Sunday, November 29, 2009

Money Talks

November 29, 2009
Last night I took the night off from being homeless to have dinner with friends who live in the town I am visiting. Our conversation lead me to a startling revelation. My journey not simply about the 140,000 people living homeless in Canada but it is also about the 20,650,000 Canadians living 3 months away from being homeless. According to a Global Television report 59% of us live paycheck to paycheck.... if our income stopped for some reason we would be out of our home in 3 months. The lack of affordable housing negatively impacts our economy, by drains on poverty support systems, such as food banks, health clinics, emergency shelters, as well as income supports. But imagine what would happen to the economy if suddenly almost 21,000,000 people had disposable income to pour back into the economy, through personal spending. Not to mention the savings by reducing the numbers of people on income support by more than 50%. Short sightedness on the part of governments, corporations, and western culture in general...has us saving pennies by burning dollars. For the sake of easy math, I am going to say give Habitat for Humanity 5 acres of land (I'll assign it a value of $5,000,000) on this land they build 200 condos/townhouses each has an estimated property value of $200,000. Even at a very modest mill rate property taxes per unit $500 per year x 200 = $100,000 per year in 50 years the price of the property has been recouped. Of course, I do know a little something about double entry book keeping and our city may prefer to lease the 5 acres of land for $1 per year on a 100 year lease, thereby keeping the asset on their books. I believe they would still be collecting property tax as a sort of condo fee for providing city services but I admit I am not sure about how that would work.
Let us assume that the average family in this Habitat for Humanity complex has an income of $1500 net per month... Their mortgage has been reduced from 2/3 to 1/3 of that income, so every one of these 200 families has an addition $500 (totalling $10,000) per month to spend in local businesses. On a national level we can divide the 21 million low income people by 3; giving us 7 million families resulting in a staggering $3,500,000,000 per month of disposable income back into the Canadian economy...NOW THAT'S AN ECONOMIC STIMULUS PLAN...
I am not going to suggest reducing resources allocated to shelters and services for the homeless, because these services would experience a natural realignment with a reduction 50% (poor & working poor who live homeless) of client population. Currently shelters are less about actually helping individuals and more about wrangling large numbers of people and what we refer to in the industry as harm reduction. The shelter system was designed for a very specific purpose and affordable housing would allow us to get back to doing our jobs properly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Quick blog before the hoards return

November 26, 2009
The shelter I am staying in is quite full so it becomes awkward trying to blog. You never know who will pass by and be trying to read over your shoulder. Yes, for the most part I still try to keep a low profile. No lies, I just don't share too much about my journey. I have learned a lot (which I didn't know before I left) about the homelessness problem over the past 6 months. The journey is almost 25% completed. I find I'm burning out much more quickly in this province, then in the previous two.
The province I am currently visiting, has a much lower percentage of economic homelessness then the others did. It isn't that there is more affordable housing available. But it seems this government is prepared to spend money on temporary housing, motel rooms by the month etc. I having a meeting this afternoon with the councilor here who specializes in housing options. I will let you know what I find out as soon as I can.
As for the burn out that is likely a function of the very high percentage of dysfunctional people in the shelters here. Most of my 20+ housemates are addicts or mental health clients. The ladies still come to me for guidance, advice or just moral support. I probably still smell like a social-worker LOL but my job is 24/7 so it can be a bit wearing. In a couple for weeks I'll be visiting family and my contact with the homeless populations will go back to days only for a few weeks. Chance to recharge before the biggest challenge yet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A church is a church

November 24, 2009
When asked about my religion I am inclined to respond with "I believe in God ...I don't believe in religion." So you might ask why I attend church when I come into a new community. I do believe that the churches should represent the best cross section of a population. Is a congregation open and inclusionary or elitist and self serving? Is their Christian doctrine Grace based or Shame based? Often the churches who are "reaching out" to street people and the homeless are shame based. All filled with hell fire and retribution. Many good Christians quote scripture but fail to ask (and act on) the telling question "What would Jesus do?". I attended a street ministry run by the Mennonite Brethern last Sunday. It was a grace based service held in what looked like an old night club. Very inclusionary, the pastor asked (in lui of collection plate) for donations to a young family whose welfare had been cut because someone had been kind enough to give them a car. I was welcomed by a sweet lady about my age, she was fine with my homeless status and chatted warmly for several minutes. When she ask why I was living homeless I told her,"because God told me to." She disappeared immediately and didn't speak to me again for the rest of the morning. (Perhaps she couldn't find any Thorazine to slip into my coffee LOL) I find it odd that people who (very likely) spend a lot of time talking to God are so surprise and even skeptical when you say that God talks to you.
That evening I went to another church for a pot-luck celebration. All very lovely people who seem to be genuinely interested in the plight of our homeless and street populations. Still, too many myths abound and much work is needed to educating the population as a whole, that is of coarse what Angels of the Road hopes to change for all our sakes.
P.S Don't forget to order your Dream Catchers early... I can only work so fast and you'll want to give them to everyone on your gift list. Always a good cause, keeping Angels of the Road on the road.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another's Story (really)

