Inner City Diary
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Time to take responsibility for problems...
November 9, 2003
The whole house was a pigpen. Actually, I’ve never been in a pigpen, but I couldn't imagine it being much worse. This was another case in which the line between human and animal behavior is sometimes blurred.

There was rotten food in a stained infant carrier. Empty beer bottles and drug paraphernalia throughout the house. Chicken bones, leftovers, filthy plates and utensils littered the floors as though waiting for rodents to come and clean them. There were clothes steeped in urine and body odour, soiled bare mattresses on the floor, and the stench of bad plumbing.

Walking through this house of misery, I couldn’t help but wonder what caused the mess. But I couldn’t blame it all on residential schools, sexual abuse, generational poverty, loss of traditional culture or bad parenting. This was just another messed-up white guy with no real excuse for a failed lifestyle. If he wasn’t white, at least some of the traditional explanations of “root causes” might have alleviated his need to take responsibility for his actions.

His parents had been trying to help their prodigal for years. They purchased this rooming house for him. The mortgage included some funds for repairs. Their son told them he would fix up the house, live there and manage the remaining suites in the building. He pitched it as his way to get his life on track, his own personal, “sustainable economic development” plan. He was “building capacity” to transform himself into a responsible citizen and a son they could be proud of.

Maybe he had some good intentions. But it’s tough building capacity on a broken foundation. The renovation money disappeared quickly, without any visible improvements in the house. But there were plenty of addicts and prostitutes frequenting the place. We saw the guy high on the streets around our church.

I felt bad for his folks. I met them a week before everyone was kicked out and the house was boarded. Now they have to make payments on an uninhabitable house. Worse yet, they’ve come to realize that they might not live long enough to see their son change for the better. Their disappointment and pain was evident as we talked.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first or last time things didn’t work out as hoped, despite great potential.

Remember the tragic stories of the Mushuau Innu in Davis Inlet? Kids huffing gas and hanging themselves. Adult despair, addiction and domestic abuse. One of the highest suicide rates in the world. It made national news for awhile. The suggestion was made that things would be better if they could relocate. The physical living conditions were obviously horrible.

So the federal government built a new town and relocated the residents. No more Davis Inlet! Welcome to the beautiful new town of Natuashish. Fifteen kilometers west and 152 million dollars later much had changed. There were new houses with indoor plumbing. There was a new school, a modern health center, an airport, new roads, a concrete wharf, a firehall, a recreation centre, a well-stocked store. Truly this was a place where a “healing process” would bear fruit.

Instead, residents and reporters are now telling stories of continued boozing and huffing, an ineffective band council, rampant bootlegging and corruption galore. People debate as to whether that is a result or a cause of the loss of traditional culture and dependence on the white man.

One resident of Natuashish commented on the failure of law, politics and community. She made the interesting observation that as long as blame is shifted to other people, to white people, the RCMP and government, the situation will remain hopeless.

Even though I’ve never been to the town of Natuashish, and I probably don’t know all there is to know about the situation, I believe her.

Back here in the West End of Winnipeg, her words echoed in my mind as I walked through the pigpen with the prodigal. He had come back to pick up a few more of his belongings. He professed great indignation at “the people who did this.” For some reason, it was important that others believe he was purely a victim of circumstance and a few shady characters. There was no admission of guilt or acceptance of responsibility.

In a way, I like him and feel bad for him. But until he admits that part of the problem lies within himself, there is no geographical or circumstantial change that will miraculously transform his life.

It’s not just about what others give you. It’s also about what you do with what you have. Renovated buildings can’t outlast a dilapidated lifestyle.
Copyright 2003
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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