Heaven Help Us December 16 2014
Over the past year particularly my heart has been taxed by the homelessness within my city. I appreciate there is no one cure all or magic wand that heal all the hurts of the world and make everyone whole and happy. I also appreciate the fact that there are no two people in any social class that are the same - so there is no one size fits all solutions to any of life's many challenges or tribulations.
So that being said, my personal compassion to this ever growing situation has gotten louder and stronger with each day that I drive by the many "tent city" locations throughout our city. Especially on those extreme nights of torrential rain or freezing temperatures.
I had registered earlier this year to attend a city forum to discuss this very situation. It was early in the year and as the day approached I found myself feeling anxious and helpless - almost an imposter feeling like who did I think I was to go in there and think I could fix this huge issue. Needless to say the morning of the forum I let fear overtake me and I choose instead to clean out my garage.
This decision was interesting in itself however because through the process I discovered many bottles and other recycling that needed to be dealt with. As I worked I still felt a guilt for not going to the forum but I was also gentle with myself and honored the fear that held me back.
I decided to go to the bottle depot and get rid of that stash and in the process I thought if there is someone there in need I will give them my bottles. To my surprise there was no one but me at the bottle depot - it was early in the morning and they had just opened but the place was empty. I quickly sorted my stuff and was refunded a whopping $5... Feeling accomplished knowing my garage was clean and the bottles were returned and I had this $5 in hand I decided I'd treat myself to a coffee on my way back home.
As I headed towards the local Tim Hortons I found myself right in the middle of the largest "tent city" we have within our community. I was shocked... I had seen it from afar but had never drove directly through. Embarrassed to say, but my first instinct was to lock the doors of my car as I drove through. Again it was early in the morning so there was not a lot of activity within the community. Toward the far end however I noticed a young girl, I would say she would be in her late teens to early twenties walking back into the tent city with a small tray of two Tim Hortons coffees. She could have been my daughter or yours and although a bit dishevelled was definitely a nice looking girl.
My heart broke and all I could do at that point was to run home, run to my safe haven and cry. Seeing the human element there, seeing the young souls there, seeing the situation at the situation's level was overwhelming for me. Overwhelming in the sense that something has to be in place that can provide help at the level it will be accepted and helpful to some of our most vulnerable citizens in our community.
Yes I said "Citizens in our community" because that is what each homeless person is. They are "not broken just bent" and the bending can be repaired.
I've thought about this every single day of this past year - what is going on and how can we help in a healthy, respectful manner. You see no matter how destructive a person is there is history that has contributed to this behaviour. There is still a child within each and every soul that walks this earth, a child that was wounded, denied, misunderstood or mistreated - damage has been done which in many cases has been escalated with numbing techniques like drugs or alcohol abuse. But we can't just pretend it's not there.
So this compassion and empathy prompted me to bring up the topic at a Christmas gathering we attended the other night. Our city has just come through a civic election so the topics of the day have been debated and discussed to the nth degree over the past few months.
The couple we were sharing with about our feelings on the homeless begged to differ. They were of the mindset that the media has created the homeless issue as the number one issue of our city when really what the problem of our city is, is attracting more business to the area to increase the jobs, taxes and progress of the city.
They told us that their friend (who is a city counsellor) told them that everything has been done for the homeless. They said that each person within the tent cities had been approached individually and offered a bed and food on any given night and they were refused. They went on to say we have 600 beds always available but these people will not go there.
So my question was - okay why? And what changes need to happen for them to feel safe to go there?
I was recently at a weekend workshop and on Sunday morning a middle aged woman came and told us her story. She was native and had been using drugs to the point of addiction since she was 14. Over the years she choose to live on the streets in east Vancouver. She made it very clear it was her choice and desire at that time to be there.
She had a family at one point and still has but had lost it all many years earlier as she choose to live the life of an addict. She is sober now and actually works at the clean injection site in Vancouver serving coffee and juice to those in need. She was nervousness telling her story and I sensed although healing has occurred for her every day is a challenge.
She sang for us, beautiful, heartfelt. I saw something within her story that touched me very deeply. She spoke about her own feelings of unworthiness and the years it took and the support before she allowed help into her life. After hearing her story I knew that the only way to help the homeless situation is by healing the souls that are lost to the streets. To reach them with respect and dignity, to build the relationship of support and trust.
You see it's no different from my dealings with people, if someone betrays my trust, I will forgive but I will not trust them again util they earn that back. The worlds of each person on the street have been violated by a hurt, by a betrayal and the hearts need to heal, the soul needs to heal so the person can become whole again and be just as productive within their community as anyone.
You don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Rome was not built in a day. There is no one size fits all but there is hope.
It won't happen over night but through consistent loving support it can make a difference. The question remains how? Who? When? And Where?