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All-nighters and the search for solutions

The air on Tuesday morning at five a.m. held the promise of a beautiful day in the making.

As I opened the soup kitchen, I of course didn’t know what to expect what with every day being different, so it came as a bit of a surprise when within five minutes, 20 or 25 folks came in.

Some were under the influence of whatever, and some were sober but cold. But almost all of them sat down and leaning forward onto the table, fell asleep. I learned later in the day that the emergency mat program started by Safe Harbour in response to Winter’s Inn closure last fall had ceased operation on Sunday past.

This is normally the time of year when Winter’s Inn would close as the threat of freezing to death is past.

We don’t start breakfast until six a.m., but we open the doors as soon as I get there and put on coffee, so it’s the perfect time for some to catch 40 winks. Forty winks is about all they will get, because tired as they are, sleep is hard to come by in all the noise and activity of a kitchen and the comings and goings. Some are so exhausted that they could sleep through a world war.

This year, and especially in the last four or five months, there has been a subtle change in this population. Part of this change stems from the transient nature involved in homelessness; but some of the change is from policy changes and new regulations that are inherent with a change in policy makers.

This change is the increase of aggressive behaviours that are exhibited.

I for one am extremely aware of the attitudes that emanate from the general population toward the street people and their antics, and in some cases I empathize with them. Anyone who works in this field will at times become overwhelmed with the constant barrage of needy people, and if this feeling is allowed to fester, it destroys the compassion required to be able to work with these otherwise beautiful folks.

Two thousand years ago it was written, “You will always have the poor with you,” and sad to say, it was a very prophetic statement because we still have them.

We cannot deal with them by legislating them out of existence, nor can we drive them away by withholding funds to help them, so we have to come up with inventive ways to reduce the harmful effects of poverty.

From experience through the efforts put in, we periodically see some individuals grab hold of a helping hand and pull themselves out of their impoverished state. Others, because of health issues (both mental and physical), will always be in the condition of poverty.

And others choose to be there.

There are many people in our community, both in the private and the public sector, who are very imaginative when it comes to generating solutions to seemingly impossible situations. The greatest problem to utilizing these resources comes from others who want absolute control, thereby preventing all sides working together, which results in the following scenarios:

These folks who came into the kitchen at five a.m. were up all night. I don’t know about you, but my hour has 60 minutes, each of which have 60 seconds, which can be really long if you have nothing to do. So in order to fill all those hours, imaginations devise all types of activities. A good friend states that nothing really good happens after dark, especially when you introduce alcohol and/or drugs.

The last two Sundays, I have listened to the testimony of “Cinderella” (a subject of previous articles) in her recovery and the struggles she faced in making dramatic changes in her life. As well as being a heart-rending yet joyous story, it adds strength to the fact that efforts to help are needed.

The present city council has learned that there is no easy fix, but hopefully they can utilize all the different agencies and that together — and I mean together (without claims of ownership) — we can become a community that does all it can to promote the well-being of all of its citizens, including the All-nighters.

Chris Salomons is kitchen co-ordinator for Potter’s Hands ministry in Red Deer.

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