A Year of Hard (and Good) Things

I was sitting in bed one morning last August when it felt like the earth shook. Moments later a text from a neighbour explained the cause and had me running to the back window. A massive tree on a lot next to ours had fallen. It completely filled our yard, coming just short of the house itself while destroying our one-day-old shed in the process. The tree also blocked Dion’s only entrance/exit to the house. I felt stunned, especially hearing that Dion’s Personal Support Worker had been where the tree now lay, less than a minute before.

Shortly before the tree incident, workers had begun to fix the siding on our house. It was a job that we weren’t all that excited about needing done, though understood was necessary. We thought it would be done in about a week, maybe two.  It was not- mostly because the crew seemingly disappeared. In the meantime, we got someone to clear enough of the tree that Dion could get out and decided to escape to a movie. On our way there I had two difficult conversations on the phone- one trying to negotiate the covering of repair costs to our yard, and one attempting to track down the siding company. As I slid into a seat in the dark theatre, I began to cry.

After the movie, while still in the lobby, Dion looked at me and said he was in trouble. I asked a few questions and understood very quickly that “being in trouble” meant “get me to the hospital”. I got him in the van and drove to the emergency room. Though we didn’t know it yet, Dion had a very serious infection, one that would soon mean he could not move his body at all. Infections are no one’s friend but become especially scary when a person has Multiple Sclerosis. That day, even though he eventually recovered from the infection, was the beginning of Dion’s journey to Long Term Care. 

I had what I believe was my first ever panic attack in the hospital that first week of Dion’s admission. It was nearly impossible to talk to the health care team and no easy solution was apparent. I remember repeating the only prayer I could muster, “Speed to save us. Haste to help us. Speed to save us. Haste to help us.” Stumbling out of the hospital, I saw my brother and sister-in law drive by. I hoped they saw me too. Moments later we were on the sidewalk together, me a crumpled mess. My sweet nephew handed me some Kleenex and a bottle of water with concern written all over his face. Together we came up with a next step. 

What followed was a series of next steps, which included things like strong advocacy, hard conversations, and relentless prayer. After a battle to get Dion into a rehab program, we got word that he was accepted and to be moved the same day that I needed to get Cate into her new apartment. At the end of that day, I got into the elevator of Cate’s building and began to weep. I cried all the way home to an empty house. I decided to sit in that sadness and not try to escape it. In the morning I took a deep breath, relieved I managed to get through that first night.

There have been hundreds of nights since that first one. As August nears, I can’t help but reflect on this past year. It has been about living into the tension of so many things, embracing change both chosen and not, and weathering a spectrum of emotions. I have watched Dion adjust to Long Term Care, grieved that MS took him there, and felt relief that he has the support he needs. It is not how we imagined life to look at this stage AND it is our reality. 

The tree got cleared. The siding on the house was eventually completed. Cate comes to the house with frequency, much to my delight (and actually will be living at home again in the fall until going to the UK in January). You might spot Dion speeding down the street in his wheelchair, as the lack of Covid restrictions means he can get out and about. My therapist continues to help me navigate all the change, as does Dion, Cate, my Dale team and a community of family and friends. Some days I am full of energy and ideas. Other days I am hit with waves of sorrow. Death has hit again and again. So has opportunity to listen to live music, eat really good food, receive and give gifts, and experience the embrace of loved ones. 

There is a painting by a friend named Gil that hangs above the piano in our living room. It is pictured below. I stared at it a lot last August, especially as I was pleading for help. I felt like I was/we were stuck in the most turbulent part of the water. I couldn’t imagine the calm. “Haste to help us. Speed to save us”. I can’t claim that the answers came quickly, or that they were the ones I wanted. A way forward was made possible. I do look at that picture now and reflect on how different things feel a year later. There is nothing easy about this road. And somehow, it is also mysteriously good. For that, I am grateful. 

