Monday, July 11, 2011
The Calgary DI's "Where"
What you notice first are the faces.
The faces are young and old, male and female, of all races. They are smiling, thoughtful, angry, discouraged, exuberant, sad, excited, laughing, concerned.
In other words, they’re normal. And that’s what catches your attention.
Then you read their stories, and you realize the faces are normal because the people are normal.
The people are us.
The Calgary Drop In and Rehab Centre, simply known as “TheDI,” has produced a book called Where: 50 Words, 50 Photos, 50 Stories, to recognize 50 years of serving the Calgary community. The DI provides a place for the homeless, but to call people “homeless” misses the point entirely and turns real individuals, with histories, personalities, hopes and dreams, into objects. They are not objects. They are people.
Like the rest of us.
Where is a masterful compilation of photographs, stories, poems, log entries about life at The DI. You meet both staff and clients. You learn about The DI’s history, and how it started as a conversation between a rabbi and a priest. Now, in one 48-hour time period, the DI housed 2,200 clients and served more than 5,000 meals and snacks. It has a medical department. It deals with a variety of people at all stages of their lives. It networks with police, mental health agencies, city government and volunteer organizations.
And it blesses people – those who are helped and those who help. It’s a toss-up as to who receives the greater blessing.
Each entry in the book is built around one word, like thrive, healing, lost, enjoyment and laughter. Each entry has a text and a photograph, and a log entry or short factual statement like “the DI spends $50,000 on coffee every year. It’s worth it.” The combination of these structural elements is powerful, moving and convicting.
Some of the texts are written by staff and volunteers and some by the clients themselves. Surprised that a homeless person can write? Don’t be. They can paint, sing, tell jokes, do computer work, organize, coordinate, fix broken stuff, read great novels, debate philosophies and politics, think, invent, create and manage. They’re just like us because they are us. In Where, that reality comes across again and again.
Tragedy and heartbreak happen at the DI, but so do comedy and happy endings. A story about a man who lost his home and his daughter was filmed and posted on the DI web site. He had not seen her since was 3. Now 30 and with children of her own, she finds the video. And her father.
Then there’s the story of Terry Pettigrew. I first started reading about terry on Louise Gallagher’s blog, Recover Your Joy. Terry was in his 50s and dying of cancer. He hadn’t seen his brother since he was 8. You can watch a video about Terry here, and read the story in Maclean’s Magazine here.
Louise is the communicators director for The DI and the editor of Where, with Jordan Hamilton serving as co-editor. Both contributed several of the articles. The photographs were taken by Christian Plus Nathan, a photography company (and couple) in Calgary. The staff and clients of The DI are the stories.
And while Where is a book about people in Calgary, Alberta, it is a book about people anywhere.
A video of the book launch for Where is on YouTube.
More information about the book can be found here.