Wednesday, December 9, 2009

tomorrow, the launch of spaces and places

i am sitting by my window and the sun is going down. birds fly across the grey gold while i eat my dinner and write.... it is bitterly cold - the first real day of winter. tomorrow is the launch of the video at the Rose Theatre in Brampton.

there are over 100 people who have confirmed their attendance... i am looking forward to a few minutes of warmth and cameraderie as we view and discuss the issues so dear to my heart...

and a thank you to all who worked to get this into the earth/world/home...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

homelessness and disability

Hi, I have been neglecting the blog... teaching is taking up my time, as is the work that I continue to do as an artist in community.

Yet, I miss the connection that this blog created for me in various communities, and so I will try and write more. Nothing much has changed and maybe I have been more preoccupied with that of late. And writing. But in other places and spaces. One thing that is of note is the upcoming release of a video that is called: Spaces and places of homelessness: Uncovering homelessness in Peel Region. Needless to say I am excited and will post about where the premiere will be held. The video is a collaborative composed of Peel Poverty Action Group, Social Planning Council Peel, various faculty from York University, and funded by a Trillium Grant.

I have also been pondering on how language is missing for me when I think about the intersection of disability and homelessness. The knitted mandala is a result of a group effort from a talk given at OISE at the Centre for Women's Studies in Education. What you see is an artefact left over from a talk where we tried to find language without resorting to linear narratives... it was a fine time....

Saturday, January 24, 2009

celebration... and thanks

I want to say thank you to everyone who came out to the exhibit event on Thursday evening. We had an amazing time. Expect some photographs.

Because the panels from asleep in toronto are so difficult to reproduce–they are large, 36x72– i have provided the text of one of the panels and a reproduction of it here. So enjoy and more later.... Thanks again....

Is a room considered a home? Home is where the heart is, yes, that is true. But if I have a room and I don’t have hot and cold running water or I am not allowed cooking, is that a home? I believe it is still a room. When I am in jail I am in a room. When I am in hospital I am in a room but it is not a home. So a room is still not a home. I always thought it was something like self-contained, hot and cold running water, where you could cook, that is a home. A room is not a home. It keeps you isolated.

Heartless. Something is missing. I was on the street for 10 years and my heart was gone. To be out here - there is such a lot of agony, so much hurt for whatever reason when you are out here. Sex and drugs are one way of covering the hurt. Numbing it all. Then the pain is less.

Part of it is that life is really lonely and detaching and if we are kept apart it is not helping society to keep people apart from each other. It keeps you separated, away from people who mean something to you, who keep you heart healthy. Even the home of the street has more heart in it than some shelters and rooming houses.

Give people levels of opportunity right from the beginning, show them what they can do, show them their capabilities, show them their capacities. Show them their goodness. Show people what is possible within themselves. Society is set up now for people who “have” and people who do not “have” are sent to the side. And all the levels of violence and anger fester. There is a promise within everybody to be a changing force. We can find out what is within to create change.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

our own problems...

Maybe I was too hard on Mr. Obama. I guess there has been lots going on in my own mind-arguing back and forth as to whether he will keep his promises and keep homelessness as a priority. Time will tell.

We know homelessness is a global problem and that people traveling, may be housed in one place but end up dedomiciled in another. Here in Canada I was looking at Mr. Harper's promises or at least a few of them. Canadians were promised "$1.9 billion in funding over five years ($387.9 million per year) in support of housing and homelessness programs throughout Canada" (Conservative Government press release, 19 September 2008). Less than a month later we were told that we would be provided with 2 years of funding and current levels would be maintained. What happened?

We are one of the world's wealthiest nations. Yet aboriginal peoples, disabled peoples, women, newcomers of all kinds remain vulnerable to losing their homes. Many who are inadequately housed- the number that has been suggested is upward of 100,000 -live in unlicensed rooming houses where conditions are not monitored. Our economy is worsening and it could be a time when our government will do nothing around homelessness with this as an excuse. Rather than stating at a time like this housing is the most important contribution a government can make to its citizens.... Guess we'll be waiting on that one too!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

cold spell continued...

Don't fall asleep in the cold. You're unlikely to awaken.

We are continuing to have cold temperature alerts all across Canada and power outages. Community Centres are open and even the malls are crowded - at least the parts with power. For those of you who know the Dufferin Mall, well I was there yesterday, and as I left a woman was entering. She stopped to ask if it was open. And I said, that half of it was. The grocery store was closed but parts were open. (Yes, I left without groceries.) Her home had no heat so she was heading in to use it as a warming centre.

