The Thanksgiving season is over and and we’ve supplied members of my street community with a turkey meal, continuing to greet them early every morning while it’s still dark. But what difference does it make, really?
Can one cup of coffee make a difference? Is spending two hours with someone—simply listening to them talk about their views on the world—going to change anything? I’ve heard so many unanswerable questions over the years and it’s taken a long time for me to realize that sometimes the best response is engaged silence. Sometimes—maybe more often than we’d think—the most healing action we can take is to be still and listen. Be present physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I’ve struggled with the idea of charity, especially in my younger years. I felt that a job in social justice would be more powerful and that I could fulfill my purpose only if I made big changes.
But small changes really, truly are how we as individuals can make a difference that counts.
Many years working on the streets—alongside people living in poverty—has changed my point of view and humbled me immeasurably. I can only talk to so many people each day. I can only hand out as many toques, scarves and socks as I can afford, but with the help and support of people like you I can reach more people.
So you can see that when you give a little and I give a little, the impact grows exponentially.
As a grassroots charity, the Dandelion Society has very few overhead costs. The van that I drive every day for my morning runs is an office, a shelter, and a way of bringing basic necessities to people who are rarely treated with dignity. When you give to the Dandelion Society, you are giving directly to people in Victoria who have fallen on hard times and are in the most need.
After a long and dry summer in Victoria, the seasons changed abruptly this year. The rich smell of fall is in the air, especially in the early mornings.
Many of us heard the forecast for a week of rain, but it was hard to believe. Then one morning—maybe you had a similar experience—I woke up at 3am to its crashing sounds on the roof, and the dripping from the already-overflowing gutters lining the eaves.
I decided to get up then and there, and watch the vast amounts of water pour down, pooling quickly because the parched ground didn’t know what to do with the excess after being starved for so long. I couldn’t help but think of the men and women in my street community, who have lived for so long without many of the things we would call “necessary.”
Soon enough, I was downtown, slightly sheltered from the wind by the open trunk of the Dandelion Society Van. The people who gathered around were largely unprepared for the drenching rain. So I handed out whatever rain gear I had, and made a note to ask around for more.
Once you’re wet, it’s almost impossible to get dry and warm. The light of dawn is always a welcome relief but as the days get noticeably shorter, the sunshine becomes more of a taunt, its warmth elusive.
As we add layers to our outfits, let’s continue to think of those for whom one extra layer of clothing could be the difference between and death.
And please remember to read our most recent Dandelion Report, telling the stories that our street community experienced this past summer, and outlining our plans for the upcoming fall season.
When I greet the men and women in my street family, I see incredible potential in so many of them. When I look in their eyes, I can see past the dirt and scars that a life on the streets has given them. I can see emotions like need and hunger, but I can also see hope and desire to be valued.
I don’t want these men and women to have to prove their worth to me. Accepting them where they’re at is part of my calling. But sometimes, a friend who has been dealing with addictions, homelessness and poverty in cycles for years steps up and meets me where I’m at.
Todd is an example of this. He chalks up his problems largely to financial irresponsibility, willing to take the reigns on the reasoning behind his hardship over the past years.
Todd lives in a house with three other men. I try to facilitate house meetings for them, when they need it, and encourage them to interact like a family, cooking and eating together as often as possible.
More recently, I was presented with the opportunity to renovate another old apartment in order to house another member of our street family. I was hardly surprised when Todd offered his wholehearted help. With four other men also joining in — two from Todd’s boarding house and two Dandelion Society outreach workers — a sense of brotherhood emerged through the process of doing good work together.
Todd really impressed me with his sense of responsibility and pride in his hard work. As the renovation work was coming to a close, I asked him if he’d consider working alongside me, so he has now become my “apprentice,” accompanying me on my Morning Runs five days a week and helping me with whatever else needs doing.
Even though it hasn’t been long, I can sense that Todd is going to stay with us long term. He learns quickly, and is already talking about wanting to move into his own place. Todd has always had inherent value. It may have been less obvious at some point, but it’s been there all along. He’s inspired me with his desire to give back; I hope he inspires you, too.
For my street family, a long weekend — such as we have over holidays such as Easter — means that many of their resources are shut down. It’s a waiting game, while they are often left unnoticed by most.
To those of you who have taken notice, your care is not forgotten. My gratitude goes out to everyone who has given of themselves over the Easter season, in some way or another. At the Dandelion Society, we have a group of monthly donors supporting our work, and supporting the people we are seeking to help. For those of you who don’t know, we do not have a physical office or shelter. We choose this format because we want to truly meet the members of our street family where they’re at, and be able to focus as much of the gifts as possible, back on those who need it the most!
From hospital and jail visits to early mornings check-ins, we strive to see the beaten, broken-down figure of Christ — and a chance for redemption — in each of the people we meet, among the street community. Can you challenge yourself to see Christ in “the least of these,” too?
When I walk through downtown Victoria, I see so many faces I know. They’re the faces of men and women who have been beaten down by our culture, and cast off from society. They are men and women who — many of them — consider each other family. They’re a “street family.” I’ve had profound and intimate conversations with many of them, over the years. Some of them have called the same stretch of sidewalk home for over a decade. Some are newer, but are quickly becoming a part of the community.
These people are often struggling with an array of health issues. However, many of them are deeply rooted in compassion and carry a fierce sense of loyalty to the fellow members of their street family.
As in any community, each person plays a different role. My friend Kenny — who has recently moved into his first home in years — finds a sense of purpose in creating art as a way of finding hope and bringing joy to the people around him. It’s not just about creating gifts for people. He actively shares his artistic techniques with other members of the street community and bonds with them through his unique offering.
Kenny recovers painting materials that have been thrown away and puts them to use. At a certain point along the road of his artistic journey, he had all of his painting supplies thrown out by a landlord, after unfairly evicting him and not giving him enough time to gather his belongings. Kenny was brought pretty low at this point. Not only was he back to living on the streets in the midst of a winter cold snap, but his means of creation had been snatched out of his hands, deemed worthless. He was starting from ground zero again.
His resolve to bring joy to the people around him faltered. I started to see him more regularly on my Morning Runs, though, and he would also visit me at the church where I drop off donations. In the middle of his hardship, I saw that he was still searching for a way to make a connection.
One of the hardest things to deal with, Kenny says — besides the distinct difficulty of trying to stay dry and warm — is the compassion deficit, in the bigger community. He hardly gets a moment of rest, between being told to move from one dry place to the next.
A few months ago, my friend Devin and I were able to help Kenny find a warm, safe place to call his new home. With a place to store his accumulating found art supplies, he’s as busy as ever getting plugged into Victoria’s thriving art scene. Life has been only a sometimes friend to Kenny, but he continues to push forward.