A thunderous storm blasted Edmonton today, creeping up on us after a day of mixed sun and clouds and humidity. Yes, even Edmonton, Alberta, can experience humidity.
The wind howled fiercely, pained perhaps by its dutiful bending of the trees. Then the rains came, torrential waterfalls that washed everything clean. Let's start over, the Universe seemed to say. The wind calmed, the skies lightened, the rains faded to quiet teardrops...and the day was fresh and renewed.
I turned to my computer, feeling listless as thunder boomed across the sky--the angels are bowling again. Lightning streaked past my window and I jumped. Then all was still...quiet...the calm before--
Another angry thunder growl.
This is the kind of day when you want to curl up with a good book, maybe snuggled up by a fireplace, glad you're safe and warm and dry in your home. I did this for a while, until a thought crossed my mind. I wonder where the homeless are taking shelter from this storm.
I think about them often--these nameless, faceless people that walk our inner-city streets and alleys, ghostly wisps that come and go as they please, occasionally begging for money or dumpster-diving for treasures to pawn, lost in their own small world of fight or flight. But to me, they aren't all nameless or faceless. I've seen some of them, met them, talked with them...cried with them.
I came across an article about bestselling author Danielle Steel, whom I've read ever since I was a teen. Danielle is involved with helping the homeless in San Francisco. She started an outreach team that she named Yo! Angel! and has been secretly helping people in her community. In an article in Newsweek about Danielle Steel's homeless endeavors, she says, "Dealing with homelessness feels like emptying the ocean with a thimble. But sometimes making a difference in the world, a big difference, happens one person at a time."
Then I stumbled across a blog called Tri to End Homelessness, where Robyn Durham wrote about how she is trying to be a solution, make a difference.
I, too, know this homeless issue all too well. My brother Jason lived on the streets of Edmonton for a while, then in a run-down boarding house. One time I filed a missing persons report on him.
My brother was funny, a practical joker who was also a whiz at anything computer related. As a teen, Jason offered his knowledge to people who needed help with their computers. He was the original Geek Squad. In his early twenties or so, Jason's life seemed normal. At first, we saw a young man who struggled like most young people do to find himself and his place in the world.
I invited Jason to live with my husband and daughter in Edmonton, to make a new life for himself. I had such hopes for him. Jason had such wonderful dreams for himself too.
But something went terribly wrong.
Jason suffered from mental illness (depression, maybe more) and alcoholism. Eventually he was unable to hold a job or budget his money. We didn't know how to help him. We gave him money, food, clothing and other things in the beginning, hoping it would help him get over this hurdle in his life.
Then we tried the "tough love" approach and stopped giving him any money. We didn't want to feed his addictions. It's so hard to know what to do. Jason gradually distanced himself from his family until we rarely heard from him. We often talked about if one day we'd hear he had died in a ditch somewhere.
Some thoughts should never be spoken aloud.
Jason was murdered and left to die in a cold, dark alley on January 23rd, 2006. He was only 28 years old. None of his street family knew anything about his family, other than he had a sister in Edmonton named Cheryl and she wrote a book about whales. That's it.
I'll never forget the day I opened my front door and found two police detectives on my porch. And I'll never forget my brother Jason.
I so admire Danielle Steel and her caring, unselfish desire to help the people on her streets. I've also done what I can (although it is never enough). I have spoken openly about my brother, tried to educate people about the homeless issue.
I was fortunate to meet some of Jason's inner-city 'family', and they are wonderful, caring people who loved my brother. I am so glad he had them! My experiences opened my eyes, gave me some insights and made it easier for me to see behind the addictions, dirt and bruises.
Every person you see on the street, every 'drunken bum', dirty person dressed in ragged clothing, is part of someone's family. They did not choose to live on the streets. Their situation, and in many cases, a misdiagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness or addiction problem is what puts them on the streets. They are people who had hopes and dreams--although most have been squashed by their circumstances.
To those of you who think: "Why don't they just get a job?", would YOU hire them?
Most people wouldn't. And it's not that cut and dry. The homeless need medications and community services that are usually only available in an inner-city area. Many don't have transportation or bank accounts. Many don't have clean clothes to work in, and their addictions lead to late arrivals at work and lack of skills and education make it nearly impossible for them to get hired.
So please don't think that these people are just milking the system. For what--used clothes and disgusting boarding houses with communal bathrooms that are caked in dirt and excrement? Yeah, that's some life! Some 'free' ride they're getting, huh? Don't you wish you could not have to work so you can live like that?
The problem of homelessness will NEVER be eliminated until people start to realize these people need and deserve help. Number of homeless will only increase until society takes them in, accepts them, gets them help, and appreciates them as people--human beings who have lost their way.
What have YOU done for YOUR city's homeless this month? If you've done something helpful or inspiring, I salute your courage and caring. If you've done nothing because you think it's "their problem" and not yours, then you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Like Danielle Steel, I'm doing what I can to help combat homelessness--I hope to educate people, while I donate money, food and other items and my time. In October, I'll be participating in the Mission of Hope Radio-thon in Edmonton.
My plea to you: please consider getting involved and bring the homeless home to a community that respects them and wants to help. Be 'the one'; make a difference. Help the homeless find shelter from the storm.
~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author of Whale Song
P.S. Every time someone buys a copy of Whale Song, a percent of my royalties is donated to Hope Mission and two other nonprofits that help the homeless, poverty-stricken and those with addictions.