quite well.  she plays with a knee that needs major surgery soon and an ankle that not long ago that was one of the craziest colors of purple i’ve ever seen.  she’s tough.  she recently bet val she could beat him in a game of one on one basketball.  not the wisest decision.  valentin won himself two weeks worth of dinners.  ha!

after two and half hours of soccer we are all worn out.  it so happened that someone had left the heat on in the church gymnasium, which was a good explanation why everyone was drenched in sweat.  after a brief team stretch we all gather our things and turn off the lights.

whatever balance issues i had walking into st andrews were no longer there when i walked back out.  another week of street soccer is over.  i’m so grateful that i have such an amazing, authentic and inclusive community to belong to, and one that brings a good dose of balance into my life.

i love this game.

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memory of a midnight mission

my blog reminded me today that 3 years ago i started this blog.  it sure doesn’t feel like that long ago.  crazy how time passes by so fast.

in light of that, i thought i would share a memory from 2010.

***

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it’s a bit past 1am before i get to new beginnings church where lou has been living during his internship.  if you didn’t know any better, you’d think we were robbing the church.  we whisper and creep inside the side doors of the church and into the basement.

that’s where our stash is.

two large garbage bags full of pastries, donated by a local baker who cares for the poor in his community.

tonight is going to be good.  lou and i are both psyched.

new beginnings was a church just on the fringe of the downtown eastside of vancouver.   just a hop, skip and a jump from the glow of the dtes.  surrounded by cheap public housing for first nations and immigrants populations, the church was created to help the local community in any way they could.  pastor joe was a large man (i felt like a dwarf beside him) who had an even larger heart and a crazy redemption story he didn’t mind sharing.

back outside, we sat on the ledge beside the church contemplating our midnight mission.  we had about 70 pounds of sweets between the two bags we found in the basement.

south.

we would head south until we found someone or we hit the industrial park.  bags slung over our shoulders we set off.

bill was filling his cart up with new cans he had found in the gas station garbage bin when we crossed paths with him.  his haul was quite substantial.  he had been working hard for several hours before he met us.  pushing the cart around all day had made him really hungry.

‘how about some muffins or donuts?’ lou offered.

‘can i have both?’

‘you can have a few of each if you want.’

bill didn’t need to be told twice.  out came four pastries of his choosing, a few oozing with icing and creamy filling.

a big smile came across bill’s face and our own.  we talked with him for a while, hearing his story about life on the streets.  he gave us some wise advice which he repeated for emphasis.

‘don’t you boys forget this now, ya hear?’

we promised we wouldn’t and shook hands to seal our new friendship with bill.

we veered left heading towards the dtes.  a few street girls were working on the corners as we passed.  they all looked like they hadn’t eaten in days, maybe weeks.  i felt a bit bad giving them sugary, innutritious food but it was all we had and they needed something in their bellies.  they were very grateful. we wished them a safe night and kept going.  their pimps don’t like you hanging around for very long, even if you are feeding them.

oppenheimer park was empty but the streets surrounding it were crawling with action.  drug deals were being done in the shadows of sunken door ways on the street corners.  a group of people were huddled up against one of the buildings have a bit of a party.  we asked if they were hungry, knowing full well what their answer would be.

‘yeah!  what do you got?’ came the reply.

‘donuts, muffins and other sweet stuff.’  i replied.

arms shot up like i was a teacher in an elementary school class room asking who wanted to go next for show-and-tell.  everyone was hungry.

‘why are you guys doing this?’

lou and i looked at each other and shrugged.

‘we had food and figured there would be hungry people on the street to share it with.  we also figured it would be a great way to make some new friends.’

‘well, i’m definitely your friend now!’

and with that one of the guys stumbled to his feet and threw his arms around us to give us a big hug.  a couple of others joined and the group hug got bigger.

donuts + conversation + late night walking in the ghetto = new friends

i love that kind of math.

we meandered our way on to east hastings where most of the action was happening.  a cop car races by on their way to something important as drug dealers offered us ‘some of their best stuff.’  persistent guys considering i’ve walked by them for the past 8 months having said ‘no, thanks’ every time.  we offer them some sugary snack but they wave us off.  they can afford better food with the money they make of selling crack to the addicts in the neighborhood.

part of me wants to drag them into the nearest dark alley way and beat the drug dealer out of them.  it might work but there’s too many of them and more waiting to replace them.  it’s an unending battle.  drugs kill here.  overdoses are far too common in this neighborhood.  and, before it kills you, it robs you of everything else you ever had, keeping you chained and in slavery to the poison that’s slowly killing you.

ugly stuff.

i hear some drug dealers carry guns.  at the very least they have large knives.  i’m mad but not stupid.

another cop car passes by us slowly.  their suspicious eyes are easy to spot.  i don’t like the police here and it’s not because of the way they look at me.

