Today, between client visits, I cry and listen to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Helpless. I’ve learned the importance of naming my emotions aloud. Helpless, I sing between small sobs, Helpless. The sweeps force me to take an indirect route to get to my destinations. I repeatedly pass the various barricades, but I do not enter the foray.
My assignment isn’t within the 00 to 200 blocks of Hastings but it could be. In morning huddle our manager is present. I know why she is here, my colleague whispers to me before we begin. Days before, there were leaked documents from the City of “Vancouver” [on unceded traditional territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm nations] announcing plans for public safety. (what public? safety from what? safety for who?).
In the meeting, we makes plans for our personal safety, as health-care workers who go provide care in people’s homes. Bring your ids with you, our manager cautions us, they will be checking. People live there (you know that right?). I’ve been in nearly every building along that stretch. People live in those tents too.
The forecast anticipates rain for tomorrow.
There are not enough shelter beds.
The last time I went to a shelter, folks were smoking drugs openly in the space.
What are you? a Christian! a client asked me this incredulously after I requested she hold off on smoking her crack until I left her room. I’ll just go to the kitchen, she said, not quite grasping that in her small studio apartment, going to the kitchen wouldn’t prevent me from getting a second-hand high. All the other nurses let me do it. I feel guilty but not enough to stay. Not even a week later I have the experience in the shelter. I stay because it is not my client who is smoking, and this man really needs care or he’ll likely lose his hand. He already lost his housing due to police involvement from a mental health crisis. Discharged from the hospital to the shelter. Helpless. I don’t ask the people smoking to stop because I don’t want a confrontation. I leave unsteady on my feet with dilated pupils.
Today I see multiple older Asian senior widows wearing layers and layers of clothing I peel back to take their blood pressure. In their neatly tided homes, I check that their medications are on track. They are in their 90s and living independently with some supports. They are polite, and offer me snacks. I use a translator on my phone to communicate with them. Sometimes I wonder how strong my Cantonese would be if I started taking lessons when I first started this job in 2016.
Today (like everyday) I wondered why some bodies seemingly hold more value than others.
I asked my colleague how her visits went. It’s like a police state out there, she attests, as she describes having to wait and then be inspected at the border before she could gain access to go see a client and provide care.
Constables in Vancouver make between 77,983 and 111,709$ as a base salary. There were over 100 officers involved in today’s decampment. The police budget increases continue. The people living in tents are in situations of extreme poverty. There isn’t more addiction or crime… it is just more visible.
This is about how we as a collective chose to treat one another. This about our values and our ethics. This is about how we show up (or don’t) for each other. This is about (in)justice. This is about privilege. This is about violence. This is about capitalism. This is about community.
this is about
I don’t think
what I do matters (helpless, fruitless, useless, powerless)
and I still
to show up
and stand up
and try again
and do my work anyways.
Why are you still a nurse? ( a recent question by a new acquaintance, a now-artist reformed nurse). The answer: for the money… but also because I guess I do think this work holds meaning, as a way to express my social justice values.
This work that does not get noticed
because it is so
yet, here I still am.
(and if you read this, then here you still are…. and thanks…)