Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Good Start

April 29, 2010
The Calgary Herald ran an article on 4/24/10 which states that the shelter numbers have been reduced by 4-10% in each of five months (Nov 09- Mar 10) over the same months a year ago. There are many reasons for this but first and foremost I want to thank the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s re-housing initiatives. The partnership of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is also beginning to have an impact. The Mustard Seed and D.I. have contributed subsidized apartment units for abstinent clients; I think these units are considered transitional. As I have said in the past, “let’s house everyone we possibly can and that will free shelter staff to work with the street people, for whom the shelter system was designed”.
The only real solution to homelessness is AFFORDABLE HOUSING…. home ownership which requires no more than 35% of a person’s income. People often quote to me from the bible, “The poor will always be among us”. True. We should accept the existence of poverty but that doesn’t permit us to ignore the struggles of the poor. Nor does that absolve us from our responsibility to give aid and comfort to our fellow humans.
Conspiracy theorists tell me that fiscal oppression is necessary because the economic elite need cheap labour. FALSE. The fiscal oppression is not necessary or even desirable. Yes, we as a community need our cheap labour, but the best way to insure an ongoing supply, is to make a place within our communities for low income people. AFFORDABLE HOUSING allows every person the disposable income necessary to enjoy a quality of life which includes independence, dignity and even a few creature comforts. My essay “Money Talks” lays out the financial benefit AFFORDABLE HOUSING would have for everyone (person & business) in your communities.
So people…. get behind the housing initiatives in your community… and ENJOY the prosperity. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Monday, April 26, 2010

gentle reminder

April 26, 2010

While I was tearing myself away from the DTES of Vancouver, I had almost convinced myself that I have learned all I can about homelessness and the shelter industry. What could be so different about the shelters or the homeless population in any of the eastern provinces. The first week in a new place is very stressful. I don't know anyone... I don't know the system (especially in a new province) there is no guarantee that I will have a place to stay or eat. I don't know the city (or have any roughing skills) so I don't know a safe place to pitch my tent for free. Where would I find food if there are no soup kitchens...???? I don't look forward to the moves. So given my affinity for DTES and the abundance of potential job opportunities for social workers... I hope you can understand my temptation to quit Angels of the Road.
The universe, as always, knows best and so provided me with a gentle reminder of why I must continue the journey. On the plane sitting next to me was a lovely woman, well dressed, nice manicure. She is from Nova Scotia and works in manufacturing running some kind of machine. I told her about Angels of the Road and about how much we have learned about homelessness in Canada. Her response was ..."Yes, and it so much worse here in the west."So even if the rest of this journey only provides a variation on an old theme, it is important to complete the tour. If it is, in fact better in the east, we need to know why. Perhaps we can apply some of those techniques to improve the situation in other communities. But, if it is not better... I guess Angels of the Road will just have to bust another myth about homelessness.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Home for the Holidays

April 25, 2010

Back in Calgary for a bit now, spending some quality time with family and friends. All of my children are here (for the week) and this week is all about my youngest, she is visiting from Ontario. Tomorrow we will have Christmas dinner, and hopefully we will get out for some fun stuff before she has to leave us. Can't talk much now we have to go forage for breakfast....apparently no one wants eat at the DI lol. Whining children I must go ttyl.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Changes in Latitude

April 21, 2010

I'm just about to leave Vancouver....I'm very happy to be visiting my family again. Yet I have a nagging feeling that I am not yet done with DTES. There is so much I haven't done, seen or been in the Vancouver area. As always I can say I have met some really beautiful people while I was here. Yesterday, I stopped by the agencies and hangouts to say goodbye to "my peeps". I packed last night and said my goodbyes to my fellow tenants this morning. Emails have been exchanged and I'm sure a couple of people will even keep in touch. I honestly don't know where Angels of the Road will end but the Down Town East Side could provide a epilogue to this story.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Bizarre Story

