Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 17, 2003
Homeless does not mean soul-less
Calgary shelter offers practical help and spiritual balm to society's forgotten people
By BYRON PRICE
"We have a throw-away society and the homeless are as susceptible to this way of thinking as throw-away wrappers."
- Dermot Baldwin
Baldwin says: "Being a street kid in Montreal was a crossroads in a young man's life. The local priest who was genuinely concerned for all young people impressed me. That touched me deeply. The order I chose was one that looked after priests who were having problems such as alcoholism. The commitment of the priests to help their struggling brothers was inspiring.
"Aside from the courses I took, I gained the ability to be alone, the ability not to feel helpless in the face of what life throws at you, the ability to be introspective whether looking at problems of a corporal nature or spiritual nature. I also acquired a great thirst for learning. I gained a tremendous confidence in myself to help the underdog - to really give more than you take."
Baldwin came to Calgary in 1980 as a contract manager for the provincial government. In his work auditing and evaluating social service programs, he had an "epiphany." He felt that he needed to work more closely with the organizations to make sure the programs for the marginalized were the best possible.
At age 61, Baldwin, who has been married to his wife Carole for 38 years and has three grown children, continues to be open to new challenges and is creative in searching for solutions.
For example, he says: "A number of years ago my staff were truly concerned about the safety of women in our shelters. This I admit was a learning curve for me also. Women who are homeless are very vulnerable and subjected to violence. Twenty-five per cent of the women we see have been violently raped. They may have to give their bodies for a place to sleep. At our centre we have hired more female staff and done more segregation so the women can feel safe sleeping at night. We have also joined up with outside agencies to help with the many multifaceted problems many of these women have."
Baldwin is a Catholic who is up front about his feelings for the homeless. Whether it is in a meeting with his staff or going head to head with the provincial government regarding funding, he always brings the discussion back to the client - that's what it is all about.
"The vast majority are humble and don't ask for much. When they get in a negative spiral they feel they deserve nothing. The homeless who come through the doors may or may not have an attachment to Christianity or any other belief. What I see in these people is Jesus' cross where he is falsely accused, betrayed and treated like a villain and the cause of his own problems."
When he has to write something serious, Baldwin cues himself by putting the initials MT or FJS on top of his notes to focus him so that he always thinks of the integrity of those on behalf of whom he is advocating - these are the initials of two of his role models, Mother Teresa and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
"He was Irish," Baldwin says with an impish grin.
"My journey has been enabling the community to become a kinder, gentler and a more inclusive place for people who have too many struggles and working towards enabling people to be helpful to themselves and others," Baldwin explains.
"If we look at a biblical explanation, we realize the homeless have suffered too much for a modern society. We are all entitled to a good community and no one is beyond redemption. We have a throw-away society and the homeless are as susceptible to this way of thinking as throw-away wrappers."
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