Sleep. Hm. I expected that it would be uncomfortable sleeping on the floor, and the extra cushioning of my yoga mat didn’t really help much. Tossed and turned the whole night. Checked my phone for the time, 4:50am. It would be another two to three hours before time to really wake up. I had my notebook and a pen down on the floor beside me, and as I had spent quite some time staring up at the ceiling and the light of the night coming through the window above me, I gave in to the urge to write something. So I scribbled down a poem, and luckily I have been able to decipher it:
Meet them where they’re at
Move a step forward, and another one back.
It may be a cha-cha for some,
While life may be a march forward for a few,
But take a look around,
Who is left behind and in line,
Forever waiting, it seems…
Life being “stuck in the que.”
It takes money, time, and support
To have the privilege to know or learn how to dance.
For some it may be inherent,
While for others may have two left feet,
Or who knows what they could do if just given the right support.
When we look around and see who is stuck while others cha-cha or march through life,
Do we think “everyone can dance” and blame the person putting in the effort,
Calling them lazy or crazy?
But take a look closer,
The flow and ease of our movement is a privilege not everyone has.
Would it be so easy if you or I weren’t helped along the way?
We could take a break from dancing,
Give up some of our privilege so that we can share it with others,
Meet them where they’re at,
And step down from the stage we’ve built up for ourselves –
A stage which exalts a few at the cost of the backs of others.
The poem was inspired by the events of the first day, as we had spent a lot of time discussing and taking a critical look at privilege. In an activity we did in the morning of the first day as part of a workshop, we had to move forward when a stated privilege was held by ourselves, or step back if a stated barrier was something we have or are experiencing. I don’t dance myself, but I do know that for the cha-cha it involves a step forward and a step back. For myself, I was mostly moving, or marching forward, but there were times where I had to take a step back after moving forward. Some of my privileges are inherent, such as things related to the family I was born into. Most of the stepping backs were from my identity as being Aboriginal, which is also inherent. When I had to step back for being Aboriginal I didn’t feel ashamed for being who I am, but felt discouraged, sad, angry, etc. But even within this “barrier” I have a “privilege” as to some they would never know I was Aboriginal if I didn’t tell them since I am mixed and don’t look what some may expect an Aboriginal person to look like and therefore don’t experience the discrimination and stigma others may.
Today’s experience reinforced what we had discussed yesterday as we actually went out on the streets of downtown today. We woke up being shouted out that we were being evicted and had to be downstairs and ready in 10 or 15 minutes. Since we knew we weren’t really being evicted, but that it was just for effect for us to have some idea of what it might be like to, we easily just brushed it off with some laughs as we hurried downstairs to be filled with Tim Horton breakfast sandwiches, hashbrowns, and coffee. Mhm, evicted eh? It was an interesting way to be woken up though, but definitely no where near to what it would actually be like to go through the real lived experience.
We then were split up into groups of 5-6 and given profiles of actual people who had/are experiencing homelessness. We were also given a checklist of things we had to get done before meeting up at the Mustard Seed shelter at 4pm. Although we had to sit on the floor of a +15 walkway, collect bottles (goal of getting $4 worth – my group probably found about $2 worth, but never found out the total as we decided to give our bottles away to a man who was actually bottle collecting), and find out information and locations about different resources and services offered for people who are experiencing homelessness and/or mental illness and/or addiction. It was a great way to learn about the services offered in Calgary, but as we made our way through the list we quickly saw how our appearance of being young adults carrying backpacks made our student identity for apparent and were therefore treated in more a privileged way that people who are experiencing homelessness would not have even close to the same ease as we had.
At 11am we all met at the Drop-In Centre for a tour of the facility and to learn about it. It’s great that we are able to learn about different places that offer shelter and services. What was interesting to me was to hear how the DI and Mustard Seed talk about each other specifically, as both are a bit different than each other, both would say how their systems are better in whatever way than the other, it seemed slightly competitive between the two. Later on in the debrief at the end of the day we talked about how there are different organizations that cater to different people (i.e. everyone and anyone, single adults who are sober, families, teens), but that there are no current shelters for couples who then slip through the cracks.
Mingling with the guests at the Mustard Seed shelter from 4-7:30ish was eye-opening. As we played Uno or Crib with some, they would bring up the shelter itself and be very critical of it. Although the shelters and services offered are there with good intentions, and face barriers due to funding so that they could provide better support and services, the current state is far from perfect, which is not surprising as it would be naive to think that they are. It was great, however, to hear the guys we played cards with of their own personal stories. Each person so different, and we only heard a snippet of their life story, and even that much was complex by itself. “Steve” who we (myself and two others in the group) had played Uno with told us of his back and forth between being homeless or not and how that state depended on circumstances of family or friends that could provide him with shelter or not, which also came and went with addiction to crack, recovering, or relapse. Before all this, though, he had gone to school and received multiple degrees and other post-secondary education. He said later on, after recovering from years of addiction that he wanted to get a degree in Social Work, but that it was too stressful to be in the classroom. So many barriers, but so much determination and faith in himself that he will get out and back off the streets once again. It was also humbling for a few of us university students to get totally creamed by a guy at crib who could add up the points in our hand as soon as we placed it down.
It’s only been 2 days, but I’ve learned so much already.