November 22, 2009
As promised today I will tell you about Pam. When I arrived at my new location it was late evening, this did not allow for my usual ritual of finding my way around and scouting out a homeless shelter which accommodates women. When I got off the bus I went outside and flagged down the first taxi in the line. I had $15.70 in my pocket (ok actually in my handbag). The driver was a woman about my age; I told her where I was going and asked how close $15 would get me to my destination. She said that would get me to the shelter but she would like me to share her story. So I enthusiastically agreed... every person out here has a story to tell, some are just more interesting then others.
Pam is homeless, since early October she has been living out of her car. She does not go to the shelter because she has a pet cat that she will not give up. Pam says the car is quite cozy between the down filled sleeping bags and a snuggly little kitty. So how does a well educated (university graduate) middle-aged woman end up living in her car. I'm sure this was never part of some master life plan Pam came up with in her youth. Pam is the second oldest of her siblings (as am I) she told me how she was always the caregiver in her family. She finished university after the younger kids were well established and her mom no longer need her help at home. Pam went to Korea and taught English for 7 years. When she returned to Canada, her dad's health was failing so she moved close to her parents and helped her mother to care for him until he passed several years ago. Then for a brief while Pam again had her own life...but due to economics Mother and daughter moved in together. Over time Pam's mother grew more dependent because of her own failing health. Once again Pam's life was defined by the needs of someone else. When mom passed away, Pam slipped into a depression...she lost her job and ultimately her apartment.
There is more going on with Pam then mere economics. Pam is at a cross-roads, and in this moment making no decision seems better then committing to a wrong decision. Pam and I will have coffee one day when I have a better knowledge of the available resources in this area. Hopefully she'll find something that rings true for her and she will start being Pam's caregiver. Everyone needs a little time for them self. That goes for you too... first and foremost be your own best friend.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another's Story

November 21, 2009
Amazing, I don't have access to the date on this computer... There no calenders in this room or any clocks beyond the one in the corner of the computer screen... how strange. My cell phone and personal computer are locked in the office, they do not provide long distance on the phone here essentially cutting off my contact with my family and friends. The 24hr kitchen is stocked with bread products, dairy and some fruit. Dinner was vegetarian nachos, stuffed peppers and a chili with ground meat in it (I don't know the exact daily requirement of meat protein for a healthy female). I'll let you know on that ;-) During the night the bed check is done every hour, for light sleepers (like myself) this is always a slight sleep disruption. If this were a Christian based organization I'd suspect a subtle attempt is being made to brainwash clients into some Jesus Cult.
That's just silly, people don't brainwash that easily. My computer time is up so tomorrow I'll tell you Pam's story. For now I'm just going sign off and add a cross to the symbols on my painted hoodie.
God bless

Friday, November 20, 2009

Long Day

November 19, 2009
Spent 5 hours on a Greyhound today, and I'm just settling into my new digs. Blogs will be short I'm thinking, because the house will not allow me to use my computer. And this computer is on a time limit of 30 minutes. So... no cell, no computer ... will paint a message on the cave wall before I leave LOL. All is good tonight just really tired so I will try to write some final thoughts on my last local tomorrow. Have a good sleep all. Ttyl Bonny

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On the Road Again

November 17, 2009
Tomorrow I change cities again... I have perhaps over-stayed here. But I am very glad I did because yesterday I met another crusader. A woman who is devoted to helping the street people, through friendship, outreach and love. Her "children" range in age from 17 to 70... Just one woman with one dream, changing the world one life at a time. Diana and millions of quiet heroes like her are our hope for a better world.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'm a bad...bad...person

November 14, 2009
Well Friday the 13th passed uneventfully... I was hoping for a lottery win...maybe next witching day LOL. Today I found myself thinking very unkind thoughts about one of our street people. The Salvation Army had put on their monthly dinner for the homeless it was very nice (as free food goes) but as I have said before putting on a weekly / monthly meal is easier then trying to do so daily. They started serving at 3 pm and would close the kitchen at 4:30 pm or when the food ran out. This woman came down to the drop-in raging about what a ripoff this was. She had arrived at 4:00 pm and they were out of food. After walking ALL that way (4 short blocks) there was no food for her because EVERYBODY else had taken 2 and 3 plates. She ranted on and on and she had no interest in any she waded through everyone else's snacks and a couple of the work lunches (without actually finishing anything).
I may not have said anything, but I definitely wanted to ask how many blocks she would be willing to walk to score a 20 piece... And if she couldn't get to dinner earlier because she trying to chase down her dealer or some trick.
Why am I sharing this with you? I suppose it is nothing more then an admission that I am not perfect or even as good as I would like to be. That just like everyone else I go from day to day doing the best I can in any given moment...and some moments are definitely better then others.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

