Saturday, December 17, 2011

Another Ghost of Christmas Past

When my father left, it was just before Christmas and just after the birth of my baby sister (she was the 6th child for my parents).  My granny got on the phone and contacted every social agency and organization and church in an effort to ensure we would not be stranded without a Christmas. The spirit of the season and a lack of cross-referencing databases, made that year truly abundant. My young brother is a lifelong Maple Leafs fan because of a Leafs jersey which he received in that year when he was only 7. In those days fathers were seldom more than bread winners so Al’s absence from the kitchen table was barely noticed. A loss which was  more than made up for by 3 turkeys, 6 boxes of groceries and more gifts then any of us kids had ever seen. I’m sharing this story of my little brother, (now a middle-aged man; spending Saturday nights in a neighbourhood sports bar in Vancouver, cheering on the Leafs) to say we never know the level of impact an act of generousity will have. I imagine the people who donated that jersey have long forgotten... but my brother never will, and neither will I. 
Generousity abounds at Christmas and I love this season… my church announced a few weeks ago that we have “adopted a family” … the gifts have poured in for the family of 5 (we are a very small group never more than 40 at a service). This adopt a family idea has been done by private groups for more then half a century, that I know of. It has become very popular through community care agencies over the past few decades. Yehhhh…. Christmas!  What has always troubled me is that a family in need does not cease to be poor on January 5th; so after Christmas then what?
When I was a child an organization called “the Travelers” had an adopt a family program, each member-family would adopt a needy- (insert whatever politically correct crap you prefer for that word) family. That family insured that every holiday their adoptees had a hamper of food and every child had a gift on their birthday … there would be chocolate bunnies at Easter and sometimes even tickets to a hockey game (local minor league) or a circus. We were adopted by the Muncasters of Thunder Bay… So thank you Mr. & Mrs. Muncaster , Diane and your brother Whatz-z-name. You set a good example and possibly had some small part in making me into the person I am today.
Over the years I have frequently expressed dismay that this ongoing adoption model is not practiced today. It was explained to me Betty-Lou Souter (of Community Cares Niagara) that privacy issues would make the concept impossible.  I am happy to say my church is trying to disprove that theory. The care agency worker will act as a liaison between us and our family, so we can provide the niceties of life for this family years round. I would like to see us go past simple birthdays and special events to providing funds for school events, clubs, sports and summer camps. These are experiences every child should have at least once. Our family will call their worker with a request, eg: “Mikey’s class is going to the ROM and the trip cost $40”. The worker takes 2 minutes to email us with the info ( our contact info is in the families file) Then we take two minutes to email $40 to the worker and Mikey can go on his class trip. No privacy violations here just 10 minutes (collectively) out of lives of one case worker and a church secretary.
Anyway I hope everyone has a joyous holiday… keep this spirit of generousity and good will alive as you travel through 2011. The world is a better place with you in it, MERRY CHRISTMAS (insert your holiday of choice here ;-).


Thursday, November 24, 2011


Hope you had a chance to check out the new website and as you can see I've given the blog site a new look to co-ordinate. Among the changes I've made, is to activate a translator feature, given the many different countries that visit the blog site it seems only fair. So if anyone actually uses it please leave a comment card and let me know if it works ;-)
Have a joyous day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Website

After several format changes I'm really liking the new layout I put on last night, this could be the one ;-) Among the new features is a guestbook, so if you have suggestions, comments or words of encouragement, you have a place to express yourself. Also the home page will carry a thought of the day (or two days), short bits of wit and wisdom to be changed often.
This situation is an example of how obstacles become opportunities. Due to some miscommunication between myself and my service provider, my original website and all of its content was lost forever. Yes, I was angry and frustrated, but after a couple of days. I realized that much has changed since I first decide to make my journey of homelessness, I have changed and the website should change too.
I am more convinced then ever of the connectedness of humanity. Buddha said that we are, "all the same in our desire to experience joy and avoid suffering..." I have confirmed the truth of this among all the people I have known rich...poor and everything in between.
I am also more convinced then ever that, to have a real impact helping people move forward toward their own happiness, we need to connect with the individual. The work of agencies is important and will always be necessary. Even if we adopt affordable home ownership programs and get all the working poor out of the shelters; there will always be that 30% who are street people (drunks, druggies & drop-outs) who will need food and shelter; harm reduction as we call it in the industry.
 If you read my blog on happiness you will remember that the principles of happiness are pretty constant but the key to open a person's heart to allow happiness in, is as unique as the key to a house. So to effectively help someone move forward in their life we (professional social workers/life coaches) have to be willing to open ourselves up to building a personal connection with our clients.
As for everyone else, treat each other (friend or stranger) with kindness and respect. Do no harm and whenever possible, leave a situation better than you found it.
Have a joyous day. Remember to check out the new and still evolving Angels of the Road website.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happiness is, a warm bunny…. in a nice stew.