Artist: Gil Clelland

Stories Matter: Tales from The Dale

We have not seen her in a while. She is striking, with an amazing sense of style. On this particular day we spot her hanging out with other people we know on some familiar steps in the neighbourhood. We immediately get chatting and hear about some challenges with her housing situation, a place just around the corner that she wants to show us. She is very transparent, and wants us (and you, the reader) to hear about her years in the sex trade and the toll it has taken. As Joanna and I listen, rain begins to pelt down. Before we depart, our friend hands us each a sunflower. Mine has just two yellow petals left. “I know they’re not beautiful, but it’s my heart. I honour you each with them.”

It’s his birthday. He feels surprised, while we feel grateful, that he has lived another year. His extended family is not in the city and want to remind him that he is loved, and so they send me a video of people sharing birthday wishes, peppered with photos of various eras of his life. The hope is that we will be able to find him so that he can view the video on my phone. Fortunately, it works out. He looks so pleased. I can’t shake the smile off my face.

We first met while he was living in an encampment in Parkdale. Always trying to beautify the land on which he lives, this friend erected a birdhouse close to his tent and excitedly shares about regular gray jay sightings. Over time his art fills the space, canvases leaning against every available surface. Now housed, I get audio messages on social media from him when too much time has elapsed between visits. We always greet each other with a hug.

Whenever the weather is good, we meet outside for our Sunday service. One day a squirrel is positioned in the tree right above me. I have no idea what people are looking at, only to learn there is certainty it is going to land on my head. Another day a woodpecker attaches itself to the shed just feet away from us. It sounds like a (very loud) percussion instrument and persists its pecking throughout our prayer time. At first some of us muffle laughter, until the comments start to fly, nearly derailing the service. Finally, a community member determinedly begins to pray, with as loud a voice as she can muster, “I just feel SO grateful because I have never seen a woodpecker in real life. How amazing.” The bird begins to quiet, almost as though it is giving thanks back.

Our plot in the community garden is taking shape. A neighbour and friend who is always willing to lend a hand decides to build an enclosure for it to keep out the animals that want to take one bite out of everything. One of our only strawberries gets eaten anyway. Our neighbour will not be deterred. Upon hearing the news of the strawberry, he marches over to fortify the walls. We know he keeps on eye on things when we can’t, which is especially nice given that our watering schedule (which is posted in our office) for Fridays and Saturdays says, “hope for the best”.

I think stories matter. I always try to log the events of a day either in my mind or, when I’m feeling especially organized, in a notebook. It is easy to remember the activities that divide up our week at The Dale: meals to go, outreach, fund-raising, etc., but it is all the moments that happen at and in-between these activities that breathe life into this community. I am so grateful to be a part of the web of stories that occur at The Dale. Life here is rich, and full of gifts like sunflowers, birds, garden plots, hugs, and beautiful people.

Cristian “Sanchez” Castillo

I have no recollection of when I met Sanchez. Not remembering where and when I met someone is rare for me. I imagine it says something about the way Sanchez inhabited the neighbourhood. He was one of those people who seemed to be everywhere all at once: in the parkette beside the Health Centre, on the bench outside of what used to be the Coffee Time, by the steps of 201 Cowan Avenue, and always, always with his dogs, Maggie and Chica. 

Sanchez came to Canada from Chile. You could always hear the Spanish in his voice. Sometimes there was a language barrier between us, but in my experience, Sanchez always dealt with this patiently. Usually it made him grin, look down, and slowly shake his head while quietly saying, “I really need to teach you Spanish”. To which I would reply, “PLEASE. Please teach me.” 

I could usually recognize Sanchez, even from a distance. He had a recognizable gait and silhouette. Sometime this year he also started wearing a helmet, to protect him from the falls that were increasingly a nemesis. He didn’t seem to mind, if anything claiming it as a cool new accessory. I loved that about Sanchez. Though there was a lot that he struggled with, he somehow seemed comfortable in his own skin. 

If Sanchez was having a bad day, there seemed to be one thing that would bring him to life: talking about his dogs, especially Maggie (who was actually mother to Chica). These dogs were not simply pets, but true companions to Sanchez. If you look at his Facebook profile, the vast majority of photos are of them. It became a huge concern that Maggie had what at first seemed a growth but proved to be a tumour growing on her belly. Because the surgery required was cost prohibitive, The Dale launched a GoFundMe on behalf of Sanchez.

