Everyone is Welcome in The Quarters
On a warm July evening, I went to experience some of the public art installations of Dirt City: Dream City in The Quarters area of Boyle Street. I began my journey at the Community Garden, the site of the former Royal Hotel. This hotel was demolished in April, 2011. A man saw me wandering among the wattled garden glory and asked what this was all about. Two women came and then, another two. We had a simple conversation among strangers, one of the benefits of public art.
I had my own memories of this space. The night before the first “john school” in May, 1996, a young, sexually exploited woman was murdered outside the Mount Royal. The next morning, we could all see the crime scene as we began to educate men about the impact of their actions.
Next I moved to the corner of Jasper Avenue and 95 Street, I took a photo of the “Everyone is Welcome” teepee poles circled by flowers, careful to avoid a couple I saw sitting under the trees. They called me over and asked me what I thought of the teepee. They were drinking and invited me to share a beer. I said, thanks, but, I am driving.
I introduced myself. I thought the woman looked familiar. She said her first name and I immediately remembered the last time I had seen her. Ten years ago, I had popped into Kindred House, a safe, caring space for street-involved folks. She knew I wrote for Boyle McCauley News and gave me a poem to share called “Has Anyone Seen My Heart?”
For the last ten years, her poem has been read at workshops, as recently as the week before I saw her. I tell people I have not seen her since that chance encounter ten years ago and don’t know where she is. That night, thanks to Dirt City: Dream City, I received the gift of seeing her and telling her how many people have experienced her poem. It’s a plea from a person who feels invisible in Edmonton to see into her heart, to find our common humanity.
She wept and told me of her grief of losing seven family members this past year. She said she felt so overwhelmed she started drinking again and could easily see death as a way to end the pain. She asked, “Can you take me to the Hope Mission? I dropped out, but, maybe they’ll take me back.”
We got up to leave, and in the spirit of generosity, she took the two remaining beers over to two men on the other side of the green space. One man asked me to take his photo in front of the “Everyone is Welcome” teepee so he could put it on Facebook. Thanks to public art, Hotmail, Facebook, and free access at our public libraries, those who are on the edge can give voice to their experiences.
PS. The Hope Mission took her in.