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VIDEO: Homelessness and why we should all watch @zammit_marc upcoming film on it

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No one chooses to be homeless.  We all prefer a warm home and North America is not gentle on homelessness.

When I was aged 39 years, I had a stroke and spent a lot of time in hospitals in Toronto and then got air ambulanced back to the province of New Brunswick.

I had small kids and to wake up from the medically induced coma, I was lost for words because my kids needed their mother.

There was a support system around me via my employer and my Parish of Shediac Anglican Church. All the driving for treatments were arranged and in fact the Anglican Church Army of Saint John in New Brunswick put aside a house for my husband to drive the girls to see me and spend the weekends watching me receiving treatments and spend time with them.  My children are my life line. In fact in Hamilton Ontario (MacMaster University Hospital), when the doctors asked me to sign a paper to acknowledge that I could die in the air (flight time was 2.5hrs), I signed it because Thierry had flown back with the girls and I had to be near them.

When I was discharged from Saint John Regional Hospital, my priest drove down to bring me home (Fr. Richard McConnel).  The nurse (Vicky) told him that I might have an allergic attack on the way home.  Fr. Richard told Vicky “she is riding with the man of God so we will be okay” but he still accepted the Benadryl to give me in case I had an attack on the way home.

Fr. Richard is our family priest.  Retired but nearby.  In the car, he looked at me and I was so dazed from the steroids and anti histamines and then told me that I had to become active in our Parish.  Steroids are used to suppress the immune system so that you do not react to organ transplant but in my case, I was reacting to every unit of plasma which was being given to me.

That is how I became a member of the Vestry (Board of Directors).  You really cannot argue half dead and it worked out perfectly.

Fast forward.  I was put on the committee which had to verify all the NGOs which were asking for money from our Parish.  My priest was right.  Because I attended all meetings then proceeded to vet the NGOs which were asking for help.  In this process, I landed on our homeless shelter in Moncton that really needed financial help.  They were under threat to be shut down and had lost their charity registration.  Fr. Richard knows that I look at numbers and financials.  This is when I started the hard work (un appreciated to this day) and proceeded to go into that homeless shelter telling them “donors will not give you money if you do not align your financials”.

By this time, I was receiving plasmopherisis in the Moncton City Hospital. It is a very tough treatment.  Every morning, showed up at the shelter, did the Admin work.  Sharon Connors is an angel.  She used to work at the church in the morning then drive to the shelter to do filing and bill payments.  I would work alongside her and my job was to talk to the politicians for bills, taxes, etc.  Then drive to the hospital for my 24 to 30 units of plasma.  At the end of the treatments, Stephanie or Larry would come pick me up and drive me home and Thierry or some other friend would drive to the hospital to collect the car.  I was a signature in the hospital because it was daily.

BUT LET ME TELL YOU WHY I CARED ABOUT HOMELESS.

One time when I jumped off the subway for a meeting on Bay Street, there was a gentleman waiting at the station asking for change.  I had no money.  I told him that I would come and take us out for lunch on my break.  When I went back, he was there.  We walked into a descent restaurant and some idiot proceeded to tell us that we had no right to be there.  But I had made reservations.  I gave him my business card and we landed in a private booth and enjoyed great food.  At the end, I gave him 10 subway tokens for him to find his way home.  NEVER laugh at homeless people because not all of them choose to be homeless.

Then there was this one time when Rebecca and I exited off the McCowan exit in Scarborough Ontario and there was this gentleman asking for change.  It was winter.  The kid told me to stop and help but the traffic was insane so I told her we could not stop.  We get into our house and she is saying “mommy, can we go back and take for him soup at least because it is cold”.  We did and again gave the subway tokens.

Another time when I had to go to Montreal for an Options Trading workshop, we went to one of the cathedrals in Montreal and it was so bloody cold the gentleman opening the door had icicles in his beard.  Our little one Natasha pulled out her $5 bill (her only money) and gave it to the gentleman.  What a shocker.  So I took all the money we were giving in church and gave it to the gentleman and I told him “go to a coffee shop and buy soup and warm up”.  He looked at me with tears welling in his eyes saying “your children are very lucky.  Thank you”.

Soon after we are all settled in New Brunswick, we had this great gentleman Joe who used to thumb for rides.  We would pick him up because I had to drive the girls to school and always took him with us.  First ride, he sat in the back of the car.  Subsequent rides, the girls always sat in the back and let him have the front seat.  Joe taught us things daily.  He hated fruits you do not peel and always talked about eating only fruits you can peel because it avoids pesticides. So the girls soon got into the habit of always packing bananas in case Joe was riding with us.  Joe never asked for money at all.  We would take him to the soup kitchen and then pick him up.

One winter, he gets into the car and is freezing.  His pension was delayed and his medication needed to be bought and then Rebecca reaches into my purse and takes out the only $20 bill I had and gives it to him to go get his medicine.  Natasha is talking like a radio… “look, his feet and hands are freezing”.  Rebecca being older took off her mittens and gave them to Joe.  The next day both girls insisted that I stop at Salli Ann and buy a pair of winter boots and a jacket for Joe before we pick him up.  By this time the kids knew his shoe size so it was a no brainer.

We pick Joe up and he has winter boots and a jacket and was wearing the knitted mittens which by the way the kindergarten teacher’s wife used to knit for the kids at Shediac Cape School.

Joe also told us something one time.  He said if you like grapes, soak them in a sink of water mixed with vinegar and all the pesticides will get washed away.  In reality, we had never thought about it but soon our fruits became peeled.

Yeah.  Kids can teach us a lot and can learn a lot.  We make a very big mistake to ignore the minds of kids.  Kids are a sponge.  If you want to teach about poverty and homelessness, go to the nearest school in your community and teach them how to become compassionate.  In reality kids are born loving and caring and this is something we must not forget.  A child in a private school insisting on helping the people in her local community speaks volumes.  Meanwhile grown ups are chasing nice expensive cars, big houses and vacations in places they hardly know anything about.

I shall watch the movie on Homelessness because I am sure it will make a difference.

Martha Leah Nangalama

Who will be your brother’s keeper? If you think that homeless people are lazy and only want your money, I dare you to go homeless and earn your income on the streets.  It will teach you humility.

I come from #Uganda which has one of the most impoverished populations in the world.  I know poverty and hunger.  And soon many Ugandans will lose their land to a despotic regime set on displacing them.

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