Monday, March 22, 2010

The View From Inside

March 22, 2010
It has been almost a year since I first set out on my journey of homelessness, and yes, it has been worth it. I have learned so much about the system that I never could have guessed before actually living the experience. As I suspected for both clients and staff, our personal experiences only provide snapshots of the homeless situation… by moving around I am building an overview. A big picture which I hope will help us take the best elements and use them to create a more productive workable model for service delivery.
Obviously the only real solution to the problem of homelessness is AFFORDABLE HOME OWNERSHIP. This is best accomplished through partnership with Habitat for Humanity… also no down-payment income adjusted mortgages would be a helpful government initiative. I will speak on this subject at nueasium over the next few years… or until we eradicate homelessness and restore the Canadian middle-class. This is not the subject for today’s blog…. today I wish to discuss what I have learned about shelters.
First and foremost bigger is NOT better (I have found that between 8-30 residents is an optimum number) This next part is very important, you (as an agency) CANNOT be all things to all people. The homeless population is comprised of very diverse groups, each with very specific needs. As much as possible these groups should be sheltered and serviced separately. There will be ebb and flow migrations by various individuals as their lives evolve and devolve over time. This is especially true among the street population, as recovery is a process not a distinct decisive moment.
First is the street population (drunks, druggies and dropouts) at the height of their addiction and with no particular interest in change at this time. These people need shelter from the elements and access to food for sustenance. Mat programs (both night and day-time) such as “Inn from the Cold” and soup kitchens serve this population well. While staff should be well versed in what resources are available in their community, their mandate should nonjudgmental acceptance of their clients. Alcohol and drugs brought into the shelter should be seized and disposed of without penalty. The only reason to ban such things is because their presence provokes theft and infighting among clients.
The next step up (in a separate building) is refuge shelter. People need to occasionally escape their environment, (a safe place to escape the presence of toxic substances or toxic people). These facilities should be very tightly monitored, no drugs, no alcohol, curfews strictly enforced, and all medication administered by staff. Services should include substantial healthy meals and snacks. One on one counseling; also referrals to assisting agencies for recovery and reintegration. Another plus would be availability to organized activities, which would aid with esteem building and personal growth. This is a time when change can occur for an individual, so staff should ready to facilitate without expectations. Only a small percentage will push forward from here, so if you can’t deal with the disappointment this is not the job for you. A maximum 30 day stay would allow for movement to rehab facilities or transitional or supportive housing as might be appropriate based on individual needs. Many will stay only until they start feeling strong again, then will return to the folly and rigours of life on the street.
Next are transitional shelters, these are designed for people who are displaced from their former life for whatever reason. A certain level of control is still required while fostering independence and personal responsibility. No drugs or alcohol, on site as some people are in recovery from addictions. Any prescription medication should be submitted to staff, but vitamins, supplements and analgesics can be self monitored. Curfews should be loosely held and people should be encouraged, through weekly reviews (with the same counselor/staff) to create a plan for moving forward. Staff should facilitate access to resources… it is not enough to say, “do this…” direction is required at this time in someone’s life. Give them the name of a contact, a location, a Dr etc, etc. Also it is more important that we as staff respond to the relationships which evolve naturally with our clients. What I am saying is, people will often develop a particular repore… when this occurs between a client and staff it can be a very effective. Every staffer should be available to act as the counselor for a client, once that bond is forged utilize it to the client’s best interests. ALWAYS KEEP PROFESSIONAL BOUNDARIES BETWEEN YOU. These shelters, should be able to provide 3 – 6 months of stable housing while the client settles into a job, housing and re-establishes within the larger community.
This is what I have learned so far by living in the shelter system in western Canada. If you know someone who is a stake holder in the shelter system forward this link to them. This includes city councellors, social workers, client care workers, agency board members, directors… business leaders and social planners. Before we throw good money after bad with more of the same, let us all take a breath and rethink how we approach this problem of homelessness in our country.
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I would be happy to discuss specifics about programs with anyone who wants to contact me through email or the comment section of this blog-site.

1 comment:

  1. In a perfect world all the above models would be available in every city. Unfortunately, this is not the case. These proto-types are drawn from services I have found working and / or lacking in the various cities I have visited over the past year. I expect it will evolve even more over the next year as Angels of the Road move into eastern Canada. Thx for following my journey.