Monday, September 28, 2009

A Changing World

September 28, 2009
Well, my vacation is winding down, by this time next week I will be homeless in a new town finding my way through a new set of services and into a new population. The visit home has been a good one, spending as much time as possible with friends and family. I felt it would be nice if I updated you on some of the wonderful moments I have enjoyed.
First my oldest daughter, George is really enjoying her photography business (, she has another wedding next weekend. My son James is back at college, not as enthusiastic as his sister Margaret is about studying. My adopted boy Ronnie has been able to stay sober and off the street since July 28th... His new baby is here and he is trying to get accepted into a trades program.
Now to seeing my friends, I have been very lucky, both night shift crews have had "parties" since I returned and by attending those I have been able to catch up with many of my former coworkers. I have visited the DI during the morning and afternoon shifts to see staff and remaining client. But many of my client/friends have move out.
I was able to have lunch with my friend Lone Wolf Bunn last week. You will find a page of his work in the poetry section. Also I am very pleased to say he is once again blogging on his website the wolf den . He is an activist, he post some very interesting articles. Take a look when you have a moment.
On the day of the Homeless Connect 6, I ran into two ladies whom I knew from working Ladies 3rd at the DI. They are both recovered, and devoting themselves to lobbing for better services for women in the shelter system. In our brief conversation I gathered they want to see a small version of the DI. Transitional, transient and intox accommodations under one roof, for women only. Likely the model includes the same supportive services for, education, employment and counselling. I'm proud of both these ladies.
On my walk downtown in the middle of the night (coming back from Randy's crew party) a voice called to me from across the street. It was Pat, she was an addict and a client at the DI since long before I started working there. Pat stopped using a few months before I left town... she has been able to sustain for almost 7 months. She currently is out of the shelter system and in transitional housing, she will have her own place again by December. Keeping it will be a matter of economics... and I'll always keep praying for her.
Those are the good news stories but there are still many client/friends who are right where I left them; content to move from day to day, secure in the knowledge they will neither starve nor freeze. This is the paradox of the shelter system are we aiding or enabling... Is there another (better) way to do this?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reposting of August 17, 2009

September 22,2009
Thanks to Indigo Spirit on Twitter I am reposting this blog about legacies and the value we put into our lives. Enjoy ;-)

The ambulance comes to our shelter every other day or so (it is a small shelter 75 women all ages). Attendants (sometimes 2 sometimes 4) ask questions, load the person onto a gurney wheel them outside, load them into the vehicle and drives them to the hospital. Often they return several hours later with a wrist band on and a prescription in their pocket.
When I was walking downtown yesterday morning, I saw an ambulance pull up to one of those big office towers. Attendants went into the building. I'm sure they asked questions, loaded the person onto a gurney wheel them outside, loaded them into the vehicle and drove them to the hospital. He or she will be in the hospital for a day or two, then return home with a wrist band on and a prescription in their pocket.
I was struck by the realization that, each of these people has a equal opportunity of being DOA (dead on arrival). Whether a tramp or a Trump we all end up dead.
This musing does not concern our after-life, it is about life after we are gone. It is about legacies and the value of one person to an entire future. The homeless are often given little value and sadly we often give little value to ourselves. Donald Trump has impacted thousands, some good, some bad. He has built monuments to himself which will stand after his death, until they are sold and renamed or meet a wrecking ball to build someone else's new great monument.
Alice died of pneumonia a couple of years ago, no family that I ever knew of. No newspaper headlines heralded her passing. No buildings carry her name into the next generation. To the casual viewer it would seem she was anonymous, but knowing Alice taught me about schizophrenics. A skill that helps me recognize and assess the potential of interacting with some of my new friends from the street culture. A skill which helps keep me safe out here. I am grateful to Alice for her legacy.
No monument I can build is a greater legacy then the children I have raised, who will raise their children, to be the same wonderful caring people that they are. No newspaper headline heralding my passing, can replace the tribute of a warm memory, of a moment shared whether on the street or with family and old friends. The Buddhists say "When you drop a small pebble into a mighty river, the coarse of that river is changed for ever." I suppose it is my legacy to be a pebble. What is your legacy?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kash & Karma

