On Sunday evening, we gathered together in the Calgary hostel common-room for the first time. A group of high school students travelled from La Crete to learn about poverty and homelessness in the city. Some MCC Alberta staff joined for an orientation where we drew a picture of homelessness together. It looked like a shaggy-haired man with a toque and baggy clothes. Words like “misunderstood,” “lonely,” and “unhappy” were used to describe the homeless. But also words like “people,” “diverse,” “stories.”
CASA (Community Awareness through Service and Action) allows students to glimpse the reality of inequality in Calgary. On Monday, the La Crete students served meals at shelters, helped clean for agencies, and sorted clothing and other donations. They became more aware of the many stories of those who live without a home. Breaking barriers and changing stigmas. At the Olympic Plaza park, a homeless man approached some of us asking for water to drink. None of us had water, but someone quickly produced their water bottle as a gift for this person. Their humanity and dignity was recognized.
Those without a home are not simply lazy. There are people who have lost loved ones and struggle to cope. Some have been abused and now live with low self-esteem. There are former child soldiers from parts of Africa who came to Canada for refuge. There are those with permanent disabilities who cannot survive on government funding alone. And still others who work but cannot make ends meet. They are people with diverse and difficult experiences.
On Monday evening, we met once again in the hostel common room. During our debrief, a student said, "I don't think our first drawing was complete.” We ended by creating multiple pictures of different people: some well dressed, some construction workers, still some with shaggy hair, both men and women, etc. As we become aware, we welcome these stories as part of our own. We can welcome the stranger into our lives. As the common saying goes, “Mi casa es su casa.”