18 December 2010

I was accepted for an orientation session for volunteers at the Shepherds of Good Hope. I trained for the Drop-In Program from 5:00 to 9:00pm. This is the evening meal open to everyone without charge. First I had to learn the Rules for Food Handlers.

They served a very good meal with choices of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, barley soup, salads (green, couscous and pasta), muffins, cakes, donuts and sandwiches (some to go, if they wished).

I wiped tables, gathered dishes and served soup. It was five hours on my feet after a long day at work, but I enjoyed it. There was a sweet lady from England who served beside me. She was full of stories, was worried about her son who is an alcoholic. She loves peanut butter and was very interested when I told her that for breakfast I eat toast spread with peanut butter, covered by scrambled eggs (mostly whites). This lady seemed to know most of the guests and said to them how much she had missed them, worried if some didn’t show up, worried if they were sitting all alone and not smiling as usual. The guests and the staff were very nice. The dishwasher, who sings in a choir, sang Christmas carols as he sprayed the dishes, and everyone joined in.

A native man gave me two drawings. I didn’t want to accept them, but he insisted. He said that he likes to pay his own way. He showed me his biography that indicated he had exhibited widely and had many gallery exhibitions of his work. The drawings were signed Rain Dog. I was truly blessed by the gift of these drawings. In response I wrote a poem for him:

Inside a broken clock 
Splashing the wine with all the rain dogs 
Taxi, we’d rather walk 
Huddle a doorway with the rain dogs 
For I am a rain dog too

Tom Waits

Rain Dog

What brings you to the shelter?
Where will you sleep tonight?
Where will you wander tomorrow?

You have blessed me with your gifts,
giving of your art, your soul.
Blessing others with your smile.

I’d love to hear your tales
of places you have traveled,
of things you’ve seen and done.

I hope to see you again
so that I may learn from you.
Rain Dog, you write on my heart.

A Rain Dog is a dog caught in the rain, with its whole trail washed away by the water so he can’t get back home. A stranded dog, who wants nothing better than to get home. 

People who live outdoors, people who sleep in doorways, loners knit together by some corporeal way of sharing pain and discomfort. (The Urban Dictionary} 

22 December 2010

I sat with Joy this morning. Her eyes were blackened and she had a gash across the bridge of her nose. She was weeping. I asked, “What happened, Joy?”

“My boyfriend punched me in the face. I’m covered in bruises, my ribs are in bad shape and I’ve been coughing blood.”

“Did you phone the police?”

“No, if the police come again, we’ll be kicked out of the place we’re staying. It’s not the first time he’s beaten me. I’ve had broken bones, cracked and separated ribs. We’ve been together four years now. He’s okay when he’s sober, but when he drinks he gets crazy. I’ve kicked him out for good, but he always comes back saying he’s sorry and that it’ll never happen again.

“Also, I’m on probation. I served time at the Prison for Women for assaulting this same guy. I shouldn’t have been charged. There was a lot of blood, but it was all mine. Another time in prison, I was raped by a male guard and gave birth to his son. My probation officer is trying to arrange an appointment with a mental health counselor because, as a child, I was molested by my father, grandfather and uncle. Depending on the results of this interview, I may be eligible for better assisted housing.”

“I wish there were something I could do.”

“What I need is some girl stuff. I’m just starting my period.”

“I’d love to help, but there aren’t any stores nearby and I’m already ten minutes late for work.”

“It’s okay, I’ll ask one of my regular women friends who will be dropping by.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Joy. Take care.”

I made a decision that I would try to help Joy and other people like her. I don’t have any special qualifications, but I registered as a volunteer with The Shepherd’s of Good Hope. I expect to start work soon.

23 December 2010

“Hi Joy, how are you feeling today? Your eyes are looking better”

“Right now I have a headache, a cold, a sore throat and I can’t seem to stop crying. On top of that, yesterday, going down the stairs I tripped over my roommate’s dog, Harley, and broke my tail bone. The pain is unbearable.

