More doing, less kvetching

This is my recent resolution, but on further consideration I decided to amend that to “more doing than kvetching”, since I can’t morally justify letting up on my criticism of certain wrong-headed evangelical policies with enormous social costs.  I can change the tone of my complaints – a little less potty mouth and a few more verifiable facts and reputable studies supporting my arguments – but failing to complain would be no different from consenting.   Nonetheless, I need to add some meaningful action to the mix and, rather than grabbing issues that are in the headlines and regurgitating them with my opinion attached, see whether or not I might be able to pick up on some things that are not in the headlines at all.

To that end, I popped into an urban women’s centre today to see if I could lend a hand.

It was pretty obvious from the get-go that I could.  The centre takes up a single cramped floor of a tiny detached house.  There were half a dozen women milling around.  One was using the internet and the rest were milling around in the kitchen.  A practicum student in rubber gloves was trying to fix a broken toilet seat, and the director of the centre looked frazzled after dealing with three or four client requests, a pair of prospective volunteers and the landlord (about the toilet) in rapid succession.  It was complete chaos.

When she had a few minutes between crises, the director showed me around.  Internet, printer, fax and phone for drop-ins, a room for special events and counseling, a clothing exchange, kits of dishes and other stuff for women making the transition out of homelessness, kits of blankets and other gear for women going the other way, an office for tenant advocacy, a cache of professional clothes for interviews and court dates.

There was a lot of stuff packed into that quick and harried tour.  To be honest I didn’t take it all in on account of noticing distracting little details that clued me in on what I am getting myself into.  A note on the bulletin board reading “BAD DATE: about 35, brown hair, new to the area”.   A faint whiff of and alcohol, cigarettes and way too much fresh air coming off a cheery, nearly toothless old woman.  A disproportionate number of aboriginal clients roughly the right age to have been subjected to Canada’s horrific residential schools.   Comments like “whatever you do, don’t tell them about the staff bathroom – I don’t want anybody shooting up in there”.

Suffice it to say, all of this was pretty much in line with my expectations but sticking myself into the middle of it was a bit of a shock all the same.  I found myself worrying that I would never be trusted by these women without knocking out a couple of my teeth and somehow getting my face to look a little more careworn.   I’ve been told I look young for 35.  Sometimes I still get asked for ID when I  buy booze.  Some of the clients had lines on their faces in places I didn’t know lines could be.  I found myself confronting the problem of boundaries.  How do you gracefully end a conversation with a gregarious homeless alcoholic?  How do you not care too deeply about the fate of somebody else’s drug addicted daughter?  I found those concerns almost put me off the whole affair.

But, at the end of the day, somebody’s got to do it, so I signed up.  With a $250,000 budget shortfall this year due to some very aggressive public funding cuts, the place can use all the help it can get.

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