The City has responded to these freezing temperatures with what they call "reception centres." Of course they don't't expect citizen to sleep in a shelter. Not that they would find a bed in one. But there feels to be a great deal of hypocrisy here in this sudden concern for people effected by the cold. I wonder how many of the homeless will be making it to the reception centres and how long these centres will be kept open once the power returns? Will they remain open during the remainder of the winter?

I have also been thinking about all of the empty houses and buildings and trying to turn things around in my phenomenological way as i think about our use of material "things" in the world. How we shape and are shaped by things. How we are shaped by homes, and how homes are shaped by us. How abandoned homes could be shaped by those abandoned by and abandoning society. With a bit of help of course-tools and such. There is a lot of housing that is substandard that needs rehabilitation and families of all sorts to fill them.

And count me out of the Obama celebrations. Just found out the guy is moving the homeless out for his inauguration. Ya, that's right. And they will not be allowed to take their carts and bags with them. Buses will move them beyond the security perimeter. They deny that those who want to stay will be removed. And the others? Will they be welcome? No it seems they will be placed in large shelters to watch the celebrations on television. Oh joy! Change is there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

a memorial.... and a call for warming centres

Today a memorial was held for John Massie, a 46 year old man who died on January 6 of this year. Right now there are at least 2 deaths a week in Toronto of people who are homeless. This is untenable. Expect this number to increase.

A group of 20 or so people gathered for the memorial that was held at the corner of King and Bay where 3 speakers said a few words, and later we walked the few short blocks to the Bank of Montreal ATM vestibule where John Massie died. Bright flowers were held in mittened hands. As we settled into this new location more stories were told. I never knew John but I felt an obligation to witness his death. Perhaps because I am so tired of the lack of political will when it comes to street deaths of people who are homeless and disabled. I also felt the need to witness the relationship between homelessness and disability that exists. John Massie was a man without a home and was not able to walk well according to all accounts. He was without a home, restricted at the end of his life to living within a 6 block radius.

Stories told suggested that he was a generous man who shared all he had. Tobacco and flowers were left outside the bank vestibule and a call for the opening of warming centres was made to the few media who managed to show up for this memorial. Since the City has defunded agency programs that used to distribute blankets and sleeping bags–survival supplies– it is urgent that we open warming centres during the winter. Tonight the temperature will fall to -27. The winds will increase this making the liklihood of death higher. Can anyone hear us?

Monday, January 12, 2009

keep reading....

Yes, we are back and it is winter. In the winter of 1995-1996 people died. Three of those included Eugene Upper, Irwin Anderson, and Mirsalah-Aldin Kompani. Our country accepts the deaths of those with and without names at the rates of 1 or more per week during the winter months. People in the homeless community seem to think it is not getting better, it is just getting worse. Food is not easier to find, shelters are overcrowded due to the closure of beds over the past years.... and we find more names: Frank Julian, Carolyn Connolly, Dennis Bowen, Robert Maurice, Biniyam Selleshi. John Doe. Jane Doe. Brent Sims.

But I said I would write about hope. Today is not the best day for it I guess. But it is not that i want to address futile hopes but the idea of realistic or pragmatic hopes. Hopes that have potential of being realised via committment, attention, imagination, and persistence.... hopes for economic and social justice, equity, and....

Save the Date-January 22, 6:30-8:00 pm

asleep in toronto and a day in the life

are being exhibited in the Community Room at
the Leaside Public Library for
the month of January, 2009

On January 22, from 6:30-8:00 pm
we would like to invite you
to a conversation with
Ronzig, Jim Meeks, Helen Posno, Fred Yurichuk, and Nancy Halifax
Please arrive at 6:30 pm for tea and coffee and cookies.
The conversation will commence at 7:00 pm

The location is:
165 McRae Dr.
Toronto, ON, M4G 1S8

a day in the life and asleep in Toronto are arts-informed, community-based participatory research projects. Using a photographic documentary approach, we examined the social determinants of health and social justice as they relate to poverty, homelessness, structural inequalities, food and housing insecurity. These projects demonstrated that personal, structural and social inequalities were felt deeply from within.

Both projects were produced in collaboration with groups of men and women with past or current experiences of homelessness. The groups were provided with cameras in order to take photographs, which tell stories about their daily life stories and about what is important to them. They generated comprehensive depictions of the homelessness experience and its effects on health and wellbeing. Group members also gained a sense of pride and ownership in their art through their success in reaching and impacting the community.

Our projects were innovative in their use of the arts; not only as a means for improving personal health but also as an important means for sustaining and creating conversations around social change, self-determination, social auto/biographies, and for engaging communities in social development. The elimination of many arts activities for homeless adults in the community (due to funding cuts) led to a gap, which was addressed by these projects: providing opportunities to participate regularly in arts and cultural activities including photography, creative writing and story-telling.