Last week our discussion group asked the question, “Why are most people in our culture unhappy?”  This is a very complex issue because most people misunderstand the nature of happiness; most people think happiness is being in a good mood all the time. Happiness is not a mood... it is a state of being. A happy person can still feel a range of emotional responses. I am a happy person, I am angered by injustice, saddened by ignorance, proud of the young adults at Occupy sites, warmed by a baby’s laughter, frustrated by setbacks,  joyous in shared moments etc…etc…etc … in all this I remain a happy person. My granny used to say, “If you are happier than not, more often than not. Then you have a good life”. When we let go of the expectation that we must be in a good mood all the time, it will be easier to allow ourselves to achieve a state of happiness. Again money is not the source of or an impediment to happiness. Everyone has problems / challenges; for the poor these revolve around material matters and for the wealthy problems stem from ambiguity in relationships and emotional matters.
What is this state of being called HAPPINESS and how does one get there? O.K. let me give this a try. Happiness has three component parts…Peace of mindJoy of life & Love of self.
Peace of mind is achieved by living guilt free and regret free. To do this first we need to do our very best in every moment. Whether we place first, last or in between, if we gave it our best there is nothing to apologize for. And never do or say anything you cannot own with pride.
Joy of life (or
joie de la vie as the French say) is achieved mostly through gratitude. Be grateful for even the smallest things, when your mind is focusing on what is right in your life you have less time to fret about what is wrong. To once again share a folksy life lesson from my granny, “You don’t gotta look too far to find somebody worse off then you.” So if the only gratitude you can muster is being glad you are not them…start there.  Generosity also figures into this component, not just generosity with money, but be generous with your spirit. Treat everyone with kindness and respect and forgive easily.
Love of self… this is a rare thing because self love is often confused with ego or narcissism. In reality it is about accepting the good in yourself and forgiving your mistakes. Show yourself the same kindness and respect that I ask you to show your fellow man. As my Christian friend would say, “God doesn’t make mistakes…” You have a valuable purpose in this life. Find it, live it and be happy.
The above three are basic principles for happiness… the key to individual happiness is as unique as a key to a door, they may look the same but only one will actually successfully open the lock. I believe happiness is our natural state of being. If we are unhappy it is because something is blocking us, try to step outside yourself and look at your life objectively. How are you in conflict with these principles? If you can figure that out and make the necessary changes you will be able to find the key to your own personal happiness. If you are just starting your journey of self discovery (recovery) I recommend reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s books The Four Agreements and later released The Fifth Agreement. Have a joyous day my friends and we will talk again soon.     

Sunday, October 23, 2011

OCCUPY Wall Street & Everywhere Else

Being a supporter of anti-poverty initiatives, it is about time I said a few words about the OCCUPY movement which has been sweeping across North America.  OCCUPY Wall Street / Everywhere Else … is the gentler, younger cousin of economically sparked political protests which plagued Europe over the past year. The growing rift between rich and poor is not news, it has been going on for decades … but this isn’t the 1950s… communism was a monumental failure and we really have no interest in burning down parliament ala Guy Fox. We require 21st century solutions to 21st century problems. 
The OCCUPY movement is a touchstone for everything that is wrong with our society. There are more than a hundred ways in which western culture needs to change for the better; and all of them are represented at these protests. The reactions are as varied as the causes… but the overall criticism of OCCUPY is that it has no manifesto and no real leaders. I guess it is kind of like building a tent city under the tower of Babel, everyone seems to be talking a different language. I won’t be addressing individual issues in this blog, nor will I address the individual criticisms of the movement.
Today I want to talk about the core message of OCCUPY which to paraphrase the movie “Wall Street” is simply “Greed is NOT good”.  That statement applies to poor and rich alike….I’ve known both in my life and everyone is being squeezed by the greed of others (individuals, corporation or governments). Unlike love and other elements of the human spirit, which are infinite and self-perpetuating; the material world is limited. To change policy and practices we must change as individuals. We must change our personal priorities in the following ways:
          We must define ourselves by the good we do,

                                         not by the goods we own.
          We must choose enough over excess.
          We must value people over property.
          We must exercise compassion toward others,

                                        not control of others.
          We must above all “Do NO harm”.