Heartbreakingly, though the money arrived, the tumour proved too much and Maggie died. I will never forget receiving the news. Nor will I forget what became a necessary support to Sanchez: me, Joanna, and our friend Sam going to pick up Maggie to transport her to the vet. We gathered around Sanchez, with Chica hiding close by, to hold him in the grief and pray. The last time I saw Sanchez was the day I returned with Maggie’s ashes in an urn. 

Not long after this, Sanchez entered the hospital. Because of Covid restrictions, we could not visit him. However, he and I started to communicate on-line. I would occasionally receive video messages- usually short updates and always ending with how much he missed Maggie. I think it is fair to say that recovering from this loss felt unimaginable to Sanchez.

Sanchez was released from hospital, though we had yet to see him. Just yesterday we were alerted to his death through a flurry of calls and messages. I know that I am not the only one in a state of shock. To be candid, it doesn’t feel real. On behalf of The Dale, I want to extend our condolences to his family. I extend the same to those who counted Sanchez friend. There has been a lot of loss in our community over the last few years, something that Sanchez felt acutely. Saying goodbye to a friend is never easy. 

Sanchez- thank you for all of the chats over so many years. No matter how hard the day was, you would always stop and say, “let me first ask: how are you?” I will miss seeing you in the neighbourhood. We all will. I don’t know what you are experiencing now, but I really hope you are tossing Maggie a stick and feeling pride every time she brings it back. Estoy agradecido por ti. I hope I have that right. I mean to say, I am grateful for you. 

Blessed is the Bookkeeper

We first met in the summer of 2014. Greg Kay, a Board member of The Dale at the time, brokered the connection between me and Marion Cameron. We met in a room at the back of 201 Cowan Avenue to discuss whether or not she would be willing to do the bookkeeping for The Dale. We had just suffered the death of our bookkeeper Diana Fong, and I felt unsure of how to move forward. 

Marion did agree to take on the books. I still remember handing over a heap of paper to her and sheepishly saying, “I’m sorry!!” to which she replied, “oh no, this is FUN!” We had definitely found the right person. Marion took that mountain and turned it into excellent records, something she has been doing ever since and all on a volunteer basis.

I deeply value Marion: her work ethic, attention to detail, patience, humour, and friendship. I love the ways we have gotten to know one another over the years. Marion likes cappuccino, the Toronto Blue Jays, and a good glass of wine. She always asks me how I am and gives very good hugs. I know it isn’t much, but I have taken to putting some form of chocolate in the monthly envelope of documents for her because I am so grateful. 

Marion gave me a lot of warning that she would need to step away from her role at The Dale this year. From the beginning she indicated she wanted to give us seven years of very good books, all audited. When she delivered everything to our auditor for 2021, she hit that magic number. Marion has indeed given us what she promised: books that are transparent and meticulously done. Beyond that though, she gave us the gift of herself. 

I have known in my gut that part of honouring Marion’s hard work is to find a replacement for her in the right time frame. I am thrilled to say this has happened. The transition from Marion to another person has begun. Just last week I sat with them, huddled around two computers, to look at the systems Marion has created and is now passing on. A few times I sat back and thought to myself, “blessed are the bookkeepers”. What they do with the piles of information I create is remarkable. 

Marion: thank you for everything you have done for The Dale. It has not gone unnoticed and will be remembered by me, the rest of the staff, and the Board. I will miss our monthly exchanges. I look forward though to still taking you out for coffee and sharing stories about our lives. I hope and pray that this next chapter of retirement for you is full of rest, adventure and lots of chasing those Blue Jays. 

Inhabiting a Neighbourhood by Sharing Space, Inside and Out

When The Dale gave up its own space a decade ago, one of the first questions people asked was: where are we going to go? A legit wondering. At the time, I didn’t yet know. Fortunately, the weather was improving and so I said, “if we have to, we’ll have drop-in at the park”. I also started to knock on the doors of buildings around the neighbourhood to see if there might be a willingness to open those doors to us. That was the beginning of inhabiting Parkdale in a new way.

