Friday, November 04, 2016

10 Things You Can Do

Last year, a friend of mine gave $1.20 to a homeless man. She smiled at him, said, "Have a good day," and went on her way, but her brain stayed behind. It stayed there all day and into the evening, when I went over to her place to hang out. It was a cold night; I sat huddled on her couch under a crocheted blanket and she sat across from me in a rocking chair.

"I wanted to take him for lunch or something," she said, "but obviously I couldn't do that. Besides: then what? It felt so hopeless and pointless, giving him change but not being able to actually help him. It's not enough."

We turned the topic inside out that night, and when I left it stayed with me, in an unsettling, haunting way. I felt selfish and naive. It wasn't that I wasn't aware of homelessness in Regina, but somewhere along the line my world had folded down into this neat little box--like a television set--with a cast of shiny, happy characters whose plot lines were bumpy at times but mostly straightforward. And now here was this reminder: Not everyone lives in here.

How does that happen?

The thing is that a lot of us don't think about need until we meet it face to face. Then, suddenly we're aware of a person's suffering but have no idea what to do about it. How much is enough? How much money will help this person? How much kindness? How many sandwiches?

Enter: Guilt. Guilt sits long and heavy and asks that question over and over - "How much is enough?" The answer is, of course, nothing - as in, nothing you could conceivably do is going to be enough. That does feel hopeless.

Because here's another thing: there is not just the one homeless guy in Regina--and even if there was, his problem is not so one-dimensional that you could fix it with a dollar or a sandwich or even a house.

In 2015, a survey commissioned by the city's Community Advisory Board for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy enumerated a group of 232 of Regina's homeless. Of those, 126 were in emergency shelter, 62 were in a transitional housing facility, 28 were on the street, 16 were sheltered in a public system, such as detox, and 8 were either observed or self-reported sleeping on park benches, on the street, etc. More than 40% were children and youth under 25 years old. We're talking about children born into these situations, people who are there because of complex mental and physical health issues, people there because of addictions and trauma, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Bottom line: giving that guy camped out on Scarth Street anything at all is really super nice of you, but it's not enough, even if your guilt meter is in the green zone.

But it shouldn't be about guilt. Guilt is a bad reason to do anything.

Love, however, is a great reason.

Maybe where Guilt looks at the man's situation and asks, "How much is enough?" Love looks at the man's face and asks instead, "What can I do?" It's a more hopeful question, for sure. Because the answer is not "Nothing" anymore. The answer to Love's question is, "SO MUCH." And where Guilt points its finger at you and how little you can accomplish on your own, Love comes alongside other people who are already finding solutions and supports them in whatever way it can.

I often post things on this blog about Regina and the fun stuff going on here. Like I said the other day, I think it's important to be involved in your community and to engage in the things that you enjoy so they thrive, so that you and others can continue to enjoy them. It often involves creativity, research, awareness, and initiative. People often ask me how I know about things going on in the city that don't seem widely broadcast - the shows, the quirky little events, etc. Answer: I actively look for them, literally all the time.

I'm thankful for that conversation with that friend last year, because it caused me to start looking for the answer to the second question in the same way. What can I do? And since then, I've found so many amazing organizations in this city doing incredible things to help out, addressing these multifaceted issues from every angle. In fact, once I started looking, the answers came at me like water through a firehose. Obviously, you can't do it all. But imagine if everyone in this city picked one or two things? The population of Regina is well over 200,000. Just saying.

So today, I thought I'd share a little list of 10 ways you could get involved in this city, in case you've recently wondered, "What can I do?"

1. You could garden or do yard work.

A lot of shelters are housed in quiet residential areas, and need help with snow removal, lawn mowing, flower beds, etc. The YWCA is looking for a volunteer gardener right now, someone who would "enjoy making a long-term contribution to the beauty of our down-town facility." These could be fun things to volunteer for as a group.

