Life On The Streets

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Western People Magazine

5 April 1990

By Terry Garchinski

Terry Garchinski left his family in Naicam, Saskatchewan to live among the homeless. His personal odyssey has given him answers to questions he never would have asked.

Terry Garchinski has been living on the street in the United States to develop an understanding of the reasons for homelessness. Western people interviewed him August 24, 1989, and asked him to send an update on his travels and experiences.

The following is an account of his time among the homeless of New York City and Washington, D.C.
“Why do you eat food from garbage cans?” I asked the woman who was told to leave Washington’s train station.  Kitty, the homeless mother of five adult children replied, “I’m hungry.  I hate to see food go to waste.  Eating food from garbage is no different than when I ate the unwanted food from my children’s plates.”

Across the street, the man’s hand was out.   “Why don’t you work for your money instead of begging?” I asked him.  Ted, the homeless mentally ill man replied, “I’m  royalty;  kings and queens and members of royal families aren’t allowed to work.”

One block further down and a few minutes walk from the Capitol building, a skinny woman was soliciting. “Why are you selling yourself?” I asked Janet, the homeless Crack addict, who was offering me “nice sex” for $4, did not reply.

Since hitchhiking from my home in Naicam, Saskatchewan, on July 14,1989, I have been in the United States surviving as a homeless street musician. My instrument is an  Andean flute called a quena. The first three months were spent in Washington, where I slept in a decaying conveyor machine behind the Union Station train terminal, a bush beside Capitol Hill Hospital and a hidden grate in a park.  From there, I traveled to New York City where I slept on a rooftop in Greenwich Village, a bush in Central Park, a platform of an outdoor  church nativity scene and a cardboard box near Fordham University.  After a heavy snowfall broke my box and gave me numb feet and sore joints, I moved underground.  I slept in subway entrances and trains until the police told me to go to a shelter.

While in the 1000-man Atlantic Avenue city-run shelter, sleeping men in the neighboring beds had their pockets cut and wallets, shoes and false teeth stolen. Fortunately,  I slept with my boots on and had nothing taken during my nine-night stay. On the tenth day, I was transferred to a small 12 man church-run shelter.  I left the smaller shelter on Christmas Eve and my new “home” became a four-by-seven foot room in a flop house on Bowery Street – a street infamous for its drunks and junkies.

My street life would be much more severe if I didn’t have the advantage of music. The money earned from performing enables me to wash my clothes at laundromats and buy food. I wash in restrooms of fast-food restaurants and shower at church-run missions or at city-run bath facilities.  I see my voluntary homelessness as a personal religious calling by which I am better able to understand through experiencing poverty.  I have come to know the homeless on a first name basis and have experienced the de-stabilizing effect society has on “the homeless” and vice versa.  To a certain degree, Kitty, Ted and Janet are each personally responsible for their own homeless condition.  But society is also responsible by maintaining social and economic structures which supply or deny individuals opportunities and resources to grow and become productive.

Ted was friendly and after becoming more acquainted with this large black man, I asked why he ran from the psychiatric hospital.  “I didn’t like it,” said the 32-year-old.  There were a lot of crazy people there.”   Ted is a good example why mentally ill people makeup as much as 50 percent of the Washington homeless population.  Ted is too  well to be institutionalized but not well enough to cope on his own.  Unfortunately, adequate mental health services such as group homes, supervised employment  opportunities and specialized recreational programs are severely out of reach for many mentally ill people.   “The reasons why such resources are not available in the United States are painfully clear.  Medical care is costly and the medical insurance industry is primarily for profit, with human care second.  Its structure is controlled by a “more-money-mentality.”

Another acquaintance, Keith, is not homeless. His part-time job as a telephone sales representative enables him to rent a one-bedroom apartment but not to buy medical insurance.   When we  introduced ourselves, he stuck out his left hand. “Two years ago, I fell and broke a bone in my right hand,” explained Ted. “I had to decide either to get it fixed and become homeless or to pay the rent.  I paid the rent.  It still hurts when I shake with my broken hand so I use my left.”

