Our Kindness Determines Our Future

I stand and watch as campers are moved along from a small empty lot on North Park. Sadness washes through my heart like water overflowing. It is not sadness only for the campers but a sadness for what we have become in Canada: a country of the haves and have-nots.

If there’s a line in the sand, I stand with the campers. Why? Because over the years I have truly listened to them. Their demands are clear, just and understandable. I’m asking that all with power and privilege would stand down and take a deep breath and really see the situation before us for what it is.

We often only see through our eyes: Victoria, the few campers that gather here and there throughout our little city. The situation grows worse if we look across the country: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Montréal, St. John’s, Halifax, would all have our issues with poverty, homelessness, and campers.

I fully believe that how we treat the poor and homeless across this country will determine our future. If we just for a moment could open our eyes look at the world around us, if we can see the root cause of the wars, violence and hatred that is on our doorstep, we would see that the discrepancy between the rich and the poor, those with power and those without power is at the root of the violence we are seeing on TV today.

The better we treat the weakest in our community, the more we really listen to them, the more we are able to give them their rightful power, privilege and economic equality in our communities, the better country we will be. Our forbearers, remember, built this great country of ours with the belief that our greatest resource was our people!  From that thought came Medicare, unemployment insurance, our welfare system, subsidies to our farmers and so on.

We now live in a country where our economy is our priority, where the gap between the rich and the poor grow wider and the tension mounts. Let’s stop, just look at Palestine and Israel, look at Afghanistan and Syria. Let’s open our eyes. Do we really believe it could not happen to us? Our campers’ power is a visible sign of something much bigger than our precious parks. Let’s treat them as citizens of this great country, not as outlaws. Let us reach out to them in understanding, in solidarity, for the good of us all.

Summertime Heat

Summer in Victoria can be a beautiful time. Heat shimmers off the streets at midday and people are out enjoying themselves in the sun, having picnics and barbecues in the parks and on the beaches. But for those who live on the streets, who don’t have the priviledge to escape to air-conditioned rooms or just turn on a tap of cool, clean water, summer can be extremely dangerous.

Over the years I have seen members of our street family taken to the hospital or collapsed with heat stroke and severe dehydration many times. For years I have been hitting the streets during the hottest days of summer and passing out bottled water to anyone I see. Each time, I am met with relief and incredible gratitude; that something that seems so simple to us, a basic human need, is so gratefully received is sadly telling of the desperation these people face every day.

Enjoy the sunshine and please give generously to help the Dandelion Society help our street family survive the summer.

Good Friday Service and Breakfast

I am excited to share this article, in advance of our Good Friday Easter service and breakfast tomorrow.

Thank you to Vic News for sharing our story and letting the community in Victoria know about our Good Friday Service. 

All are welcome to attend and I hope I will see many of you there.

When: April 18
Where: Centennial Square, City Hall, Victoria BC
Time: 9am

Breakfast to follow.

What Easter Means to Me

Spring is just around the corner and with it comes Easter. For many, it can be merely a long weekend to spend with family or children’s activities like hunting for chocolate eggs. But really, what is Easter all about?

 If you ask people on the street, you’ll probably get answers like, “a Christian holiday”, “new life”, “Spring”, “the Easter bunny” and “Resurrection.” Indeed, Easter is the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Isn’t it strange that we have a holiday mourning death (Good Friday) and then almost immediately, celebrating life (Easter Sunday)? Yet, I am reminded that we ought to be doing so every day—gratefully remembering sacrifice as well as taking hold of the wonders of life in the present.

Our society and culture teaches us to plan ahead for our own personal gain, but many in our street community are forced to live in the present. They are just trying to survive. Making it through each day is an achievement in itself.

They have taught me a deeper meaning to this passage in Matthew 6: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? …Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

So many in the street community exemplify this. They have no other option than to live by faith. And those with faith hold fast to this promise, truly depending on our heavenly father to provide daily bread. Why is it so difficult for our society to live in the present rather than constantly trying to get ahead in the rat race?

To me, Easter is about recognizing the trials of everyday life, but living each day anew in the midst of them. Every day is a new day. Every moment is a new moment with the potential for hope and life. Be present in each conversation, action and activity. Take in today for all it’s worth. Stop and smell the roses because Spring is just around the corner.

Gifts of Love

It was Friday morning and persistent rain had continued through the night. I had just about finished delivering coffee, donuts, blankets and sleeping bags to the absolute homeless who spend their nights in the doorways and alleys of our city. It was still before dawn and I was wet through to the skin. There was a different kind of chill about that morning.

The traffic lights on Government and Johnson Streets were just about to change to green when I noticed a tall, young, well-built stranger, walking down out of the alley. He was pushing the familiar shopping cart full of blankets, clothing and articles that I thought he had dug out of the dumpsters that night. He stood motionless at the edge of the alley while I parked the van and walked towards him. As I approached him, the smell of the alley was foul in the air.

