What does homelessness really look like?

‘This place is like a community. They help each other and look out for their needs’ — Michelle Downey

Friends on the street outside the community kitchen in Campbell River. Photo courtesy Michelle Downey

Friends on the street outside the community kitchen in Campbell River. Photo courtesy Michelle Downey

Michelle Downey

Special to the Mirror

Street Life is a Community

This morning, as I went to enter the local community kitchen that serves meals every day of the week, I had to wait while Guy moved his belongings and scooter from the doorway. He politely apologized for being in the way and offered to help me carry in my groceries I was using that day for Sunday lunch. What impacted me today, more than any other day, was the gracious spirit that came from this man sleeping at the door. He was friendly and told me that he and his friend were given special permission to sleep in that spot, because of their disabilities. He had cerebral palsy and slept in his scooter each and every day. Why was today different from other Sunday lunches? I suppose today I was impacted by the concept of someone apologizing for sleeping outside in a wheelchair with a disability.

I volunteer at the soup kitchen and have for quite some time. Each time I am there, I try to get to know those who come to have lunch. What I try to explain to my family and friends who have never seen the soup kitchen is that this place is like a community. They help each other and look out for their needs. This morning, someone brought the two men out front coffee before the warming centre opened up, as they had said it was a cold damp night.

What impacts me the most about getting to know some of the patrons, are their stories. These people are not all addicts. A woman I have gotten to know is a long-haul truck driver who lives in her minivan with her two adult children and her daughter’s boyfriend. Why does she do this? She tells me each time that she is not giving up on her children, she is fighting to get them into substance treatment. She said if she gives up, then they will die and she refuses to give up on them. I admire her tenacity and strength.

Why do we need to not give up on those who need help?

Take Nicholas for example, a young man who is an aspiring artist and musician. When I first met him last month he told me the challenge of being thankful for living in supportive housing while at the same time struggling to stay clean in a building full of addicts. We talked of how turning one’s life around can be a challenge. Today he showed me his artwork and how grateful that he is part of an art program at the community art gallery down the street. He beamed with honour at being part of this newly developed program!

Living on the street has some challenges

While I left the lunch program, I spoke to this couple who told me this is just one of the challenges of living on the streets. Their entire life belongings were in the back of their truck. The woman told me she hopes to find a barber who may come downtown and help those in need of a haircut. Perhaps someone can set up shop once a week downtown to help give haircuts?

A Mother’s Fight for her Daughter!

Truly my most memorable story that I will remember forever is one of a mother’s determination to save her daughter. A few years ago a young vulnerable blind woman would come in hurting and in trouble. We had heard stories of her mother fighting to get her back. One day, I saw her with her mother, and I knew that the mother had won the battle for her daughter. Now, two years later, I cry with joy when I see them together as they walk. Not long ago, I saw this young blind woman running down a hill. I pulled over to ask if she needed a ride, since she was hurrying. She answered with a smile, “no, I am just running!” and off she went down the sidewalk with her mobility can. I will never forget that moment and I will tell this story to anyone who will listen! This is a great reminder that each and every person on the street has value and that there is hope for their life.

Michelle Downey is a local writer who works in many volunteer aspects in our community of Campbell River. She recently graduated with her BA in leadership from TWU and hopes to use these skills in many volunteer capacities she currently works in. Downey has worked to develop a Sustainable Clothing Program in Campbell River over these past years and works with the Radiant Life Sunday Lunch team at the community kitchen. Living in Campbell River for almost 15 years, Downey sees that there are many social issues that need work, but also appreciates the friendly small town aspects of our great community!

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