Before I left Washington, I joined in the massive Housing Now March which focused on the extreme shortage of affordable housing. The speakers identified the devastation Reagonomics brought to America’s poor;  the cuts to social programs, the lack of incentive programs to construct housing for people of moderate to low income and the astronomical military spending which put the nation into severe debt.  The inner city experiences housing and school deterioration and high crime. It contains a severely disadvantaged population known as the underclass which is disproportionately young, uneducated, unskilled and poor.  They lack of resources to be able to contribute to society.

It is a short step from the inner city to homelessness.  The homeless life lacks good food, sleep and cleanliness. The lack of security is stressful and exposure to the elements erodes a person from inside and out.  The stigma of being an untouchable detaches and disaffiliates the person from the rest of society.  Loneliness is won and love lost. Addicts, especially alcoholic winos and drug dependent junkies, are the best known group of all homeless people. The desire to consume has command of their will and controls their life.

Janet didn’t have to explain why she prostituted herself. I looked at her shriveled body.  She was starving.   When it’s a choice between food or Crack, the addict will choose not to eat.  I wouldn’t give Janet money, but I did give her food, which she eventually ate.  In order to feed their unquenchable desire, some chronic substance abusers beg, some prostitute themselves, others sell drugs and still others turn to violent crime.

A three-year-old girl sang and danced along as I played Jingle Bells on a New York subway platform.  I noticed a man to my left looking at the girl, then at me, then at the girl again.  I said to him,  “Now you believe the story about the Pied Piper and the magic of children and the flute?” His response surprised me. “I was going to push you down and steal the money from your tip jar but I couldn’t do it when I saw how happy you were making that little kid,” he said.   I thanked him for not doing it and told him the kid was making me happy too. Then I asked him why he would want to steal my money in the first place.  For the next half hour Steve told me his problems. He had a severe dependance on alcohol, a marriage failure, homelessness and had lost his job as a substance abuse counsellor. He showed his old work identification cards. He also showed me a butcher knife in his pocket but assured me that he would never have used it on me. He was afraid of all the people who do Crack.  I gave him some money for a hamburger.

Some of my other homeless acquaintances are Roxy, who ran away. from her sexually abusive father;  Steve, who was evicted after real estate developers bought the  apartment building; Lou, whose life was a merry-go-round from the street to prison to the street again; Bob, who gave up hope after his wife asked for a divorce; Louis, whose sense of self purpose was destroyed by the Vietnam war; John who was laid off work without savings in the bank; Juan, who was an illegal immigrant from Central America,  Tom, Elizabeth and baby-to-be who eloped into homelessness and Kitty, who ran away from the confinement and loneliness of an old folks home.  It is sad but the list goes on.

When a friend came from Saskatchewan to visit during my last days in New York City, the dangers of street life were magnified.  Although a hotel room was rented during her visit, much of the time was spent on the street. I showed her the different places I slept, ate and busked. I introduced her to some of my homeless friends. We also worked together as volunteers at St. Francis Xavier food service which provides a meal to over 1,200 people each Sunday.  Her presence made me acutely aware of the worry my lifestyle is causing her, my Mom and Dad, and my family and friends. The people who love me don’t want me to be homeless and I don’t want anyone to be homeless either.

On January 22, 1990, I crossed the border and as I played O Canada on my quena, it felt as if a great burden was lifted from my shoulders.  Although I am now in my homeland, I’m still far from home. I made a commitment to live the homeless life in Canada. Even though I believe Canadian systems and structures are more caring and recognize the inherent dignity of each human being, we still have homeless people here. I want to know why.  Until July 13, 1990, when I plan to return for Naicam’s Homecoming celebration, I will be living without a home in Toronto and Quebec City.