far too many of them treat the homeless and poor in the neighborhood as sub-humans.  i’ve seen cops do some pretty nasty things and get away with it.  the pivot legal society, an organization that tries to create social change by focusing on breaking down systemic barriers to the full realization of human rights, has their hands full with complaints against the vancouver police dept.  accountable policing is a serious issue here.

lou and i meet a young guy (i can’t remember his name) who is roughly our age.  he is partying with friends and heading to another bar when we cross paths.  he asks what we are doing and we tell him a bit about our midnight mission.  the look on his face visibly changes.  he tells his friends to go on without him and he will catch up.

he doesn’t.

he joins us and we continue walking down east hastings, feeding anyone with a hungry belly and a desire to satisfy their sweet tooth.

he comes from a good family but has been running with the wrong crowd for a while.  he knows he shouldn’t but the allure is too much for him.  he has a weakness for strong drink, cocaine and easy women.  he feels trapped.

we walk around for hours with him, talking life and becoming friends.

as he leaves us to head home, he swears our time together has changed him.  we hug it out and say goodbye.  we walk away hoping that

it really has.

lou comes back to my place and we debrief.  he falls asleep in the big, comfy chair in the corner of my room.  i grab a pen and paper to write down everything that happened.  i don’t want to forget this night.

i never did.

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community heals

nothing like a good day lived in community to pick up my spirits.

street soccer was great the other night.  good mixture of young, talented foreign players (who actually passed the ball) and our street guys.  everyone seemed to have a blast.

i had an opportunity to talk with kal tonight for a while.  he has been coming out for the past 5 weeks and wowing everyone with his talent and skill.  he’s a resident of the shelter i worked at last year.  after recently graduating from a local university in engineering, his mental health failed him and he found himself forced to stay in a homeless shelter.

his story, as sad as it is, happens more than you know.

that’s what happens when the majority of people in our society are so ignorant in regards to mental health issues, and when the province spends less than 4% of the health budget on mental health services.

back asswards.

i don’t feel like i’m talking to someone who has a severe mental health issue. kal speaks intelligently, articulately and without any weird social ticks or abnormal behaviors.  his reasoning not only sounds good but is sound.

kal is from the middle east.  born in palestine, raised in syria, he moved to canada more than a decade ago with family.  soccer was one of the only constants in his life.

i asked him about his family and friends back in syria (he didn’t have any in palestine anymore).  the pained looked on his face was hard to miss.  communication with many of them had been cut off.  he had no way of knowing how they were doing.  no idea whether they were dead or alive.

his solution: going back.

i had no response to that.

what am i supposed to say in that moment?

am i supposed to tell him that his country is being decimated by a ‘civil war’ that has lasted just over two years?  am i supposed to tell him it’s too dangerous to go back there?

(it’s my opinion that it’s not a civil war but a proxy war between the west and the middle east.  the documented support of the syrian free army by the west and mercenary soldiers from west-friendly middle east governments paints a pretty clear picture.  i digress.)

he probably knows this much better than i do.  he has been able to hear from some relatives back home in syria.  the story they tell isn’t a pretty one.  the  mainstream media in the west doesn’t accurately represent the situation over there.

big surprise.

i try to put myself in his shoes.  what if it were my family and friends caught in the middle of an illegal, proxy war?  what would i do?  how would i feel?  what would i do with those emotions?

my problems don’t seem so big when i think about what kal is going through.

street soccer goes later than usual.  no one wants to stop playing.  for kal and a couple of the other guys, they can’t stay too late or they risk not having a bed down at the shelter.  it’s become warmer out but still drops well below zero at night.  not having a bed for the night would mean a sleepless night.  when you’re dealing with mental health issues, going sleepless is the last thing you need.

kal gives me an apologetic goodbye.  i tell him not to apologize.  i understand.  a warm bed is more important than playing the final couple of games.  he thanks me, we pound fists and he leaves.

rest well, kal.

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death, where is your sting?

the past few days have been difficult. africa dying hit closer to home than i ever expected. his passing has me thinking about death more. no, not in the morbid sense. im not completely off my rocker yet. its got me thinking about life and the death of life. big picture stuff.

death isnt really the end. its a new beginning to the rest of your life. well, thats what i believe. i think we live forever and ever, somewhere. heaven, paradise, city of gold, kingdom of God, home.

i know atheists will probably scold me for saying such a thing, but i feel bad for atheists. i really do. genuine pity. if i understand atheism, and i think do, the logical conclusion of its philosophy is that there is no meaning, no purpose, no life after death. not only does nothing really matter nor any truth really exist, but when we die thats it.

what an awful thing to believe.

worm food. lights go out and they dont come back on.

i realize that this isnt an argument against atheism, because something being unfortunately terrible doesnt make it wrong, but it does make it terrible and something that offers very little hope for this life. no thanks, atheism.

id rather see and embrace the hope we have in the gospel. thanks, Jesus.

im going to leave it at that. for now.

