Thursday, April 18, 2013


          As I began to write the Summary for my Report of Findings yesterday, I found myself reflecting on, why it took me so very long to do this. The physical research was finished in October 2010, I haven’t spent the night in a shelter since and any time I have spent at soup kitchens and drop-in was about outreach, there was no information gathering. So why did it take to 2½ years to report on 16 months of research? Each section probably took a day to write and it will probably only take a week of rewrites to get to the final draft. So why not do this 1½ years ago? In a nutshell, I wasn’t ready.
           After spending so much time living an impermanent life, I could not really settle into living normal routines. Even in Hamilton from Dec 2010 – Aug 2012, when I was working as a childcare provider… my hours fluctuated sometimes from day to day. Until recently I had no sense of what was supposed to come next, so no particular need to close off the past. There were of course times when I didn’t think anyone would care about what I had learned… that the only value of this project was in what it has taught me as a social worker and a person.  
          The Angels of the Road study into homelessness is unique in several ways, which is why I felt the need to do it. The most significant difference is in the scope of the study, a broad sampling of shelters and services from all across Canada were assessed by the researcher (me). The few observer/participant studies into homelessness have been limited to one city, sometimes one facility and usually lasted only for a few weeks time.  There have been journalist reporting of staying several months within the homeless population; these reports while truthful are skewed by the writers need to produce saleable material. This makes the finished product a selection of dramatic high points taken out of context to the whole shelter experience. Many other authors have recorded the shelter experience through biographical accounts from the lives of street people; one of the best of these being, “Radical Compassion” by Father Gary Smith.
         Every city does reporting (many have censes data) on homelessness and often share information to create a national picture. This kind quantitative information is essential for projecting costs, allocating funding and planning service needs.        
          Surveys are taken of homeless population with a myriad of focuses; but data from these can be tainted by several factors. Clients will often try to give you the answers they think you want; this kind of compliance is a survival instinct which is prevalent in institutional environments. Assuring them they are free to speak without consequence is of little use because this is an unconscious response. Also client observations of services and shelters is coloured by their personal drama and limited exposure (usually 1 or 2 facilities) objective assessment is not really possible from client surveys without an extremely broad (100-1000s) sampling.  
            I felt there was a real need for an objective assessment of programs and services by someone with both knowledge and experience of the shelter system. Angels of the Road was a qualitative analysis of the shelter system and services to the homeless in Canada. With no outside funding I was free to be entirely truthful about my findings. Where we have succeeded, where we have failed and how to create better outcomes for our clients in the future.
          As always the most important thing we can do is to create affordable home ownership initiatives and develop supportive housing systems to get the poor and the medicals out of the shelters entirely. Regardless of the cost… housing is infinitely less expensive to taxpayers then shelters, prisons and all their support systems. Until that perfect future, I hope that my Report of Findings for Angels of the Road will guide the shelter industry, policy makers, politician and social planners into the most productive models for client care.
         Back to me! and why am I finally wrapping up Angels of the Road. It is because I am feeling settled again. A few months ago I moved permanently to the west coast and a new chapter of my life is opening up. It is time to end Angels of the Road as a project and a website (which expires in Aug 2013) ; the blog will continue as an op/ed vehicle for me to address social justice and anti-poverty issues. I will always be involved with serving street people in their journey to their best life; I imagine from here forward that will come through volunteer work.  My new role is to serve all of humankind through spiritual teaching and healing. The Spirit of the 8th Fire website is the beginning of that journey and I hope some of you will choose to join me there.

Have a joyous day.


No comments:

Post a Comment