The Book: Grandmother, by Elaine Woodward

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A wonderful and meaningful gift! Grandmother is a collection of poetry and short stories that speaks to the readers about native traditions and spirituality, beliefs and values. It is about death being a part of the circle of life, mourning and rejoicing in the gift of life, treating all life with reverence, and believing in dreams, visions and spirits. It is about learning to love and understand with our hearts as we walk on this earth, despite the many difficulties that challenge us to grow. It is about learning to heal from loss. It is a book written for Elaine’s little granny, Victoria Bloomstrand. Her Grandmother died in December 1995 at the age of 100. Whenever her little granny was leaving to go somewhere, she would say, “I’m going now.” She did this so her spirit would not be left behind. She taught Elaine that all things have a spirit and must be treated with gentleness and respect – and through her stories, such as “Travellers of the Night”, that death is only a spiritual transition that brings one closer to the Creator. Elaine Woodward is a Metis woman, born and raised in Anzac, a small community in northern Alberta. She is the granddaughter of Victoria Bloomstrand. After finishing highschool, she moved to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories (NT), to live near her grandmother. In 1981, she moved to Yellowknife, NT, and in 2004, she moved to Millarville, AB, where she now resides.

A Presentation of I Believe

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Presenting Terry Garchinski of Life Works, I Believe at the National Indigenous Sexual Abuse Conference, February 21-24, 2005.

“Terry Garchinski of Life Works has been asked to present at the National Indigineous Sexual Abuse Conference in Edmonton.  February 21-24, 2005.  The name of Terry’s presentation is called, I Believe.

This presentation is about creative ways to walk the healing path.  It is based on a little book, I Believe which is “…a compassionate story about a raindrop’s life, losses and loves.”  News North, Yellowknife, NT.

I Believe is a parable about human life. It helps people of all ages find a way to acknowledge and accpet life’s hurt and pain, in order to heal and live a truer life without carrying so much baggage.

The author and presenter, Terry Garchinski, offers Healing from Loss and Grief Workshops with co-facilitators. In this presentation, Terry presents some of the creative strategies from these workshops that have invited many people to heal from hurt and pain of abuse and loss. The workshops and this presentation are based on the belief that each of us already know everything we need to know to heal. What this presentation and the healing strategies will do is invite knowledge to awaken in each of us with ease and gentleness, so that we can action it in good ways. In doing so, we become in control of our own healing, in our way, in our own time. Each of us is her or his own healing expert. Healing does not have to hurt! Healing is about completing the circle, coming to a place of balance and wholeness.

Life Lessons Come Full Circle

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By Kathy Ponath
Naicam News
Volume 18 No.10 Friday, March 10, 2006

Terry Garchinski has made helping people come to terms with grief and loss his life work. Just as he and his own family were coming to terms with a very profound loss, he returned to his alma mater, Naicam School, to share with its students about his work and the lessons he has learned.

On March 1st, Terry spent a morning giving two presentations to Grades 7 to 9 and Grades 10 to 12, based on his book, I Believe. He shared with the students that he was home in Naicam because his mother was in the process of dying. After a very long and courageous battle with cancer, Stella Garchinski passed away within days of Terry’s presentation at the school.

Terry spoke warmly and informally to the groups of students, disarming them with his direct approach to a subject that most find difficult to talk about.  But he said, all of us, if we are human beings who have made attachments, have had to deal with loss at one time or another in our lives, and will deal with loss and pain again. It is what we choose to do with those experiences that will make the difference in our lives and in the lives of others.

His own, very present, situation was used as an example.  His mother had been dealing with a devastating illness for 19 years and her choices in the face of the losses the illness brought was to live her life fully. It was an experience that taught him and other members of his family to value every moment.

Terry and his wife Elaine Woodward co-own Life Works Counselling Services, with offices in Yellowknife, N.W.T. and Millarville, Alta.  Terry is a Therapeutic Counsellor and Workshop Facilitator who has been called to give workshops all over Canada, especially in the north. He and members of the Life Works team have been brought in to help communities deal with tragedies such as death due to accidents, violence and suicide.  He has also worked with people struggling to recover from family violence or alcohol and drug abuse.  However he stresses that what he does is help people to find healing from within.

He told the students, “You are the only person who can deal with your own hurt and pain.”

Terry has traveled an interesting road to his current expression of his life work. He values the roots his family, his faith and the community of his youth have given him.  He says it gave him a sense of belonging and appreciation for the safety of community.