People often ask me if we would now buy a building if we could. While I acknowledge there are definite cons to not having a space of our own, the pros outweigh them. Does that mean I am anti-building? No, absolutely not. The Dale relies on the buildings of our partners to do a lot of what we love. Also, I never want to belittle the importance of “place” for the many members of our community who do not have any to call their own. By not investing in the purchase of a building, The Dale can pour our resources very directly into what we do, while also supporting those who share property with us.

When The Dale spilled into the streets, we had the opportunity to learn from our core community about what it means to be transient. This was very important, especially for someone like me who, despite my proximity to people who are under-housed, have always had somewhere to lay my head. We also re-discovered the truth that the church is not a building. One Dale member would regularly remind me that, “we are living stones. Where we gather is less important than THAT we gather.”

I appreciate the pedagogy of my friend Jason McKinney around the power of property and the need to shift from having to holding. Jason’s church, Epiphany and St. Mark is the only building currently open to The Dale due to the pandemic (we trust our other partners will begin to re-open as the pandemic continues to settle). I see how he and his church are navigating away from the paradigm of property to the paradigm of commons, in other words they are helping create a community hub. The Dale is one of a number of organizations that reside at and co-create in 201 Cowan Avenue. I know the desire is to continue to grow in the way we all relate to and negotiate with land- land that was not ours to begin with. Together we are discovering how to deepen our responsibility and care for the ground we stand on.

Which is also why it is so important that The Dale’s largest presence is outdoors. When we were permanently housed the people had to come inside to find us. Now we go outside to find our people and it is where they know to look for us. It matters that we get rained and snowed on together, that we can share a snack in the park, that we can slow down and linger for chats anywhere along the street, that we can grow things in our community garden plot. We move from observation of the neighbourhood to participation in it.

Is this an easy way to operate? Not always. Is it messy? For sure. I can honestly say though that not having a building, which was definitely born out of crisis, has turned into one of our greatest gifts. Also true is that becoming a part of a larger community hub, both at Epiphany and St Mark and in other spaces around the neighbourhood, one of our greatest joys. We get to witness amazing things happening all over the place and grow in our awareness that love is present all around us: in and out of a building.

Building the Trust of a City Street

Imagine that the sun is shining and there is a light breeze as you and I set out on a walk around Parkdale, a Toronto neighbourhood. This is the place that The Dale inhabits, a section of the city that is in the west-end, and just north of Lake Ontario. We start at 201 Cowan Avenue, an address that belongs to Epiphany and St Mark Anglican Church, but is used as a sort of “commons” for a variety of organizations, including Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, Greenest City, Flick the Switch Art Studios, a social enterprise kitchen called Aangen, and The Dale.

We meander across the street to a park with a concrete wading pool, a play structure, a concrete table that gets used either for ping pong or sunbathing, and the HOPE Community Garden in which The Dale has a plot. I share that we tend to grow a lot of herbs, lettuce, and some tomatoes, though last year we tried our hand at miniature pumpkins. Right now, the garden lays fallow, though it will soon be time to plant. To me, this spot feels like a bit of an oasis.

I invite you to walk north on Cowan to Queen Street West, one of the main thoroughfares through Parkdale. There is a community centre to our left, and a Public Library on the right. We run into a friend who is sitting on a bench. He tells us about what is being served for lunch at St. Francis Table (most of us refer to it as “The Table”), a Franciscan Friar run restaurant where you can get a good meal for $1. I suggest we head that way in order to notice the contrast between St. Francis Table and the very hip and high-end restaurants that litter the same block.

This dichotomy is apparent throughout our walk. Once one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the city, Parkdale shifted to be known as gritty and well-acquainted with poverty. While there were many contributing factors to this, two big ones were the building of the Gardiner Expressway, a highway to our south that made people feel cut off from the lake, and the deinstitutionalization of mental health care (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, once Queen Street Mental Health is very close by), which meant psychiatric survivors were released and subsequently sought home in the area. Now Parkdale is a study in gentrification- the process by which the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, changing housing, and attracting new businesses.

I point out a few things as we walk: the popular vintage store called Public Butter, a poster for a protest about affordable housing, the yellow box that looks reminiscent of a Canada Post mailbox but is a receptacle for used needles. We stop to say hello to a group of people in the parkette beside the Health Centre, all of whom are community members of The Dale. One person comes out from the bushes, where they are sleeping rough. Another engages with you about where you are from and tells you an embarrassing story about me. We laugh. We comment on the nice weather before fist bumping a goodbye.

