I'm going to tell another personal story, and again I hope you'll forgive me, people. I guess I tell these stories because I think they provide a framework to explain why I feel the way I do about some things (and, well, I'm a writer and telling stories is kind of what we do).
A couple of years ago my house in Fort Mac was up for sale. As everyone knows real estate is hell, but the worst part has to be house showings. These can occur with two day's notice, or two hours. It means everyone has to clear out and find somewhere else to be for an hour or two. When our house was up for sale this often meant that while my family was off at work and/or school it was just the dog and I, and when showings came up we needed a place to go. My dog is not good with other dogs, so the dog park was out. Walks were great but due to the nature of the showings we often didn't know if we'd be out for 15 minutes or 3 hours. So, quite often, I loaded her into the car and we would head off to the Safeway downtown, to grab a Starbucks for me and a dog cookie for her. We would sit outside at the tables and just watch the world go by, my canine companion and I.
Virtually every time we did this we would attract attention, as my dog is a pretty cute sort. Much of the attention, to my surprise, came from the many transient, and, I suspect, homeless, individuals in that area of downtown. They were always very interested in my dog, and would ask to pet her. They would stop a bit, and tell me about their childhood dogs, dogs long gone in all but memory. They would try to coax my shy dog out from under the table, one man even removing his hat when he realized it was scaring her. One thing they never, ever did was ask me for anything. Not for money, not for cigarettes, not for a single thing. All they wanted to do was to pet my dog, talk to me about dogs, and connect with another human being. Those visits to the Safeway pretty much ended when my house sold - but I never forgot the gentle goodwill of every individual I had encountered. I have never forgotten the way they spoke wistfully of their own pets, and of their pasts. People - we all have a story, and often we are just looking for someone to share it with. For that brief moment in time they shared their stories with me.
On November 24th there is another chance for connection. From 9:00 am - 3:30 pm the Nistoyowou Friendship Centre will host an event called "Homeless Connect". This day is meant for those who are currently homeless, at risk of homelessness, or who have been recently housed through the Housing First program. The event is intended to provide these individuals access to some of the services they so desperately need but may not be able to easily access. There will be booths from the Centre of Hope (a place that has become quite dear to me recently), Wood Buffalo Housing, Alberta Health, Keyano nursing students, Salvation Army, McMan Youth, Child, and Family Services, Housing First, Victim Services, and others.
The goal of Homeless Connect is to reach out to those in our community who need help. To be able to access all these services in one place is amazing, and it is so very necessary. It is our community reaching out to those in our city who are in need - and who perhaps need us the most.
You might be wondering how you can help, people. And, in fact, there is a way. If you've looked outside recently you've noticed that snow has begun to blanket our streets, and temperatures have dipped. This presents yet another challenge for the homeless. Not only should no one be homeless they shouldn't face these freezing temperatures with inadequate clothing. To address this donations of gently used winter coats and boots are being sought. These items can be dropped off at the Nistoyowou Friendship Centre on Sunday, November 20th from noon until 4 pm, and all day on Monday November 21st. And since you're going to be down there maybe you can swing by The Centre of Hope and drop off things like packages of new white tube socks, or personal hygiene items. I can guarantee they won't go to waste, and that they will be appreciated by those who receive them.
I plan to attend Homeless Connect, people. Not because I can provide any significant services to those in need, and not because I can give them all a place to live. I plan to go so that I can listen to their stories, hear about their experiences, and connect with them in the same respectful and kind way they connected with me and my dog. During a time when I was "homeless" for mere hours, kicked out of my house by a real estate agent intent on a sale, they approached me with friendship and a desire to share their time with me, with no strings attached. I think, just maybe, it's my turn to do the same in this community. And that's why I will be there on November 24th - because I can listen, and I can connect.
Homeless Connect is on November 24th,
9:00 am - 3:30 pm, at the
Nistoyowou Friendship Centre.
Please consider donating your gently used
coats and boots to this effort to help
those in our community in need.