Archive for October 21, 2013

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 15 October 2012

‘Street sister’ Stella helps those less fortunate

by Gerry Sutherland of the Ottawa Citizen

This is a true story about someone I know who wants to do something to help those that are not in the mainstream of our society. Her name is Stella and she lives across the street from me. People in our comfortable adult community know her as the one who does so much work attending to the flower beds in the common property. But, on Wednesdays, and sometimes on other days, Stella disappears from our street and goes to her other life in downtown Ottawa.

Go to the corner of Kent and Queen around 8 a.m. and there’s a good chance you’ll see Stella. She’s sitting with a panhandler on the side of the street, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. Stella is now in her other life as friend to the drunks, drug addicts, and ex-cons that are panhandling as they sit in the doorways and the sides of streets. Not only does she talk to these friends, but she brings them clothes and other necessities to make their lives a little more comfortable, especially during the cold winter months. And sometimes her husband, Tim, is there too, doing his part.

Stella is trusted and loved by these street people. She arrives in the morning on a bus from her home. Driving her car there is not appropriate because buses are, what the street people use and she wants to act like an equal rather than someone from ‘the right side of the tracks.’ Living in a foster home and then adopted by a well-to-do family in Winnipeg in the late 1950s was Stella’s early life. In her youth she liked animals. Later on in adult life she became interested in the lives of street people. This interest has lasted for over 15 years. When asked how long she intends to do this work she answers with a twinge of sadness, “I will continue until I can no longer physically manage.” Stella has multiple sclerosis.

His name was Angelo and he was a typical panhandler. He got stabbed by another panhandler and as a result of blood loss suffered permanent brain damage. Angelo now lives in supervised lodging and Stella, often accompanied by husband Tim, goes to see him every week. This caring action demonstrates the love this lady has for her fellow humans, regardless of what station in life they might occupy. She knows that street people, in spite of their excess drinking, their addiction to drugs, or their past crimes have a basic need that we all have. They want someone who will treat them as equals, some who they can talk to, and especially someone who cares for them. Stella meets those criteria. As she sits and walks with her ‘extended family’ she is comfortable in presenting herself to them as an equal and friend. That’s what they need and that’s what they get from this grand lady. I don’t suppose Stella will ever be officially recognized for her good work. In our society a person who is a friend of those that live on the streets is not usually a candidate for recognition. But that doesn’t really matter to her. Instead, she is content to be accepted and trusted by her street friends. Stella knows there is respect and love inherent in the expression used when they call her their ‘street sister.’

It had rained during the night. Sidewalks were wet. Joy was protected by a plastic cushion. I sat on the cold, damp concrete. “How was your weekend, Joy?”

“It was quiet. I went out Saturday night and hung out with Little Jake and Andre. When I got home I got a frantic phone call from Toothless Chuck, ‘V’s dead, He was hit by a car.’ I’m not sure how the accident happened but Chuck has broken bones in his foot and refuses to go to the hospital.

“This may sound unkind, but V’s better off dead. Chuck didn’t train him properly and would kick him if he misbehaved. That’s no way to treat a dog.”

I asked, “Do you have any appointments coming up to obtain your identification?”

“My regular appointment is Wednesday, I’m so frustrated that I’ve started cutting myself again. I was so proud that I had gone almost a year without doing that. I need my medication. They say the most common reasons for cutting is Attention or Depression. My reason is definitely Depression. Chester makes it worse with all his noises. He had the temperature way up yesterday, to the point I was sweating, but do you think he would put it up this morning when I said that I was cold? No!”

Mental Health Issues: People suffering from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, chronic depression, eating disorder tend to hurt themselves in some or the other way. When they reach the highest level of sorrow, they stop feeling anything. This lack of emotions sometimes makes them suffer even from panic attacks, so they cut themselves. When they see their blood, and experience the pain they feel relieved as they are assured that they are still capable of having some feeling. However, this is not the case with everyone suffering from mental illnesses, this is more commonly seen in people who suffered from childhood trauma or abuse. I said, “I was thinking back to this time last year. You were so happy. You’d received all your identification and your health card. You had moved into that nice house with Chuck. You had your pet snake, the lizards and Chuck’s dog, but you were stressed about the cop car parked in front of your house. That was before your kidneys failed.”