The only real way to change our culture is by changing as individuals. Once we intrinsically value ourselves, we will only need things for their usefulness and only take what we will actually use from the material world. Abandoning excess is not communism; each person’s need will differ. My life of luxury would be a bare necessity to someone else. Some families’ need 2 even 3 cars, some need 150 square feet to live in, while another needs a five bedroom house. I am sad for people who define themselves (and others) by the label on their butt or the Lexis in their driveway… they have fallen for the great lie that money buys happiness. Money is a tool... nothing more. It is not the source of or an impediment to happiness, and GREED IS NOT GOOD. A few years ago I was having coffee with my friend Lonewolf, who champions against oppression, exploitation and all manner of atrocities committed by mankind. He said to me, “that greed is at the root of all of it”. So I asked the question… "would it not be better to fight GREED?” Aristotle told us that it is man’s nature to choose good over evil, (all things being equal)… if each of us aspires to be the best person we can be; then we will have good people making decisions and shaping policy.
So if we truly want to change our society (and I don’t care how rich a person is, we ALL want this over burdened system to change) first change yourself. Adopt the five principles listed above. then OCCUPY every corner of the world with the message that GREED IS NOT GOOD…. Excess and control (of others) should been seen for what it is, an over-compensation for self-loathing, insecurity and fear.
Love yourself …you deserve it.  Reach out to others with kindness and respect (if not love). Let’s consciously move society to reflect the very best of human nature. Have a joyous day my friends.   

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanks Giving

         As we all know Thanksgiving is a modern day version of the harvest festivals of olden days. A time when everyone from the surrounding countryside came together to thank the gods (eventually god) for a bountiful year. Sacrifices were made of produce and/or livestock, followed by feasting dancing and rejoicing. I guess if it was a bad crop-year people would just have to celebrate having survived the drought and/or locust. One could not forgo the ritual of thanks giving or the gods would not bless next year’s crops. And since the villagers had already stoned the person whom they believed offended the gods thus causing this year’s drought, there was a reasonable expectation next year would be better.
        Most families don’t have a “Walton’s Mountain” Thanksgiving…there is the stress of hosting, the need to put aside old hurts or just try to be civil with people we (wouldn’t cross the street to spit on but) happen to be related to. In my mother’s house such functions always ended with my aunt and my mother in a fight over who knows what.  Grandma always found something to criticize. Dad and my uncle would take a case of beer and hide in the backyard until it was time to eat. Nobody said grace and nobody was thankful. Such is no longer the case, for me at least, I don't always say grace but I am always thankful for my many blessings.
         I am grateful that in my little family, we all enjoy each other’s company. My kids are all smart and funny and when we all get together most or our time is spent in witty banter and joyous laughter. I am blessed with children I genuinely like…even if we weren’t related I would definitely want to be friends with them.
          I am grateful for the friends of my past who have stayed these many decades and remind me of the timelessness of love between friends. A bridge between then and now. I am grateful for new friends, the freshness of awakening to learning to know each other. Discovery of the strengths and weakness in each of us, complimenting and contrasting, brought to fullness over time.
         I am grateful for the freedom to live my life as I choose… in service to my street friends and with the support of my children. I am grateful to live in a country where we can speak out and fight openly for social justice, without fear of persecution. I am grateful for enough strength of mind, body and spirit to continue my work. Growing from the experience, knowing that challenges only bring us strength of will.
        I am grateful for my faith which grounds me through life’s ups and downs. I am also grateful to have found a church where I can connect and feel accepted. I am grateful to have found the beautiful little family whom I work for… I am grateful for my little apartment and my great neighbours… not so much for the bugs LOL.
        On a more basic level I am grateful for my amazing mind, which keeps me laughing at life, pondering perplexities, and singing to the ever present music rolling around in my head. I am grateful for the warmth of the sun, the smell of concrete after a rain, children laughing, and people who smile when I say, “how’s it goin” and rely, “any day above ground is a good day”.
         So for Thanksgiving 2011… I am making a resolution. Every day I will take a few minutes to be grateful for life and all that it brings … good and bad for this is what make me who I am. And with all honesty… I genuinely like me.  Have a joyous day my friends, Happy Thanks Giving.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tsunami Update

