Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sleep Programs: Conclusions & Recommendations

Conclusions: By attempting to service all our client populations under one roof we fail to properly serve anyone. The protocols we use to manage large and /or blended populations strips away what little dignity and sense of self may be remaining from people who are already fragile. As a group the current system provides adequately for the barest necessities, supervised and relatively safe places to sleep (spend the night).  For the individual client having to stand on public display (possibly in their hometown) is demeaning. There is a loss of autonomy in the tightly controlled environment of the shelter… to the point where one starts to wonder if they even remember “how” to make a decision for themselves. Uncertainty about the disposition (drunk/sober/crazy/sane/healthy/sick) of other the clients, causes people in sleep programs to isolate. This adds to the growing feeling of invisibility; which quickly erodes a person’s ability to reintegrate into society.

Recommendations: The easiest recommendation to implement would be separating the populations. Many sleep programs already separate the intoxicated clients for the safety reasons as given in the previous blog. Separation within the other population groups is of far greater concern when it comes to the delivery of reintegration services. Elimination of the line-up check-in process would be of benefit to clients from a mental health standpoint. Each agency would have to determine what would work best for it depending on several variables like size of population, number of staff, space etc. I would suggest designating a time (say the 2 hours prior to dorm opening) when clients could walk-in and sign-up for a bed.   Anyone not claiming their bed within 1 hour of dorm opening will be bumped. Anyone showing up intoxicated to claim their bed can be refused for the night, at the discretion of the staff. Exception would have to be made for people whose employment prevented them from attending early sign. Day labourers could phone-in their sign-up and confirm with a copy of their work ticket (employed should have a pay-stub on file with the shelter) when they present to claim their bed. Think of eliminating these humiliating line-ups as “harm reduction” for our sober clients.
Government funding for shelter sleep programs needs to change, these programs should be funded by the bed… NOT by the head. This change would result in more stable funding for the agencies from one year to the next. It would also encourage greater collaboration between agencies which would allow for the employment of a diversified shelter model where the various populations are sheltered in different locations. This change would reduce psychological damage and speed up reintegration of the homeless (poor).
 Also every single effort must be made to keep people housed… provincial social service agencies should NEVER tell someone to stay at a shelter because it is going to take 2 months to process their request for social assistance. This is an emergency…. and emergency protocols must be created to reduce the incidents of poverty induced homelessness in this country.

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