Once a month welfare day in the Downtown Eastside unleashes the wild-side of many recipients. It is a day also referred to as Mardi Gras, as it has a festive feel, but the aftermath can be pretty sad. Some folks blow all their funds in one go when the money is technically intended to hold them out for the entire month, even though it is still a pittance. Other people take care of what they receive, even following through on their commitment to come in to the Library to contribute to their payment plan, which we arrange if they have racked up some hefty fines. We always offer to clear some costs, but some do have a sense of pride and want to be accountable.
Last Friday, two days after cheque day I was out on Hastings street doing the old weekly Book Giveaway in the sun, which finally decided to show up and kickstart summer. Out of nowhere a man with no shirt, reminding me a little of the actor Zach Galifianakis in the Hangover, comes blasting past our table. He’s running pretty fast considering that his pants are barely on, but then we see a Policeman is in hot pursuit.
The Policeman is a bit older and heavier set. He gets close to “Zach,” makes a flying leap towards him… but misses! The landing looked incredibly painful – a full body belly flop onto the pavement. Zach then dashes maniacally into oncoming traffic, right into the hands of four other Police. He’s pulled to the sidewalk and just squirming like a worm as they wrestle him into hand-cuffs.At this point, there are four Police cruisers and three ambulances blocking off traffic and everyone is hooting and hollering on the street! People are leaning out of their windows heckling the Police from the SROs, and folks are taking videos of the action on the street with their phones. Apparently the man was streaking nude in the intersection and punching people. Yikes. Everyone was in great spirits after the drama – it was something to talk about, something shared that was relatively harmless (except for the Police, who might have broken a rib or two!).
Having something to share and something in common is key for community. I think that’s why a place like Jacob’s Well is so important. It’s a DTES organization that acts like a living room space, comparable to the Carnegie Centre in some ways but with more of an intention of building legitimate friendships instead of one privileged group serving the outcasts. This video sums it up well, highlighting how they have birthday parties, arts, crafts, worship, and it features several of my library patrons:
Jacob’s Well is a faith-based community with great compassion, and I have a deep respect for the connections they make, especially the loving kindness they offer to those suffering from loss of loved ones due to overdose and suicide. I was alarmed to hear that they are being evicted, as the building has sold, but am confident and hopeful that folks will donate and support them as they search and transition into a new space. Their situation was featured in a recent CBC news article.
It is evident that this community validates people, so that they feel seen and heard in an honourable way that is life-giving. Consider donating to this awesome crew of dedicated people via Chimp.net through their campaign, “Jacob’s Well is Homeless.” I believe this organization provides a heck of a lot more stability, hope and joy than a Mardi Gras spectacle.
I should also mention that Jacob’s Well was the organization who took on the theology and religion books from the Bud Osborn donation I received! I wanted to keep the books together, and the staff was delighted to help me out.