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

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