The other day I caught a news blub stating that 12,000 people are still living in shelters after the tsunami / earthquake devastated Japan 6 months ago. While this is sad …I’m very impressed by what Japan has accomplished in only 6 months. The disaster left 450,000 people homeless, Assume ½ of that number were able to move in with family and friends; that would leave 225,000 people for the government to relocate.  Most certainly some are living in substandard housing, the news clip pictured what looked like converted cargo containers about the size of a rail car (which makes it 2X - 3X the size of my apartment).  We also have to respect that recovery would be slowed to some extent by the fact that Japan’s infrastructure was also badly hit… slowing down access to permits for demolition clean-up, so people can reclaim and rebuild the land. Also I supposed building permits would be slow coming too.  So in 6 months Japan has re-housed over 200,000 people.
The news service picks up on the sad tale of 12,000 homeless in Japan, but continues to ignore the fact that Canada has 150,000 – 300,000 homeless. Given Japan has a population of 127.3 million that leaves 1/10,000 homeless, where as Canada has 1.5/1,000 (or possibly 2X that. Here I am talking about shelter residency (inadequate and substandard housing is another issue). To be very clear I am NOT asking for more shelter space… I want Canada to become proactive in creating affordable housing. I know some of you are thinking… “but, those poor people lost their homes through no fault of their own… it was a natural disaster”. Let us eliminate from Canada’s homeless count the 30% who are street people (Drunks, Druggies & Drop-outs). For the purposes of this discussion I am even willing to eliminate the 20% who I refer to as Medicals (people who’s health or mental health issues make them unemployable) and sadly uncared for.  So our homeless count is now down by 50% leaving us with 75,000 to 150,000 deserving people who have been hit by a wave of economic crisis (as oppose to water) and / or had their life shaken to its foundation by personal disasters. This is our National Disasters… our crisis and to some extent or shame. Congratulations Japan for doing in 6 months what Canada has failed to do in decades RE-HOUSING more than 90% of its homeless. It is election time; let’s make AFFORDABLE HOUSING an issue which cannot be ignored.  


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hard Time

My young friend (I spoke of him in March’s blog “Stand By Me”) was sentenced for his recent offences, my great fear was that he would be given a “habitual offender designation” and they would keep him locked up forever so as to protect society. Fortunately, he was given 5 years (after 6 months served)…. 18 months longer then his last sentence, which was longer than the one before…which was longer than the one before….and so on and so on. You get the idea. If prison time was going to fix anything his recidivism would have ended a decade ago.
I watched this young man struggle for months to cope with the many issues that drove him to ultimately relapse and return to the criminal behaviours which were his survival for so many years. The judge handed down the sentence with the words “people need to be protected…”  I submit that rehabilitation will better serve the safety of society then incarceration.  When someone wants to change their life, it is for us to provide them with the tools and skills needed for them to succeed. Sadly such help is not readily available to an EX-con. There are many psychosocial programs (and some educational programs) within the correctional system, which is a good thing.  Such programs are either not available on the outside or waiting lists are discouragingly long.  My friend tried to get a doctor’s appointment to treat an anxiety issue (part of a larger mental health issue) the clinic took 3 weeks to call back with an appointment, scheduled for 4 weeks after that. Seven weeks to see someone who may very well have referred him to a psychiatrist, resulting in a further delay. Once rearrested my friend was treated within 24 hrs and showed significant improvement in less than 2 weeks. Ok we now know why he wasn't able to carry out his much desired transformation. But why didn’t he get help the last time he was in prison? Or the time before or the time before or the time before or when he was in juvee or when he was in foster care?
It is a complicated Catch 22… much like what I have discovered about the services we offer through the shelter system. The programs in prison are voluntary; the inmate must ask to be included.  Perhaps I should illustrate with a personal story… I was raised in public housing, chronically poor families, single parents, alcohol abuse, etc. It was expected that girls would grow-up to marry and have babies… success was marrying a guy who could hold a steady job and didn’t beat on you. College and career was an option that never entered my mind. The way many inmates have lived and were raised, leads them to believe that the life they have is all they are capable of or deserve. Before rehabilitation can work an inmate must believe they have value, believe that they deserve better and that a better life is within reach.
For that to happen someone must first value them as individuals… it is not enough to hear the words, it must be felt, experienced by someone actually caring. This is how we all learned to value and respect ourselves. Someone in our early years (for me it was my granny) maybe a family member, teacher or social worker; cherished us (if only for a moment) and we felt worthy.
I’m not asking everyone to go out and adopt a felon… just think before you mentally write someone off as irredeemable. Support prison programs that include esteem building… and if you can spare a couple of hours a week commit to Big Brothers & Big Sisters or some other local organzation targeting disadvantaged kids/youths.  Maybe if someone had valued my friend when he was a child he would not have wasted so much of his precious life behind bars. Have a joyous day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