The artists in these projects included: (in random order) Jim Meeks, Helen Posno, Frank, Ray, Marcia, France, Sharole, Devon, James, Jeremy, Don, Joao, Kevin, Jean Guy, Bruce, Nancy Halifax & Fred Yurichuk.

Partners included: Street Health, the Centre for Arts-informed Research at the University of Toronto, the Wellesley Institute, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies, York University.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

i don't want to take the excitement away from our exhibit but there are days when i look at our web statistics and see visitors from China, Bulgaria, Indonesia, UK, Nebraska, Nunavut, India, Poland.... and I wonder what viewing this site means to you.

Are you also engaged in social justice movements, housing, poverty, and just wondering what is happening here in Canada?

I do wish I could say that we had created some sort of ideal world and that tonight I hadn't again heard a warning for severe cold weather. And that i had not read that until we really shift the social inequities that plague all of our cultures nothing will change. In a recent listserv message the talk was of redistribution of wealth, resources, and power in order to incur meaningful shifts in equity. And that we need to have Canadians talking about it.

So the exhibit is one way to have people talking about what is happening, what happens to people who live their lives in public spaces. I'll let you all know what happens.

One of my goals is to write about a curriculum of hope and the possibility of that for those of us engaged in this work of social justice in the urban environment... so stay tuned for a paragraph or two to be emerging on that.

exhibit at Leaside Library, January 2009

asleep in toronto and a day in the life

Are back and being exhibited in the Community Room at the Leaside Public Library for the month of January, 2009.

These projects arose from work done with homeless and underhoused people living in Toronto. This partnership was undertaken with Street Health. We will soon be sending out a notice of our closing conversation and celebration for this event!

The location is:
165 McRae Dr.
Toronto, ON, M4G 1S8

The hours are:
Monday:10:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursday:12:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Tuesday:12:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Friday:10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Wednesday:10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Saturday: 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

Closest major intersection: Eglinton Ave. East and Laird Drive.
Located on southwest corner of McRae Dr. and Rumsey Rd.
Public Transit: TTC bus 88 from St. Clair subway station
Parking: Free parking on McRae Dr.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

taking down stories and photos, of course

I met many people, and i of course saw my familiars–for which i was extremely grateful. the guys i have been looking for... some of them were there. and they liked the work so much.

The work received coverage in the Star and Jim spoke brilliantly at the launch.... He is lovely and always a joy to work with.

But I remain uncertain–perhaps it is fatigue. Did people really get the "arts" or did they not? Did they understand what was being conveyed? That there would be nothing really happening those days in Metro Hall without this work? How do we teach society about the arts? This is a crucial juncture as arts funding is being cut all around us. Maybe that is what disappoints me.

Though I talked to many people about this work, about the relationship between disability and health and homelessness–and I know some of them understand. I know some of them are thinking more about the connections.

And so that is what leaves me full of gratitude. The people I spoke with, who heard, the people I listened to, who told me their stories so I could witness their lives and be resolved once again to the necessity of this work.

Remember that. There are people on the streets who need multiple kinds of solutions for housing, who need to be involved in discussing the solutions and the problems. Who are experiencing severe health care problems. Remember that.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

setting up - a day in the life and asleep in toronto

set up the exhibit on Monday and it was a long, long day but full of joy. So, you must come down and visit us. More stories of homelessness again told. One person denied access to shelters due to a disability.... Recently hospitalized they were discharged back to the streets with no follow up care. What is health if you are denied full access to it?

What is it to be homeless, underhoused, living perhaps with failing health, with a disability and unable to access adequate healthcare? To hope either for a home or support for the places you yourself choose? What is it for a society to wish for the end of homelessness without including the perspectives of those who live it? These are only some of the questions that I find preoccupying me as I work with people who are living these lives right now. What I have learned is that there is not one solution, one perfect home that can be built. I have learned that some people will always choose the streets for some parts of their lives. I have learned that when people are despairing a small piece of some/any thing given freely can mean solace.
And I have learned there are people on the streets who are visionaries and their visions are being ignored.

These exhibits, a day in the life and asleep in toronto, offer a perspective and try to offer some way of imagining through our inadequate representational and symbolic systems. Bringing these systems together we hope maybe the complexity of homelessness is more readily revealed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Exhibit - October 1, opening!!!

If a picture is worth a thousand words,
how many pictures does it take to understand just one word: homelessness?