“Yeah, no chance of that now. Mind you, we had three cop cars in front of the apartment building yesterday. Chester said, ‘Are they here for you, Joy?’ I said, ‘No, Chester, they’re here for you.’ He said, ‘Me, I don’t do any bad stuff.’ I said, ‘I don’t either.’ They were probably called because of the crack heads down the hall.”

I said, “Even a place like Hippo’s would be better for you. He has to deal with crack heads, but he has his privacy, he has cable, the choice to watch any programs he wants, and in English too.”

“Yeah, my worker is coming to see me and Andre, at noon, about two apartments she’s found. I sure hope that works out. I’m overdue for some good news.”

“I asked, “Did you get your laundry done?”

“Yeah, most of it. I washed all Chester’s winter clothes. There wasn’t enough room for mine. Chester’s going to give me his winter pants. They go with this parka. Hopefully, I won’t get too cold this winter. My arthritis and fibromyalgia just wont take the cold.”

“Chester isn’t in the cold that much, is he? He doesn’t pan.”

“No, he just comes to the Mission for meals and visits with the guys for a while. If he’s cold, he goes home.”

At noon the temperature was a balmy 63 degrees Fahrenheit. I felt too warm in my down filled winter coat, so I sat on it instead. Shaggy greeted me at the sidewalk — licking my hand and barking.

“She’s okay,” said Wolf, “Go ahead and pet her. That’s what she wants.”

Sitting on the curb were Wolf, Chester, Joy, Jacques, Little Jake, Andre and Shakes. I was sitting on the sidewalk facing Mo. Marilyn was fidgeting, standing beside me. At one point she draped her coat over my shoulder, while she rooted through her purse looking for change to buy a cigarette.

I said, “Hey, what am I — a coat rack?”

Joy said, “I wish that dog would shut up for a while.”

I asked, “How did the rest of your morning go? Did your worker come by to show you the apartment?”

“Today is a typical Monday, although it is payday for the government. My worker should have been here hours ago, but I know that Friday she had a lot of shit on her plate. She’ll come either later today, or tomorrow.”

“Have you heard any more from Chuck, about his broken foot?”

“No, I didn’t go over. When I talked to him on the phone he said something about community service. He’s not going to be able to do much with a broken foot.”

Jake asked, “Is Chuck still living in the same place?”

Joy said, “No, he has a really nice apartment on Stewart Street. I’m sure he won’t have it for long. He has too many people living there. Every night there are twelve to fifteen people. They’re loud, drunk — the police get called there a lot.

“He says, ‘I can’t let people sleep on the street!’ I said do him, ‘Dude, yes you can! They aren’t your problem!’ It was the same when I lived with him. People would eat all our food, there was hardly any place to sleep. It was doing my head in. I had to get away from there.

Saturday he had a party with a lot of muk muks. Magdalene brought Ruby, a friend of hers. This Ruby chick got in my face as soon as she arrived. Within a few minutes I was on my feet. Chuck had to hold me back. Somebody was holding Ruby back. I said, ‘Let her go. I can deal with her.”

“Today Chuck mentioned that Ruby had phoned and asked him to apologize to me. She said she was out of control. I said, ‘It’s all water under the bridge to me.’ The thing is, I’m sure she doesn’t remember what I look like, but I sure as hell remember her. The next time I see her, I’ll just walk up behind her and give her a snap at the back of the head. She won’t know what hit her.”

There was a demonstration taking place in the park. Andre said, “The R.C.M.P. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) are there and some natives with a red flag, a yellow sunburst in the center, and the silhouette of an indian brave on that.”

Joy said, “Andre, you’re part native, you don’t recognize the flag of the Mohawk Nation. There are a lot of them on Turtle Island, or Victoria Island. Don’t you know about the land grant from Queen Victoria that gave the island in the Ottawa River, and the land were sitting on, to the Seven Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. That included the Mohawks of Akwisasne, Kahnawake, the Hurons of Wendake and the Anishinabegs.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Emile, “I must have been sick when they taught that history lesson.”

I noticed that Shakes was very quiet.

Joy said, “He didn’t get up until eight o’clock, he’s sober and he doesn’t have any pot. Usually by this time he’s been panning long enough to get a couple of bottles.”

I walked over to him, “How are you feeling Shakes?”

“I’m broke,” he said. I stayed at the Shep’s last night. Somebody stole, my bottle, my mary-jane and my money.”

“Make sure you eat, okay, Shakes,” I said.

“I will, thanks, brother.”