Michael Donaldson has been forced to make some hard decisions.
“I’m a residential school survivor. I have no family to support me. So I have to choose: do I want to spend my whole disability cheque on a place to live, and have nothing to eat, or do I live outside?”
Donaldson’s chosen the latter, keeping most of his possessions in a Nelson storage locker. And now that he’s working as the official photographer for the 2017 Profiles in Courage calendar, he’s hoping to enlighten the community on what it’s like to live in poverty.
“Last year we were bringing awareness that poverty exists in Nelson,” said project organizer Bernadette White. “Now this year’s theme is: This is the many faces of what that looks like — it could be your neighbour, it could be someone you see every day.”
White and Donaldson both participated in last year’s calendar, Nelson: Poverty in Modern Times, and were floored to be invited to take on larger roles this year. They hope to give voice to those who are struggling to get by, many of whom are grappling with shame or unwilling to ask for help.
“This is a vehicle for self-expression for people who are experiencing poverty, or in some cases homelessness,” said Morgan Gould of Nelson United Church, who has been spearheading the project.
“Our purpose as a church is to be part of that.”
And according to Donaldson, Nelson is a pretty compassionate town. Originally he had planned to move to Calgary, but upon arriving in the Kootenays he was able to find a doctor and a supportive social infrastructure. He’s now been here for years.
“This is one of the best places to live in Canada,” he said.
This year the calendar project has evolved, and will include a blog where impoverished residents can share their experiences.
Organizers hopes the project will become financially self-sustaining and will give them more opportunities to offer chances like this to local residents.
“This project this year has been one of the most amazing experiences for me,” said White.
“It costs nothing to extend a hand in kindness. I don’t have any money, so what I offer is compassion. I believe in us as a species, and I believe there’s hope for us in Nelson.”
Her advice: “Suspend judgement. You yell out ‘get a job,’ I yell back ‘offer them one.’ Find out why it is they’re in the situation they’re in.”
The image chosen for the cover of the calendar was taken in the alley behind the Hume Hotel, where someone had graffiti-scrawled the phrase “I love you.” Underneath a second person had written “Thanks for the love.” He was moved by the public dialogue.
When asked how he chose his images, Donaldson shrugged.
“I just take pictures. I like to see beautiful things.”
There will be a launch party for the calendar at the Nelson United Church at 5 p.m. on Sunday, with a potluck.