Monday, April 13, 2009

Karen O'Shaughnessy Advises Giving Money to Panhandlers to Buy Beer or Drugs

On Friday, Karen O'Shaughnessy, Executive Director of the LookOut Shelter, was given the CKNW "Unsung Hero" award as part of the Pheonix Project for her work combatting homelessness.  There was no mention of the fact that O'Shaughnessy gets a regular big cheque for her work. It's easy to fight homelessness when you're well paid to do it.     

O'Shaughnessy and her staff do reportedly do a competent job running the LookOut shelter.  I know a guy who recently stayed at the LookOut for a couple of months.  His description of their anti bed bug strategy reminded me of Castro talking about the Kennedys.  They even put poison powder in his shoes.

CKNW's Christie Clarke interviewed O'Shaughnessy on her show on Good Friday and asked a good question:  When people on the street ask us for money, should we give it to them knowing that they may use it to buy "drugs or beer? Is that the right thing to  do?"  O'Shaughnessy responded with a firm, "Yes."  She added, "If they want to go spend it having a beer, then let them."  She admonished, "Let's not judge".

The same people come into local coffee shops month after month hounding and hounding and hounding customers -- even poor customers -- for money which I know for a fact is going to a crack dealer.  I see them buying crack just off Hastings.  One regular aggressive panhandler who always says "God Bless" to coffee shop customers who buy his line about being an orphan  and give him money, was recently yelling "Fuck Off!" to a driver who nearly hit him when he walked into the street after buying crack near Pigeon Park.   He cons and harasses people daily and gets high daily.  But Karen O'Shaughnessy doesn't want the public to judge. 

When it comes to what O'Shaughnessy and her staff have to put up with though, she does judge. Anyone who fails to act in a civil manner at the LookOut Shelter is not allowed to stay there. They're very strict.

The Body's Old-Fashioned Need to Cry

I was listening to CBC yesterday and a reporter was summarizing Saturday's memorial for Wendy Ladner-Beaudry at UBC.  He said the message was "Don't mourn her loss", celebrate her life and cherish those you love in your life.  

This is a fashionable approach to death, but I'm suspicious of it.  I don't have a problem with celebrating the life of a person who has died, but at times it seems like an attempt to do an end run around mourning.  The attitude seems to be -- I'm not talking specifically about Ladner-Beaudry's family here -- that mourning is a downer so focus instead on the positive of the deceased person's life and get on with yours.   But there is no substitute for deep mourning.  

Sometimes there is nothing to do but cry. 

Tears not cried don't conveniently evaporate; I can name more than a few therapists who would agree that they simply get repressed. I read a therapist's account of a depressed man who entered therapy as an adult.  When asked about his mother dying when he was a child, the depressed man said that it hadn't affected him all that much, that he hadn't cried.  So the therapist walked him through the actual moments in which as a young boy he was told that his mother had died.  He saw himself looking down at his little shoes and he saw big tears splashing onto them.  For a moment as a child he had done what the body does naturally, cry profound tears.  But he had soon forgotten that he had done that; he had too soon repressed his need to cry and had gotten on with life. 

When therapist Theresa Shepperd-Alexander's mother died, she didn't look for short cuts.  She later wrote that she had grieved long and deep.   Despite her thorough grieving though, a remnant of her grief caught up with her years later when she was an out-patient at a hospital. Something a nurse said, the way she said it, triggered Shepperd-Alexander's grief about her mother and her eyes filled with tears.  Grief left unfelt continues to try to be expressed.

It seemed a tad air-headed of a Province reporter this weekend to write that people had gathered at Ladner-Beaudry's memorial "to remember not what they lost but what they had". This modern celebratory approach to an ended life may work fine for an hour-long memorial, but it can never outsmart the body's physiological need to grieve long and grieve deep.  Jenna Beaudry said at the memorial that her mother "reminded me every single day that she loved me."  Her mother will never again be around to tell her that. Sometimes there is nothing to do but cry.