Our work, along with work from some other folk will be premiering at Metro Hall. As well we will be launching a report of the findings from the work done.... should be a powerful event so hope to see you all there!

Homelessness – Solutions from Lived Experiences through Arts-Informed Research
is a collaborative initiative to put forward and take action on the knowledge gained from eight arts-informed, community-based participatory research studies in Toronto.

Save the date and be sure to join us on October 1, 2008 to launch our exhibit and help move our recommendations forward:

Date: Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Time: 9:30 am – 12:00 pm
Location: Toronto Metro Hall (Rotunda)
55 John Street, Toronto, M5V 3C6

A Day in the Life: Stories and Photographs of Health and Homelessness in Toronto
asleep in Toronto
Coming Together: Homeless Women, Housing and Social Support
Count Us In! Inclusion and Homeless Women in Downtown East Toronto
The Street Health Report 2007
Street Health Stories
Struggles, Strengths and Solutions: Exploring Food Security with Young
Aboriginal Moms

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Success and a call...

Look carefully at this photograph. Taken yesterday outside Metro Hall. Somethings have not changed in our wonderful city. People still sleeping...

Anyway apologies for not writing. I have been busy! But I am writing with some good/ish news. We have become part of a large Social Sciences and Humanities Public Outreach project that has been awarded funding. One part of our work involves exhibiting work from asleep in Toronto and a day in the life along with other projects that took place in Toronto. We have diverse partners, some new, some old. Street Health and the Wellesley Institute are familiar to us, and we welcome new partnerships with the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Ontario Women's Health Network, Regent Park Community Health Centre, NFB, and St Michael's Hospital. We have several objectives as well - to look at the recommendations from all of the work and put together a public document, to find our peer researcher/artists again, to reconstellate the work for a new exhibition space, and to celebrate the new collaborations out of which we hope we will generate community transformation. Researchers, educators, peers from the streets will all come together to learn and teach about the importance of these local experiences

We will look for additional funding to reconstitute the work from asleep in Toronto. I have to find everyone now and work with them around how they want it to be in this new space. Yes - Metro Hall - more on that soon! So if you are reading this and were a part of a day in life or asleep in Toronto - contact me or your worker (if you have one) to get hold of me! And we'll figure it all out.... Also we have a publication coming out really soon. I just looked at the galleys and made the final corrections. Nothing too lyrical about that writing. But it's done! Wish us luck on the funding front. Right now we need it!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

catching up

I am writing the final report for the project and counting the rejection letters as we try to show the work in different venues. It's hard and sometimes my energy is low. It's having to get up every day and just find the motivation to continue. And know that we will get the letters, those sweet letters, of rejection.

I don't take it personally, cause I can't. I know it is about finding the right venue. And that is not easy. I also know we need to mount the work in different ways. There is always hindsight, right?

And yet when I look over the project and what we accomplished I see that we did a great deal of what we set out to do and that should make me happy. It does, but being a bit of a perfectionist, I want more. So there is an application in for a post-production grant so that we can continue to work with the video and audio footage. If we had another month or two we would have a great piece to exhibit. And yes, we do have a venue for the work in May 2008. For a few short days. But it is there...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

through these eyes...

The Street Health Report was released on Wednesday of this week and deserves to be celebrated. Months of hard work and many people interviewed about the conditions of their lives so that we might all better understand the intersection between health and housing.

Ray, a member of our group said it well recently. "Why is it that some people have so much and yet so many people do not have nearly enough to live or eat let along have life's luxuries or life's necessities? Wouldn't it be nice if all of us people could share and live and love and help one another without greed and strife? We all would have a much better place to live together. Through these eyes I can only see what is yet put before me...."

His simple and profound words have haunted me for a couple of weeks. We need to develop the ability to look through the eyes of others, and to see what is before them, what lack exists, what abundance we may be celebrating and could share of. When I see through the eyes of another I begin to grasp another's world, I begin to imagine a life that is not mine. It is easy for us to see through the eyes of a character in a literary work or a film, why not through the eyes of a person of flesh and blood who could challenge our stereotypes of them?

In the photograph above we see a person wrapped in a blanket, asleep in a doorway. Not much privacy. But one would like to imagine that at least there might be safety. I would have to say that safety is not assured when you are sleeping outside. But the liklihood of violence is. And you are definitely vulnerable.

A few posts below us we see another photograph, this time of a bed that has been abandoned for a few moments. Cardboard serves as a mattress, a few possessions wrapped in a garbage bag are the feathers in a pillow... and I wonder how many nights can you sleep here on this stone step? What happens to our bodies, to us, when we are exposed to the elements and are not able to escape them? Snow, sun, wind, rain and draught all effect the homeless and the insecurely housed.

