© Zora Zebic 2018
© Zora Zebic 2018
How a nickel saved a village
Excited children filled our school auditorium seats.
Teachers and parents stood along the walls, a buzzing sound of whispering voices reminded me of bees.
I didn’t know if the parents were fidgeting more than the children.
Would our village be saved? Today we’d find out.
Mr. Barnaby, the man with big whiskers, sat in the centre chair on the stage and watched closely as Miss Thomas and Mister Winters counted dollar bills and coins on a large crafting table.
Mr. Barnaby, hearing of the devastation of our village’s economy, had come to our school with an offer.
If the children of our school could raise $1,000, Mr. Barnaby would not only match the donation, but he would donate the rest of the money to build a new factory!
Working parents would mean poverty and hopelessness would be things of the past.
“Well,” I thought, “Fat chance that will happen.” I’d fought with mother before leaving for school. How could mom be so selfish not to give me her bus fare money? She could walk to work, I’d told her.
Mom had said, “It is too far for me to walk. All I have is this nickel to donate.”
I sat with the coin held tightly in my fist. There was no way I would drop it into the collection box. The kids bullied me already, how horrible would it be to hear their giggles of scorn.
A hush filled the room as Miss Thomas stood and walked toward the microphone.
“Ahem,” she cleared her throat, and in a sad voice said, “I am sorry to announce we have not met our goal. The total count is Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine Dollars and Ninety-Five Cents.
“No, no, no!” I hollered as I raced toward the stage. “I didn’t put in my donation.”
Proudly I handed Miss Thomas the hot and sweaty five-cent coin.
Mr. Barnaby stood and walked over to my teacher and me.
“Young man,” He said, “Your gift has tipped the scales. How great a gift it is!”
In awe, I held tight to Mr. Barnaby’s hand as everyone cheered.
The rest of the day was the best day I’d ever had. Every face that looked at me wore a big smile.
I made lots of new friends, but I was anxious for the school bell to ring.
I could hardly wait to go home to tell mom how her nickel had saved the village.
© Zora Zebic 2018
PREVENTING UNNECESSARY DEATHS FROM FREEZING
Windsor, Ontario, Canada has no hope the mayor and city council will allow practical measures to be put in place to prevent the homeless from freezing to death this coming winter. Despite the wealth of information proving these measures are working all over North America, it looks like these solutions are not going to happen.
Hamilton, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan, USA have started putting Tiny Houses into place, but our mayor and city councillors don’t feel this is a necessity for the homeless of our community. These civic leaders feel the drug addicts, and people with mental health issues should “just behave” and then the shelters they fund with taxpayer monies will once again “house” the homeless.
Really? Do they expect these hurting people to be able to cure themselves of their afflictions? Worse, do they really consider homeless shelters to be homes? The local homeless shelters used to call their programs “emergency shelter.”
My husband and I presented our ideas to the mayor. They are practical and logical, and best of all they would save the taxpayers of Windsor millions of dollars!
THREE SIMPLE SOLUTIONS
1) Allow a temporary Tent City on a spot of industrial land that is surrounded by warehouses. This spot exists on McDougal Avenue, in the heart of downtown. The bulk of services available to the homeless are already nearby. This space can be patrolled by the Windsor Police, who have already been hired. The hired social workers would have a location to meet their clients.
2) Open an abandoned school and turn the utilities on. That won’t cost the taxpayers too much. This would be a cost-effective way of saving lives! The police and social workers would have a safe environment to patrol and serve their clients.
3) Tiny Homes can be built, delivered and assembled for under $2,000. The charities and philanthropists could insulate these homes. The homes could be placed on lands already owned by the city. There would be a need for simple rezoning.
SAVING TAXPAYER DOLLARS
Now to the part you are probably curious about. How can these ideas save the taxpayers of Windsor, Ontario millions? Every single person approved for welfare is entitled to $300 per month to pay toward a room or apartment. In one year that equals $3,600. Replace the rent with a Tiny Home. Taxpayers would save $1,600 during the first year, and $3,600 per year into perpetuity!
You would think educated persons would seize upon a plan that would see immediate results and save so much money.