April 19, 2010
One will find many street vendors scattered along the streets in Vancouver’s Down Town East Side. A blanket is spread out on the sidewalk displaying pretty much anything you can imagine. Shopping carts unpack clothing, DVD’s, knick-knacks, small appliances…. anything that will fetch a couple of dollars. Some of the vendors are out every day… some only come around in the last few days before Mardi Gras. There is a block on Hastings (just in front of the bottle depot) which carries the air of a Turkish Bizarre. Weaving through the crowd shoulder to shoulder with vendors, buyers and bottle pickers, I’m always a little awe struck. You can expect to be approached by several people, some will be selling packs of cigarette for $5 but other will be selling crack, meth or prescription drugs, even blocks of cheese. Blanket Vendors line the building walls with an assortment of goods including groceries and somewhat questionable meat products, one guy even had a 6’ bookcase…. which was sold and carried off by a guy with a shopping cart.
The police don’t seem to be overly vigorous in ticketing the sellers… which is good. These miniature yard sales are considered “crimes of poverty” which would be best handled by eliminating poverty. I suppose they keep an eye on the drug dealers but an actual “take down” in that environment would be really difficult. It is doubtful anyone would be holding enough product to make a bust worth the paperwork.
A block up from the bizarre is a variety store, which also sells prepared fast food and has a few tables for seating. I bought a slice of pizza and a grape soda for $2 and settled in. The Mid-Eastern gentleman (probably the owner) greeted each customer with a warm smile. He listened patiently to stories and laughed at the somewhat bad jokes. He was running tabs for some of the old guys who came to pick up lunch. This is just another example of community support for the DTES homeless and poor. Everyone seems to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fashion Statements

April 13, 2010
“IF THE SHOE FITS…” you’re not homeless LOL. There is a stereotype image of the homeless person wearing a ragged old over coat, smelly, grubby, half emptied mickey of rum peeking out of the top of a torn inside pocket. While you will see a few, who fit that picture (as with every stereotype) most homeless are clean and well groomed. But there are subtle tells… shoes which are much too large or are being stepped down on the heels and worn like clogs. It is hard to find decent walking shoes in the donation closets, when we find a comfortable pair of joggers we wear them 'til they fall apart. Many, many dress shoes are donated, but these are only useful for girls on the stroll (street walkers as we called them in my day). A few years ago I was ask by someone from a local professional association, what would be a good choice for their charity drive to benefit homeless. I suggested new running/athletic shoes. If every member of the association bought just one pair of runners in their own size and donated it to the shelter… the D.I. would have 5600 pairs of shoes to distribute to homeless people. They could call the charity drive” HAPPY FEET”.
It is also hard to find clothes in “larger” sizes (16 up). As you may know I travel with only 2 changes of clothing, so on my first wash day I set out to find something to wear while my things were in the laundry. I went to 3 charities before I found a top which fit properly. Then just before the 11th hour the nice young man at Lookout gave me a pair of pants, pull-ons in a size 24 LOL. The next morning I put on the pants and rolled them over twice at the waist… this actually turned out to be kind of a cool look; they hung low on my hips. Then a week later I picked up a pair of used blue jeans which were too high in the waist but otherwise ok. So I left the button undone, folded back the edges and pinned them down with bright blue metallic safety pins. I like to think of this kind of improvisation as “HOBO CHIC”. Think it will become the next fashion craze?
Just one last thing I am going up the coast tomorrow, for a few days, so I won’t be blogging again until Saturday. Hope everyone has a good week.

Monday, April 12, 2010


April 12, 2010
Today was laundry day. Most of the shelters I have stayed in have some kind of laundry facility available for client use. Some places let you book appointments, others assign you a day and time when the machines are open to you. In Vancouver we have laundry services provided by Evelyn Saller Centre (aka the 44). All one must do for this luxury is to bring one medium sized load (darks or lights) and line-up outside the building around 8 a.m. first 50 people win ;-). At 8:45 the staff hands each person a clear plastic bag with a strip of masking tape on it. We transfer our laundry into this bag… a permanent marker is passed down the line and each person puts their name on the masking tape. Then a staff hands out numbers 1-50 to each person in line. Another staff is handing out numbers for showers at this time also. At 9 a.m. the centre opens and the lines proceed into the building. Each person signs a list according to their number and turns over their laundry bag… open for easy access. Then the nice people at the 44 do our laundry and return it later in the day almost nearly dry and kinda sorta folded.
When I left on my journey I purchased a 20” rolling backpack. My theory was that if/when the wheels gave out, I would (albeit reluctantly) be able to carry it. Being very aware of my limitation when it comes to physical strength, I have been very careful not to over use the pack. So I only take it out every 7-10 days. Because of this laundry day is also my grocery day. After dropping off my laundry I carry my bag over to the Quest Food Exchange where I purchase dairy products (what, depends on availability)… assorted bread products and juice if there is any. These shopping sprees usually cost between $5 and $10. Pretty sure most of the food is donated, but the dairy is always fresh so I’m guessing that is where the proceeds are going. Well that and the usual overhead LOL.
The downside of living in an SRO is having to stock groceries; in the shelter 3 healthy meals a day 7 days a week are provided at no charge. On the outside mostly soup and sandwiches at the free soup lines. One can also buy low cost meals in 3 or 4 locations, which will run from $2 to $5 each so even one meal a day can be pricey over a month. Oh yes, back to laundry day, if I have any other errands that involve the moving of stuff I will do that today also. Then I bring these groceries back to my room; make a bowl of cereal for lunch, check emails etc, nap or just hang out until 4 p.m. At 4 p.m. I carry my backpack down to the 44, fill it with my clean laundry and purchase dinner. It doesn’t really matter what dinner is, I’m here anyway so I spend the $2. And save myself the trouble of cooking something when I get back to the room.
Watch some television, write a blog then go to bed… which is different than sitting on my bed which is the only people furniture my room has... LOL.

