Fences and neighbours

April 23, 2004 at 11:45 pm | In yulelogStories | 18 Comments

The Victoria Conservatory of Music, located at the corner of Pandora Avenue and Quadra Street, recently installed fencing, which is over 2metres high, along its Pandora Avenue entrance. The avenue entry opens into a courtyard area, now barred, that apparently had become a hangout and sleeping area for some of the homeless people (up to 600 per day) seeking shelter and food at the Open Door Ministry next to the Conservatory.

Pandora Avenue is a one-way that runs East to West into downtown. Designed as an avenue, it has a large “green” that runs along an off-centre middle for about 3 blocks. Both the Open Door Ministry and the Conservatory share a block of this greenspace. While Open Door is doing backflips to meet the needs of the homeless, whose numbers are swelling, the Conservatory decided to build a fence to keep “undesirables” out. I understand the latter’s position — they are not in the “social services to the homeless” field, and, financially struggling themselves, they can’t afford to allocate steady resources to clean up after people who might abuse their entry area as a public toilet, a place for using alcohol or drugs, or for general camping out. Point taken; but the imagery really gave me pause. Here you have two service-providers — the Conservatory and the Open Door ministry — who are both under financial stress, who are both trying to find the money to continue providing their services. One place gets out of hand (or its clients do), and the other place (which, despite a financial crunch, has a bit more cash) puts up a big fence. In reality, they have much more in common, but the condition of neighbourness is playing out as a tragedy of enforced difference. When government ceases to spend taxpayer money on ensuring that this kind of fence-building need not happen, instead spending our money to enshrine cronyism or ram privatisation down our throats, then we’re all getting screwed over.


But what I really wanted to do with my opener on fences and such was to point to an article I read last week about the Reverend Al Tysick of The Open Door Ministry. This picture is from that newspaper article. That’s Rev. Al on the left, sharing a happy moment with Archie Alook and “The Cowboy.” The photograph doesn’t give a real picture of just how broken and beaten many of Tysick’s congregation is, or that it’s expanding to include more families, and women with children. I’m not religious, but Al Tysick had me clutching my stomach when I read this:

Crowned with graying shoulder length hair, and clothed in shirts he sometimes plucks from the donation box, he’s hardly a theological poster boy.

He doesn’t talk like a minister – throwing “ass” or “shit” into a conversation – and he isn’t afraid to vocally challenge his beliefs.
Tysick is constantly wrestling with his faith, writing in a religious journal every day and searching for God in the desperate faces of his down-and-out congregation.

“When I write, I don’t always write good things. Quite often I question why God’s not helping,” he says, launching into one of hundreds of stories about The Open Door’s ever-expanding “family”.

One Friday, Tysick – tired after a typical 14-hour shift – climbed into his van for the commute home to Sooke.

As he started to pull away, he saw a man lying next to the fence, covered with a thin blanket.

“I really just wanted to go home. I was beat, dead tired, but I got out and went over. I bent down and pulled the blanket away.

“His hands were beaten and bloody with abscesses all over them. He was crying and I did my best to help. It’s moments like that when I ask, where the hell is God?” he says, rising out of his seat and pounding his palm on the table.

“It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized I was holding Christ’s hands in my hands. I pulled over and cried. He appears in the broken, the weak and the downtrodden.

“I don’t live in a church of candles, of crisp, clean cloths and gowns. I live in the church of filth, of the profane, of fear – of death,” adds Tysick, who buried 54 Open Door regulars last year.

“I live in a world where you struggle to find hope. But this is where I belong. In a way, it’s where I’m from.” [More…]

If I had to, I could go and see a movie (you know the one, The Smashin’ of Christ), but I doubt I could do what Tysick does, and I know I couldn’t do it day in and day out. He refers here to the 54 Open Door regulars he helped bury last year: people who died, sometimes in outrageous conditions. Several died in dumpsters, caught in garbage truck compactors. When asked what could be done, Victoria’s mayor, Alan Lowe, “suggested that recycling and garbage companies lock all of their containers in the future.” That sounds like a fence-building response, similar to the Conservatory’s, not a bridge-building one. Is this really the best we can come up with?

Some good things to do this weekend in Victoria:

April 23, 2004 at 4:06 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

First, the Fairfield Studio Tours kick off tomorrow (Saturday & Sunday — April 24-25). This has become an annual event (started in 2001, I think) in which local artists open their homes/ studios to visitors. It’s free and lots of fun, and there are always gems to discover. You can pick up a map at some stores in Cook Street Village and elsewhere in Fairfield.

Second, “Dirk Birk,” aka David Burke (aka David Jure), premiers his one-man play, The Fuel, Monty! on Sunday night (April 25) at 1923 Fernwood (near Vic High). Show starts at 7:30 pm, tickets only $5. I wanted to get hold of a poster to put on this blog, but haven’t managed to snag one. The play is a satiric commentary on (and all-around skewering of) our contemporary corporatist culture. Sounds good!

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
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