Let us keep in mind every drug addict and person suffering from mental health issues are somebody’s child, parent, partner or relation.
You can search on line for the multiple examples by typing in your search bar, Tiny Homes for the homeless.
It’s simple – save money and save lives.
© Zora Zebic 2018
At, what seems to be my usual these days, I wake at 3:30 am. I don’t look at the clock, thinking I had somehow slept until morning. The thing is, the sky just doesn’t look as dark as it usually does, “Why?” I wonder.
I start to rinse the electric coffee pot and realize it is still quite full of yesterday’s coffee. A little startled the coffee pot shakes in my hand drenching the white t-shirt I’d just donned. “Crap!” I exclaim as I pull my top off to scrub it with tap water and dish soap. The stain remains, so I spray it with laundry pre-soak. It is the middle of the night, and I don’t want to wake the downstairs neighbours, so I leave the top to rest in the machine.
I pour a mug and add three lumps of brown sugar and cream. There is something so inviting about the smell and taste of the golden hot drink. I think of the commercials I used to hear when I was young. Coffee was touted as one of the world’s many wonders, and at this moment I tend to agree.
Sitting down at my laptop I read the news, and yet another story is being told about a candidate running in this year’s municipal election. Of course, that brings me back to biased and, in my opinion, cruel negative stories told by our local media.
It seems any more sensationalism is all that counts. What caused our civic leaders to deviate from telling it like it is, using old-fashioned integrity and sensibilities? I suppose the tried and true Canadian style has just gotten too boring for them.
I’ll make my point with three stories told to the media so far this year, all stories casting horrible aspersions on my homeless centre. With the upcoming municipal election at least three of the incumbent politicians needed to grasp onto something, anything to keep their names out there. It is no secret most people vote on name recognition.
Attack a small homeless charity and paint them as villains, now that might get you elected! The unpopularity of homelessness is a comfortable skirt to latch onto and hide behind. Get the public in an uproar, excite the haters into frothy-mouthed campaigners for you.
In the story published by CBC on January 7, 2018, (link above) Rino Bortolin is theatrically melodramatic. He makes claims of rules, yet did not explain what they were. He also spoke of his worries “if a fire had started.”
There was no risk of fire! The Fire Department responded to an anonymous caller who claimed Street Help did not have a working fire alarm system. Concerned, they did what they are mandated to do, they responded to satisfy themselves all was okay.
The only immediate request by the Fire Department, after their very comprehensive inspection, was that we install push bars on the entry/exit doors of The Stone Soup Kitchen, which we had recently taken over! All of our other doors in the centre had push bars!
Bortolin, who has never stepped foot in our centre, used our small agency to get and keep his name in the news. He continues to bash our agency with his falsehoods. In another of his addresses to the media he claims Street Help is not a licensed shelter, yet there is no such law as a licensed shelter. Not any shelter in Windsor, or Ontario are required to be licensed, no such law exists.
Bortolin has run on City Councils decision to hire more police and social workers. This is not his brilliance, nor is this a solution. Without offering a place for the homeless to go, what are these social workers to do?
Rino Bortolin’s platform is grandstanding on the homeless, without offering any real solutions. He has nothing otherwise, and he has sat as one of the “opposition” on city council thus far. Behaving as a schoolyard bully does not make him a reasonable choice for election.
In the article published by the Windsor Star on August 25, 2018 (link above) Chris Holt accused Street Help of allowing drug use.
Holt clearly stated Street Help has “certain latitudes” that are not permitted by downtown homeless services, and goes on to claim homeless service providers downtown have stricter rules about drug consumption.
Holt later denied he accused us of allowing drug consumption; however, he has not asked the media for retractions! Holt is another who has never stepped foot in our centre. His remarks are words of malice and fabrications.
Chris Holt is another who has sat proudly on city council posing as the other “opposition.” He desires to sweep the homeless issue under the rug. He has no plans to address the issue. Is this a good reason to elect him?
Blackburn News posted on September 13, 2018, a story where Dilkens denigrates the homeless and lumps them into a category of people who just don’t want to follow the rules.
