I spent the vast majority of the day working on my presentation for the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness. It is very important to me to do a great job. The more I work on this project that more that I am convinced of the power of relationships and connections in healthy communities and organisations.
I remember a time that I could have easily been homeless, and by some definitions I was. I was living in the middle of the winter in Calgary in a house that I owned, the mortgage was behind, the power and the gas had been disconnected. I was doing my best to run a failing business and my so-called business partners had skipped town. It was an interesting time and one that I will never forget. I had quit my job with because of the allure of this business. In the process I lost it all. My house, my car, my roommates, my way to make a living, and some friends. It still makes me sad when I drive by that house. I had worked so hard to get that far. Being gay in the mid eighties, with the AIDS hysteria in full swing caused further isolation. Imagine, like many of our homeless in Red Deer must feel, the isolation that comes from complete misunderstanding and fear.
As I think about important relationships to my survival then, family came first. They didn’t abandon me when I told them I was gay, and if they hadn’t
then they certainly wouldn’t at any other time in my life. I was able to sell the house, pay off the mortgage and the some of bills that accumulated. Others I paid over next several years. I had nothing left at all. I borrowed an old van, pack the few things that I had and move back with my family for a while.
If my family hadn’t been there for me then I suspect that I still had a number of friends that I could have reached out to and stayed with until I got back on my feet. In fact I do remember staying with a couple of people during that time. My memory is fading so I am not sure of the timing on any of it.
If my family and friends hadn’t been there, I frankly have no idea where I would have been. I am not sure that the agencies would have been. A month or so later, I remember applying for a job that I was qualified to do, but I didn’t have the right clothes to wear. I got the job and quickly got the clothes. But what if I hadn’t learned interview skills in school and from other opportunities in life. Would I have been employable, certainly I could work, but could I get the job.
So as I think about the Task Force on Homelessness now and all that has happened in the 23 years since I was nearly homeless, I realize that I must instill in this plan the most important of the principles — people must have connections with other people. It is people helping people, not institutions helping people, however great they may be. We must find a way to enable people to make connections and build relationships, so that they then have the skills they need and the support systems around them to enable them to live healthy lives.
As I write this now and think back to that time when my family shared my hard times, I also sit and think about how they were in the front row of the hall when I received the Alberta Centennial Metal last year. We held a celebration afterward at a small restaurant in Calgary. Besides my family I was joined by some very close friends, any of whom I know I could call on and would be there for me, and I for them. Those good times are shared as well. Who knows that they any of them may have needed that particular occasion to give their lives meaning, or just to lift their spirits. Think about the relationships that are important in your life and be grateful for them. It is a circle, this life. We must remember to always try to complete the circle.