Tuesday, December 28, 2010

...and all is right with the world

Well, I think this blog will just be an update on Bonny’s world. As you can see the Google ads are gone and we are back to the old format, which I like better anyway. Angels was not paid for any of the traffic generated from our website. So, the grand experiment ends with a lesson learned, always a valuable thing ;-).

My faith in the Creator’s ability to put me where I am meant to be, has once again been re-affirmed. I am living where I need to live, to best access my new job, which is a position I absolutely love, and an excellent fit for both me and my employers. The schedule for this job offers me the time necessary to continue working with homeless initiatives and street people.

I am once again enjoying the great peace of knowing my path is firm and clear before me. Thank you, all of my dear friends for your love and support during those dark months of uncertainty. Have a joyous day and I am sure I will be back to rant about something else again very soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ghosts of Christmas Past

As Christmas approaches I am always reminded of an incident which happened many years ago. My best friend’s little boy was 7 or 8 years old, which is about the age when logic sets in and kids put aside fantasies of Tooth Fairies, Easter Bunnies and Santa Clause. My friend gently prodded the boy as to what his beliefs were on the subject of Santa. Although, she would have been happy with a simple yes or no response… her son, a very bright kid was willing to explain his position. YES, he does believe in Santa, because if Santa wasn’t real we wouldn’t know how to think him up. In philosophical terms, I would call this the “Santalogical Argument”. This is the same circular reasoning that has been used in the “Ontological Argument” for hundreds of years to prove the existence of God. Does this small event exemplify the boy’s maturity of thought or the inherent childishness of the Ontological Argument? Either way I personally love the Santalogical Argument.
Ultimately every child comes to understand that presents are put under the tree by grown-ups. Which is a good thing; because part of the Santa mythology is that good kids score better at Christmas then bad kids. So if it were all up to a magical elf, every well behaved child would get their hearts desire… up to and including a pony. I wonder if this misconception might be the root of our cultural tendancy to assign our self worth on the basis of our stuff / money…
Some people were so dis-illusioned by the discovery of the Santa myth that they refuse to “lie” to their own kids. What they don’t realize is that human beings have so little time to be purely innocent in our thinking. While we can continue to image fairies and elves… there is only a small window of time when our brains will allow us to truly believe. The time to be honest with your child (in this, as in all things) is when they ask the question. If a child is old enough to ask the question (be sure to clarify the question) they are ready to handle the answer. And if you didn’t like the way your parents dealt with the situation, resolve to handle it better for your children.
I remember how I found out about the Santa Myth and I would like to share that story with you here. At the age of 4 or 5, I was standing on a chair at the kitchen table while my Grandma wrapped Christmas presents. She handed me a card and told me to print, “to Grandpa… love Santa”. My Grandpa died before my 6th birthday, but I knew my alphabet so I have to assume age 4 or 5. I asked my Grandma if Santa if would be mad that we were signing his name. And she explained to me that, Santa is the spirit of giving that we all feel at Christmas time… so we are all Santa, even little kids like me. In ten minutes I went from believing in a generous magical being who spread joy at Christmas; to having that power for myself.

Whether it is God or Santa (and I paraphrase here), for the nonbeliever no proof is enough… for the believer no proof is necessary. Have a very HAPPY HOLIDAY… whatever you believe.

Friday, December 10, 2010

One Dead Indian

History is written by the victor. I don’t know who said that, but it seems to carry some truth. Then again, who the victor was can be open to interpretation. There are parts of the U.S.A. where people believe, they won the war of 1812 lol. Empirical truth is something that is absolute, what happened, happened, what is, is; but too often lines are blurred and obscured by the record keeper’s particular perspective. Then for generations to come, we are misled by a semi-truth.

On Saturday night I was watching a movie on APTN (aboriginal people’s television network). The movie was titled “One Dead Indian”… a docu-drama about the shooting death of Dudley George during the 1995 occupation (reclamation) at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario. The thing that made this movie so wonderful was an astounding commitment to truth; there were no real heroes or villains. Although I kept wishing everyone in this situation would just shut up and listen to each other… ignorance is a sad reality of life. In this movie we see how people are motivated; action, reaction, fear, frustration… all playing into the unfolding of events. Nothing in this movie was exaggerated or whitewashed. The interactions between the OPP and the Native activists are very credible performances. Even the trial’s outcome strikes a blow for reason over revenge. I won’t go into the details of the movie because I strongly urge you all to rent it, borrow it from the library or watch it next time it plays on television. This whole movie is a tribute to how history should be recorded.

The trouble with info-tainment/docu-dramas is difficulty in holding audience's attention while respecting the truth of the situation or events. By Bruce Willis blockbuster standards, “One Dead Indian” was not so much entertainment. And fortunately by Harpo Productions standards “One Dead Indian” was not nearly so boring in its quest for authenticity as Beloved. From the occupation of Ipperwash, through the inquest into the shooting; Dudley Georges story took, 9 YEARS… the human anguish of justice delayed (or worse denied) could never be adequately portrayed in book or movie.

It is for us to place ourselves emotionally into another’s (life, situation, shoes) to even begin to understand and use that understanding to create a better world. Empathy maybe one of the most important emotions we can cultivate as human beings. Imagine how much better everything would be if everyone just tried to understand each other. Once we understand a person it is so easy to accept them, possibly even respect them. And isn’t that what we all want, just to be accepted and respected for who we are?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The journeying journalist.

Readers have often suggested I should write the individual stories of the people I meet when I am on the road. This is something I have done only a few times… when I do, it is because that person had a particular impact on my experience with Angels of the Road. And there was that one time in Kelowna because the woman asked me to share her story. There are a few reasons why I avoid talking about specific individuals. Mostly it is about respecting people’s privacy. Also by telling an individual’s story the reader can focus in on the differences and separate themselves from the experience. Those of you, who know me, know that I am all about the oneness of humanity. I hope that what I write is always mindful of that fact.
For anyone who wants to read the individual stories of the homeless, there are any number of good books at the library. I recently read, “Radical Compassion” by Father Gary Smith a Jesuit Priest working (at that time) in Portland Oregon’s old town. It reminded me very much of the people I met during my time in Vancouver’s DTES. Also on my, to read list are “Realm of the Hungry Ghost” and “All My Sisters”.
Radical Compassion” focused entirely on street people (and the mentally ill), the reason for this is simple; these stories are more interesting than those of  the working poor who drift in and out of the shelter system due to poverty and substandard housing. Stories about addiction and schizophrenia evoke much sympathy but very little empathy… yet 59% of Canadians live one pay check away from homelessness. These are the unsung masses that represent 50% of Canada’s 300,000 (or more) homeless. This commonality of experience is what makes their stories relatively boring and overlooked by journalists.
But it is a struggle which most of us can relate to, finding work, making the rent, covering necessities; the day to day uncertainty. Since coming to Hamilton I am neck deep in that scenario. Two months of prolific looking, both in and out of the shelter industry and I’m still unemployed. In time one begins to wonder what you are doing wrong. Even in a bad economy, a part of us takes these things on as a personal failures. I can well imagine if one were a drinker or a person of little faith, that ongoing rejection could lead one into a downward spiral, which would be hard to reverse. I cling to the belief that there is a lesson in this experience which the Creator will eventually make me aware of. Ok, I think I’m drifting into an ADD moment… Short answer is that we have to remember, “There, but for the grace of God…etc”.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I HATE haters ;-(

If there could be such thing as an emergency blog… I guess this would be it. There is an advertiser on this blog site which sent me into a tail spin this morning. “Intolerant Canadians” … since the only thing I have no tolerance for is intolerance, I went right in to check this out. The title is intended to be ironic… suggesting we should be intolerant of war, injustice, poverty etc. The discussion board is extensive and carries many very interesting comments. Sadly some of the comments reflect the kind of ignorance that has been traditionally associated with the word “intolerance”. One guy’s attitude toward new Canadians is to assimilate… or go home. If only our Native brothers and sisters had taken a similar attitude when the ships began arriving from Europe, Canada would be a better place right now. Anyway take some time to check it out for yourself. This is the second time a Google Ad has spawned a blog… so I guess they are doing something right.
For me intolerance seems counterproductive. Even if the subject of your intolerance is war, poverty, injustice etc… how does your indignation resolve anything? Intolerance simply polarizes the two sides reducing our ability to influence change in each other. When the US president asked Pierre Trudeau to boycott Cuba, his response was, “you can’t influence someone, you are not talking to.” I have held the same position with my work at the shelter… I do everything I can to keep the lines of communication open. Nothing / No one is all bad or all good. By choosing to focus on the good in ourselves and others we learn to control the bad.
The war in Afghanistan has been a long and terrible tragedy on many levels…. before the war, under a 1,000 children went to school none of them girls. Now tens of thousands of children are learning and almost 40% of them are girls. This is only one of the measurable positive impacts of one war.
I am NOT pro-war; we should totally look for nonviolent solutions to every dispute. I am not in favor of poverty or injustice either and I will always work to end such things. Casting blame or judgment serves no good purpose; whether healing a person, or a nation, or a planet.
During my stay in Edmonton I was standing in line for lunch at the Hope Mission, when a Native man in his 40’s turned around look down at me and growled, “I hate white people… you diddle our children!” All I could do was look into his eyes, shrug apologetically and said, “Sorry ‘bout that…but I wasn't there”. He turned his back to me and that was the end of the discussion. But the next day we were dancing together at the pow-wow and our future encounters were friendly. He probably still hates white people but at least now there is one of us he can tolerate.
I am well over my 400 word count today and this subject is barely touched. Don’t forget to email me with details of your antipoverty and homelessness related projects and events, for the new page. But if the ad for “Intolerant Canadians” shows up it is well worth checking out and feel free to comment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tips & Tricks of Successful Fundraising

