Saturday, September 25, 2010

Centre 454 (said 4-5-4)

A couple of months ago I came across an article online about an Ottawa woman who works with the homeless. Reading the article I was stuck by the thought, “That is my kind of social worker” when I get to Ottawa I must look her up. Two days ago I had the great good fortune to meet Mary Martha Hale… she shares my commitment to the homeless and practices what I call free-style social work. Basically free-style social work means treating everyone with kindness and respect and being present for the clients with whatever is needed in any given moment. This has been my personal philosophy and is shared by many of the people I have worked with over the years. Today I don’t wish to talk about “our Mary Martha” as she is affectionately referred to by her staff and clients. Today I want to talk about the result of putting that philosophy into action.
When I first arrived in Ottawa I went to Centre 454 and have visited often over this past month. Forged partly by design and partly by default…this place is what every drop-in should be…it is in a word flawless. OK… one flaw, on movie day, game playing should be moved into the meeting room.
Every staff member from administrator to volunteers spends much of their time interacting with the participants (Mary Martha’s word for clients). They will be chatting over coffee, playing cards or board games, having a smoke or just hanging out. This is how trust is built. Truly effective counseling must be done in an atmosphere of trust. Because these trust relationships lead to situations where a client may require private time with a staff person, the Centre’s small bank of offices is accessible for use by all staff, full or part-time. Community volunteers man the desk and do other task within their personal comfort level. Clients are hired for short stints to manage the laundry room or kitchen… this provides them with a little extra cash and a small taste of job responsibility.
Administration hires like minded individuals and compensates them appropriately… too often those working in human services are paid little more than minimum wage. I imagine getting a full time position at Centre 454 would be like becoming a tenured professor at some prestigious university. Much coveted and seldom vacated. Other then the core staff, there are a number of part-time staff, who after a few months will leave for full-time positions elsewhere. Normally, I would feel this is a bad practice, but in this case I see these positions as internships; a chance for young people to learn what social work is meant to be.
Because of the centre’s small size they have a schedule of services which are being provided by representative from other agencies. One day per week the housing help centre sends Allison, Wabano Native Health Centre sends Steve; there are also visits from public health and education and employment services. Most drop-ins try to provide these services in house. The advantage to the client of what Centre 454 is doing, is that it introduces the client to agencies outside their comfort zone. Once one gets to know a representative from meeting them at 454, going down to the agency itself for assistance becomes less intimidating. Instead of having one resource… Mary Martha’s participants are being given a whole community of resources.

Angels of the Road has taken me to probably 100 facilities in over half of Canada, and Centre 454 is light-years above and beyond anything else I have seen. Every agency within the shelter industry is well intended but sadly too often we are doing as much harm as good, for our clients. Providing the homeless and street population with warm beds and nourishing food is important. But if we are truly going to move people forward in their lives, we must warm the soul and nourish the psyche and no one I have found thus far, is doing this better then Centre 454.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


It has happened .... after more then a year of communal living, I have a cold that is going around. Full blown, the aches and pains, stuffy head and dry coughing awake all night. Went to the tiny little drug store up the street and picked up some cold tablets... their generics are the same price as at Walmart. Having a little trouble thinking of something to write now that I'm "into drugs" LOL.
One important tip for police departments everywhere. If the drunk or druggie you pickup is so out of control, you have to cuff them... they are too out of control to be managed by staff at a shelter. So keep them in jail for a few hours until they can settle down. The girl brought in last night (by 3 police officer) assaulted 2 clients and a staff before the police could come back and remove her. What a waste of everyone's time and energy. Police, shelter, homeless relations differ from city to city. The best examples I have come across were in Vancouver's DTES and in Edmonton Alberta. There the police seemed to be working with the shelters to keep clients and the population safe. Enough on that for now.
As for my confusion about the future thing are starting to clear. Still evolving slowly, I now have a concrete time line to work with. It is feeding time at the zoo so I must go line up for what gourmet delights await. Have a joyous day.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