Unlike his companions Chris Holt and Rino Bortolin, Dilkens has actually stepped foot into Street Help. He failed to find anything out of order. He certainly didn’t see any drug use. Instead, Dilkens witnessed a group of orderly people in fellowship, dining and enjoying the comforts we give.
I asked Dilkens about the date of a meeting to come up with solutions to house the homeless. One of his higher-ups in the Windsor Police had told me this meeting was to take place. Dilkens response was “I’ve never heard anything about a meeting! But I think this meeting should take place.”
A week later Dilkens called to ask if I could attend the meeting he arranged for at 9 am the next morning. I was overjoyed, believing he actually cared about helping the homeless. Little did I know Dilkens was using me, Street Help and the Homeless for his own political gain.
At the meeting, many ideas were bantered about. Some examples of the discussions were about a new temporary shelter for this winter, a tent city, a campground, using abandoned schools, asking local churches to offer accommodation, and that a lot of investment needs to be made into the mental health and addiction services,
Professionals in the field advised Dilkens mental health services are utterly inadequate and underfunded. They told him they are unable to provide services to many of the homeless with mental health issues.
Professionals in the field of addictions told Dilkens much the same. There is no help for the homeless who are desperately trying to get help to get off drugs. People are left without the resources urgently needed, and many are dying due to lack of treatment programs.
Most in the field of sheltering the homeless told Dilkens they don’t have mental health or addictions professionals. They are overwhelmed and cannot keep the homeless with these issues in their shelters.
Drew Dilkens, with his flair for the hyperbole, press-released his election platform against the homeless. Completely ignoring the advice given him by mental health and addictions professionals and shelter providers. He insisted there will be no accommodation, of any kind to house the homeless with mental health and addiction issues.
Dilkens solution is to open a big day program where the homeless can attend to meet social workers, and further he attempted to denigrate Street Help by saying his program would have “professionals” unlike ours. His plan is very childish and demonstrates his schoolyard-bully-behaviour.
How many of us have a family member or friend who suffers from mental health issues or addictions? To cast aspersions, the homeless are all rule breakers or criminals is a heartless debasement.
Isn’t it a tad bit odd all three of these men have chosen to surf a wave to criminalize homelessness? How very alike they are, and it is a wonderment Dilkens would entwine his platform with his “opposition.” It is my opinion, Chris Holt, Rino Bortolin and Drew Dilkens are not respectable men.
© Zora Zebic 2018
It was during early 1974, and I was 17. I still wasn’t able to call myself grown up, but 17 was way better than telling people I was sixteen! There had been nothing sweet 16 about my previous year, nor had age 15 been any kinder. In the depths of my being, I had wanted to erase the memories of those two years.
I did a little stint in jail because, during the summer of 1972 on the eve of my 16th birthday, a cop had claimed I’d assaulted him. The truth is, I had told him to go fuck himself. He charged me with verbal assault.
The judge had said, “You instructed a Windsor Peace Officer to do something that is anatomically impossible.” Being the assinine teenager I was, I’d asked the judge, “How do you know, did you go home and try it?” Yep, just the thing you don’t query of a judge! That got me a $75 fine, a month’s rent in those days, and seven days in jail.
Upon my release, the Children’s Aid paid my half of one month’s rent for an apartment I was to share with an older sister.
After the hardships of the streets, claiming a sofa as my bedroom had felt heavenly, yet I was without a food budget allotment from the Children’s Aid.
If I wanted to eat, the choices were panhandling, stealing or prostitution. Selling one’s body leads to depleting portions of one’s soul, bit by bit. To fill these voids, many of those who are forced to survive by prostitution become alcoholics or drug addicts. Getting caught stealing food was a surefire path to another jail stint. Of the three choices, panhandling was the least horrific path to obtaining food.
Get a job, some might say, but that wasn’t so easy for a child without a high school diploma. Even the restaurants were a tough place to get a job. To get hired in those days meant having the means to purchase and keep clean the starched white uniforms! I’d applied for a job pumping gas, but the owner rejected me. Only boys or men were allowed to fill a gas tank!
