St. John the Divine is located in the poorest census tract in the city. And I live next door. It’s quite a responsibility.
I never know if I am going to greet the day with anger or anguish. Will somebody’s dinner be vomited up on the driveway outside St. John’s Court? Or will the conscientious folk from SOLID (Society of Living Intravenous Drug-users) give me a cheery “Hello” as they probe our shrubbery for discarded needles?
The night before might have been punctuated by drunken shouts from the garden, or occasional noisy bouts of sex. Sometimes the fertilizer in our garden is human—pity the gardener.
My sleep is almost always broken by sirens—which get even more frequent the day after folks get their welfare payments. We can measure the opioid overdose crisis by the volume of sirens.
I know there won’t be a newspaper waiting at our front door. It was stolen so regularly that I had to cancel delivery. Does that happen in Fairfield?
We all know that drugs are often stashed under a rock in our garden—so the dealer isn’t caught carrying. I’ve seen them doing deals on the steps of our neighbour, First Metropolitan United. Each type of drug has its specific corner. For years, crystal meth was sold from a sunken stairway on Pandora St. We finally got the owner to erect a fence, barring access.
There have been efforts to beautify our neighbourhood, including a cheery abstract mural covering the previously graffiti-smeared doors of Mason St. businesses. Taxpayers financed it—but today it is just a sorry mess of new graffiti. These projects require vigilance, regular patrols and painting over unwanted “tags.”
On a typical day I will find a white pottery mug—discarded by an Our Place patron. I am delighted they use real crockery instead of paper cups, but how hard can it be to leave it on site?
Recently the bike lane installation forced the Pandora bus stop to move east of Quadra St. It has now become an extension of Our Place as the homeless sit in the bus shelter and smoke—ignoring the bylaw—and swear. There is no bylaw for that. I have seen women forced to move, as they feel intimidated.
I choose not to own a car so rely on a safe bus stop. And don’t get me started on the public urination.
There also is the constant parade of people in serious trouble, mentally ill, improperly clad for winter, mumbling, intoxicated, defying red lights—people who seem truly disconnected from societal norms. I still shudder at the sad sight of a man retrieving a takeout food container from a garbage can, and licking it.
I swing between compassion and fury. I feel helpless and horrified. I do what I can—chat, lobby for more affordable housing, sit on committees, volunteer for the food bank and youth shelter.
I struggle to maintain compassion: I know that homeless people have more stress - and fewer options – than I. But I want a certain level of civility. We all just have to get along.
Most of the problem can be traced to the troubled childhood of these damaged folk. And I can’t fix that.
All is not bleak. I am grateful for the affordable accommodation at St. John’s Court. I revel in such neighbourhood amenities as plays, concerts, a swimming pool, two well-equipped parks, a few restaurants and a place of worship for every day of the week.
Living here is never dull—but sometimes scary.
Anne Moon has been a St. John’s parishioner since 2010 and a five-year resident of the Court. She is a former journalist and long-standing member of the Raging Grannies.