September 21, 2009
When I was in Edmonton I confided in one of the Bissell Centre employees about Angels of the Road. He told me that he had tremendous respect for me because, "you put your money where your mouth is". I thought that was a figurative reference, another way of saying I walk the talk.
I didn't give the financial cost of under taking this mission any serious thought. I just knew that learning about homelessness in real terms (not just as statistics) is the first step to real change for our communities. Setting aside lost earnings of $38,688 per year plus 3% ($1,160) for the 2 years Angels of the Road will be gathering research... I have spent every cent I left work with, and donations which totalled $280...and I have accumulated $810 in debt. So my friend in Edmonton was right, I have put my money where my mouth is.
Now I have to ask you to PLEASE do the same, I need your help, at this moment I have only the $100 necessary to get a Greyhound ticket to the next stop in our journey. Yes this is our journey, everything I learn on the road I share with you. You learn what I learn about homelessness without having to sleep on dorm matts, stand in line for food, or get off a bus with no idea where you'll end up; while carrying everything you need to survive on your back.
A donation as small as $5 from each of you would provide enough funding to carry Angels of the Road through the first year.
I have checked with my expert and research projects such as this do not qualify for charitable status. So, sorry there are still no tax receipts. This is still a Kash for Karma rewards program. Thanks for your help. ;-)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Calgary Homeless Connect 9/19/09

September 20,2009
I set the alarm clock for 7:30 a.m. but my internal clock woke me at 5:30 a.m. (a carryover from the shelter life) and there was no arguing with it. I still waited until 8:30 before heading out to catch a bus to the Suncor Building. I expected to arrive downtown around 9:15, by then the doors would be open and the line would have been considerably reduced. The line was down to about 75 people and the wait time was around 20 minutes. Which by homeless standards is quite good. Volunteers came by serving coffee and flat muffins to us. Upon entering, each client was asked to participate in a survey... so much of this world (shelter services) relies on statistics which are used to justify funding for almost everything. Instead of increasing funding for the increasing numbers of homeless; I'd so love to see us redirecting the funds into affordable housing initiatives and reducing those numbers. But until attitudes change we must continue to gather our statistics.
One of the joys of events like Homeless Connect 6 is that everyone is so nice, friendly and open. Last time I was at Homeless Connect as a volunteer on the intake desk, this time I am a client. Most of the volunteers seem to be from the industry (social services) which gives them a higher comfort level when dealing with the homeless population. I've noticed at the soup kitchens I have gone to, that many volunteers won't look you in the eyes when you pass. A very nice young man introduced himself then gave me a walk through mini tour of the exhibitors. After which we (clients) were encouraged to wander freely through the building.
There were over 50 agencies represented. One booth gave photo I.D. (4x6 cards to hang around one's neck like something a 5 year old would be issued for a school field trip) not government issue but better then nothing. I have often wondered why the D.I. doesn't use the technology we have for staff I.D. cards to create pocket sized photo cards for the clients. Is there perhaps some government regulation against producing I.D. that looks like I.D.?
The most immediately useful areas were the free hair cuts, hygiene products (rationed to 4 items each), clothing tables and dental screening (that was a long wait list). The agencies represented addiction services, job services, abuse prevention, family services, health services and housing resources, brochures were available and kind, knowledgeable staff were on hand to answer any questions. Much of this comes under good to know... but it is unlikely people would be signing up for treatment programs during the event. So I guess the single most important piece of paper we came away from this event with, was the 2 page "Project Homeless Connect 6" agency directory & map. Saved in the side pocket of a backpack or the bottom of one's locker it is an at a glance list of services that can be referred to as the need arises. Thank-you Calgary Homeless Foundation... for this and all your other hard work.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

59% ...Solution?

September 15, 2009
Global news carried a story today (news at noon) which stated that 59% of Canadians would be in serious financial trouble if their pay was delayed by even 1 week . This is a statistic that shocks even me... One man said if he missed 2 days pay he would have trouble recovering. The money management experts say everyone should have 3 months expenses set aside in case of emergency (like unemployment). There was a time when we had 10% of our income to put in the bank. But today when working class people are spending 60% of their income just to cover rent/mortgage there is NOTHING left for extras (like a savings account). Our quality of life has been reduced to mere survival. The fact that this applies to almost 60% of Canadians is truly sad and even scary. Another time, another place and this would be the foundations for a revolution.
Modern humans tend to isolate, we believe no one has loved like we love, no one knows our pain, no one can understand what we are going through. Once we open ourselves up to the possibility, we find we are not alone. That is what support groups are made of. There is not only comfort, but strength in joining with others who share our experience of a situation. Perhaps you have blamed yourself for your financial struggles...If I managed my money better ...If I could just get a better job...earn more...get more hours. Stop blaming yourself, your situation has transcended into NORMAL...59% of the population knows exactly what you are going through. The only solution to restoring the quality of life in this country is AFFORDABLE HOUSING, shelter that cost no more then 35% of one's income. With 59% of the population on the verge of losing everything the other 41% might want to get on board with promoting affordable housing initiatives (my favourite is Habitat for Humanity). To understand how we got to this position I suggest reading my essay "A Brief History of Economics" under the WHAT I HAVE LEARNED SO FAR tab at

Friday, September 11, 2009

Calgary vs. Edmonton

September 11 2009
First a moment to acknowledge the sad anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre and all the innocent people who lost their lives.