Yesterday I received an email from a dear friend of mine in Calgary, like myself, she works in human services at a not- for-profit agency. She wants me to share my secrets for successful self promotion and fund raising. LMAO…. Now I have to admit to her (and everyone else) that I am the most UNSUCCESSFUL fund raiser ever. Since leaving a year and a half ago I have likely taken in under $1,000 in donations; most of that in gifts kindly given by dear and close friends, guided more by their belief in me then in my cause. Their names can be found under the HOW YOU CAN HELP tab on a list of partners. Selling the dream catchers which I made, probably brought in a couple of hundred dollars… half of those were sold to friends. Now we are trying out the Google Ads… doing that is averaging about $4 a day. At that rate, by spring, we can expect to raise 1/10th of the $6000 we need to continue Angels of the Road.
On a related subject I cannot block individual ads… so because of my use of the word shelter you are going to keep seeing ads for industrial, prefab buildings and tents. Sorry…. But just for fun if the Tectonik ad appears you should so take a look…. They have these really cool inflatable igloo things in amazing colours and shapes. I think deflating should be done by pulling out the stopper and letting everyone jump on it like a bouncy castle until all the air is gone LOL.
To compensate for the failings in my own fundraising... I have added a new FEATURED EVENTS page where I will list events, projects and fundraiser for agencies working on anti poverty and homelessness issues. For the first in our series open the ART SHOW link below.
On the subject of fund raising the Calgary Drop-In does some very amazing things and one of my favorites, is the ART SHOW and SALE which is coming up next weekend. I can’t be there this year but if you are in the Calgary area do attend. Funds are split between the author/artist of the piece and the DI. The DI’s share goes to support the arts programs…. for clients. I believe strongly in the arts and sports programs which go a long way to building an individual’s self-esteem and that is the first step to rebuilding a life. You can give a person a job or a home but if they don’t feel deserving, it won’t last long. Working to end homelessness requires addressing the problem on several fronts, providing warm beds and hot meals is an important first step (insert Ladybug Foundation). Beyond that we need the knowledge and skill to move people forward in their personal lives (that is what Angels of the Road is doing). But most important is the movement by everyone to create adequate (1.3 million units) levels of affordable home ownership in Canada (Habitat for Humanity). I hope you will decide to participate in which ever area you feel best serves your social conscious. Raise funds, raise awareness, raise a roof… donate a blanket, donate money, BUY A PAINTING….

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Up like a rosebud

Well, today’s blog is all about me… those of you who have been following know that this past month has been really stressful. Not finding a job (of any kind), bills needing to be paid, internet not working, working on my friend’s legal problems… and dealing with bureaucracy in general.
And if you are long time follower you know that I have a history of clinical depression. I have been un-medicated and self-monitoring for 5 years as of next month; the symptoms were sneaking back and my daughter was offering to send me to Calgary, if that is what I wanted. The biggest contributing factor was not being able to interact with the homeless and street people. My outreach work gives me joy, a reason to be…. Since 2005 this has been the longest I have been separated from my client friends. It is a quirk of the shelter industry… that clients cannot become employees; as I very painfully learned in Ottawa it doesn’t take much contact to be considered a client and ineligible for work. So I have spent the last 6 weeks avoiding my homeless friends.
Happily this week, I started a volunteer position with the food bank…. Many of the clients are working poor. And some are transients, in and out of places every few months, but that is a conversation for another time. It just felt so good to be useful again to be connecting with the clients, but that’s my thing. I hope you all have or find something that makes you feel that way.
Also, I interviewed for a position that has me really excited…. It is creative work with a team developing a brand new educational initiative. Ideas keep hitting me left and right. I am working up a flow chart and researching links, if I don’t get hired I’ll probably still have to throw in my two cents every now and then LOL. I had forgotten how exciting it is to watch a project unfold; to see concrete final results. In human services everything is fluid; circumstances change, people change and addiction recovery is mostly 2 steps forward and 1 step back. Nothing is actually ever “done”; it would be so refreshing to actually complete something. If I am lucky enough to get this job… my weekends will be spent with the homeless either through formal or informal outreach.
Guess I can’t go without talking a bit about the Google Ads. So far most ads are reasonably appropriate and inoffensive, also I have discovered that they have a mechanism whereby I can block anything I find inappropriate (like get rich quick schemes, or dating sites). The ads pay a few cents for every click, but I don’t get paid unless people check out the advertiser’s site. I open each new site at least once and so far I haven’t been spammed by anyone. Angels of the Road will need $6000 dollars to finish our journey, the ads are just one small part of a plan to make that happen… the rest will come from a day job, and whatever other freelance work I can come up with. So thanks for checking out the ads often… every little bit help. Have a joyous day. Bonny

Friday, November 12, 2010

Do Ladybugs Twitter?

If you are following Angels of the Road on Twitter you have probably already, visited the Ladybug Foundation website. The Ladybug Foundation showed up as a Google advertisers here, so I checked it out (AR doesn’t get paid when I click… only when you click). The foundation was formed in 2005 out of an idea from an 8 year old girl named Hannah. Little Hannah wanted to do something to help the homeless in Winnipeg. Now 5 years later her project is still going strong with Hannah spearheading a national public awareness campaign, through Red Scarf Day (Jan 31, 2011). Please get the details on how to participate in your city from the Ladybug website.
Always one to admit to my very human failings, I have to say that Evil Me is jealous of the support young Hannah has been given. Not just from the luminaries listed on the website, but also by parents who understand how to nurture a child’s dreams. I am pretty sure if 8 year old Bonny had come home with a dime in hand, saying I wanted to help the poor; my parents would have said, “We ARE the poor”. Then my dime would have found its way down to the hotel to buy a draft LOL.
Good Me realizes that having the parents I had, contributed to me becoming who I am… and I very much like who I am. Also… maybe I don’t have  a lot of famous people supporting Angels of the Road. But I’m not 13 years old and cute as a baby seal… no disrespect intended, I admire this girl and what she is doing more than you can even imagine. My journey does have the support of my family, my friends, my co-workers, other shelter industry workers (p.s. thx for the words of support Surry Shelter) and so very, very, many client friends. Every day more than 20 new people visit the Angels of the Road’s website and over 200 people return. I have found out recently that less than half as many people visit the blog site; guess I’ll have to work on that. So, to all my friends and followers, thank you for the time you spend with Angels of the Road and know that I am so very grateful for your interest and support.
Seeing that very classy website yesterday, also made Evil Me really jealous, wishing I had the kind of marketing team (and budget) that the Ladybug Foundation seems to enjoy. A very professional and polished presentation… my compliments to the designer. And if you donated your services, congrats on the karma build. So people, please don’t make comparisons…. I’m doing the Angels of the Road site on my own and learning as I go. Fortunately, I don’t mind learning; hope you don’t mind watching LOL.
Every project has its own focus. Ladybug pulls at the heart strings; giving the public a cursory understanding of homelessness and a very tangible way in which to become proactive in the fight for social justice. Angels of the Road is for the most part an intellectual pursuit. Though born from a place of love, the purpose of AR is to deepen our understanding of homelessness and the shelter system. How it works, how to make it work better and why that is so very important to each and every Canadian (North American). Different routes to the same destination, a community where everyone can live with dignity and security.
Good Me says that, the most important thing is to move our society toward social justice and an end to homelessness. Every effort small or large should be celebrated. That is why (inspired by this week's find) I am going to seek out other charities and projects looking to end homelessness, which I will feature in weekly blogs on this site. If you aren’t inspired by Angels of the Road or the Ladybug Foundation's Red Scarf Day maybe you will come across something in the future that will inspire you to action. The very best reason in the world to do the right thing... is because it is right. Ending poverty and homelessness, is the right thing… finding a personal way of doing the right thing may take a little longer. Have a joyous day.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


People often say to me, “I could never do what you do.” To some people that means, working with street people and the homeless. For others it means giving up the security of a steady pay check to make this journey. For others it is about sleeping in strange places, surround by strange people. For some it is about being face to face with real poverty in our own backyard… I'm pretty sure I can't NOT do what I do..
When someone says “I could never do what you do”… I can’t help but think about all the things I could never do. And I want to take a minute (a blog) to share some of them. In no particular order I want to thank pedicurists, dental hygienists, hairdressers, hospice workers, personal support workers, geriatric care workers, nurses, paramedics, life guards, doctors, accountants, daycare providers (I like little kids in numbers fewer than 6), statisticians and cable guys. These, off the top of my head, are just a few of the people who make this world a better place and to whom I can honestly say, “I could never do, what you do.” I especially want to thank the sweet young woman, who spends every waking hour appealing to the alien forces not to annihilate human kind. Her arguments are articulate and well thought out…and near as I can tell they must be working. My only thought is… what terrible burden for one person to have to carry… “I could never do what she does”, I only hope I can prove worthy of her efforts.
Every one of us can only do… what we can do. Whether, it is a moment of kindness by word or deed or a lifetime committed to a cause (or a person)… joy is derived from sharing ourselves. Using the Buddhist metaphor, we are all pebbles in the stream (of life), it is inevitable that by touching the world, we change it. So try to keep your heart open, and your touch gentle. You are making a difference, by being you.
Have a joyous day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life in 400 Words