Hungry, I strode downtown, northbound heading toward my regular panhandling gig on the southwest corner of Ouellette Avenue and Park Street. The spot I had implicit permission to claim, was in front of the Pond’s Big V pharmacy store. I’d felt almost invisible as the people who worked there seemed to look right through me. It wasn’t as painful as the horrible stares or angry looks I’d get from some passersby.
Nearing Biff’s coffee shop, I’d spotted a forlorn-looking young man, seemingly out of place. I’d met lots of homeless or wayward guys since I’d hit the streets at 15. Runaways or newly turfed, these new-to-the-streets guys felt the blows differently than us girls. Not that the street life and hardships were more natural for the girls, the difference was the depth of pride in these guys, and it was not unusual for them to become suicidal. It was like their legs and arms could be broken, and that was okay, as long as they could find some way in their misery to continue to feel like a man.
Concerned for his immediate safety and well-being, I’d felt the need to catch up quickly to the young man and called out to him, “Hey, is everything okay?” I was a bit unnerved when two burly looking guys lunged toward me. “What the hell?” I’d stammered.
“Back off!” The young man had commanded them. I was confused as I’d not thought the three were together, the young man had stayed a few steps ahead of the others. “It’s okay.” He said to me, and then he’d asked, “Why are you concerned about me?”
“You look sad.” I’d answered. He’d said, “Naw, I just have a cold that won’t seem to go away.” With my forever smile, I’d asked, “How about I buy you a cup of coffee? A little warm inside can help the cold go away.” His smiling response had made me think his eyes, set in a boyish face, looked kind.
Inside Biff’s, sitting across from each other in one of the booths, we’d sipped each on a cup of coffee. He asked my name, and I gave him my street name at the time, Christine Elliott.
The man kept himself as the subject of most of the conversation, but I hadn’t minded listening. He’d talked about how he was the leader of his band, even though there were only two of them. I’d asked who played all the instruments and he’d laughed and explained to me the roles of studio musicians and gig bandmates, and how these people were usually not seen by an audience.
Talking about breaking up with his partner, I’d listened, somewhat amused by his jealousy of the other man. In a sombre voice, he explained how his friend got all the girls and sang like an angel, but it was unfair, as he was the creator of all of their work.
Taking a long last slurping sip on his coffee, the young man asked, “I’m playing across the street tonight, so why don’t you come to watch the show?” He then said, “I’ll be the guy playing the bass guitar, I’m sure you’ll recognize me!” I’d laughed at his remark and told him sure, but I’d better find something more appropriate than the micro mini skirt I was wearing. He’d said it was a dinner club, so anything nice would do.
Wearing my floor-length, neck plunging, white and blue polka dot polyester dress and purple clover platform shoes, I left the apartment. A couple of violet-coloured flowers nipped from the “Housewarming” flowering plant the Children’s Aid worker had given me, tucked over my ear, and I’d felt as pretty as the girl in the free-flowing hippie dress pictured on the sanitary pads box.
I ended up spending that weekend with him, and the subsequent weekend. On the day of our parting, after he scribbled my real name, Zora Zebic, close to the bind of his workbook, he’d promised, “I’m going to record these songs, and you’ll get half the royalties. That’s why I need to have your real name. We are going to be rich!”
I’d not known what to believe, but it was a promised future of some comforts. After all, a little girl who’d been homeless for going on two years didn’t have much else in the way of hope.
One year later, I heard one of our jaunty tunes playing on the radio. I thought perhaps he’d laid claim to a one-hit wonder. I’d let it go, wishing him the best.
During the summer of 1986, I worked at a fast food restaurant in a downtown mall in Calgary, Alberta. After my shift ended, I walked past a record store and heard another of the songs I’d written with him playing over the loudspeakers. I eagerly walked in to see his face plastered all over the walls. At the display, I picked up a copy of the album and turned it over to read the words and music of the songs we’d co-written was credited solely by him.
© Zora Zebic 2018
I wrote the following on Victoria Day. Street Help Homeless Centre is open with regular hours on all holidays.
I was in my office, which is a rare occurrence these days when a staff member told me a man was requesting to speak with me. I went into our dining room we affectionately call The Stone Soup Kitchen. He looked frazzled, dirty and desperate. I asked how I could help him.