Yesterday I reposted the blog from my first day in Edmonton. Everyone knows that Alberta enjoys and ongoing rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary. I have to say when it comes to managing the homeless population Calgary should be taking lessons from Edmonton. For those of you who want to say that Calgary's homeless population is so much larger then Edmonton's, I will suggest that is because Edmonton is employing realistic solutions to homelessness. To begin with an agency called E4C manages several small apartment blocks 12 - 20 units each in the Boyle/MacCauly area. These apartments provide supported housing (each building has a nurses office) for elderly and handicapped (pretty much anyone who qualifies for AISH). The housing appears to be subsidized at about 30% of income, this leaves sufficient funds for people to buy groceries, clothing , etc, which reduces the strain on shelter services. This reduces the homeless population by approximately 15-20%.
Boyle Street is what we used to call skid-row. It is home to cheap hotels, street missions, bars, churches and oddly enough a big new police station and fire station. On Boyle Street if you see the police talking to a homeless guy they are probably asking how he is doing, or how he likes the hot weather. One afternoon I saw two young girls from the street population sitting on the steps of the cop shop having a smoke. No one told them to move along, the officers just walked around them. Basically the attitude of the Edmonton Police services is live and let live with regard to the homeless and street population. The Police intercede only when "laws" are broken, assaults, disorderly (disruptive) conduct etc. This approach to handling the homeless has garnered the respect of the population. I suspect that in a serious situation the Edmonton police would enjoy a higher level of cooperation then Calgary police. The Calgary police services devote much energy rousting, hassling and harassing the homeless which has resulted in an Us vs. Them mentality. In Edmonton I observed homeless people relaxing in the park, even lounging at a table in the city hall lobby. Bylaw officers patrol the park and city hall and the downtown core. They ticket anyone for overt breeches... open containers, skate boarding; I have witnessed tickets being handed out to both homeless and the general public. I have spent many happy hours in that park, just watching people and making my dream catchers. Bylaw officers in Calgary seem to be mandated to ticket homeless or anyone who appears to be homeless. There is no safe zone like Boyle street in Calgary. Before I left on this campaign to educate myself and the general pubic on the realities of homelessness in Canada, I witnessed Calgary Police in action. I have seen them come onto D.I. property, threatening, cursing and trying to intimidate clients. There were no arrests, just veiled threats like "I'll be watching you asshole". In my blog August 21st responding to accusations by Dermit Baldwin that police are harassing homeless in Calgary, I suggested that Mr Ritchie from CPS produce statistical proof to support his contention that the accussation is untrue. This is the age of computers, should be easy enough to call up that info.
I also noticed less of a tendency to discriminate by the general public in Edmonton. The park I hung out at was frequented by all demographics, there seems to be less fear and resentment toward the homeless in Edmonton. I believe this comes from the city administration and ripples through the media into the general population.
Both cities get a failing grade in providing affordable housing for the working class and working poor. Remember affordable housing is not simply below market value... it is housing that costs no more then 35% of one's income. Again I will say the most efficient way to accomplish this, is for politicians to set aside their self interest and put as much land as possible into the hands of Habitat for Humanity.
As for the facilities (shelter, food etc) both cities do fairly well. In Calgary we have the D.I. one really huge facility and several smaller ones picking up the slack. In Edmonton I found Hope Mission handles the largest segment of the homeless population but houses them in several different shelters. Each one seems to cater to a different segment of the homeless and street populations. I see many advantages to this particular option. Perhaps as I continue my journey I will find something even better out there. But this blog is about Calgary vs Edmonton and between the two... Edmonton seems to be doing the better job of dealing with their homeless population.

