Shelter House – Another Side to the Story

Rainbow over the Kam River on September 17 2016
Rainbow over the Kam River on September 17 2016
Rainbow over the Kam River on September 17 2016
Rainbow over the Kam River on September 17 2016

THUNDER BAY – I am writing in response to your news article re: Homeless People Deserve Human Rights Too. First, Miigwetch for the research and for bringing these issues to a public level. I have been concerned about the ban at Shelter House and the effect this has on hungry people.

I walk the streets on my own personal time because I have compassion and empathy for the homeless especially those with addiction issues and lateral violence and other trauma events.

My passion is to walk the streets and give a smile and a kind word to those who are vulnerable ie: homeless, sex trade workers, addictions. I do not hesitate to get 911 assistance when I witness violence or health and safety concerns ie: seizures caused from alcohol withdrawal.

This summer my focus has been on the downtown core of Fort William. I walk an average of 3-4 times weekly for 3-4 hours each time.

Today I left my home around 3pm and returned home about 1 am. I walked May Strret and stopped and smudged at many locations along the way including all of McKenzie Street. I spent about an hour on the corner of McKenzie and Cameron Streets. I spoke to the girls working and my message is this…

“We are not our experiences and we are not our addictions. Each of us have a worthy spirit buried under layers of trauma”…

Although I believe in the teaching of being 4 days clean and sober to enter into ceremony, I don’t believe this is the same as smudging. I welcome any intoxicated person to smudge as the medicines are cleansing and healing and the prayers go up in smoke to the Universal Spirit.

I spoke with a young girl…she was sitting on a bench and called me over so I sat with her. She had her beer …my caring nature and laid back demeanor helped her to share a very personal and tragic experience that she suffered from. Her tears and the way she would turn towards me and put her arms around me and sob truly impacted my heart. She said she had never shared her story before…believe me…it was a painful one.

I continued on my way caring my traveling shell with burning medicine all the way down the street back to May Street.

At Patterson Park, I sat by the pond and smudged for all the people that come to this park.

As I was leaving, a couple called out to me. I walked over to them and the gentleman asked me if he could smudge. Of course! And the lady beside him did too.

I then wondered down the back alley behind May Street carrying my burning medicine. I smudged a man’s sleeping area and I know him well. I then saw him (Ramsey) with 3 friends. We hugged and talked. Ramsey asked to smudge and the other 3 also smudged.

Now I am on my way to Shelter House. I go to the back secluded area where the 48-hour fast is going on. I see some who I know well especially a beautiful young lady named Sherry.

Sherry and I start walking towards the window of Shelter House as I am thirsty. Along comes Linda…she is homeless. She tells me she is hungry and holds my hoodie. I ask her if she is still banned. She says yes that she is.  I feel hopeless…I have no food with me to help her. I have seen Linda 2-3 times a week and she is always hungry and not allowed to eat inside Shelter House or ask for a sandwich at the window. If I go to the window to get her a sandwich then I will be banned as well.

As I leave the area, I notice a young man walking towards me from the burnt shed alley. He is carrying a beer and I request he not go any closer, and explained the sacred fire and fasting that is going on.

His name is Tim. He is homeless, admits to an alcohol problem, and had not eaten in 3 days. I tell him to come with me to the window to get a sandwich to hold him over till supper at 7 pm. He gets handed 2 sandwiches.

Please know when I was at the window, I was not greeted by staff. No friendly greeting. Nothing. I got stared at. I asked for sandwiches for Tim.

Now for the sad part. Tim asked me if the sandwiches were peanut butter. I looked and said they were. Tim has an allergy to peanuts so Tim remains hungry. He walked back to the window and returned the sandwiches.

Tim and I discussed his alcohol problem and he asked for help and told me of his experiences in the city with the hospital and being homeless. I contacted detox but there were no beds available. I told Tim this and he got upset. He asked “what does a person have to do to get a break in this city? How does one get help for drinking? I have been to the nutward twice this month. What do I do–go back to emerg”?

I told Tim to stay outside Shelter House and wait until 7 pm for supper.

Within 15 minutes, I spoke to 2 people who were hungry…one banned from receiving food and the other one could not eat the food due to a peanut allergy.

This policy of banning food has to be changed. For change to take place, awareness is needed! Awareness brings change to policy. It does not matter if one suffers from addiction or mental illness. Every person deserves one meal a day! Banning food adds to the problems on the streets! Food and shelter are basic needs–how sad when people come to tell me they are hungry. Do the violent in jails get fed? Who are we to reward behaviours with a sandwich?

Next I will write to you about my other recent experience with safety issues on Shelter House property.

Oh i forgot…

I walked the back alley between Odd Fella’s and Shelter House around 10:20 pm. I met up with a man who had some cuts and a fat lip. He told me he had been beat up a couple days ago and woke up in emerg. He said he was tired. I asked if he was going to go sleep at Shelter House. He was hesitant and said “ya but can you walk me there”…of course I did. And there was the arrogant and rude young man working. His attitude needs an overhaul. He opened the window and again no friendly greeting. Rather, he said gruffly, “what do you want”. The man I was with asked for a bed. They let him in and he thanked me. I am starting to wonder if our vulnerable people are feeling intimidated by certain staff members. I know for me that I have NEVER been treated rudely or roughly by the homeless and the addicts. I treat them with the dignity and kindness we all deserve and thus, I have never felt threatened in anyway!

Perhaps Shelter House staff requires training on communication skills and kindness towards clients.

Afterall, employees at Shelter House do receive high pay for their jobs…jobs of feeding and housing our homeless with respect and empathy!

I then offered tobacco and prayers for the violence and homeless and hungry issues. I asked the Ancestors to speak to the spirits of those fasting and that no one ever be denied food on this property.

I then went to the Thunderbird with my last smudge for the night. I requested that the Grandfathers and Grandmothers speak deeply to those who are hindering help in any way for the people.

Nat May
Thunder Bay

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