GUEST COMMENT: Homeless are hurting so let’s show we care

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We all need to be better.

If we are truly looking for a solution to homelessness, and if we are truly serious about it, then compassion and love are the first step.

Trevor Kasteel calls for compassion when considering city homelessness issues in this guest comment.
Trevor Kasteel calls for compassion when considering city homelessness issues in this guest comment.

No matter what is said by whomever regarding homelessness in Yellowknife — and the shelter debate — I want to say thank you for raising it.

We as a community have a problem in front of us. But with every problem, there is a solution.

I have spent the better part of the year visiting the shelter once a month to get to know the workers and the people who seek its refuge. I have sat with them. I have held their hands. I have listened to them and I have cried with them. They are my friends.

The problem to me is very simple.

These people are hurting. They are suffering. They are attempting to survive second to second and minute to minute. They are simply drowning in despair and using addictions to numb that despair. They are treading water in an ocean of sorrow, anger, grief, regret and sadness.

These people for the most part, have suffered traumatic events in their lives. They do not have the ability to process those traumatic events to truly let them go and be at peace. They are stuck in an evil cycle without the ability to see themselves as they truly are. They need to escape the madness.

I know this because I was that person.

Many years ago, Evert Kasteel passed away from lung cancer on June 11, on my 13th birthday. It was at this time, that my mother unknowingly entrusted me to a family friend who turned out to be a sexual predator. This man had been a second father to me at the time.

Years later, after what I know to be a gift from my Dad, my first son was born. It woke me. I charged the predator.

I wrote a 40-page victim impact statement. He pleaded guilty in a Yellowknife courthouse and was sentenced to three years in prison.

The first time I went to the homeless shelter, it was located in the run-down building across from the Centre Square Mall. I almost got punched out walking up the front steps as I was thought to be an undercover cop. The stairs creaked on the way to the top floor inside. The healing talks officially began. I was blessed with eight people joining me.

I told them I cared about them. I told them that I loved them. Their defences dropped as I described my story. We held hands and we cried together at times.

In a matter of 120 minutes, six of the eight men and women around the table revealed why they were on the streets. They revealed the true cause of their addictions. They revealed the source of their despair because they felt safe. They felt understood. They felt dignity, love, understanding and compassion. They felt equal. They revealed their darkest secrets.

In my humble view, the solution to homelessness is to get to the source of people’s hurt. When we get to the truth of why people are hurting, that is when true change can start seeping in and infect us in a positive way.

More investment needs to be done here, and all the bi-products and costs associated with the bi-products will then dissipate. Costs associated with policing, ambulance, shelter, counselling, courts, hospitalization, medications, vandalism and such, will automatically reduce because we are addressing the tree trunk now rather than the branches. If we nourish the trunk of the tree, the branches will automatically receive that same nourishment.

I met two other men in the shelter roughly six months ago. They wished for the opportunity to get off the streets. They had been let down repeatedly and had no hope.

I was extremely fortunate to work with the outreach workers and a local residential housing company to get them an apartment. While one of those men still struggles today, the other is now thriving in his own home. He washes. He cleans the house. He goes grocery shopping and does not spend his grocery money on alcohol.

If we can make a difference on the core of a person when they are young enough, then we can end this negative homeless cycle. Addiction, trauma, and mental health all live in the same house.

I am thankful for who I am. I have level of compassion and love for others that I would never have had, if not for going through this experience. I am blessed with this gift and it is a gift that is meant to be shared.

The time is now to turn the tables. The time is now to spread goodness.

The Department of Health will not be alone in this issue of homelessness, nor is it theirs to walk alone. We are a community. We will be better.