Wow that last blog was a long one… blogs should really only be around 400 words (give or take), so I apologize and will keep it short in the future. This means, we will probably end up having a series of blogs on one subject; because not everything can be covered in 400ish words. Today, a very short update on my attempt to settle back into a (strait) life. You know what I mean, regular paid employment, a place to live, social connections etc.
The good news is I have found a nice 2 bedroom apartment; expect to have a room-mate. It comes complete with a lovely landlady; I think we are going to get along great. It isn’t cheap, but certainly reasonable for the market, here. It is close to my daughter and has easy bus access to downtown. All of which are good things. I am really enjoying the time with my kids and look forward to regular contact after I move out, which will likely be this weekend.
The bad news is I have not yet found a job, while I will take any work in the meantime; I really want to get back into frontline social work. I really expected to have a position starting November 1st. Perhaps given the warmer climate in southern Ontario they don’t start winter response until later in the season?
When I go home to Alberta, I am downtown visiting the D.I. and my client friends within 48 hours. Because I want to work in the industry here, I cannot just pop down to the soup kitchen or drop-in to visit with clients; to do so would label me as a client of the agency and disqualify me from employment. There are only a handful of agencies running most of the homeless related services.
I confess to missing the people and the community (homeless and street people). This is the longest I have been away, since I first walked into the Calgary Drop-In, almost 5 years ago. Even after my surgery, when I was force to take disability… I got my sister to take me to the soup kitchen and Sally Ann in Nelson where I was convalescing. I think I am having separation anxiety LOL. As a possible solution I have put in with local agencies for volunteer positions, to keep my head in the right place (focused on others)… instead sitting around feeling sorry for myself. Tomorrow I have an appointment, hopefully by next week I’ll be doing something useful again. Well that was 422 words …so for now have a joyous day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wandering not so aimlessly.

When I am on the road, I never stay in shelters when I have the option of staying with family or friends. This means that when I am in Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Calgary, Nelson and Kamloops (sheltered there last year, now I have friends to stay with), I don’t stay in shelters. My exposure to the shelter industry in these places is through visits to drop-ins and soup kitchens and discussions with clients and professionals. You see, I discover very early in this little journey that I am a really crappy liar LOL. I suppose that is a good thing. So in these places I am unable to honestly say, “I am homeless”.
In other cities I am in fact homeless… I don’t have a place to stay… I don’t have money to stay in a hostel or hotel… ergo homeless. Some people would say I could have chosen to stay in Calgary, where I had a job and a place to sleep. Truth is that like myself, many of the people staying in shelters have options which, for personal reasons they choose not to exercise. I chose to learn more about homelessness than any university course could possibly teach me.
If I had not made that choice… what I have learned from this experience would still be a mystery. It remains to be seen if this new knowledge will benefit the industry, my clients or our communities; that will depend on how the information is used or not used as the case may be. But without being immodest, who better to do this type of experiential research into homelessness than me. I have no financial commitments (mortgages, car payments etc) to tie me down. My children are grown and independent. No pets to feed ;-). I’m not trying to get a tenured professorship at some university. My job at the DI was great and I’m pretty sure they would let me come back when I’m ready.
This objective, inside look at homelessness and the shelter industry is unique. The occasional journalist has spent brief periods of time living with one population of homeless, be it New York, L.A. or Philadelphia to name a few. Journalists are looking for a good story and often sensationalize the experience; focusing on the worst aspects of street people and shelter life. My only objective is to learn… and the only way the information becomes useful is if it is truth, good or bad.
Researchers look at the shelter system from the outside, through observations, statistics and / surveys. These are all good tools for developing information. I explained it once by saying homelessness is like a building in the middle of a block. Some people don’t even notice it is there; others know about it being there but don’t care much one way or the other. Researchers, social workers, and volunteers care enough to approach the building and peer in through windows and doorways… getting a pretty good look at the inside. But some angles will always be obscured by walls, corner and curtains. Angels of the Road is about entering that building, seeing all of it, up close and personal. Finding out what is, as yet unseen. This kind of inside perspective is called an observer/participant study. While I participate in shelter life with other homeless people, I am observing; the system, clients, staff, and community. Their interactions and inter-connectedness.
You might think, why not just ask someone who is already homeless, they certainly have seen the shelter industry from the inside. Unfortunately the inside view of clients is limited to their individual exposure and coloured by their personal drama, their perspective and opinions do matter. Surveys are used to collect the perceptions of homeless people; and from a large number of survey results certain extrapolations can be accurately made. Every research study must have constants and variables. In a survey, the constant is the panel of questions and the variables are the subjects (participants). For Angels of the Road the constant is ME and the variables are locations, agencies, demographic breakdown, community and government. Resulting (I hope) in an unbiased overview of the homeless situation in Canada.
Angels of the Road has visited many cities in more than half of Canada; after my sabbatical we will continue the journey and visit the other half of the country. I am looking at agency practices and protocols; finding what is and is not working within the industry. Examining the priorities of government at all levels and how that is affecting the industry and in turn what impact this has on the clients and staff. Mostly, I am out to find the best of what the shelter industry has to offer and create from that a working prototype; which we can use to plan facilities and programs to truly help people move forward with their lives.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?

I have encountered different reactions to Angels of the Road…. For the next little while I want to clarify some things and maybe answer some unasked questions that you might be having.
Today I will answer the very important question, “Am I taking a bed away from someone who needs it”? The answer is NO; I have never been in a shelter that did not go through the night without at least one or two empty beds. Shelters are NOT lying when they say they are over capacity… here is how it works. There are two types of facilities, dry (sober) shelters do not let people in who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol; addicts can access these beds if they have not been using. These beds are filled by clean & sober, transients and medicals. As a transient, these are the dorms / facilities I use.
Some shelters have an area set aside for intox clients (I have never seen a shelter exclusively for intox). I do NOT stay at the intox dorms because these are the beds which are in short supply. Intox units are set up differently than transient dorms. Measures are taken with consideration to Harm Reduction. There are no upper bunks (same floor space = fewer beds)… the space between beds is large enough for a gurney in the event of a medical emergency. People under the influence are more likely to experience seizures, falls, fights, overdoses and any number of medical issues stemming from years of substance abuse. There areas require higher staffing levels and more frequent bed checks.
So back to the question of the full shelter with the empty beds. For simplicity of math; let say I have a shelter with 50 intox beds and 50 dry (sober) beds. I book 47 people into my sober beds… during the night my 50 intox beds fill. Then 6 more intoxicated people arrive… I put 4 matts on the TV room floor and 2 matts in the computer room. If necessary I would continue using common areas until there is no space left, which happens a lot, especially in winter. As you can see my shelter with a 100 person capacity now has 103 people in it. Because of safety concerns we cannot put intoxicated people on upper bunks in the less accessible, less monitored sober dorms.
I mentioned winter in the last paragraph. As the cold weather sets in, people who have been sleeping in their vehicles and outside or in abandoned buildings, seek the warmth of shelters. This population includes transients and addicts, all shelter beds are used in all dorm areas… and more are opened for what we in the industry call winter response. For this reason I choose not to stay in shelters between November and April. Last winter,(after the Olympics) I rented a SRO (single resident occupancy) room in the DTES (down town east side) of Vancouver, which was a great experience. I could live and move among the street people and homeless (marginalized in substandard housing) without taking a shelter bed away from someone else. These rooms are becoming rarer as old neighborhoods are being gentrified. But such hotels are a big part of the current system of affordable “housing” in major cities so we must consider seriously how to replace these units before tearing them down. This winter I have rented an apartment and plan to live and work in Hamilton Ontaro… I will likely stay a year or more before continuing. In part this is because Angels of the Road (me) is out of funds and we need to build capital before we can continue. And also I have made a commitment to help a young friend of mine with his reintegration into the community and I won’t be returning to the road until that is done. Have a joyous day my friends. ttyl

