"I always knew that I like this place. You don't have to look too far, to find a friendly face." - Jon Bon Jovi
Yesterday morning was one of those crazy, windy mornings here in the city. I came in to work and drove my usual route, along 20th St., in front of The Lighthouse. The Lighthouse to me is one of the best things about the city. It is certainly not everyone's. In fact, several nights ago, and many times before that, I got into debates with neighbours and friends about The Lighthouse and the residents and people that frequent it.
The Lighthouse is an affordable housing complex. It also provides supported living and emergency shelter for those who are either homeless or hard to house. There is access to the health bus, a nursing station, nutritional meals and budgeting support. The emergency shelter has been incredibly successful in reducing the need for those under the influence to be locked in police custody to sober up as they used to need to be, because shelters were unwilling to accommodate them unless they were already sober. Tough spot to be in on a -30 night in February. It's a complex place, downtown in the heart of the city. It's on the bus route, centrally located, accessible to social programs and health clinics. It's also straight across from a multiplex theatre and kitty corner to what could accurately be called "Pub Row" -a street of bars, restaurants, an event centre. It's the kind of street that if you're going to go out on the town later in the evening, you'll probably wind up on this street. Or after work for drinks before heading home to the suburbs.
Unfortunately, there are times when residents of the Lighthouse and those who are out for a night out cross paths. Often, it's little more than a momentary passing. Sometimes it involves being asked for money or a cigarette. Sometimes it's a derogatory comment or a misplaced suggestion to "Get a job!" Sometimes it escalates. And when it does, the complaints begin about the Lighthouse and its guests and residents and then the crazy talk that sounds a lot like disdain and racism and elitism... and it comes from a desire to stay in the comfortable bubble that we put so much security in.
I hear all sorts of things about the problems surrounding the Lighthouse but I would offer this in reply. I love being at the Lighthouse and getting to know the residents. I love it more when I drive down 20th in the mornings, see Mimi with his cane, shuffling out the door and he gives me a wave and a nod on my way in to work. And I see Anna in her green coat, bracing against the wind and I know that she'll go for a long walk and return in time for lunch. Maybe she'll see her daughter today. Maybe she'll just wander along the riverfront. Maybe she'll head into the thrift store on 20th to pick up and look at each ceramic piece of kitsch as though looking at treasure. Or maybe, like yesterday, I'll honk at Dave and he'll yell super loud, "Hey Shelly!" and come over to my car window at the red light and chat for a few, until he notices the cops behind us eyeing him. I wave at them and he tells me he better move on or they'll think he's asking for money. We laugh and the light changes and I can hear him yelling "Goodbye!"as I pull away.
I know that there are those around the downtown that cause a lot of problems. But I know the names of those who don't and I'm always grateful to know where they're laying their heads at night.