jumping through

November 12, 2009
There is a unusual ritual required to stay in the shelter I am currently at and yesterday I missed a step so I had some doubt about where I would be spending the night. If the mission opened their sleep floor (only happens below -5) I could go there after 9pm...if not I would have to look for a all night coffee shop. The bus station closes at 10pm...the other option would be parking my butt in the police station until they either forced someone to take my in...or bought me a coffee LOL.
Hear is the drill, at 10am we must show up at the shelter to state our intention of coming in that night. At 9pm or earlier...we must show up or call in to claim the bed, then we would be free to stay out until 11pm if we so wished. I didn't make the 10am claim time, so I would have to check back and see if anyone missed their 9pm check in. The mission was going to open at 9pm so I would have to kill about 4 hrs before checking either option. After accompanying an elderly resident to try on cheap coats at the liquidation centre I went to A & W for a tea. I sat in the booth next to another resident and her boyfriend, their conversation led me to believe she planned to move out of the shelter that night. I phoned over to the shelter and ask if I could have her bed...I have become so mercenary LOL. But the name of the game is survival...and I'm learning.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Places New Faces

November 11, 2009
I have been in a new town since Saturday, the first night I showed up at the women's shelter and was told that I do not meet the criteria for admission. Turns out the shelter I went to was a crisis (battered women's) shelter. Because I am sooo adorable, they were kind enough to allow me to stay the weekend. That would allow me to access a bank and get a bus ticket to a larger centre, because to quote the worker "you don't belong in a place like that"... Turns out this is exactly the place I belong in. Have to keep this short we are not allowed to stay on site during the day here. Day before yesterday I say a man who looked alot like a guy I new in Calgary, striking resemblance but about 20lbs heavier and 10 yrs younger. So yesterday I ask if he might be related to my friend, he said yes....strung me along for a minute or two before admitting he is in fact Brian. He came here for work back in the summer and is looking so much better, healthier for the time away. There is a mission where I spend the day, there is never more then a dozen people there outside of meal times. Dinner serves about a hundred homeless and poor. What can I say small town (small detour from my plan) but the women's shelter was the subject to much comment. So I wanted to check it out and it was everything they said. I'll tell you more when I have time. gtg.....

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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Out in the Cold

November 2, 2009
The Vancouver Sun October 29 2009 reports that B.C. is giving police the power to force street people into shelters in the event of a cold weather alert. There is much controversy around this move for several reasons. There is of coarse the cynical view that this is just a ploy to clear the streets for the Olympic Games. But since the legislation does not include the forced confinement of the person in question I don't see this as a likely tool for improving the urban aesthetic. That very flaw is what makes me skeptical about the efficacy of the new law. People who don't seek the warmth and security of a shelter are doing so for reasons outside of hunger and cold. They have mental health or addiction issues which out weigh, reason and good judgement. The police can bring them against their will to a shelter, but they are free to promptly walk away. Are we going to keep picking the same individuals up all night to give them a little defrost time in the back of various cruisers? That might actually work. I think it is far more likely police will record each drop off, so that if anyone turns up dead in the morning city administration can say. Too bad...So sad...we did our best, NOT OUR FAULT.
Fortunately cold weather alerts are rare on the west coast. There is something in Alberta called a form 10 which allows police to order (I think it is 72 hour) commitment to hospital of a person deemed to be a danger to self or others. Now wanting to stay out in -20c weather could be seen as a danger to oneself. But first the police would have to establish that the choice of nesting place did not offer protection from the elements.
According to the CBC report there are questions about what would be allowed as necessary and reasonable force to get the homeless person to comply. The issue of civil liberties was also raised, don't people have a right to self determination. Let me break out my Ethics (B.A. Philosophy) degree for this one. The principle of universalism states that any right we claim for ourselves we must be willing to extend to everyone else. So we get to sleep any where we want...that means we should let others sleep anywhere they want. Not the answer I was hoping for. Let's look at Utilitarianism...the greatest good for the greatest number. A person choosing not to sleep in a shelter affects us how? For that matter a person freezing to death affects us how? Not much...but that is not the answer I was looking for either.
I believe what I am looking for comes under the Social Contract, by choosing to live with a group of others we choose to relinquish certain rights for the common good. As long as people choose to live in any given community they enter into the social contract. Our governments and police have fiduciary duty to protect the citizens, in return we give up a certain level of self determination. Inequities in the application of the law are a discussion for another time. I guess the principle that applies best to this legislation is DO NO HARM. Letting someone freeze to death or worse is definitely harmful.