Some of you who have read my blog for a while will recognize the title “The East Hastings Shuffle,” as a dance I invented a few years ago on my first visit to Vancouver when I was taken down Hastings by a
dickhole friend. After seeing East Hastings I would never again think that I had seen what poverty was in Calgary. East Hastings was quite possibly the worst thing I had ever seen, and it changed me forever.
Think of the most decrepid place on Earth. Think of all the sadness, all the filth, all the souls crying out for the slightest ounce of attention that would validate to them that they are even still alive. Now throw in Satan. Now times that by 100. I think that’s what it feels like to walk down the poorest street in Canada.
The smell of urine floats in the air like a foul perfume. There is clothing thrown on the streets, waiting to be picked up by the next person desperate enough to wear the filth. You don’t want to look at anyone. You don’t want to talk to anyone. Your own guilt that you were born into a family that never had to see things like this is as evident as the freshly cleaned clothing you are parading around in.
There is garbage everywhere. There is pain everywhere. You turn down multiple asks for money because really, do you have that much to give anyone yourself? You’re just trying to make it out here, too.
You watch junkies shoot up on the street, right there in front of you, and you wonder what their life was like before all this…if you could call that a life. It’s like a whole other world has plunked down in the middle of a vibrant city, and you don’t know which way is out.
The poverty I see every time I go down that street makes me wish I could help more. It makes me feel like I really should give someone some money when they ask for it. Then I realize that if I gave money to everyone who needed it or asked for it down here, I would be close to living down there myself, and they’d all be back where they started. Asking for another dollar. Trying to get another hit, get another meal. Get anything.
A man asked a group of us for money yesterday outside a shelter, and when we didn’t have any, he got so angry he threw a bottle and broke it right beside us. I won’t say it wasn’t scary, but it was awful to watch the frustration and hate that these people feel to watch us walk away. Because we get to walk away. We have the choice to visit. The option to leave. We make the decision to visit, and then get to go home, to a real home. Not a box on the street. Not some paper in an alley. We get to go home and have a meal. We get to eat (mostly) whatever we want, and have the luxury of entertaining ourselves by going to visit the Ovaltine Cafe and tasting the cheap food. Because it’s just for a moment. But this is their whole life.