Saturday, July 23, 2011

Just an Old Fashioned Girl

There was an interesting story in the “O” online newsletter this week about a woman who formally adopted a 22 year old U.S. marine. It seems she was a social worker with child services when she met the boy and became interested in his future. She took him along on family outings and invited him to holiday dinners. She welcomed this troubled kid into her heart and into her home and he grew-up to be a young man she can be proud of. Now the family has formalized that relationship with an adoption.

This story reminds me of my first experience as a ward of the crown (yes I too had a misspent youth LOL) many decades ago. My case worker was a woman named Margie Grant, she was only 10 years my senior and I didn’t have a lot of respect for her authority… like many of my street friends it is hard to imagine any real understanding from someone who has never lived in your world. What Margie brought to the table was a genuine love for her clients… I never doubted this was a person who actually gave a crap about me. My second daughter is named for this lovely woman, and any time I am in B.C. a visit to the sunshine coast is at the top of my list. Margie and her husband Michael took in many kids over the years, changing each one of us for the better… love will do that ;-).

I often speak of “Freestyle Social Work”, it is the way Margie and the woman in the article practiced social work… fearlessly and openly caring about their clients. Today agencies are paralyzed with fear of litigation or public (mis)perception; staff is mandated not to get too close with their clients. Simple social niceties, sitting down for a cup of coffee, or giving someone a lift in the rain can get you fired, if that someone happens to be a client. Because of support from my immediate supervisors (Tim Gorman & Greg Smith two of the best role models I could have hoped for) I was given a little more freedom regarding client interactions than is usual for someone in my position. Now that I have been working freestyle for a couple of years I don’t know too many agencies I could work under, 454 in Ottawa, Bissell in Edmonton, The DI in Calgary , so far that is the whole list.

Last week I was sitting in a local soup kitchen after lunch and struck up a conversation with the person at the next table…Their personal struggle had been going on for many years and they were at the end of their rope. During our conversation I was able to provide contact information to useful agencies, with advice on approaching these places to get the necessary services. But I was also able to share insight on matters physical and metaphysical which could influence their perspective. And fortunately I was also able to give them some insight into the medical options around their issue. This person would never have sought out the counsellor's office, that is why I like outreach.  We spent 2 hours together over a cup of coffee… that is freestyle social work. Doing whatever you are capable of (not whatever you are allowed to) to help your client friends. I don’t believe we can truly know someone or what they need unless we are willing to open up and be a friend. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way… thanks to my friend Margie Grant.

Have a joyous day everyone

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Canada Day is almost over… the “pop… pop… pop… boom” …of the fireworks has stopped now; all that is left are the sounds of the city traffic. Sirens blasting as various emergency response vehicles race to someone’s rescue. Car radio’s thumping baselines which rattle the walls or my tiny main street apartment. Basically the night has returned to normal.
An hour ago I sat on the daybed (just me and the cockroaches) listening to the Canada Day celebrations outside of my window. Mostly pops, bangs and whistles offered the only indication of the festivities; but every few minutes one of the missiles would burst open just above the billboard, which provides the vista from my penthouse suite (150sq ft bachelor on the top floor of a 100 year old building struggling not to be a tenement LOL). Though the colourful display was somewhat diminished by the street lights, still there was enough to enjoy and remember previous Canada Day celebrations.
My first Canada Day on the road, I was living at the WEAC (women’s emergency accommodation centre) in Edmonton at the foot of Boyle Street. The staff opened the rooftop patio so we could go up and watch the explosions of colour against the velvet back drop of the night sky. Best seats in the house or at least pretty close and no charge. I loved my time in Edmonton; the city has a great sense of community rivaled only by the DTES (downtown east side) of Vancouver. In all of my travels these two places seem to be best at collaborating with agencies and the homeless populations to build a working relationship and develop some real solutions for reducing the problem.
Last year I spent Canada Day in Ad Sum House in Halifax…although no special effort was made, my room happened to be at the back of the building, facing the harbour… So once again I had an amazing view of the fireworks. Bursts of colour, reflecting in the water, raining down and collapsing into itself. How could you not love this country?
Canada Day has a way of reminding me that for all of our flaw and failings, there is no place in the world that has as much right with it as Canada and no place I would rather live then here among her people. Have a joyous year my friends.