Street Tales: The great springtime migration

  • Apr. 15, 2017 12:30 a.m.

Canada Geese have been here for a couple of weeks, and recently great masses of snow geese have been flying over as they wing their way north. The crow population has exploded, as have other birds, including many new faces on the street. Every springtime we can expect a 20 per cent changing of the guard. And they all arrive at the kitchen before long – not the birds of course, just the people!

Although we acknowledge their recent arrival, it only takes their first 20 spoken words to categorize them. I may be a little cynical, but to hear very similar stories from almost every new face that pops up tends to feed my thoughts on the subject. The stories often sound like this.

“I arrived yesterday and not knowing where to go and it being late, I feel asleep on a park bench. When I woke up I found that my backpack had been stolen while I slept; now I have nothing-no ID, no wallet”. This is all spoken with a forced earnestness that for us is quite readily identifiable. The story might also be like this. ”I drove in yesterday afternoon and as I was settling down for the night, the police came and impounded my vehicle and threw me in jail, (for no reason don’t you know), so now I’m without anything.” Others just come walking into the kitchen as if they know exactly where they are going, and try to imply that they belong; some just come quietly and don’t open their mouths; just to eat.

What surprises me is that many of these transients, who, according to them just arrived the previous day, somehow miraculously show up at the kitchen door at 6 a.m.; just in time for breakfast, all the while professing that they didn’t know where to go, being new here and all that.

Although this great migration is a normal thing every spring, what we don’t always know or expect is the baggage that comes along with these folks, not to mention the influx of new or just more drugs. With the still cold nights and lack of free beds, many of the buildings downtown are constantly being broken into; not always for theft, just warmth.

Just this week alone there have been several non-fatal overdoses found in apartment hallways; reports of another bridge jumper, and the list goes on. Over this past winter, we have lost many of our regulars to death from a variety of reasons. Some were expected, some not; some of these people we enjoyed, others we did not. A few were addicts but many were just working poor or unemployed.

Sometimes these are the days when you ask yourselves what are we doing here, but as we look around the dining room we spot an individual who has left the drug/alcohol scene behind and is actively pursuing a better life, then we are encouraged to continue in our efforts.

We just have to look at this migration from the perspective of the folks involved, and ask why here, why now, what moved you to relocate from where you were? Was it the prospect of a job, invitation from a friend, or was it that you thought life might be better for you here? Are you running away from a miserable life that you had elsewhere? Are you finding a better life here, or do you find yourself just turning to the same lifestyle you were running away from?

All of the reasons for migrating across this fair land are unknown. Some we will learn about, others we won’t. The most we can do for someone like this is to be there to support them and let them know that at this end, someone cares.

Chris Salomons is the kitchen co-ordinator at Potter’s Hands in Red Deer.

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