It was Friday. Canada Day. Red and white flags fluttered in the breeze. O Canada rose from many voices gathered to celebrate the day.
I was working at the East Village Street Fair. We had a booth set up to sell our book, WHERE: 50 years of ending homelessness. the DI story, we well as another space with our Two Chairs initiative. An invitation to sit down, relax, get comfortable in one of two big comfy easy chairs and have a conversation. No technology. No distractions. Just two people sitting and talking, about anything the guest wants to talk about.
And talk they did.
The first man stopped to look at the display behind the Two Chairs. A conversation, he asked. That's it? You don't want anything else?
That's right, I replied. You're welcome to just sit down and chat.
He sat. And chatted.
About his wife and her debilitating illness. About the uncertainties of his job. About living in a basement suite. About their struggles to make ends meet.
"We had to go to the Food Bank last week," he said and paused. "Now that's humbling."
Later, a woman sat and told me about her fears of walking in the East Village at night, and during the day for that matter. "I don't go out much," she said. "Unless there are lots of people around."
"What are you afraid of?" I asked.
She thought for a moment and then looked at me as if surprised by her answer, "I don't know."
"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"
She laughed. "I'd get outside." She looked around. The street was crowded with people. Children drew on the roadway in front of us with chalk we'd supplied. There were smiles. Laughter. Happy voices.
"I need to get over my fear," she said. "I need to get out more." And she stood up and walked away.
A man took her seat. He lives in the East Village. "It's really changing," he said. "The developers are doing a lot of work on the land, but they're not doing much for building community. Right now the gophers have the biggest say in what happens."
"The gophers?" I asked.
"Yeah. They're eating everything in the community garden. We need to put in some snow fencing to deter them."
I wonder aloud if gophers are afraid of snow but he reassures me. It's not about the snow. It's about the plastic nature of the fencing.
"A community garden is a great place for people to meet and to work together. But the gophers own it right now. We've got to take the land back."
Like the streets. We've got to take them back. From the drug dealers. The pimps. The pushers. The addicts. The homeless.
It was a refrain I heard often during the day. "We gotta take the streets back."
"Push them [the pimps, pushers, addicts, homeless] out," said another man.
"And where would they go?" I asked.
"I don't care," he replied. "I just don't want them in my neighbourhood."
And so we push and prod and poke and pull and the ebb and flow moves in and out. And through it all we seldom ask -- what is pushing 'them' to become dealers, pimps, pushers addicts, homeless?
Somewhere something is broken -- and it's not on our streets. It's in our homes. Our schools. Our communities.
Something is broken and it is appearing on our streets.
We need to push farther back into the core of what is causing what is broken to appear on our streets so that we can 'end homelessness' in the lives of those who have been pushed so far down their only recourse is to take to the streets in search of answers.