But I won't go on... Come out and see us and our work from the past months at Nuit Blanche in the Nightless City district! We'll be at the corner of Church and Maitland Street from 7:03 pm on Saturday, September 29 untill 7:03 am Sunday, September 30! Oh ya, I take my coffee with one sugar and a bit of soy milk....

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

nuit blanche

Well, we are retiring from active photographing and commencing our exhibition phase! the first one being nuit blanche and we are extremely excited. I do apologize for the delay in writing but I have been busy with the getting together of photographs and stories so that we can do an installation in the area of Church and Wellesley - exact location to be announced this week. Our submission was well received and will focus on the idea of the vulnerable body, the forgotten bodies, the bodies of the other... Our installation will recreate some of the material conditions of life on the streets of Toronto, to wake people up, and we will run our projections on found materials (or materials that we find and wash and sew together...).
The photograph shows some of our group but unfortunately Ray, James and Devon were missing... my mind won't let me guess if anyone else was missing but if they were I am certain someone will tell me! However I hope that some day I will have a group shot of all of us.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

We have one week left. Everyone is working hard, heads down. Fred and Ronzig are calling people for portraits and we have forgotten that this was the week for it. Lots of denial going on here! No-one is dressed for it, has combed hair. Oh, well. We are gorgeous anyway.
But the news arrives that one of the men had his bike stolen.
After he pays rent he has about 139 dollars left for food and sundries. He doesn't panhandle, sell drugs, or steal. In order to make the money he needs to live he does bottle runs. For this work he needs transportation. His bike.
He came in and tried to catch his breath. "Sorry, I'm late, have to finish this run.... I'll be back in 10 minutes. Can't leave the bottles here, in this neighbourhood they'll be gone in no time..." And off he went to cash them in. An enormous weight on his back, on his bicycle. The only means of transportation he has. He has been working hard, and his usual clean-shaven face has a few days growth on it.
He comes back and later goes out for a smoke and returns downcast. "My bike's gone." It had been locked up; not a particularly strong lock, it was inexpensive - what he could afford, maybe what had been given to him. He didn't seem particularly angry. Just needed to go and do the rounds to see if he could find who had taken it.
He has recently moved into housing and lives far away and has no transit pass. No way to do his bottle runs now. No way. No way.
Funny, but I find myself greatly angered by the loss of his bicycle. By the fact that he has such a small economic margin that we as a society have constructed and expect him to stay healthy and safe on. And I don't know if it is possible.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Ray was a bit late coming in this week. He didn't see me behind him and we almost collided - all 6 feet and 2 inches or so of him! And he was going a million miles an hour! Even in the heat! Full of apologies for being late he told of a couple of men who have died recently of overdoses. Men we have all talked to, men that you might have walked past on the street without a second thought. They were drug addicts. What does this mean though in terms of how we respond to others?
The roots of compassion are to suffer with.
com patior
. To suffer alongside those who share this earth with us. This dusty dream. And yes, this past week Joe Fiorito commented about our work in a column Zooming in on city's homeless. And then he floored me by writing A snapshot of a life left behind. Thank you Joe. For your support and for just tagging along in your gentle, observant manner. Joe writes with such compassion. And patience. Another word that is related to compassion. I say patience because I believe it is a necessary quality that we need when we are looking at these problems and their solutions. We need patience but we also need action. We need to be patient when those with nothing are frustrated by a system that is eternally blocking their every attempt to be productive in their own lives. More on this later...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

the writing work...

For the past two weeks we have been working on writing our stories. Making story boards and pouring over photographs while scratching our heads in the heat. The stories and photographs - this part, putting it all together signals a transition. We are coming to an end. No-one wants to stop. How to continue, she wonders to herself, late at night... Ideally we would have a solid base for our projects so that the work would not start and stop. So much is lost each time in terms of energy and education and critical mass. But there are gains with each project. Each time there is a shift and a learning, a teaching that is taken into the larger social system.

"Is it time for a smoke break, Nancy?" asks Bruce in his soft voice as he heads out the door with Ron and Jim and Kevin and everyone else. It is time for a smoke break. Bruce has been telling his story of how he came to be where he is, drawing simple blue lines to tell a story that is not simple. Though it is is a bit blue. Not wholly. I have been going through photographs with Jim, choosing multiple images that we will animate. On the other side of me Jean Guy speaks to the importance of the mental health system as it relates to staying in shelters. He tries to get me to take the pictures but I say no and we laugh. He will take the last shots that he needs. The process of drawing out the story boards is working well. We are recognizing the gaps in the photographs that we have, what we need to go out and take. We are all learning. And no, this is not a typical Photovoice process. There are many more iterations than you would normally have.