From here we walk south along a very residential street. I point out how you can tell if one of the mansion like homes is a single-family dwelling or a rooming house. We notice young families, a statue of Mary in a front yard, and Tibetan monks in burgundy robes. I suggest we get some Momos, Tibetan dumplings from a place called Loga’s Corner. I introduce you to the owner who gives a lesson on how to eat one, and graciously adds a few extra to our order.

We wave at the proprietor of the laundromat, chat with people hanging out in a bus shelter, and stand in awe of the woman who feeds the pigeons and has birds hanging out on her shoulders and head. We walk along Jameson Avenue, a street lined with mid-rise apartment buildings. Eventually we end up back on Queen Street West. I invite us to stop, close our eyes and take a deep breath, taking active notice of the sounds and smells of the neighbourhood. As we end up back where we started, we discuss your questions. I share a few more stories. We talk about the obvious diversity and resulting richness of Parkdale. We depart with a hug.

Jane Jacobs said, “The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts… Most of it is ostensibly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all.” The work of getting to know one’s neighbourhood takes intentionality. For me, walking has been integral to becoming connected to and rooted in Parkdale. It is something I have done since 2007 and that as a Dale team we do on the regular. The arguably trivial moments have led to many profound interactions, deep friendships, and a lot of opportunity to love and be loved. I am always glad to walk and love the opportunity to do so together.

Roots and Wings

I remember the first time I met Kimberley (who I usually simply call Kim). She arrived in our former building and was full of energy. Little did I know then that Kim and I would develop such deep friendship and camaraderie. She has been on the whole wild journey that is The Dale. Along the way we have shared countless cups of tea, brainstorming sessions, and walks by the lake. Kim has seen me in the depths of grief, and the heights of joy. We have accompanied one another to things that required support. I even had the honour of baptizing her in Lake Ontario.

At The Dale we talk a lot about how everyone is invited into full participation of the community, and that this looks very different for each of us. We celebrate how unique we each are and the various gifts we have to offer. This is not static either- what we might have the capacity to bring at any given time can change. Kim is a wonderful example of this. She knows her nomadic spirit might call for a while, but she always comes back, willingly inhabits a number of different roles, and arrives as herself.

I am pleased to share what Kim has written about finding a home and developing roots at The Dale. Kim- I am grateful for and love you.

“Anyone who knows me will certainly get a good laugh to hear that my home community and church literally has no walls of its own. Kind of ironic given my nomadic spirit and need to go on adventures a few times a year. The Dale Ministries became my foundation when I could not fit in anywhere long enough to put down roots to build a home.

When I returned to Toronto after being away for several years, I needed to rebuild my life and figure out how to put down some roots. This was at the same time that Erinn needed some self-care time away from work. Since I had a background in community development work, I was able to step into an interim staff role until she was ready to return. When she returned, I decided to stay and continue to be part of the church community that had become dear to my heart, never realizing that her return would also bring a huge change to how we did things. In order to stay stable and grow we would have to leave our home base. In Erinn’s wisdom and inner strength, she knew we could do it and continue with our community while embracing our need to become mobile. So, we downsized our belongings and literally spilled out into the streets, leaving our footprints (in chalk paint) along the sidewalk. We became nomads without walls.

This change strengthened our community in ways we could never have imagined! We connected with other organizations in the neighborhood to host our drop-ins and we met in the park on sunny days and our community grew and developed into a strong extended family for many of us.

In spite of our circumstances we became stable in our mobility, looking out for each other and “breaking bread” with one another when our hunger for spirit and community needs were high. And we grew! We have continued to grow, even reaching a point where we have needed to take on additional people to help in order to continuously build around our shared community needs. We now have an outreach team which I feel so honoured and proud to be part of.

I now have ROOTS. I now have a home base that has embraced my quirkiness and I have developed strong WINGS because of it. I still have my adventures and yet I also now have my foundation in my spirit as I return to a community that embraces me as I am. Ironically I am the most stable I have been in my life and I am so grateful for how the Dale Ministries has shown me the light at the end of the tunnel, and that I can now say I am home and WE are family!

