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The game of our lives

The plight of the homeless in Edmonton, and right across this country, is an uncomfortable reality those of us lucky enough to have a place to call home, warm clothing on our backs and enough food to eat are unquestionably aware of as we go about our lives. The homeless in our city are out there right now trying to survive on the streets during this brutal, bone-chilling cold snap. Imagine.

Whether it’s a ragged group of people huddled near the doorway of a shelter, somebody pushing a beat-up shopping cart loaded with their only possessions along a downtown alley, a person dumpster diving behind a supermarket or standing on a street corner begging for change, we see them. On our way to work, on our way to meet friends for a night out, we see them.

Most of us get only a glimpse of it as we go about our business. Too often, we look away because it’s a cycle of despair, addiction and poverty that’s ugly and dirty and disturbing. It’s easier to keep that uncomfortable reality at arm’s length. I’ve been guilty of that. It’s not a matter of not caring, but if we want to help, what can we actually do? How can we make a difference?

Well, the game of hockey, the reason fans of the Edmonton Oilers come to Oilersnation to read, debate and get after each other from time to time, is making a difference. There are a lot of people and a lot of agencies in Edmonton fighting the good fight on the front lines for many worthy causes in a city with a wonderful legacy of stepping up to help when it matters most.

Two of those agencies, the Mustard Seed and the Jasper Place Wellness Centre, are involved in Hockey Helps the Homeless, a national initiative that has raised more than $10 million across the country. Through four events in Edmonton, about $400,000 has been raised thanks to the generosity of people and businesses and participation by Oilers’ alumni. The next edition of HHTH in Edmonton is May 11 at the Terwilligar Community Rec Centre.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Hockey has always mattered to people in this town and it has always made a difference when it comes to charitable events. One event that has always stood out for me is the World’s Longest Hockey Game, hosted by Dr. Brent Saik at his Sherwood Park acreage to raise funds for cancer research and equipment. The latest edition of this puck marathon goes Feb. 9-19 this year. If you go, you’ll never forget it. Then, there’s Sport Central, a group that sprang from the trunk of Tiger Goldstick’s car and outfits under-privileged children with sports equipment.

With HHTH, businesses and groups right across the country raise funds to enter teams and play with NHL alumni and Olympians. In past Edmonton events, former Oiler players like Glenn Anderson, Kelly Buchberger, Georges Laraque, Craig Simpson, Fernando Pisani, Louie DeBrusk, Steve MacIntyre and Marty McSorley, to name just eight, have participated. There’s again going to be a division for women, which has featured the likes of Shannon Szabados in the past. The turnout and the generosity of players has been tremendous.

I’ve jumped on board with the people at the Mustard Seed and Jasper Place Wellness Centre to help with organizing and fund-raising between now and the May 11 event. While I’m nowhere near as experienced at it as Jason Gregor, who can do this stuff in his sleep and constantly does in the name of so many charitable initiatives, I’ll muck and grind and do what I can to help make the 2018 edition of HHTH the success it needs to be. Former Oilers’ coach Ron Low and equipment man Barrie Stafford are also involved.

Every homeless person has a different story. How did they get where they are? What happened? How did Matt Johnson, who made more than $6 million during his NHL career, end up living on the streets of Santa Monica? We don’t have the answers. What I do know is the man standing on the corner with no shoes is somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, maybe somebody’s father. That woman pushing a shopping cart down Jasper Avenue looking for a stairwell to sleep in is somebody’s little girl, somebody’s sister or maybe somebody’s mom. They are there now. They need help and help begins with getting them off the street.

There are a lot of people in this town who have put their time, effort and their money behind countless worthy causes, like the plight of the homeless, over the years. They continue to do so. I’ve seen it and admired it, mostly from afar. They long ago made the leap from observation at arm’s length to doing something about it and making a difference. It’s past time I did the same. 

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE