They've contracted out the tourniquets


October 15, 2009

Sleet is blowing around washing everything out so it all looks like the grainy film of a 70s documentary. It’s 2 o’clock and I’m just walking in the door to start my shift, and I haven’t even taken my coat off when I see an older Chinese lady crying outside the door. I ask her what’s wrong and she says she has just traveled 700 miles to look for her daughter who, she says, is a drug addict. (more…)


Penitentiary blues

October 12, 2009
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Jason is volunteering by manning the elevator. He’s a young guy, works as a bouncer, and is in a pretty good mood after a meeting with the volunteer legal advice students.

“He says he thinks he can keep me from going back to prison.”

I say that’s good, he’ll want to stay away from there.

“I kind of want to go back,” he says.


“All the drugs and fighting. All you do is fight and do drugs. There’s no rules.”

Blood sugar intox magic

October 4, 2009

It’s the first cold day of the year so there are more people in the shelter, bringing their contraband with them too. Different pockets of the shelter smell different. The bottom of the stairs smells like Listerine. The bathroom smells like pot. Intox is full and their combined body odour smells like vomit. Or maybe someone vomited. Hard to tell.

I walk on the floor and the morning guy is standing with his hands on his hips and nods at a man on the floor in a green cap. He sighs. The man’s ass is all wet. It looks like he might have wet himself although he doesn’t stink, so he might have just sat in something. He’s rolling around in a bit of pain and keeps talking to himself, and crying, and stuttering. Other guys in Intox keep yelling at him to shut the hell up.

“The police just brought this guy in. I think he’s got some sort of multiple personality disorder or some shit. He keeps switching mid sentence between talking normal and this weeping shit. Well, he’s all yours.” (more…)

Of garbage and utility

September 30, 2009
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Watching over Intox in the afternoon and I hear vomiting in the women’s section. I go over and Sara is knelt alone on the floor vomiting into a garbage bag. A coworker told me she used to be a model. She still carries around a couple portfolio photos. Now she’s a serious drug addict, wears the same clothes every day, covered in dirt. There’s a scar on the bridge of her nose. She always gives me a look like “I know what you’re thinking.” (more…)

Head noise

September 24, 2009
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My ears are still ringing from the Hold Steady show last night and I’m hungover. This is the first day I’d really prefer to not go to work. But I do. It’s also the hottest day of the year. The lights are turned off again to try to keep the heat down. My head hums a perpetual dullness and the room is drowned out by the noise. I’m leaning against the wall trying to make conversation with a new staff member, but am constantly zoning out into my muffled head noise.

Sitting down by himself over by the garbage cans is a strange man I’ve never seen before. He’s wearing a red valet jacket with a grey vest underneath, and no shirt under that. Both the jacket and vest are unbuttoned. He’s wearing grey dress pants and a spiky emo belt which is not keeping them up and you can see the crack of his ass when he stands up. He is old, with a wrinkled face that distorts and stretches like plaster. He’s muttering to himself and he keeps escalating to where he’s yelling all by himself. I wait for a quiet time and walk over. (more…)

“Rather a boring record,” Rambert remarked. “And this must be the tenth time I’ve put it on today.”

September 19, 2009
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At the start of my shift I head over to the Hygiene office to relieve the morning person. In Hygiene we supervise the showers, and laundry, and hand out razors, toothbrushes and combs when we have them, which we never do. On the chair is a pile of clothes and the girl says, “There is a man in shower number six who has crutches and he will need help getting dressed.”

No problem, I say. She leaves and I put my ear to the shower door to see how he’s doing and I can hear him vomiting. (more…)

The kiss of Dmitri (or From Russia with love)

September 16, 2009

At dusk we stand outside the shelter in the front laneway keeping the peace. The days are still warm but the temperature is dropping off more rapidly in the evenings. Clients sit along the fence smoking cigarettes. Occasionally we find someone drinking booze and we tell them to leave property. This is where we are most useful at this time of day, but it’s also a relief just to be outside after standing around in the building all day. Further along the building is a young guy in a white ball cap I’m keeping my eye on because we suspect him of being a drug dealer. Right now he’s just clowning around with his friends. (more…)

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Offending a Christian coworker

September 12, 2009
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The night shift is coming on and a few of us afternoon shift workers are standing around in the office. A couple guys are showing each other funny things on the internet. Among them being a pithy picture that makes fun of Christianity. This might have been for the benefit of Sandra, a mega Christian in the office with us. Or, it might have been a test for me, so they might figure me out. (Admittedly I’m a little aloof and play my cards close to my chest). Here is the picture. (Warning: offensive to some Christians). (more…)

Body of a chainsaw, blade of a circular saw

September 9, 2009
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Every Friday at noon we empty the building to give it an extra cleaning.  The only people inside are staff, the handicapped, and a handful of client volunteers. On the main floor are some painters who are going over the autumnal brown with a fresh institutional gray.

I’m on the second floor looking out the window at the construction going on below. The city has dug up every road adjacent to the shelter leaving only a makeshift gravel road through some construction vehicles.

One of the client volunteers, Julie, comes over to chat. She’s transgendered, and in the midst of male to female gender reassignment surgery. (more…)

Hubert, deer god of the intoxicated

September 5, 2009

Hubert is a strange and benevolent deer god who watches over the supremely intoxicated. He has wide fawn-like eyes, but his gaze is human – warm and empathetic.

As with all gods during the modern era, Hubert does not intervene in the normal course of life’s events. He is an observant god. If a person is three sheets to the wind, he will not keep a car from striking them and crippling their legs. If a person is high on drugs in a parking lot, he will not prevent a pack of youths from attacking them. He is only their witness. And the wasted, often crippled and hobbling, may come to Hubert and he will keep them warm, and watch over them. (more…)

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