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Turkey Day

Really sorry about being off the blog site for 2 weeks… but getting settled into a new city is very time consuming. Add to that the fact that I have people to visit and things to do while I’m here in Ontario, I admit to being distracted. Finding a job… finding affordable housing and getting set up with furniture etc is all time consuming. I am optimistic about finding a job in my field once winter response starts… which for most cities is November thru April. Given a personal commitment I have made, this leave of absence from Angels of the Road will probably be about 12 months (give or take). For my young readers that may seem like a long time, but for those of us who have reached midlife it is barely a hiccup. Fortunately the road of life is long and there is always going to be enough time to do the things we need to do. For now the universe has put me in Hamilton Ontario, it is for me to do as much good as I can while I am here. Those of you who have known me for a while know that I do not make plans; I simply form intentions while watching the Creator’s plan for me unfold.
I have been thinking about adding a new blog page to the Angels of the Road website. One specifically where I can wax on about matters philosophical and spiritual. This journey is driven by many things. Sociologically it is about the crisis in and costs of homelessness in North America. Psychologically it is learning first-hand about the effects which the shelter environment has on individuals living and working in it. Personally it is about growing as a client care worker, teacher and advocate for social justice. Philosophically it is about honour, (being true to one’s word) walking the talk, doing the right thing simply because it is right. I cannot claim to speak for the homeless without first standing shoulder to shoulder with them in their world. Spiritually Angels of the Road is about living my faith, knowing god, the universe and my place there in. Trusting that this is the way I am meant to serve and that the outcome, whatever it is will be for the best (personally and ultimately).
I have said it before; I enjoy a deep and abiding peace of heart and mind. I see so many people of all socio-economic classes who endure such turmoil in their lives; I want to share what I know with them. That is why I want to add the new blog, I don’t know if it will be in the form of sharing a thought or writing discourses or answering questions… let’s see how it evolves ;-)
Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Centre 454 (said 4-5-4)

A couple of months ago I came across an article online about an Ottawa woman who works with the homeless. Reading the article I was stuck by the thought, “That is my kind of social worker” when I get to Ottawa I must look her up. Two days ago I had the great good fortune to meet Mary Martha Hale… she shares my commitment to the homeless and practices what I call free-style social work. Basically free-style social work means treating everyone with kindness and respect and being present for the clients with whatever is needed in any given moment. This has been my personal philosophy and is shared by many of the people I have worked with over the years. Today I don’t wish to talk about “our Mary Martha” as she is affectionately referred to by her staff and clients. Today I want to talk about the result of putting that philosophy into action.
When I first arrived in Ottawa I went to Centre 454 and have visited often over this past month. Forged partly by design and partly by default…this place is what every drop-in should be…it is in a word flawless. OK… one flaw, on movie day, game playing should be moved into the meeting room.
Every staff member from administrator to volunteers spends much of their time interacting with the participants (Mary Martha’s word for clients). They will be chatting over coffee, playing cards or board games, having a smoke or just hanging out. This is how trust is built. Truly effective counseling must be done in an atmosphere of trust. Because these trust relationships lead to situations where a client may require private time with a staff person, the Centre’s small bank of offices is accessible for use by all staff, full or part-time. Community volunteers man the desk and do other task within their personal comfort level. Clients are hired for short stints to manage the laundry room or kitchen… this provides them with a little extra cash and a small taste of job responsibility.
Administration hires like minded individuals and compensates them appropriately… too often those working in human services are paid little more than minimum wage. I imagine getting a full time position at Centre 454 would be like becoming a tenured professor at some prestigious university. Much coveted and seldom vacated. Other then the core staff, there are a number of part-time staff, who after a few months will leave for full-time positions elsewhere. Normally, I would feel this is a bad practice, but in this case I see these positions as internships; a chance for young people to learn what social work is meant to be.
Because of the centre’s small size they have a schedule of services which are being provided by representative from other agencies. One day per week the housing help centre sends Allison, Wabano Native Health Centre sends Steve; there are also visits from public health and education and employment services. Most drop-ins try to provide these services in house. The advantage to the client of what Centre 454 is doing, is that it introduces the client to agencies outside their comfort zone. Once one gets to know a representative from meeting them at 454, going down to the agency itself for assistance becomes less intimidating. Instead of having one resource… Mary Martha’s participants are being given a whole community of resources.

Angels of the Road has taken me to probably 100 facilities in over half of Canada, and Centre 454 is light-years above and beyond anything else I have seen. Every agency within the shelter industry is well intended but sadly too often we are doing as much harm as good, for our clients. Providing the homeless and street population with warm beds and nourishing food is important. But if we are truly going to move people forward in their lives, we must warm the soul and nourish the psyche and no one I have found thus far, is doing this better then Centre 454.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


It has happened .... after more then a year of communal living, I have a cold that is going around. Full blown, the aches and pains, stuffy head and dry coughing awake all night. Went to the tiny little drug store up the street and picked up some cold tablets... their generics are the same price as at Walmart. Having a little trouble thinking of something to write now that I'm "into drugs" LOL.
One important tip for police departments everywhere. If the drunk or druggie you pickup is so out of control, you have to cuff them... they are too out of control to be managed by staff at a shelter. So keep them in jail for a few hours until they can settle down. The girl brought in last night (by 3 police officer) assaulted 2 clients and a staff before the police could come back and remove her. What a waste of everyone's time and energy. Police, shelter, homeless relations differ from city to city. The best examples I have come across were in Vancouver's DTES and in Edmonton Alberta. There the police seemed to be working with the shelters to keep clients and the population safe. Enough on that for now.
As for my confusion about the future thing are starting to clear. Still evolving slowly, I now have a concrete time line to work with. It is feeding time at the zoo so I must go line up for what gourmet delights await. Have a joyous day.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

that stinks

No really... last night I went for a brief walk with one of the young girls from the shelter. We came across a skunk with its head stuck in an Ice-Capp plastic cup. Now personally I think the mortality of a creature is reflected in its reproduction. Skunks breed in litters of eight because god expects them to be road kill. So I was perfectly happy to watch briefly and move along. My young companion however is a bit more tenderhearted than myself, and was worried that the poor encumbered creature would waddle into traffic and be killed. As we pondered what if any action could be taken, a passerby suggested that picking a skunk up by the tail would prevent it from spraying. Theoretically it is plausible... Skunks raise their tails to spray; dangling the skunk would keep the tail prone to the body. But how fast would you have to be... to grab the skunk by the tail and lift it off the ground before it sprayed. I offered to let him handle that end to the project; he politely declined and continued on his way.
Anyway after a couple of minutes the animal started wandering in our direction... likely unaware of our presence. As the skunk's head came into arms reach, I made a quick grab for the cup and yanked it off. The skunk did his skunk thing... fortunately I was standing at the head (my friend was standing behind me), so I was victim of the overspray and she ...less so. The stench was not so pervasive as to raise anyone's ire but it was dis-stinked-ly present. So my friend and I walked along Rideau St and enjoyed the puzzlement of the people we passed as they detected the presence of "skunk" coming from somewhere. We went back to the shelter, sat politely in the TV. room and waited for someone to say something about the smell… after a few minutes that got boring. So we got cleaned up as best one and with soap and water. Skunk juice is pretty much immune to such mundane efforts. The other clients said they could no longer smell it on me, but I certainly didn’t agree. We left our clothes for washing and there was considerably more success with that. So I spent the night trying to adjust to the smell with some measure of success.
This morning I went to Loblaw’s and bought a large can of good, old fashioned tomatoes juice and some air freshener for the room. I sat myself in an empty bathtub, opened the can and began washing myself down (head to toe) with straight TJ continuing this until the can was empty. Showered off the Juice and eureka we are skunk free. The only thing still stinky are my leather sandals, which are currently in the dryer. If they don’t survive …they got no business in my wardrobe.
Do I feel good about rescuing one of God’s little creatures from his ill begotten fate….NOT REALLY; the nasty little rodent is just going to pop out more nasty little rodents. What I do feel good about, is helping my young friend spend a worry free night. But she so owes me an ice cream cone for that one LOL
So now you know the whole story. Have a joyous day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A moment's peace

No... things in the shelter are still as hectic as ever. But at this moment I have some peace of heart again. While I haven't firmed anything up, my plans (intentions)have become clearer. So for the next couple of weeks I will spend some time getting to know the city of Ottawa. If I'm still unemployed and on my own after that I will move to Hamilton for the winter... not so much work in the shelter industry there but rents are cheaper and I'll be close to my youngest daughter.
I know there are places here in Ottawa where I would like to work when my Angels Journey comes to an end... but it does remain to be seen if the is the kind of city I would want to settle down in. I do love the Byward Market area and I have just returned from an evening walk there. I don't think I could afford a place in that neighbourhood, but fortunately it is right next door to the depressed area where the shelters are located. So the Market area is kinda my "next door" neighbourhood. I can't talk long tonight I'm on the communal computer... Take care of yourselves and have a joyous week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't Judge Me !

