The Doorway…in history      Published Friday, February 6, 2009 6:28PM MST

 “ One of the city’s most successful programs aimed at getting young people off the streets is in trouble. Smoke damage gutted The Doorway after a restaurant fire in the same strip mall on January 11th.
The Doorway has helped more than 1,000 young people get off the street. The fire means close to 100 kids don’t have access to an important resource.

Aaron McClean graduated from The Doorway program four years ago.
“When I was on the street, I felt I had no pride, I didn’t know where I belonged and now I’m going to college and making a life for myself,’ says McClean. …”

The evening of Jan. 11, 2009 I was attending an art event in Calgary South. I was late arriving at the fire. As I watched it melt our roof and burn our spaces, ‘what-if’ questions raced in my mind. I watched our ‘Calgary’s finest’ firefighters do their skilled magic to terminate the hungry flames. That night 3 businesses, us included lost their inventory and space and 2 never recovered.

As we moved forward in the days that followed, we understood the deep significance of tangible community impact in a new way. The resilience of The Doorway was orchestrated in the actions of community support and in the choices of our community to adapt and roll with reality.

With the permission of our insurance company, together we restored our space with new paint and electrical. We moved back into our space April 1 onto a concrete floor, a card table and six chairs given to us by a church, and a telephone which we had kept active through our downtime to keep us in touch and available for updates to young people whose main concern was that we were all okay.

We only missed 10 weeks of ‘open for business’ for young people participating with The Doorway community in planning their strategies to get off the street. Several observed that the fire had given them opportunity to reflect about the ‘what if’ of becoming dependent on a place of help. They affirmed that going forward they always need to be mindful of the danger of depending on others, and to stay committed to their own goals for autonomy in their own choices for their personal growth.

We have long considered the reality of young people living on our streets as a ‘long emergency’. What they need more than anything is support for their personhood to participate with other people they can trust. They find this in regular community people who pay attention and care.  Community is everything. Community can make possible what is helpful to fill gaps and hearts of young people seeking to belong among us.

The 2011 fire in our history deepened the metaphor we have often used to explain our role as ‘community’. For young people in crisis, expert skill sets are helpful and needed to deal with the ‘fires’ of crisis. As regular community folks, our shared humanity accepts and respects young people, and offers ‘space’ for them to be safe, to de-stress and normalize their lives to everyday reality.


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