Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In the Beginning

November 3, 2009
Just so you all know, my friend and I are in temporary housing. It is as expensive as an apartment, but hotels have more flexibility regarding payment arrangements. This allowed for a lower initial cash outlay. Still the Intent to Rent form was an issue, so I cashed out an RRSP paid the rental rate and security deposit in cash. Social Services refunded the allowable portion on the basis of the receipt. I'll be moving on soon, but she should be able to handle the rest from here. She is a smart, capable young woman and I am really glad I'm able to count her among my friends. That has to be the best part of this journey... all the amazing people I get to meet.
I guess reading my rants, you might get the impression I'm out here simply to expose all the deficiencies in the shelter system. It is actually the opposite, I'm on a quest to find out what works... and make that information available so we can improve services. I suppose it is possible that I have never shared with you how this all began. So today I will go back to July 21 2008.
A young client from SunAlta (a satellite shelter of the Calgary Drop-In) was caught up in an escalating cycle of violence. Although some of the incidents were caught on tape, the police alleged they could not arrest anyone because the injured parties would not prefer charges. Actually they could have made an arrest (perhaps not have succeeded at trial) but putting this boy or one of his attackers in remand for a few days would have provided a cooling off period and averted the continuing blood shed. The D.I. had to life bar the kid to protect others from being caught in the "crossfire". I took the only action I could think of, and in breech of company policy, I bought the boy a one-way ticket back to his Manitoba home. It took all my disposable income but it was the only option that I could see.
Was there something we could have done differently? I look at our agency (The Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre) and it is state of the art. Everything under one roof, life skills, job skills, job banks, clothing, medical, counselors, meals...everything right there. From the perspective of the public and even as a worker, all this SHOULD be making a difference. But still little seemed to be changing. The centre was still full every night, for every person who left two new ones would arrive. Some clients went through C.T.I. (Career Training Initiative) but still couldn't move on. Some clients were in and out and back again...others just settled in for years.
I was writing to my friend (a former client then living in B.C.) venting my frustration and I said, "What do I have to homeless myself to understand this?" The words no sooner hit page when I knew that is exactly what I would have to do. We need to know our clients...the homeless and the street people, two very different populations with very different needs. We can't hope to provide truly relevant solutions without first understanding the people we want to help.
This journey is teaching me (and vicariously, you) alot about the world of the homeless and what they deal with on a day to day basis. We will never eliminate homelessness, the world has always had street people (drunks, druggies & drop-outs), that isn't going to change. Philadelphia has a very successful rehousing model which as reduced the homeless population by 70%, freeing shelters & resources to help the street people they were designed to help. If you have learned only one thing so far from this journey I hope it is that, the face of homelessness has changed this is a new population requiring new attitudes resulting in new solutions.

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