Those of you who are regular followers will recall a "Conversation with Bilbo Baggins" in December of 2009. Bilbo aka Chris Stewart, is a volunteer at an Inn From the Cold program in B.C. Chris believed it was dishonest of me not to "out" myself as social worker/researcher/writer, before entering a shelter or program. I have always avoided this because as we all know, people behave differently when they know someone might be watching. Ottawa has been the exception, I have been completely open with staff, clients and potential employers about my journey. Initially this felt really good, but now I have encountered a flaw... Not everyone gets the whole story and rumors and distortions abound.
I was confronted by an angry client, who is of the impression that I am a wealthy author briefly pretending to be homeless as I research my next book. My sole motivation being fame and fortune LOL. I suppose I should be glad people aren't assuming I'm a discredited journalist who was canned for plagiarism, lost all my money to lawyers and an ex-husband... turning to drugs and ultimately ending up on the streets. Actually either of those scenarios sounds more interesting then the truth.
My first thought when she began her accusations was,"Who the hell are you to judge me, you don't know anything about me". It gives me pause to wonder how many times a day people pass a panhandler and make judgments about them or their situation, without any way of really knowing what is going on. Apparently this is also a big problem among social workers, thinking we can sum up a person's life, character and situation in a 5 min capsule. My friend often complained of this when he was staying in the shelter. I hope I was never like that and I'm sure I will not be like that in the future.
Up until I wrote this I wasn't sure about how to handle the situation with the rumors... I think I will just let it go. If anyone wants to know the truth they can come and ask, I will happily share everything.
Right now I have more important things weighing on my mind...(for details see yesterday's blog)I am still struggling with all those issues. I have always said money is neither the source of happiness or unhappiness...it is just a tool. But it is a necessary tool in our society and it frees the mind for other more important pursuits. So I guess I will have to assume the job is first priority and every other decision will hing on how that works out. One step forward woo-hoo.... unless I rethink that later LOL. Have a joyous day.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

wrestling with the unknown

Another afternoon spent applying for jobs... I really would like to spend a few months getting to know Ottawa better, but that can only happen if I am able to find employment and a place to live. You see winter is a very busy time in the shelters and people are turned away for lack of space. I don't ever want to be taking a bed from someone else. Last winter I stayed at the Lookout Shelter in Vancouver during the Olympics. Because of the Games about 2/3 of the usual homeless population had retreated from the city. Some went to smaller communities, others were escorted to remand and/or jail. So for a few weeks there was shelter space, as people began returning to the DTES I moved to an SRO (what Roger Miller would have called "an 8x12 four-bit room"). Since I will have to be into a place (apartment or rooming house) within a month. It may be necessary to leave Ottawa, for a smaller less expensive community.
Every night I meditate for about 30 minutes (I guess Christians would call it praying) I intend (ask) for my heart and mind to be opened so I can know what I am to do next. To be alert to the signs and resist imposing my own desired outcomes. Life would be easier if god would just do the "burning bush" thingy. Sadly god doesn't shout and the whispers are sometimes very hard to hear. I'm finding that particularly true right now when the need for answers is so immediate. I can't get online with my service provider, but I am pretty sure my cell phone is going past due on the sixth...I can't even call to make a payment arrangement, because until I find a job there is no money to pay with.
What to do? Stay or go ...act, react...wait and hope....give-up... for now or forever???? Sometimes when I put things to "paper" or say them out loud I'll have a revelation... All will become clear... hmmmm........ hmmmm........ Nope nothing yet. I'll read this again later. see if maybe something will come to me then.
If you want to weigh in on this discussion feel free to leave a comment... I could use the help LOL. Think of it as e-brainstorming. Have a joyous day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

lost & found

Yesterday I wrote a post which I am happy to say I did not publish. It was uncharacteristically whiny. I had misplaced my earrings, including a little winged crystal heart that was gifted to me by a young man in Regina. Compounded by a lack of sleep and disappointment over the realization that a job I had wanted very badly, may not be coming my way after all. Frustration over the uncertainty of what to do next added to my irritability. But following a good night's sleep I am once again feeling grounded. This doesn't change that fact that I still have to get back to work...(or win a lottery) there just isn't any money to continue at this point in time.
But I am reminded that my plans are merely intentions and eventually the Creator will put me where I need to be to fulfill whatever purpose He has for me. So if the job here in Ottawa is not meant to be... then we move forward. Besides finding my faith, I also found my earrings today ;-) Then I went on a walkabout and found a little curio shop which is going out of business. I was taken with a rough soapstone carving of a "mother & child" ...it is unsigned. The owner told me she bought this piece and others over the years from an Inuit gentleman who lives among the Ottawa street population. She says he would disappear from time to time, but always returned after several months, looking for a little drinking money. She tells me he has been gone for a year and a half now... maybe this time the cure took. She also had a little jade arrowhead which she sold me for the change in my pocket, which was considerably less than the asking price. These little art acquisitions have made my day.
Tonight we did crafts and I put together a crude smudging wand... the staff here is overall pretty good. This shelter operates under Harm Reduction protocols so I am sure it can be difficult working here. We lost one of our best people this week... Jessica is still in the industry, she has just moved to a transitional facility with the same agency. Being able to move from one population to another is one of the best ways to combat burnout and retain good staff. Yes I am not only learning about living in shelters but also about staffing them.
Anyway got to go, sorry no pearls of wisdom for today...have a joyous week.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plan #B

It is actually important to have a plan #B. Too often I have seen people encounter disappointment then, make some really bad decisions in reaction. It has been 2 business days since competition for a job I very much wanted, closed. I am beginning to suspect I will not be given the position. This is sad on many levels...
Do I have the qualification? YES, in triplicate. Am I willing to accept the entry level wage being offered? YES, for me this job is about who I would be working with. The position is temporary...perfect for Angels of the Road, I was only planning to work til spring anyway. The job is part-time... given my standard of living over the past year I can be comfortable with very little income. This position suits me fine and more importantly... I suit this position perfectly. The great disappointment for me will be not having an opportunity to work in this environment ...with this crew of people. They represent the very best the shelter industry has to offer. As did many of the people I worked with at the DI.... some like myself, have moved to other projects and other agencies. I honestly do not know where Angels of the Road will ultimately lead me, I am confident however it will be where the Creator wants me to be. That is of coarse what faith is all about. So I guess that is my plan #B... to trust that if I don't get this job it is because I am supposed to be somewhere else, doing something else this winter.
One's faith no matter the discipline (Christian, Buddhist, Humanist etc etc) should keep you grounded and true to your authentic self... knowing that no matter what unfolds as long as you don't (fold) everything will turn out o.k. in the end. I have met so many people who claim to find Christianity in rehab and/or prison but can't follow 10 little commandments once they hit the streets again. Every religion has a version of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" Christianity is good but it is not the answer for everyone... find a spiritual truth the echos from your own heart. When you can stand solidly in your relationship with God ,the universe and your fellow man (gender neutral) you will have found the right expression of faith for yourself. Then you will always have a plan #B just have faith (trust).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bring Back Execution!

Today I read the following quote in the Ottawa Citizen. "It's not a lack of resources. It's not an absence of will. It's a glaring failure of execution." This statement was made regarding Canada's health care system but it holds true for the shelter industry and probably education as well (though I can't speak to that personally). I can tell you as citizens and tax payers, we want to see our tax dollars used effectively. As social workers, we want to see our clients move out of the system and back into healthy, independent (tax paying) lives. As clients living in shelters, we want guidance and support specific to our needs, so we can make the aforementioned move.
Much of what I am saying today will ring familiar, scattered about in previous blogs. They do bear repeating and today they will be brought together in one (I hope) cohesive statement.
The shelter system was born to feed and protect (usually from the elements) street people. It did this well, and still does. Over the past few decades homelessness has changed. Our demographic now includes economic homeless and medicals (for more detail see The Good, The Bad & The Homeless under the Essays and Observations tab. As these new demographics began to appear in the shelter populations, agencies added a variety of supports intended to meet their needs. The shelter industry has been reactive, and most of what we do is trial and error. Grounded in the published results of various attempts at research by 3rd parties... We proceed on the information available trying to make the best use of the resources we have. If we are to increase successful outcomes for our clients, the shelter industry needs to become proactive. In fact as taxpaying citizens we need to be proactive...start pressing government at all levels to create affordable home-ownership initiatives. How by partnerships with Habitat for Humanity... Co-operative housing projects... and/or geared to income mortgages. Governments make BAD landlords, and subsidized housing is usually over priced and under maintained. If you are asking why should I (taxpayers) care about this...take a quick look at the essay "Money Talks" which outlines the economic benefits of affordable housing $1.5 Billion dollars of disposable income pouring back into Canada's economy every month. Increasing business incomes and the returned taxes from those gains. Let's get the poor out of the shelters, so as social workers we can actually help the people who need us.
So how can shelters become proactive... first it involves diversification of facilities. Rapidly assessing each client, then moving them directly into a facility appropriate to their needs. Each facility will have protocols, specific to the needs of that client group. Because such a model would reduce further damage and enhance personal growth out of the current situation, we could anticipate a greater incidence of successful outcomes. We have the resources... we have the will... let's change our execution. Such a change won't make the world a perfect place... but it would become a little better than where we are now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

off the bus

To paraphrase Blanche Dubois..."I have come to rely on the kindness of strangers". Thanks to the good people at the United Church, I was able to cover the rest of the price of a bus ticket to leave Halifax. Now I am in a new situation... in very many ways. Because of the financial crisis, Angels of the Road is taking a sabbatical while I go back to paid employment. Not a minute too soon for my sanity also, I might add. I find that I am suffering from burnout, something which never happened in the 4 years I was at the DI... even during holidays and days off I would often drop by to spend time with my client friends. Now all I want is some peace and quiet. I have been in this shelter a little more then one day and I have started retreating to my room.
I definitely need to step over to the other side of the fence again for a while. I look at this time-out as a good chance for an interim check-up to see if what I have learned has any practical application to my work in the shelter industry. Has this experience made me a better social worker? I'll keep you posted on that LOL.
What is really exciting for me, is that Ottawa is the first time I have been completely open about my location. At every shelter and drop-in I visit, I talk with staff about my previous experiences in the field and on the road; as well as my present intentions to work in Ottawa this winter. Until the cold weather sets in the chances of landing work are slight, so I will probably have to work at McDonald's or Timmy's between now and then. You are probably thinking, "why not try another town?", but really this time of year is slow in our industry everywhere.
What brought me to Ottawa, was a job-posting by a local agency who's director is someone I greatly admire. I won't elaborate just yet, I don't want to jinx it LOL. But after visiting there a few times this week, I can tell you I already like the staff and clients in that place. Hope it works out...keep your fingers crossed.
If you haven't read it yet, we have a comment on the post "All that and Alligators too" which ran in July. Consider it an open question ... all suggestions are welcome ;-)
Anyway must get off the computer so wishing you all a joyous day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Both ways now..