One of his foundational experiences happened when he was a little boy playing at the town’s ball diamonds. Curiosity led to a dangerous and violent encounter with the pitching machine, which resulted in a brain injury and partial paralysis. Terry recovered but still walks with a limp as a result of the accident.  He told the students, “One thing I was told over and over again after the accident was, “You are lucky to be alive.” “And. . . I believed it.” He went on, “But you know if I’m lucky to be alive… so are you.”

That appreciation for life and all its attending joys and sorrows was expanded throughout several other life experiences.  After attaining a degree in Philosophy, Terry was drawn to teach English at an orphanage in South America. This would be an adventure by most standards without considering that he decided to hitchhike to get there. His parents later told him that when he left Naicam, they were afraid that it would be the last time they would see him.

Their fears were not groundless it was a dangerous time to travel through Central and South America, a time of revolution and lawlessness.  At one point Terry was robbed and left with $5.00 to his name.  He says that this experience, essentially an experience of being powerless, opened his eyes to the fact that for most people in the world, life was not what he had experienced in Naicam.

After teaching English in Peru for a couple of years, he decided to see for himself why so many people were homeless in the big cities of North America and what it was like to live on the street.

He told this part of his story to the students with the help of a quena, a Peruvian recorder-like instrument. This simple musical instrument became the source of his livelihood and a source of envy of other street people. He was able to buy food each day with the money he made busking, a luxury not every street person could afford. He played a couple of simple tunes for the students and explained that his experiences on the street in cities like Washington, New York and Miami gave him a greater understanding of what the world was like outside of his experience as a white, middle class male from a relatively privileged background.

After 18 months living on the street, he returned to Saskatchewan and became a live-in helper for a man suffering from cerebral palsy, while taking a degree in social work. His work in therapeutic counselling led him to Northern Canada and to his present day work.

He wrote I Believe as a tool to use in his work. It looks and reads like a children’s book but is actually a parable for adults. He invited a person from each audience to come forward and read the book aloud to their peers and he further invited students to respond to the symbolism in the book and what it meant to them.

The symbolism of the book and a message that resonates throughout the therapeutic; work Terry does is that we are all connected through human experience and that pain and loss are essential parts of that experience. Those difficult experiences can present blockages in our pathway or journey through life that keep us from experiencing a full life.

However if we choose to persist, to have faith and look to our life map or set of beliefs for direction, we will come into that fullness. He said  that he was able to take risks because of his faith and his belief that he had a “map” inside that would guide him if he took time to find out where it directed him. He encouraged the students to look for that inner direction, unique to each person.

Terry also took extra pleasure in pointing out that the models for some of the characters in the book were members of his own family – his son Thomas, his dad Frank and his grandfather. The heritage reflected in the artwork is also reflected in the message that the human connections we have in life can cause us grief and pain when they are lost, but they are also a source of healing and re-connection that can bring us full circle to a place of wholeness. This is a lesson Terry continues to learn, even as he teaches it to others.

Love In A Peruvian Orphanage – Hogar Belen

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Love in a Peruvian Orphanage
Published: Friday, July 31, 1987, 12:43 pm |   Author: By Terry Garchinski    

Living in Peru, in the city of Moquegua, is a most remarkable woman.  Although her name is Sister Loretta Bonokoski, her 57 children call her “Ya Ya.”

Sister Loretta and Terry Garchinski, Terry's Return Visit to Moquegua, Peru, in April 2009

St. Loretta was born June 15th, 1931, on a farm ear Torquay, Saskatchewan, to immigrant parents of German descent.  She was the twelfth of fifteen brothers and sisters.  As a child, she would tell her mother that she was either going to be a cowgirl or a nun.  On August 8th, 1948, at the age of 18, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions.  As a religious in Canada, she taught in elementary schools, cooked in convent boarding houses, and cared for the ill and elderly nuns.  An excellent background for the mission that lay before her.

