Deborah Richardson

When is the last time you really took the time to speak with a homeless person?  They may even be Anishinaabe, and still, many of us look the other way.  I know I am guilty of it, more often than I care to admit.

But not my fiancée.  (That has a nice ring to it!…  LOL  Get it…  ring!)  Anyways…

My partner, Deborah Richardson has always found friendship with people on the street.  Many street people know her by name from her days at the Native Canadian Centre.

We often walk down the street and she runs into her homeless friends.  She chats, laughs and exchanges stories.  She’ll even give them a few bucks, not to move them along, but so they can take care of themselves.  She always makes a little suggestion of how they can best use the donation.

There’s no tax write off or anything.  No cameras or media spotlight.  Just a woman who really cares for these people.  I usually hang back, ashamed of myself.

Deborah is the epitome of goodness. Caring for people just because they are people.

In 2008, Deborah was selected to take part in the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Program.  It’s quite an honour.  During that time, this small group of elite business, labour, government, and NGOs representatives have the opportunity to tour the country, meet some of Canada’s most influential people and take part in some unique Canadian experiences.

During their stop in Calgary, Deborah and this group paid a visit to the Mustard Seed, a shelter and Christian service organization dedicated to serving the homeless and the poor.  Most of the participants stayed to volunteer, but as Deborah recalls, most of her group spent the time mingling with shelter staff and, in her words, “looking kinda awkward”.  Meanwhile, Deborah spoke at length to the homeless clientele, offering helpful advice and companionship.

Among a shelter full of men, Deb sat down to speak with two First Nations ladies huddling in a far corner.

“I was just so moved by them,” she remembers fondly.  “We spent about two hours together, talking about hope.  We spoke at length about taking charge of their own destiny.”

They talked about the challenges of finding housing and overcoming homelessness.

“I suggested they try to start smaller – like a room, instead of an apartment,” said Deborah. “But it’s a vicious cycle.  They couldn’t get a job because they didn’t have bus fare.  They couldn’t get a room because they couldn’t get a job.”

The discussion turned emotional when they disclosed that they had both been victims of sexual violence in the city’s shelters.  But she remembers them not because they were victims, but that they were strong and resilient Cree women.

“But despite their situation, they were courageous and had good heads on their shoulders, recalls Deborah.  “I remember this one woman was very strong.  A true champion of First Nations women’s issues.  A real advocate for raising awareness of struggle and challenge aboriginal women face.”

They were fortunate enough to find work, but needed bus fare simple to get there.  As they departed, Deborah was happy to oblige and give the ladies a few bucks.

A few days ago, three years later, Deborah receives this e-mail:

Hey Deborah:

We met a few years ago.  Well, life has took a awesome change for us.  We now have our own place and have been here for over a year.  We work and live life.  But we don’t forget what we went through.  It makes us stronger, more grateful and hopeful.

Anyways, we owe you $7.24 or something…  I do remember I said I would pay you back.  Can we somehow get it back to you?  This is so important for us.  You gave us some money and we used it I do believe for bus fare to go to work.  See, your contribution so small as it may have seemed was huge for us.  We eventually got out of homelessness by getting bus tickets to go to work.

Thanks Deborah.  We haven’t forgot about you.  We talk about you and how your voice gave us hope.