Now that the end of this stay is in sight I am a bit more relaxed and can examine the experience with some objectivity. I'm looking forward to my new location where I am persuing some possible job opportunities. I will settle down there for awhile...get a place and save some money to finance the rest of the trip. Good Lord willin' and the criks don't rise...as my granny used to say. As always my plans are merely intentions...it is up to the universe (God) what will actually happen.
As with all my stops, there are a few people here whom I will miss very much. The first person I met when I arrived at this shelter was Heather. A petite middleaged lady with an indominable spirit, quick wit and much patience for all the foolishness and drama of this place. Her I will definitely miss. Then there is Jessica...a slender redheaded girl with an artist's soul. Something of a flowerchild, I can't help but think she would be happier in the Kootaneys or Vancouver's DTES. Also I will miss the young girls; Madison, Bianca,& Melissa...they are all sweet, fun people. God forbid they should be in this life so long as to become like so many others.
And then there is my new friend Carol, I will miss our talks and time just spent in her company...but thankfully she and I will stay in touch... our time together is not done.
I have met some good people and learned some valuable lessons about homelessness and about myself. But I am still very glad to be moving forward. Everything passes, the bad and the good. So wait out the bad and take whatever lessons the experience may offer and embrace the good and charish the memory when it is gone. Have a joyous day my friends. ttyl

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2nd shortest blog in history.

The shortest blog was when I broke my internet stick... but I only have a few minutes so this will be pretty short and sweet too. As you all may know I have launched another "fund raising" campaign. Mini Dream Catchers buy 2 get 1 free and no charge for shipping. Makes a unique stocking stuffer...anyway just wanted to let you know that is going well, 8 more sales and we will have the travel expenses covered. Thx to you who have ordered and if you haven't yet order here.
This journey is all about learning and here I have learned a very valuable lesson. I have learn how easily you can lose your personal integrity... if you are not vigilant at all times. If you are familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs you know that moral needs are superseded by spiritual, social, and survival needs in that order. In this place my survival needs are met, but because my social environment is in many ways hostile it has had the effect of eroding my view of who I am. It would be far too easy to treat people the way they treat me (and everyone else). I have to remind myself constantly of the golden rule. As I told my young friend last week, "We have only two purposes in this life,to learn what we can and to teach what we know". We learn by experience and we teach by example. I hope I can always meet the day with honour, humour and humanity and be a good example. I will have to ponder for a while on what I have learned here and how we can use that information to help the system evolve and cause less damage to a person's integrity.
Have a joyous day... and take a minute to be grateful for the experiences that you have and example that you are in your life and your world.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

can't see the forest...

This morning I was alone in my room... disobeying one of the many inane, pointless and virtually unenforceable rules we are saddled with at my current shelter. This phenomenon is by no way unique to this location. I couldn't help but think that people who work in these places should spend a week or two living as residents in a similar facility. One cannot work with a particular set of clients closely after living among them. So perhaps such "resident practicums" could be added to the social work curriculum at universities...say in second year; that would allow for a one year interval before having to deal with familiar clients.
The things management imagine to be important are rare, insignificant and to a great extent self-adjusting. Yet things that grind and wear on every one's nerves are allowed to go unchecked. Causing short tempers and conflict among clients.
Someone once said a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...I find myself agreeing. Rules are in place to protect specific groups (mental health clients, or transgendered women) from potential indirect harm. Example we are not allowed to change clothes in our dorms, apparently this could trigger PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or just offend the very sensitive among us. The simple courtesy of knocking before entering would spare a sensitive individual from accidentally seeing another person naked. As for PTSD there is no way of knowing what a persons trigger will be until it has been set off. If we had not studied PTSD, or feminist studies on gender bias... maybe we would focus on the more mundane problems of group living. Many issues of abuse, could be averted by basic considerations for others needs, good manners, picking up after oneself, sharing and common civility. These are things we all learned in kindergarten. They are basic and NECESSARY skills for functioning in society. If our clients are ever going to successfully reintegrate we should take every opportunity to remind them of these skills and require their practice.
That's my little rant for today... must off I have lunch duties. Take care and have a joyous day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tea & Sympathy

When I am on the road (as much as is humanly possible) I avoid fast food chains and patronize local independents. Recently I found a local coffee shop where I can pick-up a free wi-fi signal. The coffee shop doesn't offer wireless, the open signal is coming from a neighbouring brewery, but as yet no one has turfed me off line (touch wood). I have a good idea where I can get my hands on a replacement internet key but I can't proceed with that until I move to my next location. I am less than a week away from leaving here and I will be in the new place for a few months...I hope. That depends on whether or not I find a job there.
I know it is hard to imagine but living homeless is NOT free, basic needs run me about $100 to $150 a month. The panhandler is possibly but not DEFINITELY funding an addiction. In some cities you pay $10 a night for your bed, or $2 -$4 per meal. Some places have limited access to soup kitchens (free meals). The last place I was in had 2 kitchens serving lunch only, you could go to one or the other. Nothing on weekends or holidays. So a homeless person there, gets 5 meals (soup & sandwich) per week. Not having any home mean one has no place to store groceries for an extended period of time, what you buy must be eaten within a day or two. No bulk buying...so even eating from the supermarket is relatively expensive. Then we have universal basics like cigarettes, bus fare, acetaminophen, antacids etc etc. This is what it cost just to be a stationary homeless person. I have the additional costs of travel and electronics. I have gone through my savings and my retirement funds, so now I must save up a little money to fund the rest of the journey.
Like most people, before I began this journey of homelessness, I thought living in a shelter was free and that everything our clients needed was provided. As always these agencies are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. But if I had to rely on donated clothes, (given my size) I would be running around naked... and that is something NOBODY wants to see. LOL. Fortunately, I can scrape together a few dollars to visit the thrift store as require. So if you see a plus sized lady panhandling...for all of our sakes toss her a loonie.
This discussion is in fact the A.D.D. run-off of my visit to this particular coffee house. A cup of coffe here is $1.90 with one refill...that is is pretty standard in this part of the country. Last week they had an apple pie on display so I ordered a slice to go with my coffee...OVER $8 with taxes holy crap...clearly I can't afford to eat anything at this place. The pie was good but not $8 worth of good. Anyway this morning I had my coffee at the drop-in so I ordered tea... almost $4.... guess coffee has become my beverage of choice LOL. Anyway rumour has it the library will issue free access once a week or so to their internet...so I should still be able to keep in touch one day a week.
Amazing news...the website is averaging over 20 hits (new visitors) per day. Last year we were lucky to see 5 hits in a day. It is nice to know so many people are interested in learning about homelessness...or are just curious about what that crazy lady is doing this week LOL. Have a joyous day and I'll talk to you all again soon.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sad Day

Very sad... my computer internet stick gasped its last this morning....I'll keep you posted asap Love to all

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Good Money After Bad

Saturday seems to be my day for blogging… so this week let's step out of the personal and back into the practical. I mentioned before about how my friends sometimes bring up things that I had not considered prior. One of those things is the matter of funding for shelters. As I have said before, I do NOT want to see funding to shelters increased… I want to see shelter populations decreased.
Now for the bitter truth, even if I waved a magic wand and the homeless completely disappeared, your taxes would NOT be reduced. The government would just find someplace else to spend it and I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it to show up in health, welfare or education. But enough of my political cynicism. All I really want to see is more effective use of the money we are already spending. This is not a problem unique to the shelter system, so much of what we are doing in health, welfare, and education is reactive. We need to establish systems which reward results. Often clients have said to me that we don’t give them the right support and tools to get out of the shelter system, because, if there were no homeless, we would be out of a job. My response was, “Untrue… even if one client were to leave permanently there will always be some new troubled soul to take his/her place". I am starting to feel differently about that, maybe there is a grain of truth, at least at the agency level, I still believe individual workers care about client outcomes.
The province pays my current residence $95 per day per person for those who qualify and those who do not qualify stay in another harm reduction centre for a flat fee per head. Head count is the way most shelters are subsidized….in Sask it is $65 for a matt or bed + breakfast. Here 2 meals + bed $95…. Alberta under $30 per person matt/bed and meals are funded elsewhere. These shelters function under a “Harm Reduction Model so no services are offered and clients are not approached individually with options for self improvement or recovery.Wholistic shelters like the DI have many services on site but clients must seek out what they need. Where I am staying there isn’t even an attempt to demand basic civility from clients. This leaves them totally unequipped with the skills necessary to co-exist in society, much less land and keep either a job or an apartment.
If we altered the funding model so agencies were rewarded for successful outcomes perhaps we would see more helping and less wrangling of homeless people. I would propose that an agency be given a flat rate per day for each bed (50 square feet of dorm space). Providing meals and a cook would be funded separately by the number of beds per building. If they are successful in moving clients out and getting the population numbers down… the reward is more working capital in the budget. Money which could be used to purchase needed equipment, bring in tutors, and provide various upgrading initiatives. Funding would be stable and there would be incentive to give some REAL help to shelter clients.
Next time I’ll talk about affordable housing apparently there is much confusion about what this means and the costs to our society. As always I would love to hear your comments so feel free to share your thoughts with us. Anyway must go for now …have a joyous week.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mime in an invisible box.

