Inner City Diary
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I'm proud to live in Winnipeg's West End
August 11, 2002
Last week a visiting group of high school students asked me why I’m so crazy about downtown Winnipeg. They were largely suburban and rural youth, here to help with the renovation of a derelict West End apartment block.

Some of them wondered how I could love the crowds, noise, and pollution. The sights, sounds and smells of the neighbourhood made some of them pretty uncomfortable.

I responded as best I could, but I’ve kept thinking about their question all week long.

I guess I’m just hooked on the “hood.”

I love the action that’s part of life in the big city. Whatever your interest or talent, there’s always a related activity to which you can lend your attention and effort. I love the bright lights, the music, the pace. I’m fascinated by the pursuit of excellence in seemingly every endeavor known to man – both good and evil.

I love the diversity of the city – especially in the core area. As I walk the streets of the West End, I picture myself in a veritable enchanted forest of cultures, values and motivations. There is no end of learning or wonder as I look around me.

But the action and diversity can be quite threatening at times. There are things about the city that don’t always leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Even then, however, there’s always a new way to appreciate the perspective of life in the West End. Here’s a couple of examples…

Last Sunday evening my 15 year old son, Jared, went out for a little fun and harmless recreation with three of his friends. They were skateboarding in the empty parking lot of Lion’s Manor.

Four other youth approached them and demanded that the guys hand over their boards. The thieving punks, all aboriginal, identified themselves as Indian Posse. I was pretty ticked off. Having the kids fill out a police report didn’t seem to suffice. I drove them through the neighbourhood trying to find the thieves and the boards.

Each time I saw a few aboriginal guys hanging out together I wondered if they were the ones. I felt like I was profiling all those groups of young aboriginal males as possible gang goofs or thieves. Each group became suspect. I didn’t like the feeling cause I knew it wasn’t true.

But as we drove, I became increasingly thankful that I live in the West End. I figure if I didn’t live here that momentary suspicion might become a lasting prejudice.

People living in some other communities will never meet an aboriginal person, so they form all their opinions about aboriginal people from crime headlines and stereotypical main street drunks.  Positive relationships with aboriginal youth and adults in the West End give me a far better perspective on the bad examples.  

Then, last Tuesday I heard that one of the prostitutes in our neighbourhood had been raped. Two guys were charged with kidnapping and a perverted sexual assault with a weapon. One of the guys was released after his mom posted a surety. I wonder how Manny felt getting his mom to sign him out. Oh, in case you’re wondering, Manny’s not from the inner city.

What would you say if you heard about a prostitute who got raped? Would you figure it’s an occupational hazard and dismiss her pain? Would you figure she had it coming? I know that’s what some people think. I’ve heard them say it.

I hope those two guys pay a hefty price for what they did to that woman. But I’m nervous that since she doesn’t have a fixed address or phone, charges against them could get dropped if the court can’t contact her. So I passed word to her that she could temporarily use the church as a mailing address and got her a place to receive phone messages.

Given my rants in some of these columns about prostitution, the woman was surprised that I wanted to help her. But my folks taught me early that “even if you hate the sin, you better love the sinner, cause we’ve all got our problems.”

I’ve learned that being upset about what she does on the street is no excuse for being indifferent to her pain. Nobody “deserves” to be raped – even a prostitute. Another lesson from life in the neighbourhood…

For many politicians and policy wonks, neighbourhoods like ours become a haunting reminder of the limits of public policy and tax dollars.

For too many folks from other neighbourhoods, inner-city communities have simply become places to avoid.

As for myself, I’m proud to live in the West End. I’m convinced that issues and policies are best understood when transposed onto faces of the people I know as neighbours.  And I believe that there’s always more to learn – about myself as well as the world around me.
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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