Road Hazards

April 11, 2010
Eeeek…. I’m getting STREET-FEET. Living homeless takes a physical toll over time. There are many reasons for this, starting with simple wear and tear and going all the way up to a lack of equitable access to quality health care. For those of you who are still deluding yourselves… Canada’s healthcare system is seriously fucked up. Believe it or not, I (the most bleeding heart of all liberals) support the concept of private (two-tiered) health care. Let corporations build the private treatment and diagnostic centers. Allow those with the money to pay, go to these places if they wish. Right now those who can afford to, go to border states to receive private services. Provincial health care then pays or reimburses the allowable portion of the charges (what they would pay a Canadian hospital to do the same test/procedure). Under the Canadian two-tiered health care, this practice would stop, Government healthcare dollars would only go to the public healthcare system. This could represent significant saving to our strained government budgets. Also the private healthcare industry would alleviate strain on the system (waiting periods would shorten slightly). Private Clinics would generate tax revenue, add jobs, and in all likelihood share the use of state-of-the-art equipment with the public system when it is not in use. The private sector is always selfconscious about their public image (good press is better than expensive advertising). So let’s stop being smug about the concept of “universal” and embrace the idea of a future with something that might actually work.
WOW wasn’t expecting that… A.D.D. strikes again LOL. So… back to the issue of my street feet. Basically this is caused by callusing due to long hours, days, weeks wearing the same shoes. The thickened skin dries and cracks leaving lovely little crevasses where bacteria can gather. If you have ever seen the commercials for “Heeltastic” you know what I mean. Fortunately the SRO I am in has bath tubs, no showers. Personally I have always preferred to shower and was disappointed with the current arrangement. Now, of course, I can’t soak my feet enough, so bathing is the way to go. It is helping a little and when I am home for my visit next month. I will spend a lot of time getting my feet healed up before I return to the next leg of my journey.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chance Meetings

April 9, 2010

As I was waiting for the light to change on the corner of Main and Cordova. A young boy (11 or 12) and his Dad were also waiting and I over heard this conversation.
Son - "Dad when are we going to be out of here."
Dad - "Just around the corner and up a couple blocks". pause "Why are you scared?"
Son - "YES"
Upon hearing that I had to interject. "There's nothing to be afraid of. These are just people going about their business like anywhere else. Their business may be a little different then what you are used to seeing, but that's nothing to be afraid of."
The light changed and as we crossed the street I looked to the Dad and continued,"I love this neighbourhood...He asked how long I had been here and I told him two and a half months. We said our goodbyes, they went west...I went east.
I wish I could have spoken to the boy a bit longer, he probably had a few questions. What better place could there be for ending stereotypes and prejudice than with the next generation (before they get all old and set in their ways lol). I wonder if anyone would be interested in letting me speak at grade schools about homelessness? None of the political stuff... just myth busting ;-). Interesting .... very interesting.