Blessings, Kimberley”

Erinn and Kim

Keeping it Real on a Sunday

It’s a Sunday at The Dale. The first thing we do is get the “nave” ready, otherwise known as the sanctuary, for our gathering at 2 pm. Songbooks are placed in every other row. A small wooden table is positioned at the front, on which we put two plates: one with bread and one with little plastic cups containing grape juice. There is a candle too. A community member routinely trims the wick and shaves down the sides, a skill learned earlier in life and now part of their Sunday role. A basket on a stand is placed to the left side of the table for our offering. 

There is a beautiful grand piano that I get to play during the service. Behind me is a community member who plays the guitar (he likes to call it his “godtar”), usually with an amp precariously placed on a stool. This friend prefers to do the intros and likes to wail throughout. We invite people to choose songs at various points in the service. We usually start with at least three, because folks LOVE to sing at The Dale. 

We mean it when we say, “come as you are”, and so everyone arrives with a variety of things going on. Sometimes this is especially messy. It can mean having hard conversations in the foyer, or dealing with a conflict, or simply listening because someone is desperately sad, or leading a person to a spot where they can begin to sober up. Sometimes I am the one who feels overwhelmed with life, which is true on this day. 

Given all of this, we choose to start our time together in silence each week. Though the space is not always entirely quiet, the point is to begin the work of settling our own hearts and minds and re-adjusting our gaze. Then we sing, we offer one another peace (which is helpful on those days we aren’t feeling very peaceful), we are given opportunity to share what we are grateful for or are struggling with, we pray, we listen, we offer gifts (everything from money to coupons to mittens to little notes that say, “I will give a smile to everyone I see this week” or “I will help hand out the meals on Monday”), and we share communion. On this day a disagreement occurs between two people but is rectified during the prayer time with astonishing transparency and repentance. 

Today we considered the parable of the Prodigal Son. Which son do we identify with? The one who left? Or the one who stayed? We think about how we sometimes do unhealthy things that we need to stop doing, and also how we are invited to turn away from the failures, guilt, or regrets that bind us to the past, the sorrows and losses that keep us from being fully alive, or the fears that control our lives and keep our world small. We are invited into the warm embrace of God, whether we are the brother we went away, or the one who stayed. 

There is a strong rhythm to our time on Sundays, though each week is unique. We are co-creating something special: a place that is as safe-ish as possible, and where room is made for the sacred, all are welcome, and voices too often marginalized are centred. I am often moved to tears when I look around at our beautiful motley crew. They know how to keep it real and push me to do the same. For that, and our shared journey, I am deeply grateful. 

525600 Minutes

As we hit a decade of being The Dale, I have been in a reflective mood. Most recently this has been about our staff team. Not everyone might know that ten years ago I was the only staff member. With time that number has blossomed into our current team of four. To say we experience a lot together is an understatement. While each year has brought its own challenges, I think navigating a second year of pandemic life in 2021 can be categorized as unique (though that sentiment is now bleeding into the first few months of 2022).

There are 525600 minutes in a year. As a familiar song asks, “how do you measure a year in a life? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?” I don’t know exactly how many of these minutes The Dale team has been together, but I know the number is high. It is also hard to gauge how many cups of coffee we have consumed, how many bouts of laughter we have shared, how many steps we have walked along Queen Street West, how many pieces of PPE we have worn, how many tears have been shed.

While there is a strong rhythm of life at The Dale, every day brings surprises. Sometimes these are happy: we have a great interaction with a stranger, or the exact thing we are running low on shows up as a donation, or we are invited to do something for a community member that is both random and wonderful. Sometimes these are sad: we can’t find housing for a friend who is exhausted from living outdoors, or we have to call 911, or we get the dreaded news that someone else has died.

So, given the complexity of our day-to-day life, how DO we measure a year? The same song suggests, “how about love? Measuring love? Seasons of love?” Yes. This I can do, not because love is easy, but because there are markers for it, including patience, kindness, a lack of envy, boasting or pride. Love does not dishonour others and is not easily angered. Love protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. I bear witness to how we are working to love one another as a team, including the way we check in with each other and pray together (A LOT). We talk through things. I am confident we have one another’s backs.