WOW… for the first time I understand the frustration so many of our clients feel when they become homeless. I am in a shelter with the highest percentage of purely NASTY people I have ever met. The staff is great and generally displays the same profile mix as most of the other places I have visited. The shelter is small under 20clients… probably more than 1/3 displaying BPD (borderline personality disorder) traits. These women are self- absorbed, arrogant, angry, loud (constant screaming, name calling and swearing),confrontational bullies. This phenomenon deserves a study of its own… and I am not the person to do it. Apparently, this is the best place (homeless shelter) to stay in this city… so I am trapped in that regard.
We are required by house rules to remain silent and not engage in verbal altercations. Those of you who have known me, know that I do not seek out confrontation, yet twice in the past week I was forced into conflict to defend people who could not defend themselves from these shrews. This resulted in a minor reprimand from staff, given the obvious provocation I was not evicted. However I am very annoyed with myself for not finding another option.
Another frustration is that any kind of move requires funds which I do not have at this moment. I spend long hours looking for a job…. unlike Calgary, even the low paying jobs in this part of the country are scarce. Because of bureaucratic issues regarding residency at this shelter I can’t just pop over to another province to see how it goes there.
I hope that by living this experience I will be able to develop some coping skills, which I will one day be able to share with my clients. I don’t think being trapped is a feeling exclusive to the homeless; some people get trapped by good paying jobs, mortgages, or lifestyles which need to be supported. The great joy of having little is it requires a minimum of sacrifice to change your life in whatever direction you want to try next. It is those with much and those with nothing who get TRAPPED in their lives. This is the first time, both in my life and on this journey that I have felt truly trapped… and I hope to turn it into a growth experience. Anyway I’ll let you all know how that turns out. Have a joyous day.
P.S. still got the old internet stick picking up a signal… now it comes out of the USB port in two pieces lol.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

All that and Alligators too

When I was little, my Granny had this story about a little kid when she was in school. The boy had drawn a picture of a man who had fallen from an tree, broke his leg, lost his food and was surrounded by alligators. The teacher's response was,"All that and alligators too". So from then on when a person was having a bad time of it, when just one too many things had gone wrong, we would say ...all that and alligators too.
Today is my day for alligators... I have had another mishap with my modem, I may have mentioned the first incident last winter. Anyway that left it a bit battered but still functional, however today it was bent in the other direction. It is now dangling haplessly from the side of my computer, I fear when I finally remove it today, it will completely fall apart and be entirely unusable. So tonight I will call my service provider and see if I can strike some kind of deal for replacement. $150 for a new modem is an alligator that I have to avoid.
As I explained a few weeks ago, I have to rethink how this journey is going to play out. Let's face it homelessness is not as popular an issue as furry little baby seals. Although, Angels of the Road has generated some curiosity, it has not generated any serious funding. In a way that is good because at the end of all this, I cannot be accused of skewing my findings to accommodate, my financial backers. See there's that silver lining thingy again LOL. On the down side I am going to have to take a hiatus from my journey to work so I can save up the $5,000 I need to cover expenses for the next year. Initially (last month at this time) I thought I could travel until November then stay with my daughter for 4 months while I worked winter response there (winter response is when most cities provide shelters with extra funding to add beds and staff during the cold weather). But, my stay in "the city with NO shelters" tapped almost all my resources. So I am applying for jobs in the area where I am currently staying, just to get bus fare to the next town. This means it will take much longer before I finish visiting all of Canada.
Last week I found a pamphlet on successful hitch-hiking I read all the instructions about how to dress and everything, the I came to rule #12 "Ladies, NEVER ever hitch hike". So to my critics who would suggest this option...sorry , can't keep blogging if I'm dead, and you know you would miss me ;-).
I don't know if you are interested in these little personal struggle missives... but it is all part of my journey. And the blog is for sharing.... Good, Bad et al. Have a joyous week... hope I can get back to you soon.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Round Table Discussion

Today one of my new housemates took me to a small drop-in resource centre just a couple of blocks from where we are staying. There, over coffee four of us engaged in a very lively discussion about what could be improved in this province’s system of supports for the homeless community. One of the women who, has multiple barriers to employment, sees the system and the social workers as adversaries to her attaining housing. She is very active in the community, volunteering and attending council meetings etc. She reminds me of the people I met in Vancouver’s Down Town East Side. Unfortunately, when it comes to battling The Man, she feels like a voice in the wilderness. If she were more articulate and diplomatic she might get more community support from her fellow homeless. Her causes are far reaching and could impact positively on the entire community… sadly, she only knows how to reference things as they affect her personally. That is the reason; even the longest veteran of street life has trouble getting heard by anyone with the power to make change. Hopefully as a third party observer; I will be in a position to offer broader insights (untainted by personal drama) with consideration to all stakeholders (because I have knowledge of all stakeholders positions).
The older woman at the table was more articulate and lucid in her perceptions, but she is long past wanting to be an activist. Like many women in their 50s she is too young for pension and too old to re-enter the work force with anything more than “job prospects”. Embarking on a new career is something very few of us are up to doing in mid-life (I am an exception in that way LOL). She explained how her biggest problems revolved around landlords (sudden rent hikes) and a bad credit rating. Like many low income Canadians getting through a month involves paying rent then juggling all the other bills… every late hydro or cable bill negatively impacts your credit rating. The reason one ends up with a bad credit rating is because you pay your RENT FIRST. A smart landlord would be scooping these people up and holding onto them as long as possible, since their priorities certainly fall in line with his/her own.
The young man at our table is a former addict (4 years recovered) with a GED and a criminal record. He has several very good ideas but he really needs a mentor to help direct him. He mentioned a local business man who is very open and generous with the homeless. I suggested making an effort to acquaint himself, maybe the two of them can get something happening.
Well I have to get back to the shelter I’m on lunch duty today… Have a joyous day.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

a bump in the blog

Hi hope everyone is having a joyous week. Ran into some expensive glitches last week and had to move on without learning as much as would have liked about my last city. At first appearance one would think there are NO homeless there.... but social work insiders tell me different. Still a vigorous provincial government program to provide affordable and supported housing has got the numbers down to almost invisible. There is however a serious lack in services for street people. I can't go into more detail at this point because I am still working in the area.
My new location has me separated from my electronics AKKKK so blogs won't be too regular for the next little bit. take care of each other TTYL

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A realist in the sunshine.

Thankfully I have a very diverse group of friends. Some are very similar in temperament, or philosophy, others are so very different you would wonder how we ever got together much less stayed together. I cherish my friends, even the most contrary ones… they make me think about the world in different ways. What attracts me to people most is authenticity… a person who is unapologetically themselves, like ME. So the people who may on the surface seem different, share core values of honour, honesty and responsibility. Best of all we make each other laugh… a lot ;-).
This is especially true of the friends I visited last week, we have been friends for 35 years. They believe Angels of the Road is a huge waste of my time and resources. But our discussions have brought some issues to mind which I will likely tackle in blogs over the next bit.
My friend feels, and stated very emphatically, “Nothing changes… Nothing ever changes!” This could be a very discouraging thing to hear, given I’ve spent the last year of my life trying to find ways to change Canada’s shelter system for the better. But after considering the matter for a few moments I was struck by the thought that, if nothing ever changed… we, as a species would still be clubbing small animals and ripping their flesh off with our teeth. Not only do things change, but they have changed more in the last decade than in the previous century, and more in the last century than in the previous millennium. So things can and do change… we just need someone to point things in the right direction and start the ball rolling.
My daughter referred to me as a “silver lining kind of girl”… I like this. I’m not a Pollyanna delusional optimist; I am very much a realist. I see the clouds, I know what they indicate, but I choose to focus on that glint of sunlight peaking through from behind. Clouds come and go but the sun is always there, in the sky rising and setting.
Not going to talk too long tonight… I am back on the road in a city which appears to have no homeless people. I’ll check into that and give you the real scoop over the next day or so. If you haven’t guessed, all is good with the computer once again. The problem was with the power cord and my daughter has been able to hook me up with a replacement. So I'll talk to you all again soon. Have a joyous week.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Hi all sorry to say I am having a problem with my computer...power won't connect. I am using the last of my battery power to let you know I'll be off line. If the problem is in the cord I should be able to replace it and everything will be back to normal soon If the computer needs to be replaced then we could move to crisis mode. I'll figure something but I apologized in advance for being away. TTYL

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Late Reply

Just a quick note that, I have posted a reply to the anonymous comment on the blog from June 13th, I will be off line for the next few days... unless something really outrageous happens. Then I will run out and borrow a computer, so I can share with all ya'all. Have a joyous week..ttyl

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guilty or Not Guilty?