Everybody Has An Opinion

April 8, 2010
If I haven’t said it before I do love this neighbourhood. There is something about the DTES (Down Town East Side) that brings out the activist in a person. It isn’t just me, agency workers, residents, and local businesses, even the street people will stand up and be counted on the issues involving this community. A few weeks ago I ran into a young man who used to be a client of the D.I. He moved here 2 years ago and now runs a community garden down on East Hastings. I can’t be entirely sure if this place brings out the best in people or if good people migrate here because the need is so great.
A few days ago, I spoke about the censorship of a poster of the grim reaper which hung in our neighbourhood fire station. I don’t know where David Eby lives but the general consensus around da’ hood is that, “truth, be told”…. Deal with it. As I past the fire hall on my way home tonight I was afforded the opportunity to enjoy someone’s rebuttal to this particular censorship issue.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Music to My Ears

April 7, 2010
Tonight I attended a free blues concert at the Carnegie Community Centre. My first cultural outing since the Fire Hall Arts Centre offered its pay what you can matinee last month. If you have a chance to see “Where the Blood Mixes” it is a must see play. It deals with the issues surrounding residential schools… without beating you over the head. The play is well written, provocative, and has an amazing integration of music and lighting effects. I give it 5.5 stars out of 5… lol. That’s my review for this week.
In most of the cities I have visited there are many places for the homeless to eat. Art, literature, music and theatre is the food of the soul. Very few places consider the need to include everyone in that part of our community. Given the level of cutback in support for the arts one can understand how venues would be reluctant to give–up tickets which could garner revenue. There are two things you may or may not yet know about me. I always try to be sensitive to both sides in a situation and I never criticize unless I can offer a viable alternative. So I would ask that, if you have influence with the arts in your community try something along these lines. Choose a drop-in center which is popular with the homeless the D.I. in Calgary, the Bissell in Edmonton, or Evelyn Saller in Vancouver, are examples. If you don’t know the best option for your town call around to people working in the shelter industry, they will be able to suggest a place. Give that agency authorization to issue “STANDBY PASSES” a computer printed coupon which would allow the holder to access an event at one of the participating venues. By taking the coupon to the venue 30 minutes before curtain (if there are still empty seats) the pass holder is given admittance. The issuing agency will ensure the pass is given to a client with financial need. It costs the participating venues NOTHING and opens a world of culture to the greater community. It is time we removed all the barriers in our society, including those created money or a lack there of.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

sorry guys

April 6, 2010
Like anyone else...I'm having an off day. Will be spending tonight nursing a migraine. Blogging will have to wait. Sleep well all. Bonny

One Man's Art

April 5, 2010
The other afternoon I was passing the corner of Powell and Main Streets when I saw 2 firemen standing over a large garden gnome. At first I feared the poor creature had suffered a heart attack, but the paramedics put him on his little feet and all was well. Most 911 calls in the DTES are for services of the paramedic units, rather than hook and ladder crews.
Today, Fire Hall #2 has come under criticism over this poster which hangs inside the building. It was not clear who lodged the complaint; the Fire Hall is voluntarily removing the poster. However should we always just retract what we say because someone is uncomfortable facing the truth? Nothing in that poster is untrue… we have a drug problem in the DTES, and drug related incidents likely account for many of the calls to the V.F.D. #2. True it is not all that is, the DTES and it is not an image we would want the world to embrace. But it is none the less one conspicuous aspect of this community.
To read the article copy and paste the link below.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Easter

April 4, 2010
Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend. Lots of together time with family and friends, as it should be. I didn’t track down any turkey dinners, although I’m sure there were some out there. Given the high level of community support for the homeless in DTES, it would be unlikely to see them completely forgotten on the holidays. Holidays are a great opportunity for people to express their sense compassion. Christmas is really good for that. My favourite program is “adopt a family”. An individual or organization is assigned a family in need… the adopters are given names and ages of the adoptee family members and the family is provided with gifts and groceries appropriate to their needs. Excellent program as far as it goes. What about the rest of the year?
Permit me to wax nostalgic for a few moments. When I was growing up we were a have not family. An organization called The Travelers launched an, adopt a family program. Each of the member families adopted a needy family, whom they took care of year round. Christmas gifts and a hamper, but also birthday gifts and hampers for Thanksgiving and Easter (chocolate bunnies included). There are probably a hundred liability and privacy issues preventing such relationships these days. But the joy of that type of program was that the giver knew exactly where his money is going. With so many charities 60% – 80% of your contribution goes to administration and fundraising. Drop a toonie in some hobo’s hat and 100% of your donation has gone toward making one person’s day a little easier LOL.
I guess what I want to say here is holidays are great… but our souls need to give every day. Stepping outside of oneself seems to feed something inside oneself. How you choose to give isn’t that important… money or time whatever works for you. Every single day, do something, anything for someone else, stranger or friend it doesn’t matter. Give joy to your heart by giving to the world.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