Joanna, Meagan and Olivia are precious to me. In 2021 they stood with me during some very dark days, practically and emotionally. I know I can be vulnerable and transparent with them. They support and encourage me in my role at The Dale and even cheerlead my wildest ideas. We are there for each other in all these ways. Last year brought the four of us challenge, fatigue, and grief. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go through it alone. Believing that joy is not simply an emotion, we even found it in the hardest of things.

We like to say that life is both messy and beautiful, generally speaking and specifically at The Dale. We want to live into that tension, because both are true- one does not cancel out the other. While I might not remember every moment of 2021, I do identify it as another season of love for our team. I am glad to already be into the next 525600 minutes with them and our community.

Beginning Again

I have very vivid memories of the beginning of Covid, especially at The Dale. Just the week before the world shutdown, we held our Monday Drop-In as usual. In that moment we had no idea of what was to come. We encouraged people to use sanitizer, as well as our little hand-washing station, one that almost looked like something you would find in a dentist office. I even suggested that we didn’t want to be alarmist about the just-starting-to-make-the-news-virus during our announcement time. Within days everything changed.

The first few weeks we cooked hotdogs for people on our little charcoal BBQ and served them outside. No longer able to meet indoors for our Breakfast and Art Drop-In, we began making breakfasts to go: hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, juice, and a muffin in a brown paper bag. We gathered beside the building where we would normally be hanging out inside to distribute the meals, until it was clear the police were watching and began to encourage us to move along. Then buying groceries became a challenge because stores would only let me buy one dozen eggs. The volume of food we needed for The Dale was perceived to be fending and hoarding for myself- something I could explain if given the opportunity, though that was not always possible.

I will never forget having to write a letter for each of our staff proving that we were front-line workers, therefore allowing us to be out in public during the lock-down should we be pulled over. It made the situation glaringly real. I still have mine in my backpack. More importantly, I will never forget the impact on our community. For those able to shelter-in-place, but with limited resources, the isolation was devastating. For those without housing and unable to access the shelter system, there was truly no where to go: no bathroom access, no places to warm-up, no benches to sit on without harassment. And The Dale, an organization without our own building, could not offer any indoor alternative.

The good news is that The Dale was able to readjust to the new reality quickly, being already both nimble and nomadic. In retrospect those early days were easier than what we are faced with now: having to figure out how to re-open. Our partner buildings are understandably still discerning how to open up for themselves, let alone for an external group like us. The Public Health guidelines for high-risk settings like ours are more stringent than the general public. None of this makes our own launching into regular-ish life straight-forward. It all feels a little too…unimaginable. But that is not who The Dale is. We are always looking for a way and are certainly willing to try and try again until we find the sweet, albeit messy, spot.

For now, we continue to provide meals-to-go. We spend a lot of time outdoors, even when the weather is terrible. Our Sunday gathering is the only thing happening indoors again, and for that we are exceedingly grateful. We go where we are needed, whether that be to someone’s home for a visit, or to drop off groceries, or to say hello on a street-corner. Though we wish they were not necessary, we are able to hold funerals again, meeting a need that Covid truly stole from us. Throughout it all, we are finding ways as a community to honour that every one of us has something to both give and receive. I am being cared for, just as I get to offer care. Every person holds a unique role, because each one brings their own gifts.

The last two years have been admittedly brutal. I remain so grateful for and proud of our community, one that teaches me about resilience, creativity, and hope, even in the most desperate of times. While we haven’t been able to do things the way we prefer, we have tried very hard to “Dale-i-fy” (that’s one of my new favourite words) everything. Can’t sit around a table? At least we can drink hot chocolate together in a park. Have to line-up for a meal? The staff can be in the line with our folks. Can’t gather on Sundays indoors? We will pitch a tent in a parking lot. Have to sleep outside? We can provide new blankets and sleeping bags. Must be isolated? We will show up at the door to say hi and bring needed supplies. I am confident that as we navigate this next transition, we can make sure to Dale-i-fy it too. Your support as we try is deeply appreciated.