Where: 50 Years of Ending Homelessness – The DI Story, Edited by Louise Gallagher, co-edited by Jordan Hamilton, photography by Christina plus Nathan Photography.
Reviewed by: Timothy Wild, RSW. Timothy is a social worker and writer.
Sadly, all too often, people get lost in policies. We forget the reality of the faces and too easily trust in our interpretation of the dry facts. We plan around economically, socially and culturally marginalized individuals, and see them as “problems” that require our intervention, plans and solutions. We view them as “economic liabilities” that need our attention…before they cost us even more. We act as experts and they are our subjects. And, through this process, well intentioned though it may be, we often forget about the person’s basic humanity and all that that recognition entails. “We” look through “them”.
But to really solve complex social problems, we must base our responses in an understanding of the inherent dignity of each and every person, and act accordingly. We need to get a better understanding of their hopes, histories and dreams. We have to negotiate complex realities. The “we” has to become bigger. Not always an easy or comfortable task. However, the provocatively titled book Where: 50 Years of Ending Homelessness – The DI story, helps do just that. As noted by editor Louise Gallagher and co-editor Jordan Hamilton, the book “tells the DI story in 50 photos, 50 words, 50 voices.”
Using photographs (vivid in colour and haunting in black and white), stories, portraits, poems, single words in large bold font, even entries from staff logs, the volume weaves a rich tapestry that illustrates elements of homelessness in Calgary in general, and the role that the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre plays in meeting the needs of some of our city’s fellow citizens who happen to be homelessness.
And it presents it whole – warts and all. For example, the poem Broken, written by Faith, concludes with the lines:
I am beautifully broken
And wonderfully wild.
In a contradictory way, that sums it all up. Simply put, this is a beautiful piece of work. It is beautiful in its content. It is certainly beautiful in its presentation. And it is beautiful in the role that it will undoubtedly play in provoking the much needed transformative social change in Calgary.
Let’s be clear though, homelessness is not a beautiful subject. In fact, it is a downright ugly social problem. We need to look at the interplay of economics, domestic violence, poverty, addictions, mental health and a slew of other structural factors. We need to look at the role our collective political choices have played in causing this problem. We also need to look at robbed childhoods, dreams dashed, opportunities lost, relationships smashed and people broken. The poem Hidden, by Lesley and the essay Addiction by Grant Fischer both jarringly illustrate elements of this sad reality. But we also need to look at the potential of people and the resilience of the human spirit. Where provides that balance, once again, warts and all! Overall, the book reveals that the DI is a place “where hope lives, where community connects, where healing begins”.
As noted by one of the contributors to the volume “finding your voice begins with being heard”. This volume amplifies the individual voices and, hopefully as suggested by the Zimbabwean historian Terrence Ranger, will provide “ears for the earless”. It certainly succeeds in the first part, and has great potential to achieve the latter. The volume shows that it is the people that count, and lovingly brings the individual to the foreground. Not bad, I say.
Where: 50 Years of Ending Homelessness is a great book.
Where can be purchased online at http://thedi.ca/where/ or by phoning 403-699-8260.