In 1968, she was selected to serve as a missionary in Peru.  She started her work organizing catechetic’s in the Moquegua Parish.  However, the scope of her missionary work expanded one evening when the parish priest, Fr. Francis Fahlman, a Canadian Franciscan Friar originally from Saskatchewan and herself, saw a little 9-year-old girl huddled up alone on a corner of the plaza.  It was ten o’clock on a cold night and the little girl didn’t have a jacket or anything to keep herself warm.  She wouldn’t talk, only look up with her dirty scaly face and smile.  She was brought to Sr. Loretta’s house, given something hot to eat and drink, then put to sleep.  This little girl, Rosa Flores, was the first of many children to come to “Hogar Belen” (Bethlehem Home), which is the official name of St. Loretta’s home.  Rosa is now 23 years old and is studying to be a nurse in Arequipa.

Since that time, Sr. Loretta’s home has grown substantially and has become a large family setting for people with “special needs.”  To really appreciate Sr. Loretta and her home, one should live with her – at least for a day.

Today is an ordinary school day in Sr. Loretta’s home.  Before the sixth hour, Sr. Loretta has walked through the three cramped bedrooms, has turned on the lights and has awakened her children.  Miraculously, without major hassles, the 57 children take turns using either the one full or the two half bathrooms.

Walking quietly but quickly to the kitchen – which also serves as the dining room – Sr. Loretta moves about her chores with the experience of a thousand mornings.  By 6:01 a.m., the water is boiling on the propane stove, the two washing machines are cleaning the baby diapers – every day is wash day; and breakfast is being prepared.  Today’s menu is toast and corn meal.

Justo, at the age of 13 was left to fend for himself being affected by a cancerous type of illness causing lumps to form on the lymph nodes.  After two years of abandonment and of beating the odds, he faced still another problem – alcoholism.  He asked the local parish priest for help.  It has been nine years of deceiving death and beating the odds.  Justo, though himself not well, studied nursing and is one of the Sister’s trusted helpers – always there when a hand is needed.

At 6:40 a.m., some of the smallest people in the house, Emanual, Richard, Erik and Marco, find themselves being fed.  The oldest of four, Emanual is soon to celebrate his first birthday.

After everybody else has been served, Sr. Loretta herself breaks for breakfast with Teodora Estella, an 85-year-old woman who used to be a dancer, and Justo.

At this point the house is quite: the primary school children have left for their morning classes; most of the older ones go to school in the afternoon or evening.  Sr. Loretta sends Fernando to check on Mario, one of the many children who doesn’t live in the house but who regularly eats at Hogar Belen.  He hasn’t been coming lately.   She herself checks on a crying baby.

At 8:00 a.m., all those in the house gather for family prayer.  After prayers, the breakfast dishes are gathered and washed.  The third load of clothes are put into the washing machine.

The morning passes but not without a visit from a retired school teacher who has dropped in to play with the young tots and who regularly gives gifts of clothing, furniture, and money.  Also visiting is an impoverished mother who asks if her two boys may eat with the Hogar Belen family.  They are welcomed.

The house itself is old and is made of mud bricks.  Many of the walls are falling down piece by piece. St. Loretta worries every time there is tremor.  She worries even more about the big black bug called the “chirmacha,” which thrives in walls like Hogar Belen’s.  At night, the bug painlessly draws blood from its sleeping victims’ inner organs.  Fortunately, none of the children seem to have been bitten by a diseased bug yet.

Sr. Loretta dreams of living in a new Hogar Belen, where there wouldn’t be a rat problem, water shortages, falling walls, poor plumbing, a space problem or “chirmachas.”  But dreams are for leisure time.  Right now dinner must be prepared.  At 1:00 p.m., dinner is served to the little children and to the elderly – many of whom don’t live in Hogar Belen but come to eat there.  Then diner is served to everybody else.  Sr. Loretta serves herself last as is her custom.

During the meal Sr. Loretta talks about her kids.  She points to Juanito and explains that when he came to her home it took quite some patience and love to break him of his street taught habits.  She concludes with a smile and a nod of approval, “look at him now such a nice boy!”

She also talks of Claudio and Rodrigo, two young men form her home who are in the United States receiving medical attention.  She hopes and prays for the best and speaks highly of Stephanie Williams, a lay missionary from the United States who made the medical and other arrangements that made their trip and treatment possible.