that stinks

No really... last night I went for a brief walk with one of the young girls from the shelter. We came across a skunk with its head stuck in an Ice-Capp plastic cup. Now personally I think the mortality of a creature is reflected in its reproduction. Skunks breed in litters of eight because god expects them to be road kill. So I was perfectly happy to watch briefly and move along. My young companion however is a bit more tenderhearted than myself, and was worried that the poor encumbered creature would waddle into traffic and be killed. As we pondered what if any action could be taken, a passerby suggested that picking a skunk up by the tail would prevent it from spraying. Theoretically it is plausible... Skunks raise their tails to spray; dangling the skunk would keep the tail prone to the body. But how fast would you have to be... to grab the skunk by the tail and lift it off the ground before it sprayed. I offered to let him handle that end to the project; he politely declined and continued on his way.
Anyway after a couple of minutes the animal started wandering in our direction... likely unaware of our presence. As the skunk's head came into arms reach, I made a quick grab for the cup and yanked it off. The skunk did his skunk thing... fortunately I was standing at the head (my friend was standing behind me), so I was victim of the overspray and she ...less so. The stench was not so pervasive as to raise anyone's ire but it was dis-stinked-ly present. So my friend and I walked along Rideau St and enjoyed the puzzlement of the people we passed as they detected the presence of "skunk" coming from somewhere. We went back to the shelter, sat politely in the TV. room and waited for someone to say something about the smell… after a few minutes that got boring. So we got cleaned up as best one and with soap and water. Skunk juice is pretty much immune to such mundane efforts. The other clients said they could no longer smell it on me, but I certainly didn’t agree. We left our clothes for washing and there was considerably more success with that. So I spent the night trying to adjust to the smell with some measure of success.
This morning I went to Loblaw’s and bought a large can of good, old fashioned tomatoes juice and some air freshener for the room. I sat myself in an empty bathtub, opened the can and began washing myself down (head to toe) with straight TJ continuing this until the can was empty. Showered off the Juice and eureka we are skunk free. The only thing still stinky are my leather sandals, which are currently in the dryer. If they don’t survive …they got no business in my wardrobe.
Do I feel good about rescuing one of God’s little creatures from his ill begotten fate….NOT REALLY; the nasty little rodent is just going to pop out more nasty little rodents. What I do feel good about, is helping my young friend spend a worry free night. But she so owes me an ice cream cone for that one LOL
So now you know the whole story. Have a joyous day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A moment's peace

No... things in the shelter are still as hectic as ever. But at this moment I have some peace of heart again. While I haven't firmed anything up, my plans (intentions)have become clearer. So for the next couple of weeks I will spend some time getting to know the city of Ottawa. If I'm still unemployed and on my own after that I will move to Hamilton for the winter... not so much work in the shelter industry there but rents are cheaper and I'll be close to my youngest daughter.
I know there are places here in Ottawa where I would like to work when my Angels Journey comes to an end... but it does remain to be seen if the is the kind of city I would want to settle down in. I do love the Byward Market area and I have just returned from an evening walk there. I don't think I could afford a place in that neighbourhood, but fortunately it is right next door to the depressed area where the shelters are located. So the Market area is kinda my "next door" neighbourhood. I can't talk long tonight I'm on the communal computer... Take care of yourselves and have a joyous week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't Judge Me !

Those of you who are regular followers will recall a "Conversation with Bilbo Baggins" in December of 2009. Bilbo aka Chris Stewart, is a volunteer at an Inn From the Cold program in B.C. Chris believed it was dishonest of me not to "out" myself as social worker/researcher/writer, before entering a shelter or program. I have always avoided this because as we all know, people behave differently when they know someone might be watching. Ottawa has been the exception, I have been completely open with staff, clients and potential employers about my journey. Initially this felt really good, but now I have encountered a flaw... Not everyone gets the whole story and rumors and distortions abound.
I was confronted by an angry client, who is of the impression that I am a wealthy author briefly pretending to be homeless as I research my next book. My sole motivation being fame and fortune LOL. I suppose I should be glad people aren't assuming I'm a discredited journalist who was canned for plagiarism, lost all my money to lawyers and an ex-husband... turning to drugs and ultimately ending up on the streets. Actually either of those scenarios sounds more interesting then the truth.
My first thought when she began her accusations was,"Who the hell are you to judge me, you don't know anything about me". It gives me pause to wonder how many times a day people pass a panhandler and make judgments about them or their situation, without any way of really knowing what is going on. Apparently this is also a big problem among social workers, thinking we can sum up a person's life, character and situation in a 5 min capsule. My friend often complained of this when he was staying in the shelter. I hope I was never like that and I'm sure I will not be like that in the future.
Up until I wrote this I wasn't sure about how to handle the situation with the rumors... I think I will just let it go. If anyone wants to know the truth they can come and ask, I will happily share everything.
Right now I have more important things weighing on my mind...(for details see yesterday's blog)I am still struggling with all those issues. I have always said money is neither the source of happiness or is just a tool. But it is a necessary tool in our society and it frees the mind for other more important pursuits. So I guess I will have to assume the job is first priority and every other decision will hing on how that works out. One step forward woo-hoo.... unless I rethink that later LOL. Have a joyous day.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

