Tag Archives: homelessness

silent hospitals


the hum of the hospital elevator still buzzes in my brain. one of those sounds that puts you at ease and into a comfortable, deep sleep. i remember the furnace in our basement gave off a sound just like the hospital elevator’s hum. i was 7, maybe 8, and i wouldn’t fall asleep until i heard the click of the furnace, then the hum that followed after.

mental thumb-sucking, probably.

dave is sitting up in his bed when i arrive, attempting to eat his dinner. pork chops and mashes potatoes. looks decent for hospital food. small cartons of milk and ensure line the right side edge of his hospital table. he really likes milk.

“is it snowing again?” he asks.

i shake my head. “not today.”

he reaches over and removes a couple of books from the visitor’s chair.

“here, sit down,” he tells me.

i thank him and sit. a trio of nurses looks over our way and talk amongst themselves, about which i can’t be sure. i’ve met a couple of them since i’ve been visiting dave. they seem friendly and caring. dave tells me some of the older nurses don’t even acknowledge him, even while administering to his medical needs.

i wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that he’s a homeless man.

dave tells me he received good news from the doctor. one of three infections surrounding his heart is successfully being treated by the cocktail of antibiotics he takes everyday. still two more infections to fight off, though but he seems up to the challenge. i don’t get the impression he wants to lie down and die.

not yet.

somehow, him and i begin talking about ancient historical leaders and the times in which they lived. dave has a few things to tell me about alexander the great. the brief history lesson draws in one of the younger nurses and soon there’s three of us discussing and debating and laughing.

dave has a good hearty laugh at one point, but it’s interrupted by a cough that echoes deep in his lungs. it puts a halt to the conversation. he puts his head back against the upright bed and closes his eyes.

“i could really do without those,” he says.

everything is quiet for a while. the nurse goes back to her station, i listen to the hum from the elevator still trapped in my head and dave rests his eyes.

i lean back to check the clock on the wall.

“you got somewhere to go?” dave asks me.

“actually, i do, but not for a while.”

he slowly nods and smiles, his eyes fixed on the ceiling tile above his hospital bed.

“i stare at the tiles on the ceiling for hours,” he explains to me. “i try to count the black marks on each one, then try to estimate how many ceiling tiles there must be in the entire hospital. i’ll figure out how many black marks this hospital has by the time they discharge me.”

i’m almost certain he will.

i notice a new necklace he is wearing. it’s made of fabric and has something written on the back of the square-shaped wool pendant. it says something to the effect that ‘anyone who is wearing this when they die will not go to hell’. it’s an old roman catholic superstition from what dave tells me.

“a priest brought it by for me. i figured ‘why not?’ it couldn’t hurt, right?”

“you scared of dying?” i ask him.

“not yet,” he says, eyes fixed on mine. “but i’m sure i will be if or when things get worse.”




i’m hit anew with the gravity of dave’s situation. this is happening right now. this isn’t a movie i can turn off and return to watch later if i want.

“if i grab that necklace from around your neck, yank it off and run out the door, would you feel any different about your present condition?” i ask him.

he laughs at the idea and tells me, “no. this necklace isn’t going to save me. God restored my soul many years ago. i may have been running from him these past years, but he’s not going to undo what’s been already spiritually done in me. it was grace that changed me and it’ll be grace that keeps me until my final hour.”

his back seems to have gotten a bit stronger after saying that because he’s sitting up straight now in bed, not slumping like he was. his face looks resolute as he turns towards me, courage seems to beam from his eyes. i’m not sure what to say or if any words are even necessary.

more silence.

when i was in grade school we had to read john steinbeck’s book ‘of men and mice’. my teacher’s love for the book inspired my classmates and i as we read through the novel together. it was the first book i remember having such an emotional impact on me. during a particularly important moment in the book, steinbeck writes:

“as happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. and sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

and, so it was for dave and i as we sat there together in his hospital room, letting the silence do all the talking for us.

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bye, wally

ok, i’m ready.

a couple of blog posts back i said i wasn’t ready to talk about my friend, wally.  i am now.

wally looked like he had been a handsome man at some point in his youth, but age, addiction and cancer had robbed him of that.  his sunken eyes and cheeks spoke to his sickened state better than any other feature on his dying body.  i’ve seen pictures of holocaust survivors in concentration camps that looked healthier than he did.

one day wally asked me for a new pair of pants.  i grabbed the key and we went up into the donations rooms to find him something.  since he didn’t own a belt, we tried to find pants that fit him snug.  we couldn’t.  he was too skinny.  it was then that it hit me how sick wally was.

i apologized for not being able to find him a pair of pants that fit but wally just shrugged it off and told me not to worry.  the dirty and torn jeans he had on would have to suffice.  i offered to find a pair at the clothing store down the street but he wouldn’t have anything of it.  he shook my hand, thanked me for my time and left.  his hands were bony and cold.