One of the guys is not feeling so well. His medication may have to be increased. There are so many delicate balances. He is glad that we are staying in today to work. Being outside with people would provide too much sensory stimulation. The subject of teeth arises at some point. It usually does. One of the guys has come in with a new smile. Another is desperate for teeth and he and his worker are fighting with the system to get him a set of teeth, to have proper dental care. He has lost weight that he can ill afford to lose. I worry. He is not the only person I see on a daily basis without teeth, suffering. He has had infections and has been trying to save the teeth he has, knowing that these are a basis for his health.

And on a another track dissemination has become a key word. It means that we keep going even when we are not in the field taking pictures, even after the people that Joe called the "provisional army of photographers" have dispersed. We (Erika, Jim, and me and Fred) submitted a paper about our last project to a journal today! After hours of fussing with an on-line manuscript submission system. It's done. And so am I, at least for tonight.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

keep trying...

There was just something about the way he walked down the street. His head held low, eyes wild, movements rapid. I knew right away that there was going to be a great deal to the story and that if I could bear it he would tell it to me. My question is: Will you listen? Will it transform you? Will you understand how some people can be changed? Will you be able to imagine how the structures of our culture are implicated in his wild motions?

There is much that I can't understand or imagine, yet I keep trying. We talked today about how some people manage to get off the streets while others cannot. We were walking down by Queen and Sherbourne and James spoke about how much he disliked this place. 10 years and he still saw some of the same people. The streets are lined with pawn shops, a hospital, a church, camera shops. It is an odd little enclave. His distaste for the place was clear though. We sat on the grass in our own corner, eating cherries, while he spoke of his history. Kevin also jumped in with tales of his own days on the streets.

Both of these men are now "off" the streets. In fact, James has just been provided housing! There are many barriers and challenges that still exist though - poverty, the lack of secure employment, sustained access to healthy food, the long-term health effects of having been on the streets - and so it goes. The list.

Meanwhile, as we come close to ending, we are looking for places to exhibit our work. And so I am charged with the responsiblity of "herding cats!" And tending to the writing of proposals, and the wonderful work of finding a home in the greater world for this awesome group of artists...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

the current body...

The letters pressed onto the old broken glass bottle spell out Toronto. The glass is celadon green, translucent, and the sharp edges are now dull. We found it on one of our walks and it seemed emblematic. A broken bottle creates its own horizon - drained of its liquid perhaps for years it lies with no purpose? Until on a walk we find it and realize that somehow it resonates with the current body of our city.

We were thirsty when we start out, me and Ron, and both of us had forgotten our water. But inside I thought ok, it's a short walk and we will be going through one of the city parks. There's surely going to be a working fountain.

It was one of those ususal Toronto days with a combinati
on of heat and humidity. Before we went out we spent time writing story boards for our short pieces and began to find photographs. We are constantly challenged by time and so many other things. If you were looking at us from the outside you might wonder what exactly was happening! There are conversations that are unfinished, today a delicious watermelon at centre stage (finished), and people wandering in and out of the room, through our conversations.

One of the ongoing conversations is how people ended up where they are. How things in their lives gradually eroded until, looking around, it seemed like there was no way out. We have created a society where we don't teach people how to deal with the daily stress in their lives, where people don't ask each other how they are in meaningful ways, and where people are ashamed if they can't cope on their own, independently. The reality is that we need each other in order to get through our days. We need a community, to help each other, to be able to depend on one another, and to show compassion. And as I write this in memory, I watch people walk by the homeless on the streets, while I hunker down on the curb and look up and wonder... when they are thirsty, who fills their glass?

Monday, July 9, 2007

come back...

"Come back, won't ya? Come back and talk to me?" I told him I would. And I will. I know he likes his coffee double/double, just like my da did.

His mother died awhile ago and he is still full of sorrow about this. He quit his job but I didn't get the whole story. He spoke softly and wept several times while we talked. Two of his ribs were broken in a recent fight - one he stepped into in order to help out a friend. I think he got the worst of it. The injuries are slow to heal. Living on the streets means that you don't get adequate nutrition. And today the temperature is 32 but it feels like 43. I bought quiche and salad and mango juice for him and his friends to eat. Something healthy in the hopes that even one meal can make a difference. His eyes are bloodshot and his hands are swollen, with cracked fingernails. While we are chatting a woman with a baby in a stroller stops and gives them some smokes and some change. She doesn't look like she has much to spare but she smiles and laughs for a moment with them. She returns later and gives them ten dollars. I always want to talk to the people who give - I am curious about their stories. Another man stops by to talk with me. He was in Seaton House a month ago and now has work. He has a tattoo of the serenity prayer on his arm, above the name of a lost soul.