He answered, “Someone said you would be able to help me.” I asked what his need was. Henry, as I will call him, told me of his plight. Stranded in Windsor, he had been beaten and robbed and had no way to get home. In his outstretched hand, he held two tiny moccasins his grandmother had made. I was offered them as payment for his transportation back home.
I refused the moccasins, but I did tell him I would get him home today. He insisted his offered gift was worth a lot of money. I said his grandmother wanted him to keep this gift; it was his heritage.
First, I wanted him to take a shower and change into clean clothing. Henry said he was hungry and I told him to go to the counter for a plate of food. Our volunteer cooks, Virginia, Anthony, and Paul had prepared a wonderful feast. The fare at Street Help is fantastic. Most are creations from leftovers and other donations, and we have to be inventive!
After his meal, I led him to the showers, while our volunteer Jennifer fetched hygiene products and a towel.
I searched online for Greyhound and VIA Rail ticket prices. I was surprised VIA Rail offered a lesser cost, however; the fare was not available until tomorrow. He wanted to go home today. I asked Dan, our volunteer driver if he would consider driving him. Dan agreed, and Elizbeth, another volunteer, asked if she could go along as the support person. We generally have two staff members in the car, so I happily agreed. I didn’t want to be the other staff rider today!
Meanwhile, our clothing room volunteer Tim selected clean clothing for him to wear. You are reading the word “volunteer” a lot. It is because, at Street Help, we are all volunteers. It is essential to this story, as I often am the one receiving the thanks or kudos, but in actuality, I can’t do this job without the help of my team!
Freshly showered, he asked to see me one more time before he left. Henry again offered me the mocassins, which I accepted and slipped into my apron pocket. I could see the intense pain in his eyes as Dan started the car. I didn’t know what I had precisely seen, but I knew something in Henry’s eyes betrayed a need for the car not to drive away.
I asked Elizabeth to fetch water bottles for everyone, and I shut Henry’s door. He asked, “Can I have a hug please; I need two of them?” I opened his door and hugged him. He fell into me weeping, and it was as though I was holding a little child.
Henry, tears streaming down his face asked, “Can I have back my grandmother’s moccasins?” He further explained, “I was going to bury myself today, and I wanted to give them away, instead of taking them with me. I don’t want to do that now.” I reminded Henry I had told him his grandmother wanted him to keep her gift; however, I would give them back on one condition; he had said he wanted two hugs, and I wanted the second one.
A brilliant smile appeared on his face, and at that moment, I saw the little boy Henry’s grandmother had loved. He gave me another hug. I placed his grandmother’s moccasins into his outstretched hand. Henry closed his hands in mine and said, “Miigwech!” “Miigwech!” I responded, and Henry smiled. He looked at me with understanding; I was grateful to have been able to help him.
Elizabeth returned to the car with the water bottles, and Henry was driven back to his community. I wish him Godspeed.
I was most impacted today by the memory of a dear friend who has left us behind. Joan Bergwerff loved all of us at Street Help. She was the “grandmother” who enjoyed giving all of us hugs. Joan didn’t know, but she was the only grandmother I’ve ever had. I miss you my friend, and I am so happy you taught me the abundance and healing of a hug, or two.
© Zora Zebic 2018
I walked out the kitchen door for a moment of fresh air and was surprised by the sight of a man on the ground sitting against the wall. He appeared to be in pain, and I looked down at his shoeless feet. Red and swollen, his feet looked as though they had received a severe beating. His toes were wrapped with paper napkins to keep the toes separated.
I walked over to the man and asked him if he needed help. He looked up at me and thanked me graciously for caring. My heart twinged, that feeling like a string tugging the muscle.
Looking at his worn and ragged shoes, I asked if he needed a pair. He said yes, but he had already made his request to my staff, and there were no size 13. I told him I could fix that and asked our volunteer driver Dan if he would go to the second-hand store to pick up a pair. Dan asked me to call ahead to ensure they had size 13 shoes.
As Dan drove away, Norman, as I’ll call him, said, “I can’t believe you are doing this for me. I’ve been at another charity for two weeks, and they didn’t help me.”
