On November 5th I spent most of the day wandering around the encampment meeting and having wonderful discussions with people from all sorts of backgrounds. A very soft-spoken individual named Richard approached me to enquire if I was with the media and what I was doing. We spoke for almost an hour and during that time he opened up and told me a little about his life.
He is homeless, not by choice but by circumstance. He is also a veteran of the Canadian military. He spent over 20 years with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry defending our rights and helping others around the world. He does not brag or is boastful about this, but he is truly proud of what he has done. During our conversation he went back into his tent to retrieve his coffee mug that has the logo of the Princess Pat’s on it and while doing so I was apparent that he was a proud veteran as his normally expressionless face began to light up with an enormous outpouring of pride.
He spoke about his childhood and how both his parents had died tragically in an accident when he was about 5 years old. He told me about growing up in foster care and that at age 19 he made the decision to join the military. There was little discussion about his actual military career, a trait that is typical of most real veterans, but it was apparent to me that this is a man of action, not just words.
He lost most of his possessions while staying at the Calgary Drop in Centre and when he confronted the thief, he was forced to leave. He told me about having to live in a park and how when he learned about the Olympic Plaza group, he pushed his cart for many miles to get here because he did not have the money for a C-Train ticket. We spoke about going to that dark place in your mind where sometimes the wrong decisions are made. We shared a few tears and a long warm embrace on that cold afternoon.
Richard made it very clear that when he arrived at Olympic Plaza he was greeted openly and with loving arms. He was accepted as a fellow human being, not as someone who was homeless or down on his luck. He stated that “without these people, I don’t know where I would be, maybe living under a bridge”.
He has had jobs in the past, but when the work ran out, he was back on the street. Since he has no address to give to potential employers, getting work is difficult, if not impossible.
What really saddens me is that the majority of people in Calgary, and the media would not see past the fact that Richard is homeless. They would not see a proud veteran who served his country for over 20 years, nor would they see the gentle, articulate man that I did. Is this a unique story for Calgary? Unfortunately it is all to commonplace these days. People displaced not by bad decisions, but by circumstances.
Remember the Richards in the world the next time you pass by Olympic Plaza, and if you can do nothing else, say a silent prayer for their wellbeing.