April 3, 2010
Remember last week I was looking for a toaster… today one of the street vendors on Hastings sold me a bitchin’ toaster for $2.50. Now I too can buy 10cent loaves of bread. The cost benefit analysis works for that transaction.
We have always been creatures of commerce… this is not just a white-man’s thing; the Anisazi traded with the Toltecs, the fisherman trades his fish for the farmer’s vegetables. There must have been a time and place when everything could be provided by our environment, we have all read about remote tribes or villages which were self-sustaining. But once these cultures were exposed to other cultures trading began.
We become accustomed to having those things we cannot produce for ourselves. The line between need and want is blurred. Given the current economy many people are being forced to re-examine what is needed and what is simply wanted. We can no longer expect to “have it all”. Wealth and power are unattainable for the majority of us these days. The fact is… it is all we can do to survive from one month to the next.
I believe it is because of that, we have begun looking inward for fulfillment, satisfaction and peace. I believe we are experiencing the rise of spiritualism, in western culture. This shift away from materialism as core our value was long ago predicted by the Shamans of Central and South America. So yes we are evolving…. but will it be too little - too late?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Scenes from Dr Zivago

April 2, 2010
I always carry a box of safety pins when I am travelling, to me safety pins are like duck tape but they take up a lot less room in my backpack. Today is the coldest day since I arrived in Vancouver…. The winds are gusting to 85-kmh and my garret room is a little icebox. Like many of the SROs this building is easily 100 years old, the gap between the bottom of the window frame and outer wall is probably half an inch. The window itself is single pane, metal framed in 3 pieces…so there is no insulating value. Usually I hang my robe (pretty red flowered silk look) on the curtain rod and open it to block the sun, today that needed a rethink. I took the fleece blanket off my bed and used my safety pin collection to attach it to the curtain rod. The blanket billows inward with each gust of wind; I know it is not keeping the cold air from entering my little sanctuary, it is simply redirecting it toward the floor. But this does keep the draft from blowing directly onto my bed/sofa/dining room. It took almost 30 minutes for my fingers to defrost enough to type this.
I feel fortunate that I don’t have to venture out in this weather, hopefully tomorrow will be better. Many of the homeless will spend the day walking from sleep centres to drop-ins, to soup kitchens (many of which line up outside) back to a drop-in then back to the sleep program. Where hopefully, they will arrive early enough to get a mat. That aspect of street life is difficult enough in good weather.
The bed shortage situation often gives rise to calls for more shelters spaces…. I am saying NO to more shelter beds. Shelters are a band-aid; the solution is to build affordable housing. Once the working poor and medical clients have homes, there will be more than enough space in shelters for our street population.
Oh yeah right.. safety pins also hold your back pack together and can keep really big clothes from falling off your butt. Sometimes my ADD just takes over LOL.

Another good day

April 1, 2010

WOW, this blogging everyday thing is harder then I thought. It was a pretty good zombie attacks. The Doctor's appointment went, I think there is real improvement with the knee problem. Went to the Carnegie, the April newsletter has some very disturbing information. Which I'll discuss at another time. Then I tried unsuccessfully to pay my rent(they don't take cash). Just to make for a nice surprise I received a call from one of my dear friends from home.
I warned you that daily blogs could be pretty boring LOL.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

think a little more of others

March 31, 2010
The building next door to the SRO where I am staying is called The Living Room. It is a drop-in facility for clients with Mental Health issues. The Living Room is run as non-profit and provides day programs, counseling, meals, clothes, furniture, advocacy and pretty much anything else you can imagine. When I was passing by the other day I noticed a poster in the window. The poster announced that the Living Room will be holding fundraising car washes over the summer. No surprise there… non-profits are all about the fundraising. The surprise is that proceeds from these fundraisers will be going to NETS FOR AFRICA…. a program which provides mosquito netting to help reduce malaria.
When I was a little girl my granny always told me, “you don’t got to look too far to find someone worse off then you.” It was great advice, anytime I started feeling hard done by… I’d take a look at what others have to deal with and be thankful for all the good things I have. Perhaps the most important of which is my granny’s good advice LOL.
So a group of people in Vancouver, who have much to struggle with, could have voted to put those funds to a new foosball table or a group trip to a Canucks game. But NO instead they thought about people half a world away, who are locked in a different kind of struggle. Perhaps it is as Aristotle said, that all things being equal it is man’s preferred nature to do good.