“It’s not just that. I was thinking about one of my friends, Leeanne. She was murdered three months ago on September 5th. She lived at the Shepherd’s. She was a prostitute. They found her body, with her pants pulled down, between a fence and the hydro substation on King Edward Avenue, between York and George. Who does that kind of thing? He didn’t even have the decency to cover her body.

“Six women, prostitutes or drug addicts, have been murdered in Ottawa since 1990, and the cops think it may be a serial killer.

“In 2006, Jennifer, was 36 years old, native, a mother of four who worked the streets for 20 years to pay for her crack habbit. She was found in a parking lot on Alice Street near the Gamelin Street entrance to Gatineau Park. She was face-down, lying in the dirt, naked and bleeding. She died in hospital and an autopsy showed she had been stabbed at least a dozen times while trying to fight off her attacker. She had stab wounds to her head, legs and wrists.

“Pamela was 39. She was murdered in 2008. Her body was found partially nude and beaten, near a bicycle path in Lincoln Heights Park. They found a pair of men’s reading glasses at the scene. It’s believed that they belonged to the killer and that he’s over forty.

“Carrie was 32, in 1995, last seen in her Lafontaine Avenue apartment in the early morning with man in late 20s/early 30s — he had short brown hair, tattoos on both arms, wore a light-coloured kilt. I’ve kept all the newspaper clippings.You’d think a guy dressed like that would be easy to spot. She was found strangled.

“In 1993 there was Sophie, she was 24, she turned to prostitution to support her children and unemployed boyfriend. She was last seen alive getting into a white van near Kent and Laurier. She was found strangled, her body found stuffed into two garbage bags in a Westboro parking lot.

“Melinda, was only 16, in 1990. She was beautiful and had only been working the streets for three weeks. It was a Saturday night, she’d been in the Cafe Deluxe on Dalhousie Street. People saw her jump into a car. She was found strangled in the Byward Market, her body in a parking lot dumpster on Murray Street. One snake-skinned stiletto heel was missing. Over twenty years later, it’s still missing, so is her killer.

“I don’t think the cops are even trying to catch the guy. Prostitutes are considered scum. The cops are more likely to beat them than to help them. The women are just trying to survive from day to day. They do what they do for food, drugs or alcohol. Most of them don’t see any way out. Just because they’re prostitutes, or addicts, is no reason to kill them. None of us on the street are safe.

“I used to do that, but I no longer have an expensive habit to maintain, so I don’t do it any more.”

I hugged her and said “I’m glad you don’t do it any more.”

As I sat with Joy, some ladies in a nearby office building bought her a large frozen turkey. She also had a bag of presents. I could see crackers, to go with the turkey and a pair of socks. A lady stopped by and dropped her $20.00 since she wouldn’t be seeing her again until after the holidays.

“I’m going to cook this turkey, freeze some and share it with my neighbors who aren’t doing very well.”

I said, “If your interested, you’re welcome to come to the Shepherd’s of Good Hope, Christmas Eve. They’re putting on a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.”

“Thanks, I won’t promise that I’ll come. I don’t do well in crowds, I’m agoraphobic, but I’ll see. Thanks again for inviting me.

25 December 2010

I spent this evening at the “Shepherd’s of Good Hope” I was wiping and clearing tables, then I was assigned to wash dishes. It involved placing the cups, plates, and cutlery in the stacking tray, so they could be rinsed with the pressure sprayer, before sliding the tray into the washer.

I didn’t see my favorite people there, but all the guests were helpful and polite. They brought their trays to the counter, scraped their plates, and said, “Thank you very much, sir, have a merry Christmas.”

The volunteers were also very nice; much nicer than the people I work with on a paid basis. I was asked if I was doing okay if wanted to sit down if I wanted a drink of juice or something to eat. At the end of the shift I was thanked for the work I did.

All in all, it was a very pleasant evening.

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