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.