there are some memories that always stay with you.

on one overnight shift i was able to sit and talk with wally about his life.  he had not had an easy go at life by any stretch of the imagination, but, as he told me, ‘other people have had worse lives’.  i wasn’t sure then and i’m still not sure now whether he said that to comfort me or himself.  possibly both.

chemotherapy was wrecking his body, inside out.  the cancer he had was an aggressive type so the doctors were meeting it with equally aggressive therapy.  and there was wally stuck in the middle, his frail body barely holding up under such horrendous conditions.

drinking alcohol numbed the pain, he told me.  he didn’t care that it made things worse.  he was going to have as much fun with his friends as he could before he passed into the next life.  his immune system could just suck it up, he told me.


wally coughed up blood and i panicked slightly.  i think he saw the worried look on my face as he wiped the bloody spit from his lips.

‘don’t worry about it, lucas.  i’m fine’.

he wasn’t fine but the way he said it almost made me believe him.  his voice carried such warmth and care.  the type of voice that puts you at ease.  i wanted to believe him so badly but i knew the cancer had him in a bad way.

‘do you even want to beat cancer?’

i regretted asking it as soon as the words left my mouth.  how insensitive could i possibly be?

‘on most days, no.’


after a few moments, he continued:

‘i think i’m ready to die, lucas.  i’ve dealt with a lot of pain in my life and i think when i die the pain will end.’

i haven’t talked death so frankly with anyone in my life like i did with wally that night.

‘but, there are some days when i’m with good people – my friends, what remains of my family and relatives – that i gain more strength to want to fight and live longer.’

‘conversations like the one we are having right now, lucas, they give me more strength and desire to keep pushing forward’.

with that, he shook my hand and limped his way to his bed,  blessing me beyond any words could ever describe.
thanks, wally.  i hope your pain is gone now and you are finally at rest.

rip wally

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‘do you like chocolate?’

what a silly question.

‘of course i like chocolate.  who doesnt?’

with that the bearded man with coffee-stained teeth and a hearty laugh forced a newspaper clipping into my right hand.

‘theres all the chocolate you could ever want and more!’

he was right.  the image of a newly constructed chocolate train held a caption underneath it stating that its weight was calculated at just over a ton.  a ton of chocolate!  my dentist would smack me upside the head good if he just saw the way i was oogling that train.

mm, chocolate transportation.

my fellow chocolate lover took back his newspaper clipping and resumed his place in line, muttering to himself about trains and chocolate.  hes one of the many people ive had the opportunity to meet in my short tenure at hope cottage, a soup kitchen in the north end of halifax.  two weeks ago i decided that doing construction work was far too hard on my body (knees and back didnt like it) and i had little time to hang out with my friends on the street.

‘what are you?  a wrestler?’

i cant say anyone has ever asked me that question before.  the small, old man who asked me probably thought everyone looked like giant wrestlers.  i told him i wasnt a wrestler but his squinted eyes and doubting stare told me didnt believe me.  maybe its better if people think im a wrestler since the soup kitchens location is smack dab in the middle of one of the more dangerous areas of the city, if not the most.

hope cottage looks like just your average house from the street.  it was opened 42 years ago by a local church pastor to help struggling low-income families and homeless men with meals during the week.  what probably started as a temporary fix has become a fixture for the city that has seen its poor and homeless population grow larger over the years.  several different churches and groups help supply food to help with costs and hundreds of volunteers help serve the meals.

its an incredible organization to be a part of.  im blessed.

laurie came in for dinner tonight.  the first thing i saw was her big smile.

‘i didnt know you were working here!’ she said followed by a big hug.

laurie tells me she got her old job back (!!) and has been working for the past three weeks.  now she is able to see her kids on the weekends!

its not everyday i get to hear success stories which just makes this one that much better.

congrats, laurie, and thanks hope cottage for having me aboard.


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my blogs are a day behind right now because its only when i wake up the next day do i have time to write. yesterday was no different. seemed as soon as i was out the door life grabbed hold and wanted me to be a patient observer and participant. i love it when that happens.

chuck didnt make it to the hangout spot yesterday, which was a bit disappointing. fortunately i was able to catch up with donnie, one of the guys i had been working with when i was with pax. donnie, a short little guy with a diabetic problem and a penchant to get into the sauce a bit too often, caught me up on his life while ive been gone. hes lost a considerable amount of weight which isnt a good thing when hes already a small guy. we talk about his addiction a bit but hes not ready to seek further help. he cant seem to get past denial.

as i leave i run into paul, one of the men that sit on the board at the out of the cold shelter. hes a fairly prominent figure in the community, having given the past 30 years to helping the community in halifax. great guy. we talk about different projects hes involved in and what the out of the cold shelter hopes to accomplish for next year. he encourages me by saying that he can tell people on the street and in the community enjoy engaging with me and that hes glad im here. coming from a man of his standing im pretty left pretty speechless. we shake hands and i float off. thanks, paul.