On June 19th I attended the pow-wow at Gage Park here in Hamilton; there I received a notice of the new Aboriginal Concurrent Disorders Certificate program that will be running at Mohawk College this fall. What a great program I thought, (so many street people suffer from concurrent disorders and I have a deep commitment to my urban Native clients) when I go back out west this will be invaluable. So I called the coordinator, and discovered the program would cost $3,000. Where am I going to get that kind of money? As a part-time nanny earning minimum wage (I don't get paid for my work with street people), it is all I can do to pay the bills. So I called the career centre at Ontario Works and was told they only cover funding for full-time schooling. Because of a bankruptcy I would not be eligible for student loans (or any other loan for that matter)… there were no bursaries or scholarships that would cover the full cost. By the college’s standards I don’t even qualify for a senior’s discount LOL. All hope was lost. Then I found out about the I Can Achieve contest…. even 3rd place would give me enough money to take the ACDC course. What could be more inspiring then a middle-aged woman who would give up everything to live and work among our poorest and most disenfranchised population? Surely this was God’s way of getting me the money I needed to take the class….
As I watch my profile stall out in the vote count between 80th and 124th place, I found myself confused by what is ahead of me in the polls. I get Dionne…she has an amazing life view, but a lot of the stories seem mundane to me… Someone had a struggle and they overcame it to move forward with their life. Abusive childhood…stepping in for an absent parent, teen pregnancy / finished high-school, teen marriage, divorce, back to university at 40ish, single parent, poverty, depression, relocating, starting a new career in midlife , while these things are challenging I did not see them a extraordinary or inspiring. I was telling my son about my confusion and he said, “Haven’t you done all that?” My response was, “All that and a few more…lol”.
I guess my whole life has been one struggle after another, I have just never seen it that way. I have mostly seen myself as blessed, with learning experiences. My personal hero is Linda Crabtree, a woman who while living with a lifelong degenerative disorder (CMT) has fought valiantly and tirelessly for disabled rights and accessibility. She is an amazing artist, writer, advocate, and has never allowed her struggles hold her back. I love visiting with her…she encourages me in my own quest for social justice, and a kinder, gentler world. When my faith seems a little shaky and the work seems daunting, I just think of Linda (
Perhaps the reason I work with street people (especially Natives) is because I respect caving under a lifetime of abuse and neglect… if I had not had my Grandmother’s wisdom to guided me I could have been lost in that same jungle of addiction and self-loathing. I bring to them (street people) what she brought to me… I guess that I’m just paying it forward.
Sadly I’m beginning to think bringing me to the I Can Achieve contest isn’t about getting tuition for my course; perhaps God simply brought me here to show me how the rest of society sees adversity. How relative, struggle is to each of us. My Granny used to say, “Shit Happens, deal with it”. I guess it is like anything else, practice makes perfect… it must be hard to deal with adversity, if your life has been relatively easy (or uneventful). It is wrong of me to judge others by my standards; I am well practiced at survival. To all the contestants, congratulations on every victory you have…always know that what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger. And I am once again grateful to the universe for a lesson learned. Have a joyous day my friends.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blogging & Flogging

The other evening I received a phone call from one of “my boys”. He said, “Thank-you, you saved my life”. My response was the same as it always is, “No kid, you saved your life….I just reminded you it was worth saving.” If that sounds immodest, you would be wrong. Humility is one of the building blocks to a happy life. Once we recognize the limitations of our influence we can stop taking responsibility (feeling guilty) over things for which we have limited or no control. I took this I Can Achieve contest as an opportunity to share my secrets of achieving JOY, PEACE & LOVE with a larger audience… not that my regular Angels of the Road readers aren’t important but all ya’ll have heard most of this stuff. Now, for the first time, here it is all in one place LOL.