It was then that the night lights of the street revealed the stranger’s face for the first time. He had a stoic face, a face of the past, free of emotion and of time itself. It was almost marble in appearance. He was perhaps a Roman and certainly European — strikingly handsome.

Before I had the chance to speak he asked “Do you wish anything from my cart? All is for sale. I have a good radio, a CD player and some great vinyl records and other family treasures?”

He was at least 6 foot seven, his arms sculptured with muscle, large neck, Roman-shaped head. Definitely his eyes were timeless eyes. Eyes of wisdom; of insight. They sparkled in the early morning light. They were eyes of intrigue; luring eyes; seductive eyes. What was his story I wondered? Surely a man of such obvious strength combined with his handsome, noble features need not be rummaging through our garbage for his existence.

He began to push his cart forward. I offered him a coffee and a donut. “No thank you, he answered. “I have all that I need here in my cart.”

I began to walk with him, for he had caught my curiosity and I longed to know his story. As we walked up Johnson Street I told him who I was and what I was doing out in the early morning rain. He then suddenly stopped and intentionally looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I know who you are and what you do every morning; it is my honour to walk with you”.

Just then we heard the cry of a young woman. She was sitting on the steps of a doorway that led into a hair salon. She had obviously been collecting pop cans and empty bottles all night. One of her garbage bags that held the pop cans had fallen over and they were all over the sidewalk and lying in the gutter in front of her. She had her head buried into her folded arms resting on her knees and she was sobbing uncontrollably. She was shivering and shaking while her wailing broke the silence of the night.

The stranger quickly left his cart, stepping around the pop cans that were scattered on the ground and spoke softly to her, “Give me the cans and I will give you what you need”.

She lifted her head and looked at him, her eyes wet with tears, her nose running. He stepped back to his cart, quickly dug through it a while and pulled out a small rectangular wooden box. He opened it and presented several new white silk handkerchiefs, that were wrapped neatly in the box. As she grabbed a clean handkerchief out of the box and put it to her eyes he said once again “Give me your cans and I’ll give you what you need”.

In an angry voice she replied, “Take the fuckin’ cans; I’m too tired to carry them anyway.”

With that he went back to his cart and dug through it, this time for quite a while, before he came upon an old wooden ring box. He lifted the lid off the box and presented it to her “This was my mother’s wedding ring; it has great value. Bring it to the jeweller on Fort Street. He knows someone is coming with it. “Promise me” he said, “that you will not sell it on the Street. Its value will offer you the possibility of new life in abundance.”

She wiped her nose with a clean white handkerchief, looked at the stranger and said “Thank you.”

Without a word, he turned around, rather quickly grabbed his cart, and began to push it once again down Johnson Street. I realized he was weeping, also wiping his eyes with one of the handkerchiefs from the box. It was then for the first time that I noticed that the seat of his pants was wet but because it had rained all night and I myself was wet through to the bone I didn’t think too much of it.

We came across another homeless man on Douglas Street sleeping in a doorway–his cart full of old blankets and other items that he had gathered from the garbage can the night before. Once again the stranger left his cart and said softly to the homeless man “Give me your old blankets and I will give you what you need”.

“If you need the blankets you can have them, but they’re wet; they’ve been in my cart all night.”

The man quickly went back to his own cart and dug through once again for a moment or two and found an old wallet. He handed it to the homeless man. “Take this,” he said. “It will offer you the possibility of a new life; use it wisely.”

Quickly he turned, grabbed his cart and began to push it once again. The tears running down his face were too prevalent not to notice as he wiped them away with the white handkerchief he had in his hand. We did not walk far before we came across an old man wrapped only in a dirty old army blanket, unconscious on the wet cement beneath him. The tall stranger went to his cart and pulled out several clean new blankets. He took the wet dirty blanket off the old man and gently, one by one, laid some of his new, clean blankets over the old man’s cold body. Tears once again streamed down his face as he then grabbed his cart and began to push it along.

By this time the light of the day was beginning to break its way over the majestic Olympic Mountains and the city was coming alive with traffic hustling and bustling its way into town. It was then I noticed drops of blood running from his pant leg dripping onto the ground. “You’re bleeding.” I said. He stopped pushing his cart and looked at me. “I know; I’m dying,” he said. “Yesterday the doctor told me I only had days to live. I decided that I would go to my home and collect some my of valuables and give them away in hopes that whoever I gave then to would find life as my life was passing away.”

I walked with him while he pushed the cart another two or three blocks before he was unable to push it any longer. “Call the ambulance,” he asked. “I cannot push my cart any longer.”

I called and in a few minutes they arrived. They wrapped him in clean blankets, placed him on their stretcher and put him into the ambulance.