Norman’s words jogged my memory of a recent event. As I’d concluded giving a tour of our facilities to a man and his wife, the gentleman said, ” Don’t you think there are already enough charities helping the homeless?” His question made me smile, as I’ve heard it so many times. I’d answered him, “No single charity is the be all and end all.” I thought how beautiful it would have been for the man and his wife to have heard Norman’s story. They would have understood how much the homeless depend on Street Help.
I offered Norman a chair to sit on, but he refused to say the medical clinic told him to keep his feet elevated, and to put ice packs on them. I’d thought I’d heard all the stupid advice given to the homeless! If this advice came from medical professionals, then that was icing on the cake. Where is a homeless man supposed to get free ice packs?
I looked at his feet and legs and asked if he had diabetes? He said no, but he did have a fungal infection. Ice packs and elevation for a fungal infection? Now that was the decoration on the iced cake! I’ve never heard of that medical advice for Athlete’s Foot.
I’d felt saddened as a woman with several children walked past us. The looks on their faces made me feel protective toward Norman. I could not honestly discern the meaning of the looks, but I said nothing and hoped they witnessed the real plight of a fellow human.
Melissa and I went into the centre to look for foot powder, antifungal cream, gauze, and medical tape. We found medicated body powder, triple antibiotic cream, gauze and medical tape which I brought out to him. Melissa fetched two tubs, one with soapy water and the other rinse water. She volunteered to wash his feet for him, but he refused. Her offer made my thoughts go to my vision of the lady in the Bible who washed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair.
I see a lot of that, a homeless person sharing the little food they have, or taking their shirt off their back for another. The humility and compassion exhibited are genuinely inspiring.
Others joined our circle, and Norman became more comfortable with us. He told us, a lawnmower accident caused him to lose his big toe and mangled his foot. Norman said the doctors had done a poor job, and he’s suffered all his life.
Norman smiled and said, “I’ve never been here before, but a lot of people have been telling me how great this place is.” He went on to explain circumstances had changed for him, and he’d slowly made his way to Street Help. I thought, looking at his feet, how excruciating the pain must have been.
Dan returned from shopping with the Street Help debit card at the Value Village in South Windsor. He handed a pair of shoes to Norman saying, “This is all they had.” Norman accepted the shoes and exclaimed, “They are perfect! Look at the soles; they are almost brand new!” It is incredible what a difference $16 can make.
After drying his feet, Norman massaged the antibiotic cream over both of his feet. Tim and Melissa searched and found ankle socks, in the extra large size he needed. Norman said most socks hurt his legs. After putting on a pair, he tucked away the rest of the treasured package in his backpack.
Norman picked up his worn shoes without soles and told us how he’d cut up a piece of foam he’d found to make inserts. He said, “That’s all that’s been keeping the stones away from my feet.”
I watched with curiosity as he started to pull out the foam. He stopped and looked inside the new shoe, then said, “I don’t need these, there are arch supports in the new ones!”
Norman liberally shook the medicated body powder into both of his new shoes. I told him the perfect solution also included having a second pair to put on every 24 hours.
Slipping on the first shoe, Norman exclaimed, “They fit perfect! I would jump up and down with joy, but I know how much that would hurt me!”
Melissa reached for the old shoes and, he stopped her. I understood why Norman resisted the idea of throwing them out. When you are homeless, everything you can keep in your possession is a treasure.
Melissa asked him, “You don’t plan to wear these again, do you?” Norman smiled at her and answered her, “No I won’t. But please pick them up by the laces.”
Norman then went into the centre to have a meal. I told him if he came on Tuesday, I would buy the proper antifungal cream for him. I hope he does return to Street Help.
I thank God for the opportunities I have to bear witness to his loving kindness. I also thank God for Dan, Tim and Melissa’s help to give comfort and help to minimize the suffering of another.
©Zora Zebic 2018
Update 1: A generous Friend on Facebook will be delivering us more size 13 shoes! I’ll have an extra pair for Norman!
Update 2: Norman returned to Street Help today! We gave him the anti-fungal cream and medicated foot powder. He enjoyed a meal with us, and I gave him a printed copy of my story. I told him about our Facebook Friend and he is happy to know he will have a second pair of size 13’s!