My first day in Edmonton (repost)

Arrived at my destination in the wee small hours of the morning. Had breakfast in a fast food joint and took a walk about. I know... boring but here's the interesting part. When on my walk I found the provincial employment office, that office gave me a list of shelters and soup kitchens. The women's shelter told me to check in at 9pm.
The day was interesting at times, it turns out the bus station is a very lively place. I met an amiable young man, who kept popping up through-out the day. I walked around where the men's shelters and services are, letting people know I was looking for one of my DI boys who had moved out here. Then I met a lovely woman waiting for her transfer to a bus going east and we chatted about the Angels of the Road project.
In the morning I went down town and found out the federal employees were having a fundraiser, hotdog, pop and candy cotton for $2. Funny thing, the woman behind me in line and I were engaged in conversation, until I mentioned staying at the shelter. Then she quite abruptly turned to start a conversation with her co-workers and eased herslf back about 6 feet from where she was previously located. It was a very visual demonstration of the discomfort many civilians feel around homeless people. Perhaps it is unsettling to find out homeless people can be sober, articulate and other words it could be you.
Then at 8pm I left for my new temporary home, reached the corner I was supposed to go to, then took a wrong turn. So I ask a group of young people for directions. The young man offered to walk me over to the shelter because this is a really "dangerous" neighbourhood. He and one of his friends a banger with Red Alert kept me company while I waited til 9pm. We were talking about gangs and I mentioned Hannibal a young man who served some time with my boy Ron. Turns out the young man is a cousin to Hannibal who is also a Red Alert member. Small world. Don't worry, I plan to remain unaffiliated.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My big news

Welcomed my new grand-baby into the world September 6th. Rayden James (RJ to me) was 8lb 6oz. excellent health and is now at home with Mom, Dad, big brother Zalanon and sisters Saige and Irish.

Imagine every one of us starts life as a baby, innocent, uncomplicated, absolutely perfect.

Monday, September 7, 2009

the Whole Truth

September 7, 2009
and nothing but the truth...

Today was a milestone day for Angels of the Road. Our first TV interview. The entire taping process took over an hour and to the credit of the talented people at Global TV, was edited to a three minute segment. Unfortunately, because Angels of the Road isn't a registered charity yet (will be this month) they were unable to put the contact information at the end of the clip. But it heralds the beginning of awareness within the general public for the project. Yay!

My hour with Gill Tucker...

The reporter doing the story wanted me to go out in my street clothes carrying my back pack. As I explained in the blog "Paris Hilton of the Homeless" anonymity is very important for my ability to do my work. So I left the hoodie at home in favour of a blazer and a hat. After we arrived on location, across from the Mustard Seed, I was fitted with a microphone and asked to talk to the area locals. Gil wanted me to quiz people on their opinion of the services in Calgary. I would never do such a thing on the road. One of the reasons I stay so long in each community is to learn about the services... both first hand and from my fellow clients (through conversation not interrogation). But I did strike up a conversation with a couple Ruth and Will, they are brother and sister from Camrose. They were unable to find affordable housing there and decided to move to Calgary for the winter. Ruth said the biggest stumbling block to finding housing is the fact that she is on government assistance. Landlords labour under the illusion that people, in the system are deadbeats, druggies or drunks. The truth is after working 20 years with the same company Ruth cannot afford an apartment on the pension. So she and her brother will share space. Then I spoke with my friends Leslie and Debbie who appeared in the interview. They talked about the struggle to get covered by AISH, for Debbie the process took three years. Leslie has bad knees and can no longer work his application has been in the works for several months. Then we spoke with a very nice young man who filled me in on the street culture in Toronto, which is on my agenda for late next year. Just before wrapping up the interview we met a young family who stay at Inn from the Cold. Leland and his family have lived in the shelter since January. He is looking for work in the city because there is little work on his reserve. Their 15 month old son was fascinated by the camera ;-) I advised Leland to look into a HRDC program called Trade Winds. A native gentleman named Victor appeared on camera for a moment, he had tipped a few LOL. So we are reminded that among the homeless are the street people, the 30% of the homeless that will always be with us. The people for whom the shelter system was created.

Generosity (repost from July 2nd)

September 7, 2009
Today I want to talk about generousity... While I am living homeless, can only carry 1 each; tank, short-sleeve, long sleeved t-shirts, 1 each jeans, shorts, Capri's. Four underwear 2 bras 4 pair of socks. 1 hoodie, 1 top coat and 1 windbreaker. Last week my daughter phoned to say her friend will be visiting in this city and wants to take me out to a nice dinner. Awk, nothing to wear...LITERALLY. I've been checking the clothing depots all week. Money is tight, so even the thrift shop is out. But one keeps checking back, because donations come in every day. This afternoon I was chatting with a young worker at the drop-in and mentioned that I was killing time til the clothing depot opened across the street, because I was still trying to find a dress. Several minutes later I came out of the washroom and this lovely middle-aged Native woman stopped me. She asked, "Do you wear dresses?". I told her yes that I just happen to be looking for a dress. She said,"I don't wear this any more I hope it fits you." We introduced ourselves, and I thanked my sister Flora for her generousity. I am quite sure Flora does wear that dress, when everything you own must fit into a 2' x 2' locker you don't have anything you don't need or use.
Altruism is by definition giving without self interest in any form, by that definition even Mother Theresa wasn't altruistic. The two years that I am giving up of my life for Angels of the Road, isn't altruistic, I expect to learn enough out here to make me a better and more credible advocate for my homeless clients. I'm in it for the education. Mother Theresa was in it to please God. Altruism or true generousity is not a personality trait, it is an event. A moment in time and space when a perceived need is met by a perceive ability to satisfy that need. Flora saw my need, and she believed that in that moment she had the power to fulfill my need. I gratefully accepted the gift because there is a joy of the heart that comes from being able to give. And that moment of joy should not be denied to anyone, no matter how poor. My altruism comes not in the fact that I am making this journey but in all the moments in which I can reach out to those around me, with a kind word, a hug, or a smoke. Spreading the "sunshine that is Bonny" as we jokingly referred to it at the D.I.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Things to do on vacation.