By the middle of the afternoon, while the students of the house are doing their homework, another visitor calls.  This time it’s the manager of a local trucking company  He wants to know more about the home and how his company and family can help.  Sr. Loretta answers his questions, shows him around the house and introduces him to some of the family members.  He is impressed.

Five o’clock finds Dr. Loretta patching up a youngster’s cut knee.  Just before six, she leaves to attend Mass.  Returning at 7:00, se serves potato salad, cheese, Chinese rice and sliced fresh tomatoes.  No dessert this meal.

The early evening is spent cleaning the supper dishes, watching TV and talking together.  Fr. Francis has come on his nightly visit.

In a very real way, Sr. Loretta is the mother of the Hogar Belen children, and Fr. Francis is their father.  They have made time to help the children; they have made time to be with the children; they have made a family home where there is hope for the future.  An accomplishment.

In the later part of the eleventh hour, Sr. Loretta does the things everybody else overlooked: she puts the juice into the fridge, finds the proper place for a dirty pair of socks which had been abandoned on the floor, and shuts off the lights.  Then she, like the rest of her family before her, crawls off to sleep and awaits another ordinary day.

The Circle Strong Song

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Circle Strong is a song that Terry Garchinski wrote with youth at Northern Addictions Youth Inhalant Program in September 1995.  Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

© Terry Garchinski 1995

Looking in your big brown eyes
Can’t hide the tears or the lies
So much pain its been there too long
And now you are here and you’re so strong

I take your hand and walk with you tonight
We’ve walked in darkness but now we’re in the light
I feel your pain I’ve walked this road before
Let’s raise our voices and walk through that door.

Let’s keep the circle strong:  I’ll be me and you be you
Together we’ll sing: “We will all be true.”
Let’s keep the circle strong:  I’ll be me and you be you
Together we’ll sing: “Keep the circle strong.”

Looking at the eagle in the sky
Signs of hope, the elders cry
Words of wisdom, the healing has begun
And now it’s time to come together as one.  (chorus)

And now you are gone I hold you in my heart
One thousand miles we journeyed from the start
I’ll pray for you, please pray for me
You’re a beautiful butterfly born to be free.  (chorus)

Terry recorded Circle Strong on his CD Healing Ground.

The Book, I Believe: A Story With A Purpose

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The Book “I Believe” by Terry Garchinski

A STORY WITH A PURPOSE, Parable Meant To Help Others Deal With Loss

by Jennifer Greens, Yellowknifer Newspaper,
Northern News Services Ltd. 

Counsellor, Terry Garchinski has been using stories and parables in his Healing from Loss and Grief workshops for years.

Now he has set one of those stories down in print, a book, titled  I Believe.

The book is  a compassionate story about a raindrop’s life, losses and loves.  Events of the raindrop’s journey from birth to the ocean symbolize life events. Characters appear throughout the book to offer advice and comfort to the raindrop as he deals with the challenges and obstacles in his way.

“It’s a parable or an analogy for people to address their attachments and their losses,”  said Garchinski.

He wrote the original manuscript two years ago and has not only used it in his workshops, but also with clients in personal sessions.

“I sit down beside them and I read it,” he said. “It’s different when someone else reads it to you.”

Autumn Downey created the colourful illustrations for the book, and based the characters’ caricatures on Garchinski’s friends and family.

The young raindrop was based on Garchinski’s four-year-old son, and as the raindrop gets older, he looks first like Garchinski’s dad, then his grandfather.

“Dad, why am I getting so old?” Garchinski’s son asked him when he first saw the manuscript.

Garchinski told him that’s what happens to everyone eventually.

The raindrop’s mom and dad take after Garchinski and his wife.

Overall, the book is meant to be used as a tool to help people accept loss and grief as normal events that happen to us all.

“It’s a very good message that loss is a part of life, “ said Garchinski.

“We begin every workshop by saying, “I have some good news and I have some bad news.  The bad news is we’re all going to die.  The good news is we’re alive today.”