2. You could give free haircuts (if you know how, of course).

Not really the first thing that crosses your mind when you think 'volunteer work' right? But I was talking to someone at a women's shelter recently who told me they used to have a lady who came in once a month and gave free haircuts to all the residents (she's since moved away and they're looking for someone new). I can hook you up there if you're a hairdresser (email me via the contact page), but that's probably a need for many of the shelters around the city. No harm in calling one of them up and saying, "Hey, can I come in for an afternoon and do free haircuts?" It could be a one-time thing or you could offer to do it on a regular basis.

3. You could bake or cook.

I found a listing on the Regina Transition House website that reads: Do you love to cook or bake? Willing to share a recipe or help in the kitchen? We are looking for help in the kitchen on Thursdays (2 to 7 pm) and lunch hours, 7 days a week.

A friend of mine who volunteers at the Souls Harbour Rescue Mission put out a call the week before Thanksgiving for people to come and peel potatoes in preparation for the big meal. I'm thinking with Christmas coming up, that'll probably be a need again soon, but on a smaller scale I know it's ongoing, too.

4. You could drive around.

I was surprised at how many of these places need people to just drive around for them. Some places, like the Transition House, need help moving women from the house into permanent residences. Other places, like the Regina Food Bank, need someone to do deliveries.

5. You could teach music lessons.

From the Heart of the City website: "The Heart of the City Piano Program (HCPP) is a volunteer driven non-profit organization that provides music lessons to children who would otherwise not have the opportunity to receive private musical education. We believe that music education should be accessible to everyone, not only for those who can afford it."

I love this program. Music lessons are HUGE for kids...and also expensive and therefore exclusive. What a cool door to open for a kid who wouldn't otherwise be allowed in the room.

6. You could hang out with kids or teenagers.

There are a lot of these organizations looking for volunteers for kids programming and one-on-one mentorships. What a huge and important role, right? Youth For Christ or Big Brothers/Big Sisters comes to mind, but there are tons of others.

7. You could donate diapers to or volunteer at the Regina Diaper Bank.

Did you know this was a thing? They provide local low-income families with free diapers and diapering products (speaking as one who has been paying for diapers for almost three years, BLESS THEIR HEARTS. Diapers are expensive but also kind of...necessary.) The Regina Diaper Bank is located in an alley off of Osler Street (behind the Enterprise Rent-A-Car on Victoria Avenue).

(Bonus: volunteers who work a 6 hour shift get free lunch from the Italian Star Deli--best sandwiches in Regina, FYI.)

8. You could donate yarn to or join, if you're talented in this area, Angels 4 Warmth.

Angels 4 Warmth is a non-profit in Regina who makes afghans, quilts, hats, mitts, toques, scarves, neck warmers, lap robes, chemo caps, preemie caps, shrugs, slippers, leg warmers and a variety of other knitted and crocheted items which are distributed to those in need through various other organizations in Regina. The yarn drop-off locations and meeting times are on their website, linked above.

9. You could look into foster care.

I know, whoa... Yeah, that's a huge one. But, as someone whose parents were involved in foster care for most of my growing-up years and who saw firsthand the difference that loving foster parents can make in a child's life? I couldn't leave it off the list. It's a good, hard discussion to have, no matter who you are.

10. You could babysit for a friend or group of friends so she/they can volunteer.

A lot of these things would maybe be easier to do sans kids. Maybe you could even work out a rotation with a group of friends where you all get together once a week and one or two stay with the kids while the rest go off and do their potato peeling or piano teaching or whatever. Make it a group effort. Group efforts are fun. See also: accountability.

BONUS 11. You could donate money.

The Regina Homelessness website has a fairly extensive list of other amazing organizations that you could peruse if you were looking for somewhere to give. When I reached out to them, they commented that "financial donations are the most important, because it allows those who are experts to do their work to the best of their ability...[and they] go the furthest in making a difference."

That's just a tiny sampling of opportunities--and even if you're not from here, a lot of them could transfer over to wherever you are. Some of these organizations are nation-wide or have sister/similar operations happening in other cities - Heart of the City, for example, has programs all across Canada.

It's easy not to think about need in this city until you come face to face with it--so, I figure, we need to come face to face with it on purpose and meet it with love.