Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reporting from On the Roof: Day 2 -- night falls with gratitude

Some of the Angels
For the 9th year in a row, Angels in the Night  arrived, yellow capes billowing, heads adorned with reindeer antlers bobbing amidst a bevy of Santa hats, smiles wide and hearts open to give what they have purchased for the clients of the shelter.

As I stood waiting in the driveway for the arrival of the Angels and their big truck a client passed me and stopped to comment on my presence off the roof. "I thought you were up there 24/7," he said laughingly.

"I've escaped!" I replied.

Genevieve delivers coffee, hot cocoa and treats
He laughed some more and then said quietly. "Wish I could."

Yeah. I wish he could too.

"Well, thanks for doing that," he said. "It means a lot." And he disappeared into the darkness beyond the shelter gates.

It's been a day filled with meaning. Clients stand on the smoke deck across from the roof and wave. Sometimes, we dance together, make arm gestures, smile and laugh and point. I walk through the second floor to stretch and clients and staff stop to chat, to ask 'how's it going on the roof'. To say, 'Thanks!' 'Good on you!' A few clients have commented on our 'luxuries'.

"You're not really sleeping rough," one said. "You don't have heaters and laptops and all that stuff."

I agreed. You don't. We're not trying to simulate the 'real' thing, I told him. We're trying to shine a light on the issue of homelessness and to raise funds for the shelter by doing something unexpected. And a little bit crazy.

Kym and Jeremiah settle into their tent
He nodded his head up and down. "Well. I gotta give you that. It is crazy."

But it doesn't feel crazy. Really. It feels... right. Like this is what we should be doing to connect with people from all walks of life about the challenges of homelessness. We're not doing this to 'be' homeless. We're doing it to get people's attention.

Years ago, while researching teen prostitution, a sergeant in the police vice squad said to me, "Louise. If you really want to understand what these girls go through, you need to go eyeball to eyeball with a john."

Jorge comes to visit
And so I did. Go eyeball to eyeball. I stood out on the street on this very same night, December 6, dressed for the part of soliciting men for sex. It wasn't easy. In fact, it was close to hellish, but in doing it, I understood better what happens on the street, what happens in the minds and spirits of our children who are exploited on our streets. I never had to get into a car with a stranger that night, but I was changed none the less. I was deeply moved and humbled by the experience.

And that's what being on the roof has done -- touched and moved and humbled me. It's helped me see more clearly and to be more grateful for the options I have in my life as opposed to the limited options available to someone when they are experiencing homelessness. It has filled me with gratitude.

Earlier today, while looking for a client to talk to a reporter who had come to put together a piece for the Calgary Herald Christmas Fund on our Medical Clinic and services, I spoke with a client who has been an integral member of the art.works program I started almost six years ago when I joined the DI. After we chatted he sent me an email of a song he's recorded.

Hi, Louise, he wrote.
With so much going on, I have to thank you for showing me the path of stripping away everything that really doesn't matter.
I arranged this in Sybellius, thinking ,"How much more does this really need?"
Thinking of you on the roof.
Shelter, some kind of warmth, food and friends.
There are a lot of people in this world that have a lot less.

I am grateful for his words and his kindness. I am grateful for his presence on my journey and the presence of so many others like him. Gentle spirits for whom life has delivered a tough hand. People, like you and me, who cope as best they can with what life presents and who, no matter how challenging their circumstances, reach out to others with kindness, caring and words of support.

I am grateful.

Louise and the boys
In particular, right now as the temperature dips and snow is forecast, I am grateful for the heater Alan Facey, our Director of Administration brought especially for the occasion. "Here," he said. "This one should be safer and give off better heat."

And he's right, but even with heaters and electricity and staff popping in with gifts of coffees and treats, being on the roof isn't a walk in the park -- it is however, a good place to be. Here we have built community, a sense of purpose. A place to gather. To be together. To be of one voice.

Storm clouds gather
Throughout the day people, mostly staff, come to visit. Some come to just hang out for a bit, lending their energy and smiles. Natalie and Mark bring morning coffee from Starbucks. Alan brings a heater. Genevieve arrives mid-afternoon with tea, treats and hot chocolate and Jorge and Rufo drop in for a few hours, complete with a movie on a laptop, which we all four watched together. Go figure. Me and three men in a tent designed for two. Now that's living the high life!

In our neighbour's tent, Kym and Jer watched movies and fell asleep -- they both worked the night shift last night and had been up 24 hours. Now that's commitment. Hats off to both of them. No wait! It's cold out there. I'm not taking my hat off -- kudos it is. Kudos and a plague Reg Knelsen created for all of us. And a painting he's donated to the cause. The plan is to auction it off online. Not sure how that will work, but it's a very generous offer from a man who's lived the life called 'homeless' and who's forever grateful for the help he received in moving beyond the shelter doors.
Reg's painting
And then, the Angels arrived, laughing, arms wide, hugs abounding, their truck filled with donations. Boots and hats and mitts and blankets and socks and lip balm and the necessities to help clients survive the winter.

We are grateful.

It is the theme of this time on the roof. Gratitude.

For this place called the DI. The people who live and work and come to support all we do.

For my life. For family, friends, co-workers. C.C. My home. My abundance.

I am grateful.

For all of you. My online community of support.

I am grateful.


Natross said...

What great courage! Keep it up and keep up with the social media, share your experiences with the world!

Natross said...

What great courage! Keep it up! Keep sharing your experiences with the the world! Go social media!

Louise Gallagher said...

Thx Nat -for all you give. You are amazing.

Ruth said...

An absolutely incredible experience and cause. It is thrilling. To dress the part of a woman of the night, wow. It's fantastic that you have journaled this with words and photos, just deeply moving and rich and mind opening. It can't help but raise consciousness in Calgary and elsewhere, like here in my chair in Michigan. Thank you.

kaykuala said...

You are just remarkable Louise! The only blog championing a cause that I've seen this far and you are in the thick of the action. And you seem to be having fun extending your time and energy for the 'unfortunates'
I'd wish that you get the painting auctioned off fast! Wishing the best for all you unsung heroes out there!


Megan Willome said...

You all amaze me!

Maureen said...

With you all the way in spirit.

Anonymous said...

i am grateful for you.
you little sweetpatootie.