September 6, 2009
Well less then 1 week into my vacation; I have closed out one item of business, visited my D.I. friends twice, and welcomed a new baby boy into our family. The incorporation will have to wait until I get some donations to cover the costs. Spent some time with old friends and enjoyed hanging out with the family. Just wanted to update all you all.
While I'm home, this would be a good opportunity for you to catch up on earlier blogs which you may have missed. Or I can repost some of my favourite rants ;-) Let me know. Also I expect to do the interview early this week for Global Calgary. I will try to get a copy of the raw footage so I can post it to the website for you. I'll Tweet and Face Book with updates if you want to catch it on Global, it airs on the evening news. ttyl

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Getting Around

September 3, 2009
Greyhound Bus Lines has announced service cuts affecting Manitoba, northern Ontario and small communities in other provinces. Apparently Greyhound approached the federal government about subsidizing the remote routes that were draining company resources. You may be surprised to find out that I don't resent people or businesses looking out for their bottom line. Greyhound is NOT a public service, if a route does not at least break even, they are under NO obligation to continue. Then a government representative, vilified Greyhound's decision on national television.
So why did the government, who so generously offered to bail out GM so their $56hr employees would not lose their jobs or have to endure a pay cut; the same government who repeatedly (and stupidly) keeps bailing out Air Canada and Nortel... FAIL to step up to save remote Greyhound services. Because the people most effected are poor... Oil executives and politicians don't take bus trips, they fly & rent cars at the airport, so why would Mr Harper trouble himself with such matters.
Well one good reason is because hitch-hiking is dangerous, especially for women. And more importantly I really suck at it LOL. I tried hitch-hiking on my trip to Grande Cache back in July. On my way there I was able to scoop a ride from Hinton, but hitch-hiking back it took more then an hour to get a ride. Then only because the nice truck driver was South Asian and felt he owed some karmic debt from the day before.
So what can be done to remedy the problem with providing bus service to remote area. One option is to license small regional carriers to pick up the slack. Or start giving Greyhound the same financial support the government has be giving Air Canada all these years. My vote is for the former. Yeh... surprise again in believe in free enterprise. But if the government is going to stay out...stay all the way out.
I have made Greyhound my transportation of choice for several reasons. The bus drops me in the centre of town, which is handy for finding the shelters and mostly it is cheap.
P.S. The interview is now tentatively scheduled for Labour Day. Hope it is soon the project is dead broke, and I'm hoping maybe this will stimulate some new donations.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happy Birthday Granny Harrison

Sept 1, 2009
Today I had a wonderful visit with one of my favourite people on the planet. I love visiting with him...he always makes me laugh. The rest of the day was boring. We will be doing the news clip with Gil Tucker Global Calgary either tomorrow or on Friday of this week. I will tweet, FaceBook & blog with the details.
I have to spend a few days just hanging around the house this week. So unless somebody does or says something stupid to set me off, the blogs will be a bit mundane for the next few days LOL.

The Quiet Life

August 31,2009
Had a terrible time falling asleep last night... only slept about 3 hours. My bedroom is absolutely dark and totally quiet. Consciously I consider that as a good thing. Apparently my subconscious is missing the sounds of city centre. Cursing hookers, screaming drunks & the sirens of police and ambulance.
Went by the D.I. today, it was like old home week. Lots of people I knew. Even one of the boys I had been expecting to find in Edmonton was back in Calgary for a one day visit and we ran into each other. Then as I was leaving the area to go for coffee with my friend, I ran into a young man I haven't seen since February 2008. My business will be wrapped up tomorrow. And I will seek some advice on applying for our NFP status.
Have to pace myself on the visiting. So many people so little time LOL. Can't wait to spend some time with everyone.