The men I am talking to are in a neighbourhood where pricey condo's are being build on every corner. The garbage container they are in front of tells me "You are only steps away from your new home..." and these men are only steps away from their homes. They all sleep in in this hood. Not in condos, but in doorways and parks.

But what I'm thinking about as I write this is touch - and the human need for it. He kept reaching out for my hands but his hands never quite made it. They would graze my fingers and rest there for the merest moment as if he knew that we didn't know each other well enough for this kind of exchange, yet he dared to anyway, for his need was great. I looked at his hands a great deal. They were dirty and his fingernails were grimy. He had white patches on his nails and they were broken in many places. His hands looked arthritic and as if fingers had been broken and never set. Yet they also looked like they had accomplished many labours. The potential for kindess and violence lay within them as they do within all hands and humans...

Saturday, July 7, 2007

This week we stayed in - ! Unusual! We planned the final upcoming weeks and looked at photographs and chatted about opportunities to show our work. It was the first week of rain too.

I am already feeling sad about our ending. I have not been able to find funding - these projects are heartbreaking to run. We enter a community with so many needs - and one of the needs is for sustainable projects - projects like this one, that can run for as long as they need. A comment from one of the men: "The guys in the shelters have nothing to do - just gather dust." These kinds of programs provide opportunities for skill development, socialization, time management, organization, and committment to a community that is curious about our social conditions.

I am writing a paper about the last project and thinking about where we will be showing this one... We have some options and I am having to be dogged in my pursuit of them.

We are still trying to enter some of the shelters in order to take photographs. This is an ongoing conversation and I have been redirected to yet another person to begin another conversation with! I can understand a certain amount of reluctance, but at this point we are only talking. Luckily, I have much patience, and many other things as well to contend with. I would not want to end our project without our entry into these places as so many of our stories in the project talk about the shelters.

The photo above shows an old drainage pipe - and yes, it has been used for sleeping. It provides a dry spot, shelter for the few things one has when living rough... and on a rainy day the sound is not wholly unpleasant. Like rain on a tin roof...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

edges and margins

The mosquitoes and heat (33, but felt like 40 with the humidity) were unable to deter us, though if we counted photographs taken and mostquito bites, the bites may win out. The sun hid behind a smog cover so I did not get the sun dappled, woodsy shots I was hoping for!
We went into the woods after learning some history about the walk we were on. A group of trailers were pointed out as places where some people used to sleep - until they were evicted and the locks put on. It is the usual tensions where there are places that are not being used but are "rightfully" owned. And then there are people without places to sleep who find empty, unused habitats and they move in and stay until they are discovered. Looking carefully we spied places where the grasses were trampled and when we followed the signs we noted that there were often signs that people had camped for shorter or longer periods of time. As James noted though, "It is getting harder to find people camping close to the city; they're moving, they're getting rousted." His home had been here only a year ago and there were almost no signs of it now.

James took us further in to where an old City dump had been and we found evidence of where people are making their homes. I feel a great deal of ambivalence about writing this - I worry that we will make it more difficult for them, somehow. I have learned that people living on the streets and bushes in Toronto hide themselves well. It is easy for us to pass by a residence and not recognize it as such unless we have learned the signs. The photograph at the top shows a campsite that may be in use - or not. There is still a groundsheet, so it is likely that it is in use. It was the middle of the afternoon when we were on our walkabout so there was no one to chat with.

So many people are living on the edges and margins and it is not necessarily out of choice. It is like you wake up and find ourself somewhere and you keep trying to move on, but your efforts are never quite enough. And that is due to the fact that we have created policies and structures to ensure that their efforts are never quite enough. More later....

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

barriers to sleeping

We welcomed Joe Fiorito again on our ramble, as we went to one of the ravines to look at some of the sleeping places that have historically been used for camping and found that many fences had been put up. I found myself getting frustrated and I now know why - the landscape that is being constructed parallels the administrative structures that are disabling. You suddenly find yourself unable to move - you're stuck. A new wall has been built. You used to be able to sleep here, but suddenly there is a 9-foot fence. It is disorienting and there is no place to vent your frustration.