again i head into uniacke square to play some ball with simo. we train for a couple hours and call it a day. kat shows up and we talk a walk through the square, towards the water. we hit brunswick st as hope cottage is finishing up their dinner for those on the street and catch beaver as hes heading home. we exchange hugs and catch up with him. he bugs me about looking skinnier and i bug him about the big belly hes acquired since ive been gone. i ask him if the baby is kicking yet and he howls.

on our way home, i decide to stop in at the local ymca to see whats going on. i greeted by a couple friendly older men from the community who happen to work there. i ask how one goes about getting involved at the y and we go from there. i get the whole meal deal speal from terry, who tells me everything id ever need to know about the facility and the community. his passion for the kids and his desire to see his community changed is so apparent in the way he talks. i love talking with people like that. we exchange contact info and he invites me out on friday to play ball with some of the older men in the community. nothing like some basketball and community connections.

i leave the north end feeling more connected, feeling a greater potential for change than i have in the past. something is stirring..

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hoops in the hood

past couple days have been lived pretty tired. sleep apnea is probably flaring up. so last night i crashed for about 11 hours. ya, no kidding! yet, when i woke up, i was still tired. the day waits for no one, tired man or not, and i popped out and ready to dance.

a new hangout spot in the city opened up recently so i figured id make a stop in and see what its like. on my way i see a familiar face but without a recollection of the name. i can be really bad with names sometimes. even worse with birthdays. chuck tells me his name after i apologetically ask him and he tells me about life. chuck has been sleeping on the streets for the past few days because one of the only two shelters in the city is full, the other one isnt free. men dont have many resources in this city when life pulls the rug out from under them. its a cold hard reality that doesnt hold many options or potential for hope. it sucks to see, even worse seen in the eyes of fallen men.

chuck and i part ways but make plans to meet for lunch tomorrow. something doesnt seem right about his story. doesnt make all the connections. hes either lying to me or its mental illness. most of the guys suffer from some type, multiple mental illnesses not being uncommon. i hope hes just lying.

theres a couple guys i know hanging out on the front steps as i make my way up them to the new hangout spot. a chat with them briefly, pretty eager to check out the new place. after i get to the top of a dozen stairs or so, i follow a side hallway that brings me back down another pair of equal stairs and into a large, cozy room occupied by some familiar faces and some new ones. i start talking with peter about a treasure hunt hes going on soon. hes not really though. he suffers many delusional dreams he believes to be reality because of the schizophrenia that plagues his brain. his delusions are pretty harmless to himself and others but i still worry that could change. i pray it doesnt. hes a pretty cool old man and i like his stories, regardless if theyre real or not. he needs help but doesnt have the support to help him.

next im off to the basketball ball courts in uniacke square to meet my moraccan friend, simo, for a training session. he wants to make the team next year at one of the universities in the city so ive offered to help train him. his english is getting better and so is his game. i think hes got a fair shot at it.

uniacke square has a dirty history to it..

africville was a small community on the southern shores of halifax populated mostly by african nova scotians. it was a small, poor neighbourhood that the city wanted to move. completely. so they did. they bulldozed their community and placed them in a 250-unit housing project. uniacke square is an impoverished part of present day halifax thats home to 60% unemployment, gangs, violence and plenty of drugs. when you hear about a shooting, its usually at the square.

a couple young ballers start shooting hoops and i can tell they want a game with us. i ask them to play and they say yes faster than a fat kid on cake. i was pretty eager to play with the older guys, too, when i was younger. igor, the skinny white kid with a good jumpshot was on my team. kerbie, a 15 yr old black boy who reminded me of me the way he played (he played well) ripped it up. good kids. polite, good sportsmanship and good teammates. after two hours on the pavement my back says ‘nope, no more’ and i tell the kids the next game will have to wait till another day. they understand and we shake hands. they ask when we’ll be back to play some more. i tell them ill see them tomorrow afternoon. they smile and i smile back.

something needs to give here. community needs building and people need hope. need to find more like-minded people who feel the same.

is that you?