Due to the upcoming G8/G20 summit… and the various OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) demonstrations which are being planned; an OCAP representative was invited as a guest on a local radio show yesterday. Apparently the host duo did not allow the guest to speak freely and fully on the issues, which I have always thought was bad form…. but that is not the subject of today’s blog. I did not hear the show myself; my youngest daughter was telling me about it after the fact. During the show a man called in and said that, he worked hard for his money and now we (advocates for the poor) are trying to make him feel guilty. My girl’s response was, if you feel guilty then, take action… give or do something so you will feel less guilty. This is a very reasonable response.
First, let me assure you that very few of the people I have met on this journey, resent people enjoying the fruits of their labour. Envy yes… resent no. When I ask a street person how they are today they will usually smile and say “still breathing”. Many sad tales of frustration and systemic inadequacies… The poor don’t want to “make the rich to pay” they want a system that more effectively uses the tax dollars you are already shelling out. Believe me if you truly understood the system (as I do now) you would be outraged by the stupidity of it all. Oops… ADD strikes again.
Back to the subject at hand, our conversation has given me pause for thought regarding guilt. The only person with the power to make you feel guilty is you. It is an easy emotion to avoid…simply “Never do or say anything you can’t own with pride”. If you think about this before you take any action, you will never have to live with guilt or regret.
To the man who felt that anti-poverty activists are trying to make people feel guilty (and to any activists who are deluded enough to think that will work) let me inform you of something. People do NOT give because they feel guilty… they give because they feel BLESSED. For all of our hard work, expertise and dedication, there is always an element of fortune which factors into our life paths. If you are arrogant enough to think this isn’t true, reflect on how life (the universe / God) has given to you. Did you walk into a room 10 feet behind someone who slipped and fell on a small patch of water? Were you standing in an elevator when someone complained about their boss’ plans to merge with a multi-national…? Did you miss or meet your perfect partner when you took a wrong turn or went to a party you had really hoped to skip? Come on be honest. When Oprah was in high school their class field trip took them to a radio station (or was it a t.v. station) where the station manager comment on her voice and said to come back after graduation. How much longer would we have waited for Ms Winfrey to grace our living rooms if her class had gone to a box factory that afternoon?
My adult life has been / is blessed in so very many ways and none of them have to do with money. That part of my life has always been a struggle. I have loving family and friends. I was blessed with wisdom, health, intelligence and uncommon good sense. With these gifts I have learned to be a good parent, a good friend and a good social worker. I live each day in a manner which has earned for me, a deep and abiding peace of heart and mind... Angels of the Road is my way of giving back to life (the universe/God).
At those times, when we feel blessed we want to share, in one way or another with those in need. Never make yourself feel guilty… act with as little or as much as you are moved to. Follow your heart and share your blessings in the way that is best for you… no one is judging your choices. Even the smallest kindness is needed and welcomed in a society seeking social justice.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Into the future

My profound apologies for being away from blogging, for so very long. It has been over a week since my last rant. It has however been a busy week. What started out as a single article for the examiner.com turned into a 5 part series… who knew that Luminato 2010 would have soooo many free events. The festival started this weekend and will continue until next Sunday. If you are in Toronto you should totally check it out. http://tinyurl.com/2f434rd this link will take you to my articles listing all the free events. I took on the examiner.com column because it was another avenue to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty in Canada. But I only have half a dozen readers, and if it is going to keep me away from talking to you guys it really isn’t going to be worth the time.
The past week has been mostly about… looking at Angels of the Road pragmatically. How can we make the most effective use of the information I have gained from this experience. Even at this point I know more about homelessness and the shelter system than anyone else in Canada…. to say other otherwise would be disingenuous (an insincere lie to make me appear modest). Having said that… there is still much for me to learn from Angels of the Road. Another year to year and half of my life, thousands more miles, 7 provinces (in fairness 4 are Maritime Provinces which are quite small) and a couple stops up north should turn up a few surprises yet. But none of us puts two years into getting an education without the intention for using what we have learned to make the world somehow better. So I had a very encouraging meeting last week with Dr Hayden who has volunteered to help me prep my findings for submission to “the powers that be” (policy makers and those who influence them). I think Dr Graham is still on board for that end of the project, and Lord knows, if we are going to make any substantial changes we will require all the help we can get.
Another subject of this week’s pursuits is funding the remainder of the project. One option up for consideration is to begin selling advertising on the website and/or on the blog-site. The big issue for me is control… I would only want products, services or companies which I can personally endorse. I endorse TELUS my carrier and Shaw who went above and beyond to help me retrieve my old emails. Another option is to shut down the project and go back to work until I can save enough money to continue. Let’s face reality, homelessness is not going to magically cure itself in the six months or so I would need. If it did I would happily go back to working with the street people and or maybe take my free-style brand of social work and move into the Correctional system. All good options in their own way.
Now you know where my head has been over the past several days. I hope to be back to blogging at you very soon …til then have a joyous day.
p.s. we are closing in on 5,000 hits woo hoo

Friday, June 4, 2010

put down the pens & pick up the hammers

It has been a really good visit home here in Calgary, but I will be leaving on Sunday to continue my cross-Canada journey of homelessness. I don’t expect to be back in Alberta for a year, which made last night’s visit with my girlfriends especially special ;-) I have had a chance to spend time with my kids and my friends making a point of seeking out some people I have a little trouble catching up with on most short visits home.
I was able to get together with some industry (shelter workers) friends and give them what amounts to an in-term report of my findings. I have learned so much in just a year it is hard to imagine there is anything new out there. Since I have found an answer to the prevailing question which sent me on this journey, it seems harder to leave again. But I have to finish what I have started if only for the sake of credibility…. Homelessness is a national issue and if I haven’t witnessed firsthand the shelter system in every province how can a come back to you and say, “This is the state of homelessness in Canada.”
In my examiner.com article Wednesday Teen Mom deserves an award. I told you about a young woman in Toronto who is fronting a Charter Challenge demanding the federal government create an affordable housing initiative. (By the way thx for reading, pay is a penny a read and all goes to Angels of the Road)
My fear is, we will see tens (possibly hundreds) of millions of dollars wasted on “studying the issue”, money which should be going into building homes. There is no need for further study, we know from the failures and success of the past what is needed to create a working strategy for affordable housing. We can also borrow from the successes of other cities and countries. Australia has made some serious gains and Philadelphia has reduced their homeless population by 70%.... Look at these models find out what is working use that and disregard the rest.
At the National Homelessness Conference of 2009 in Calgary, several of the luminaries made a call for action.

I hope the Canadian public makes that our battle cry.

Friday, May 28, 2010


May 28, 2010

This is the first segment in an ongoing series called “Quite Heroes”… about everyday people and business owners who extend themselves to the homeless in our communities. I will not name these businesses and individuals because they have chosen to move quietly through their lives doing good works. Their reward is held in the hands of their god and the gratitude of those whose lives they have touched.
Today I want to tell you about about a 24hr internet cafĂ©, which is frequented by homeless young people. It provides a respite from the dangers, discomfort and structure of the youth shelters. They pay the unlimited daily use fee and hangout unmolested for the whole night. If they fall asleep on a table they are left to sleep. This owner will allow the young people to work small chores in exchange for internet time or food. This kindness is not required… You know WHO YOU ARE and you are my first QUIET HERO. Thank you.
Rev. Dr Ken Fong put it well when he wrote, "No one can do everything, but if everyone does something...everything will get done".

Friday, May 21, 2010

Homeless Connect 9

May 21, 2010
Sorry about the extended absence from bloggable activity, but as you all know I am currently on a brief stopover in Calgary visiting family and friends. If all goes as planned the next leg of my, Angels of the Road, journey will have me away from home for a year or more. The distances are too great to bus back every few months…. can’t afford to fly and we all know (from the Grande Cache experience) I just suck at hitch-hiking LOL.
Last Saturday I attended Homeless Connect 9… every few months the Calgary Homeless foundation gathers together all the service providers under one roof. Booths are set up for housing, health care, identification, legal advice, rehab programs, grooming, etc…. etc…. etc. While we waited in the line to enter (which took just over an hour) volunteers came around with coffee and teeny muffins. As always I use the time in line ups to get acquainted with other clients. I ran into several old friends that day, many of whom have been housed through initiatives created by The Calgary Homeless Foundation. These events and services are available not just for the homeless but also the poor and working poor. You really should check out the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s website www.calgaryhomeless.com to learn more about their many projects and the 10 year plan to end homelessness.
Don’t forget to check out my articles on www.examiner.com/Toronto-Society_and_Culture.html Angels of the Road gets paid approximately a penny a click so send all your friends ;-). Also, for any aspiring Journalists & Photo-journalists…. Examiner.com pays a $50 referral fee if you list referred by Bonny L. Cameron. And as with every dime I get these days it goes to keeping Angels of the Road on the road.