After a hike we scrabbled up a rather steep incline - I might say 75 degrees. Kevin had spotted a man from across the way - and being ever adventurous had ran down and up before anyone could catch their breath. I looked across the gap to where he stood - small against the hill and bridge structure. We all made our way to where he was and decided that Jim, me and Joe would head up. Once at the top we met Mike, a seasonal worker at one of the tracks. He seemed too small for his clothes until I found out what his trade was. He grooms horses and works at the track, and doesn't like to stay in the shelters, mostly because of the other men. He was also hungry. He told us that there were some people staying there, again because this is the alternative to the shelters. I am still not sure I always understand. I can only hear the words and over time I wait for them to make sense. You see, the smell of mud was strong, the clothes and blankets that I saw were tumbled in the dirt. No woman's touch here. No Wendy for these Lost Boys... Just over the hill from this place there are houses worth millions of dollars. The juxtaposition is another stark and disorienting reality for today. One that I may have to sleep on... I feel tired... I want to see the photographs from today.

We also talked today about what we have all seen, what has effected us most on this project - more on this next time...

the sleep out that didn't happen - and the 300 beds that are still being lost...

ok, the sleep out didn't happen at Nathan Philips Square. the event was cancelled about 72 hours prior to its start due to events at OCAP. But we met up and documented what did happen. People met for a meal that OCAP provided and chatted in small groups. There were probably 150 people eating chili, bread, salad and cookies. Yummy! Thank you!!!

We had a number of conversations during the few hours that we were there. And we were surprised by the number of police that just happened to be out - not for the chili either.

The cuts in the 300 shelter beds is still happening. And as people say, we're not going to feel it that badly right now, we will feel it more in the winter. The City says that although beds are being lost the total is only about 110 as new shelters will open, and that housing is being found for those using shelters. There seems to be a great deal of disagreement at the bottom line - with those using the shelters saying they are not being moved into safe, healthy, affordable housing for the long-term.

I learned again, that those who are most vulnerable are the ones who suffer the most on the streets. I guess I am not surprised by this. It is an equation that operates in other spheres. So this is the story. Those who are using the shelters come in all moral shades, some darker than others, some of the darkest hues may celebrate by preying on those who are unable to understand cruelty, who may have cognitive problems, mental health issues.

Shelters operate with rules - some may have a policy that you can stay for 14 days and when your 14 days are up, if there are others that want to come in, well you are then out on the streets. However if you can intimidate other people, make them not want to come into the shelter then you can keep your bed... think about it for awhile... think about who stays on the streets and who gets the beds in our city. Think about the kind of economy that we have created.

But, back to the shutting down of beds, and the moving of shelter users to suburban areas to market rental units far from the supports of their community. We have to keep asking ourselves: Is housing a fundamental human right? and, What are the connections between housing and health?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

the weight of water

Today we walked in the sweltering heat through a gorgeous part of Toronto to see where many people have slept and where some still are sleeping.

As Fred poetically commented: "Nestled between railway tracks and the Don river, Riverdale's backwoods are very Huckleberry Finn in appearance and feel. The dirt trails add to this charm. It is so dreamlike to see this rural enclave in the midst of an urban metropolis. Still, it seems very fitting in its place because of the scattered fire pits, broken fences and old rusty bridges with random graffiti."

Grasses and flowers were pollinating and we could see that the air was heavy with them. We walked under a bridge where there is a large concentration of pigeons and along with that comes the inevitable waste and feathers and mold... the health conditions are worrisome.
Everyone in the group has varying ability levels and energy that has to be accounted for. One member is recovering from being ill, another I worry may not have had enough to eat, and with the heat today I want to make sure everyone stays hydrated.

As we walk along we take pictures and talk about what is going on. One man says to me that he thinks he was made for being homeless. He used to run down to hang out with the hobos when he was 10 or 11. He'd hitch down to see them and spend time with them. His mother wouldn't notice his absence.

At times it is just a hum of conversation. We walk in pairs and triplets down trails, sometimes breaking off to look into an area that seems interesting. I spot a blackbird - or first I hear her and then see her above me in the trees. I repeat myself to Fred: "The light is beautiful!" And it is - it's one of those days where the sun streams through and the green on the trees is hardly worn. We stop for our break to eat sandwiches with mayonnaise and butter and meat and cheese (some of us!) and grapes and green peppers. And drink bottles of water. There is renewed energy and much discussion of the good food.

A pond is covered in the small seed pods that some trees are shedding. We stop to look at a duck and her ducklings. Going back up the hill we are in the shade of large, old trees and it is easy to see why these kinds of spots in nature would be desirable. There is quiet and no drug dealing neighbours. A pitched tent or a built lean-to is all that is really needed.

James reminds me of the weight of water and how on a hot day like this he can easily go through half of his week's supply. And doing dishes, staying clean - well, there are many other problems when you are living in the bush without secure access to clean, running water.