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out of the cold..


i cant seem to find the words lately to write. i know theyre there but getting them down on to some paper or a screen seems like a battle. for someone who needs to write (it may be the only medication available for my type of insanity) this is a rather unfortunate predicament. even these words seem forced and unnatural. i can only assume my heart and mind have heavier things weighing on them than my need to write. or maybe my insanity just needs more attention.

contrary to what i might be telling myself, working 3 jobs may be catching up with me. ive gotten ‘ you look tired’ more lately than i care to admit. i like to just think it has to do with being awake when its dark and sleeping through the sun. am i just lying to myself? probably. dad told me hes going to send me something for my sleep apnea so im praying that fixes my faded exterior a bit. if not, maybe i need to reorganize.

last night was a tough wrap up to 3 shift stretch of graveyards at the out of the cold shelter. the shelter is an emergency space for people unable to access other housing or shelter space in the city. because of limited space and liability issues, we’re only able to accommodate 15 people a night, even though we have space for many more. last night i had to deny 5 men who were trying to escape the rapidly dropping temperature, but not before filling their pockets full of food, their bags full of blankets and warm clothes, and tim hortons cards so they could sit somewhere warm for a while. to say there arent enough beds in this city for the homeless is an understatement. a gross understatement. im not sure what we’re going to do when january comes and the real cold temperatures hit. when do peoples lives become more important than liabilities?

jason came by a few times trying to access the shelter. him and i have been hanging out a lot lately while im at work. the cocktail of medication drugs hes prescribed for his schizophrenia doesnt allow him to sleep very long, or so he tells me. i like to think its because i make a mean cup of coffee. either way, jason and i have become fast friends. he tells me everything i ever wanted to know about music (and then some!) and i keep the coffee flowing. its a good relationship. when he tried to access the third time, he looked tired, cold and hungry. i parked him in one of the beat up old sofa chairs for a minute while i grabbed some food and coffee to warm him back up. he was snoring by the time i came back. i asked my volunteer staff, john, if he had a problem with ‘bending’ some rules. he didnt and neither did i. jason stayed.

daryl, who suffers from a similar metal illness, woke up looking for some coffee and conversation. probably the smartest intellect ive met on the streets and quite possibly ever.  no exaggeration!  his ideas on life and questions concerning everything else associated with it made me think harder than i cared to at 5 in the morning but it was refreshing nonetheless. im still trying to wrap my mind around the zero-gravity black hole theory he was trying to explain to me. hopefully ill have an answer for him when we talk next.

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dont almost give

have you ever..?

have you ever walked past someone panhandling for money and thought about giving? you had some change in your pocket at the time, probably left over from lunch at some restaurant. but hey, you might need that three bucks in change for a starbucks coffee later in your day…

have you ever gone grocery shopping and, as you were leaving the store, notice the food bank bin sitting pretty empty? with a cart full of groceries you pushed past thinking that others would fill the bin. its not like you should make yourself go without those few cans of beans or soup…

have you ever had the chance to give to someone less fortunate than you but just didnt?

dont almost give.


ad council dont almost give campaign

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“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” ~John Berger

compared to those that live in poverty, the average north american lives a life of abundance, indulgence and comfort. even our lower middle class looks incredibly wealthy compared to the 1.2 billion people around the world that live on less than one dollar per day, almost 3 billion on less than two dollars per day and a billion more live their lives on two to four dollars. do the math. thats more than half of the population that lives in poverty. 11 million children die everyday before reaching their 5th birthday..

what comes to your mind when you think of this? pity? sympathy? sadness? anything…? does it not seem ridiculous that billions of our global neighbours are living in poverty especially when we have ample wealth, knowledge, technology and resources to help? we have the ability to help the 2.5 million kids each year that die from malaria. people, malaria medicine is cheap! for the same price as your speciality coffee at starbucks or the burger at your nearest fast food joint you can buy malaria medicine for a child in afria that would save their life. thats no exaggeration. its that cheap to save someones life. four dollars.

why dont we act? why dont we make a difference?

a parable by henry nouwen might give us some insight..

once there was a people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “how can we be sure that we will have enough in hard times? we want to survive whatever happens. let us start collecting food, materials, and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” so they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that other peoples protested and said: “you have much more than you need, while we dont have enough to survive. give us part of your wealth.” but the fearful hoarders said: “no, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bd for us,too, in case our lives are threatened.” but the others said: “we are dying now, please give us food an materials and knowledge to survive. we cant wait.. we need it now!”

then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. so they said to one another: ” let us build walls around our wealthso that no stranger can take it from us.” they started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside their walls or not! as their fear increased they told each other: our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. out walls are not strong enough to keep them away. we need to put bombs on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” but instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they have bult wit their own fear. they even became afraid of their own bombs, wondering if they might harm themselves more than their enemy. and gradually they realized their fear of death had brought them closer to it.

i think this parable describes us well. we spend most of our time protecting what we already have or attempting to get more. we’ve become so obsessed with the ‘never enough’ mentality that we the cant see the forest from the trees – translation: we’re so focused on the details (the petty materialistic things of our lives) that we cant see the overall big picture. we’re so focused on “me, me, me!” that we forget sometimes that there is a “we” as well. we have global neighbors that need our help to survive. they’re not asking for our fancy cars and ipods. theyre pleading with us for food, water, education and medical attention.

the part about poverty that really ticks me off: its preventable!!

when will we be moved to help?

i dare you not to be moved by this.

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