Entry 1 – May 19, 2009: Excerpts published in this month’s Harpers from Werner Herzog’s journals while he filmed in South America in the early eighties have inspired me to commit to short, fifteen minute entries each time I return home from … work over the course of the next year. H. harangued staff at the Trinity Square Café as I ate lunch with I., a new street outreach volunteer, today. “I am Satan,” H. menaced, as the cashier-manager attempted to shoo him out of the building. She turned and instructed a co-worker to call 911 and his anger increased. “You fucking demon bitch, calling the fucking cops …” I sat and watched, knowing that entry into the situation would ratchet him up more, reserving the possibility of engagement against physical abuse. (H. heckled me – “can you believe this asswipe, get some toilet paper” – from the front row as I officiated my first memorial service a couple of months ago. Only J.’s presence averted a complete disaster.) I circled the building to witness, advocate if necessary, with the police, but he was nowhere to be seen when they arrived. I did, however, run into First Nations B. and his brothers … B., whom I used to see often near King and Jordan, volunteered that he’d like to start coming to [our church] after what happened with St. Mike’s hospital and our advocacy there with respect to the beating by security guards of C. and D. He was the relative they were visiting and says he will not be going to St. Mike’s hospital anymore.
A. and E. recounted, in debriefing from their walk, seeing T. shit on the property at [our church].
Apparently they were repulsed and fascinated as they noticed just how scrawny – such tiny legs and a little butt – he has become. We joked about his feces probably smelling of Listerine. E. was glad that he was at least pooping, given how sick he is and admitted to an urge to examine what it looks like. A. wanted to avoid confrontation in requesting that he not do so again.
Entry 2 – May 19, 2009: I arrived a few moments after ten a.m. to a scene involving four or five bicycle cops pursuing a younger man who had fled onto the church property, apparently in hopes that our drop-in had already opened. Jackhammers next door where the forty-seven story condo is nearing completion pounded away. In spite of the noise, my request for the officers to move the situation to the park next door to help facilitate opening our drop-in were gruffly rebuffed. An obstruction of justice charge was threatened promptly.
About a half an hour after their entrance, the group of high schoolers from R. Mennonite Coll. discovered F., recently released from prison and inquired about yesterday by undercover officers. He was sleeping behind the building in the garden the students had been commissioned to tidy up, the first attempt to tame it this spring. Moments later a man named A. had his clock badly bloodied in the park next door by another man in nothing but boxer shorts who proceeded to pull on his pants while offering his filthy shirt to clean up the blood. The beaten man took paper towels offered to him and mostly tried in vain to wipe the blood up out of the grass and dirt. A few moments later he dropped his shorts and urinated. Questions about whether we should call 911 fueled a lively discussion regarding Mennonite pacifism and policing. One girl quickly caught on that our emphasis on relationships with people would be jeopardized if we readily involved the police. The kids discovered the baptismal and took a group picture in it. One set the thermostat to 49 degrees F. A few others found their way onto the roof. A ladder of twenty feet or so was left in the building by someone adjusting the lights. I moved it while they were out on a street orientation walk this evening. While out, one group encountered a homeless man waving a knife. Still, one young lady found the most impressive aspect of the day the joyful way people laughed and talked and played games during our drop in which fed 140 or so for lunch.
This afternoon A. and I met with M. … The high level of anxiety which fuels, by and large, his pot use began, he told us, eight years ago. He was dealing drugs for Hells Angels in London, Ontario at the time. In two separate incidents he was beaten badly in the face with a baseball bat (he owed HA for drugs confiscated during an undercover arrest) and stabbed seven times over various parts of his body (by a rival gang). Two metal plates hold his face together even yet - a fact which quite startled M.’s dentist during x-ray examination.
Entry 3 – May 21, 2009: I love the chaos of the kingdom of God. … Today I corrupted the youth with more derision of policing. The thermometer reached the upper eighties and poor people were everywhere as we walked together. Police were everywhere too. We witnessed officers stopping to engage three black men out of a crowd of dozens and dozens of similarly situated people in Allan Gardens. My Ojibway friend G. was along with us and finally pointed to his skin and said, “guilt by association.” A few minutes later he recounted five hours of gun pointing, forcible removal from his wheelchair, and badly bruised ribs during a five hour ordeal in his own room. He was guilty of nothing, and, in fact, not even charged with anything. G. was overtaken by stomach sickness before completing the walk, having thought he had taken a valium pill on his empty stomach, but in fact ingesting an unknown pill from his sister’s menagerie of pharmaceuticals.
I refrained from rehearsing the events of the drop-in with the wider youth group as I and they were in no mood by the time we met after volunteer and staff debrief. They each debriefed regarding the day and Seaton House/George Street was the runaway winner. Only D. and S. had been present to hear of the four hulking undercovers who finally stomped off, calling me useless to a colleague of mine, after I refused anything more than ‘I know the man in your picture.’ They wanted F. for a federal parole violation and threatened me with harbouring a wanted felon. This is a church, I replied, and there are hundreds of years of history of churches as sanctuaries. Another officer casually took the name of a half dozen friends sitting in the park. He was rather low-key until I insisted that he take seriously reports of security personnel threats, beatings, and attempts to push homeless men off the five story carpark across the street. He was more interested in information on break and enters into vehicles parked therein. Eventually he agreed that perhaps security there should be told that 51 division did not approve of physical maltreatment of poor people. Over the course of the drop-in I enjoyed several rounds of bridge, helped to negotiate the move-in procedure for a recent college graduate who has agreed to at least three months as the anchor member of the J. House, conversed with our managing director concerning the possibility of K. or others who might join us on staff, all the while keeping an eye on the ninth graders and negotiating a wide variety of requests for supplies, seating, and personal attention.
A pint of liquid refreshment and sweet potato fries at the Artful Dodger took the edge of sheer exhaustion off just long enough for a longish conversation with W. …