“What do you want me to do with your cart?” I asked.

“There is nothing of great value left in it,” he said. “Bring it to the alley where we met and let them have what they will.”

As the ambulance drove away, I pushed the cart back down Johnson Street to the alley where I had met him. I did not look through his possessions. I left the cart there as he had instructed.

Due to the rain the next night there were many that needed my ministry on the Street. Many needed dry socks; one the needed a coat; many asked for dry, clean, safe sleeping bags. Some asked for bus tickets. One had cut his hand badly while digging through our garbage dumpster the night before and needed me to wrap his hand in clean gauze — while others were just thankful for the warm coffee and the simple donuts that I offered them.

One of the younger women came up to me and said, “Look Rev. Look at this beautiful necklace a stranger gave me last night. He said it was his grandmother’s and that it had great value. What do you think?”

“Did he tell you to go to the jeweller on Fort Street with it?” I asked.

“Yes; how did you know?” she answered.

“Did he say it would offer you the possibility of a new life?”

“Yes, he did say something like that.”

“Go to that jeweller this morning,” I said. “New life is being offered to you.”

To this day I do not know the stranger’s name nor do I know if the gifts he gave were of great value, but I’d like to believe that the gifts given by him really did offer the possibility of new life for those who received them. I also know this: I have not seen the three people he gave the gifts to on the Street since that morning.

Yes, even today, miracles are possible when gifts of love are offered.

Winter Community Report is Up!

Winter is passing quickly – flowers are beginning to poke out through the ground and soon, the rain will let up. As we leave behind the cold winter, we want to share our latest stories with you. That’s why I’m thrilled to share our winter community report with you.

Read about the holiday season with the Dandelion Society, learn about why it is so important for me to visit our street family in the hospital and hear a little of my friend Michelle’s story.

These stories wouldn’t be possible without your generous support. Without you, the work that I do to support Victoria’s street community would not be happening. Without you, these stories wouldn’t be possible.

My sincerest thanks to our supporters

I feel humbled and grateful for all the cards, letters, gifts, donations and calls wishing me and the Dandelion Society well and encouraging us to continue our ministry on the Street with the suffering Christ in our midst. This letter, as you can see is a collective “thank you”. I would have liked to write to each one of you and to each group, personally, but you can imagine I cannot! I must say I feel held, loved, warmed, and strengthened by this hidden – yet not so hidden – gentle cloud of family, friends, volunteers, donors and community. It is like the cloud of the unknowing in which God is hidden and revealed. The creation of this cloud goes back to that first Christmas, a cloud of Saints present and hidden.

The Dandelion Society is only three years old. Its future will depend on you being part of the vision, your ongoing support, your dedication and your willingness to put your shoulder to the plow as we forge ahead. Our heartbeat is a relationship-it keeps our heart of belonging alive. The people we serve are loved and they know it.

Thank you does not express my feelings for all of you, for you are rather part of my heartbeat in our relationship together. We have done wonderful things for wonderful people in 2013. If we together continue to hold hands and opening our circle for others to join us, in 2014 we can move mountains

Rev Allen Tysick

Executive Director of the Dandelion Society

The courage to look into his eyes

He was sitting on the corner of Douglas and Yates panhandling and I sat on the wet sidewalk beside him, “top of the Christmas season” he said. The deep wrinkles, furrows on his face revealed a lifetime on the Street. His layers of clothing over a skeleton of a man revealed the condition of his health. The familiar odour of his unbathed body revealed the suffering trampled down Christ at Christmas.

Yet this man, his humility, his littleness, his gentleness, his openness, his total welcome to all who approached him reveals him as a living disciple, a Guru, a man of wisdom, a deeply spiritual man.  I have seen consistently over the years the way he gives away his personal items that he has found, as he has dug then out of the dumpster, offering others the only things he has.

As I sat down beside him he reaches into his worn out dirty backpack that he carries around with him day in and day out. Rev “I found a set of rosary beads in a dumpster last night and I thought of you” as he handed me the rosary with his right hand he closed my hand with his left hand saying “they should be kept warm and close of the heart.”

When we talk about wishing that Christmas was all year round, he makes it happen as he gives his gifts away endlessly. Over the years I have come to realize that he had been offering all of us a bigger gift than the material gifts he offered freely.

He has given all who take a moment to just look into his eyes the gift of touch, with tenderness. It’s this gift he possesses, to touch with tenderness, given freely which is the treasured gift that this modern day wiseman offers to all who have the courage to look into his eyes.

He is showing his age, now near the end of his life. Just perhaps this is the last Christmas he will touch me and others with his tenderness. As I walked away, etched in my mind was his look of his wine colored eyes as he gazed into my heart. They were the eyes of the weary Christ, the feminine Christ, the trampled down Christ, the poor Christ with a gift in his hand freely offered to all who have the courage to be.