i miss the dtes a lot right now. i havent missed it there this much since i first left. i wonder how so many people are doing. i wonder how aj is doing and if he has kicked his addiction. i wonder how elizabeth is doing and if she beat cancer. i wonder how daryl has been and if he has gone home to nunavut like he told me he needed to.

i wonder about many others and wonder when ill go back, if ever.

i hope to.

today i worked the door at hope cottage. eddie had taken the night off and andrew asked if i wanted the gig. no apron, greet everyone that entered the building and carry a clicker to count guests. its even better than it sounds.

cheque day was on wednesday so business is slow. the regulars are all there though and a few new faces. kenny comes in with rap blasting from his cell phone. a few heads in the room turn in his direction and he graciously turns it off as he grabs a tray. considerate member of the community.

skylar comes in for dinner late. he grabs some bread and dinner and comes to talk with me. he finally got an apartment! i congratulate him and we high five.

high fiving is a great celebratory gesture on the streets. i quite enjoy it.

skylar was a youth that was living at the shelter when i worked there. i got to know him there and when he came out to play street soccer for a while. smart cree kid, very athletic, advocate for others, but with a bit of a temper.

he has had housing for just over a month. he moved in just before christmas. good gift from santa, id say. already its helping him. he is taking his addictions more seriously and doing what he needs to do to be healthy. hes staying out of trouble which means the police arent harassing him.. as much.

i couldnt be happier for him!

we talk school and where things are at with that. school is next on his list of things to do but he feels lost. hes not sure where to go from here. i agree to help him figure that out. hes too smart and gifted not to get his high school diploma and give himself a better chance at life. he agrees. he promises to come out for street soccer this sunday and bring his sudanese roommate who loves playing soccer with him.

i hear they start playing soccer in the womb over there. i expect this guy to be good.

skylars big success has me hopeful. even in the midst of death, grief and sadness, theres a lot to be hopeful for. hope for at-risk youth getting housed and educated. hope for my other friends on the street rising up out of poverty. hope for me seeing my friend, africa again (and all the others) on the other side.

bye, grief. hello, hope.

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giving up to gain

there wasnt much to do when i arrived at hope cottage on friday morning.  soup was on the burner warming up, coffee and tea were brewing in their respective pots, and sandwiches had all been made up for the day.  brian make quick work of the morning routine.  i found him at the back of the dining room hall nose-deep in his new book, the hunger games when i came in.  we exchanged a nod and a friendly morning grunt.  yes, we grunt when we see one another.

primitives, we are.

morning meal didnt draw much of a crowd.  gst cheques came in on thursday.  tim came into help serve and we got talking about life.  tim is only a couple of years older than i but with his grey beard seems about 20 years my senior.  i dont tell him that though.  its too soon in our knowing one another to tease about silly things like that.  tim limps a bit when he walks because of an old injury and serves coffee and tea with a giant smile on his face.

thanks for all you do, tim.

after breakfast, andrew asked me if i was interested in making soup.  having never made soup before i decided to take him up on the offer.  but first, lunch.  eggs, chorizo sausages and toast with a glass of orange juice.

mmm.

what looked and seemed like a great combination turned into anything but.  a collective belly ache came over the three of us (terry, our director joined us).  it made for an uncomfortable early afternoon.

never.  having.  that.  combo.  again!

on to soup making.

andrew got me to do most of the work.  something about learning better from doing.  sure, sure, lazy boy (kidding).  he lead me through the process.  boiling the chickens, tearing off all the meat, dicing up the meat, adding spices, veggies and rice, and voila!  chicken rice soup.
ill have to see how the crowd likes it on monday morning.  if any get sick im blaming it on andrew though.  thats legit, right?

in the midst of making soup, andrew and i got to talking about homelessness and poverty in our city.  what i learned was valuable.

a few years back, andrew went on a missions trip to the ukraine.  while there he witnessed what he described to me as the worst imaginable poverty.  it rocked his world and changed his perspectives.  upon returning back home, he felt some personal changes were in order.  he told me he felt a calling from God to give more of himself to the local poor and homeless community in halifax. unfortunately, working two jobs didnt afford him much time to do much of anything. so he did what any reasonable person would do – he quit his jobs.

with ample free time on his hands he devoted himself to volunteering at hope cottage, serving food and helping with whatever he could.  he loved it.  it filled a need in the community while also filling a hole in his heart.  that hole in all our hearts that can only be filled when we love our neighbor as ourself.

shortly after volunteering at hope andrew was asked if he wanted to be hired on as a member of the fulltime staff.  his desire to gives himself more to the local poor and homeless community lead to a completely different career. what a great example of what it looks like to really trust God with ones life; to step out in faith and sacrifice your comfort for some thing much larger than yourself.

inspiring to say the very least.

andrew is just another guy trying to follow Jesus the best he can.  im darn glad we are friends.

“human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” -mlk

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