Monday, 15 July 2013

JPHAWC - the cracks are how the light gets in.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” ~ Leonard Cohen

In April 2007 a homeless Edmonton man died after the Riverbend Square recycling bin he had sought a warm night’s sleep in was raised to be dumped into a city truck and he fell over 6 metres to his death. It was not a good death. The driver of the truck was deeply shaken but not at fault. I can find no record of his name; never could. He was just another broken throw-away man.

Flash forward to just a few days ago; a friend shared this photograph with me.

Someone(s) spray painted this on a church presumably in response to the church’s leasing some property to a Housing First project through the Province, Homeward Trust, and Jasper Place Health and Wellness Centre to build housing for homeless men who are ready (emphasis on READY) to leave homelessness behind them. I have ached for days over this photograph and even more over the comments I have read over and over on the various FB groups and articles on the subject. I have agonized over what to say and have ultimately decided that I could probably never change any of your minds, but maybe, just maybe, I can change your hearts and perhaps that is the point of all this is the first place.

There is a crack in everything. Even in broken people.
                                                                        That’s how the light

                                                                                                Gets in.

I am atheist but I believe it is very important to try to be good. I try to live my life by a few simple rules. If I can’t make the world a little better each day, I can at least not make it worse. There are a number of people who have been very quick to judge, assume, hypothesize, and alarm but have spent very little time listening, learning, or considering the truth and reasoning behind the project. The scope and goal of the project is very clearly expressed on the JPHAWC website and I see nothing that causes me alarm.

That said, the land is zoned for such projects and no community, nor the people in it, should assume they have a right to exclude others. Ever. Human beings have a long and sad history of exclusion and segregation …… it never ends well; it never achieves good, it never makes the world better. Yet the hateful comments flow like water: “HIV”, “degenerates”, “useless”, “crime”, on and on the stereotypes go. The people behind the words are so filled with fear they can’t rest until they convince everyone there is a looming tragedy waiting to befall our hapless community once the multi-unit men’s housing opens its doors. What they have failed to recognize, what they refuse to understand, is that we’re all just a little broken. There are cracks in everyone … that’s where the light gets in. The reasons for homelessness are as varied and complicated as human beings themselves but fundamentally the difference between someone who is homeless and someone who is homed is a HOME. Simple. The men who will qualify for these homes will be ready for a home. Most of the men who move in will have never hurt anyone more than themselves, and will each have a unique history and set of circumstances they have survived. All will have reached a place where trained professionals have determined that they are ready for this step and each man, more importantly, will have made the amazing decision to try. It takes a tremendous amount of courage. Once they have made that choice are YOU to be the one to tell them they can’t try to fit the broken pieces of their life together here? Maybe somewhere else, but not HERE? Really?!?! Because if you are going to say that then you might as well just throw them in that recycling dumpster right now and save them the humiliation of being told they are unworthy of THIS place. Just another throw-away man.

BUT! There’s always a but, isn’t there. It’s for their own good that they not be here; the amenities and services just aren’t here. Counselling, food banks, literacy programming, good transit options, etc. aren’t pre-existing in Riverbend. BUT they SHOULD be, because “Ghettoizing” the disenfranchised isn’t the answer. Sorry, but it isn’t ok to lump impoverished people together in one place so they know their place. And no feeling, logical human being should believe otherwise. If we (as a community) spent a fraction of the time it would take to block this housing unit, to support it then we would make it as successful as it could humanly be. In any city the services follow the populations and the will of the communities determine the success of the populations. Food hampers can be raised through churches, schools, and retailers. A lending library of books could be assembled. Welcome packages can be created. Houseplants supplied, and “suspended coffees” purchased (google it). Supplies and tools for a community garden on the grounds could be collected. I am tearing up at all the beautiful, creative possibilities; there is no end to what we can do. Professional services for the impoverished have been very lacking in the greater Riverbend area despite the fact we are home to one of the city’s largest tracks of social housing because this is an expensive area to live in and an invisible segregation exists even if only socio-economic. Ending this “gated community” mentality will benefit us as human beings, not hurt us. Giving them a chance, a nice place to live, and an encouraging and inclusive community will give them the best odds possible. Isn’t that what we all would want?  An opportunity to belong, to live justly and well, a second chance at a good life?

Over 2300 years ago, Aristotle wrote “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” and I believe that is truer today than ever. There is a lesson here and it is that attitude is everything and IF you muster the courage to overcome challenges and endeavour to right wrongs, then someone with a kind heart and helpful hands will be there to support you. What better message to teach our children? Or ourselves? For me, it breaks my heart that someone could claim to be protecting their children when they are, in fact, teaching their children to exclude, to fear, and most of all that if life breaks you, you won’t be worth fixing ….. even when the light is pouring in through the cracks, and you’ve mustered all your strength and bravery to try. And I think that’s a tragedy.


  1. Already a beautiful story has been sent to me that echoes and eclipses my words entirely. This is a beautiful read ............ have a tissue handy.

  2. Your sentiments echo exactly how I feel - thanks for sharing.