wrestling with the unknown

Another afternoon spent applying for jobs... I really would like to spend a few months getting to know Ottawa better, but that can only happen if I am able to find employment and a place to live. You see winter is a very busy time in the shelters and people are turned away for lack of space. I don't ever want to be taking a bed from someone else. Last winter I stayed at the Lookout Shelter in Vancouver during the Olympics. Because of the Games about 2/3 of the usual homeless population had retreated from the city. Some went to smaller communities, others were escorted to remand and/or jail. So for a few weeks there was shelter space, as people began returning to the DTES I moved to an SRO (what Roger Miller would have called "an 8x12 four-bit room"). Since I will have to be into a place (apartment or rooming house) within a month. It may be necessary to leave Ottawa, for a smaller less expensive community.
Every night I meditate for about 30 minutes (I guess Christians would call it praying) I intend (ask) for my heart and mind to be opened so I can know what I am to do next. To be alert to the signs and resist imposing my own desired outcomes. Life would be easier if god would just do the "burning bush" thingy. Sadly god doesn't shout and the whispers are sometimes very hard to hear. I'm finding that particularly true right now when the need for answers is so immediate. I can't get online with my service provider, but I am pretty sure my cell phone is going past due on the sixth...I can't even call to make a payment arrangement, because until I find a job there is no money to pay with.
What to do? Stay or go ...act, react...wait and hope....give-up... for now or forever???? Sometimes when I put things to "paper" or say them out loud I'll have a revelation... All will become clear... hmmmm........ hmmmm........ Nope nothing yet. I'll read this again later. see if maybe something will come to me then.
If you want to weigh in on this discussion feel free to leave a comment... I could use the help LOL. Think of it as e-brainstorming. Have a joyous day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

lost & found

Yesterday I wrote a post which I am happy to say I did not publish. It was uncharacteristically whiny. I had misplaced my earrings, including a little winged crystal heart that was gifted to me by a young man in Regina. Compounded by a lack of sleep and disappointment over the realization that a job I had wanted very badly, may not be coming my way after all. Frustration over the uncertainty of what to do next added to my irritability. But following a good night's sleep I am once again feeling grounded. This doesn't change that fact that I still have to get back to work...(or win a lottery) there just isn't any money to continue at this point in time.
But I am reminded that my plans are merely intentions and eventually the Creator will put me where I need to be to fulfill whatever purpose He has for me. So if the job here in Ottawa is not meant to be... then we move forward. Besides finding my faith, I also found my earrings today ;-) Then I went on a walkabout and found a little curio shop which is going out of business. I was taken with a rough soapstone carving of a "mother & child" is unsigned. The owner told me she bought this piece and others over the years from an Inuit gentleman who lives among the Ottawa street population. She says he would disappear from time to time, but always returned after several months, looking for a little drinking money. She tells me he has been gone for a year and a half now... maybe this time the cure took. She also had a little jade arrowhead which she sold me for the change in my pocket, which was considerably less than the asking price. These little art acquisitions have made my day.
Tonight we did crafts and I put together a crude smudging wand... the staff here is overall pretty good. This shelter operates under Harm Reduction protocols so I am sure it can be difficult working here. We lost one of our best people this week... Jessica is still in the industry, she has just moved to a transitional facility with the same agency. Being able to move from one population to another is one of the best ways to combat burnout and retain good staff. Yes I am not only learning about living in shelters but also about staffing them.
Anyway got to go, sorry no pearls of wisdom for today...have a joyous week.