Live outside yourself… I’m not sure what it is in our nature, the need to be needed or simply a distraction from self-assessment. But giving our energy to others (family or strangers) seems to fulfill something in our souls. Maybe it is just that by helping others we tend to appreciate what we have (in my case “am”). When we have appreciation we spend less time wanting and Buddhism teaches that wanting is the source of all our suffering.

Be realistic… optimism & pessimism both ignore aspects of any situation, which is dangerous because it leaves things that need to be dealt with undone. The realist says, “My glass is half empty, so I better start searching for a new water source, while it is still half full”.

Be humble… do what you can and rejoice in that… Canada has 170,000 homeless in shelters (50,000 are street people) I can’t help them all… but I can make any given moment a little easier & a little more enjoyable. And for some (like the young man who called me) that changes everything.

Be focused… there are a million places in the world that need help, find one speaks to your heart and give your time and energy to that. You can find yourself pulled in too many directions even by related issues; if you give in to this you will burnout. My focus is one on one outreach with street people, helping them find enough hope and self love to move themselves forward in their lives. Someone else will make the sandwiches, provide the blankets and provide the resources… it is for me to touch a heart and stir it to action. I support housing initiatives, welfare reform and most antipoverty causes to a limited extent. But I am a pebble; I am secure that one life touched ripples out touching others with its wake. The world is a better place for each small change.

Be kind … first with yourself, everyone makes mistakes (has a bad day) but as long as you do the best you can in any given moment you should be proud. Then extend that courtesy to others and appreciate that everyone one is doing the best they can and forgive any shortfalls.

Be respectful… it is not for us to judge another person, we have not lived in their head or in their life. I’m not going to tell you everyone is innately good…some people are just assholes, but it doesn’t make them or the situation any better by disrespecting them. Treating everyone with respect & kindness speaks to who you are and makes the world a better place for your having passed through it.

Be honest… this is probably at the root of everything. When you are honest you accept your limitations, take responsibility (& action) when you can. A person never has to live with guilt or regret when they have done what they honestly can do. Now you know how to create a life filled with  joy, peace & love.
Click this link to vote for me  I Can Achieve

Monday, August 1, 2011

hulahoop and lots of poop

I’m blaming the 1950s …. Yes, it is considered to be the best time in our history. A post-war economic boom meant lots of jobs, if a person (specifically a man) wanted to work there was more than enough to go around. The only homeless back then were drunks, drug addicts and drop outs (hobos and beatnik writers). A man could start with very little and build great wealth with nothing more than sweat and persistence. You could start in the mail room at a company and find a seat in the vice president’s office during your 30 year tenure, before retiring comfortably. The things that were wrong with the 50s… the 60s-90s worked vigorously to address, racial and gender equality has made great strides. The rights of the individual to safety and dignity, in society and within the home are now protected under law.

My problem is with the way the good old days have coloured or attitudes, our world view and our expectations. The homeless of the 1950s represents only 30% of today’s homeless population. In 1950 the mentally ill and infirmed were hospitalized. Better than today's lack of facilities and structure which leaves this population accounting for 20% of Canada’s homeless. There are a couple of city’s doing an excellent job of providing supportive housing, kudos to E4C of Edmonton Albert.

The other 50% of homeless are just poor… minimum wage earners, single parents on assistance, pensioners, and large families. True in 1950 people did alright on minimum wage which was only $0.65 an hour. You heard me right, sixty-five cents. A loaf of bread was 5 cents… a bus ride was 5 cents …a movie with pop corn was a quarter (25 cents). So a person earning minimum wage could ride the bus, take in a movie, ride home and bring a loaf of bread with him… and still have money for 2 Coney dogs at the McKellar Confectionary (not bad for an hours work). Today a bus ride is $2.50, the movie $20, a bus home $2.50 the loaf of bread $3; let’s add the 2 hotdogs that’s another $7. $35 THIRTY FIVE DOLLARS that is 3x the minimum wage in Ontario and 4x the minimum wage for Alberta. Let me be very clear increasing minimum wage is NOT the solution… minimum wage goes up…prices go up and the poverty just continues.

Thanks to the affluence of the 1950’s we still cling to the delusion that money = success=happiness. Since the economic shifts of the 80s and 90s one can no longer build great wealth without serious money with which to prime the pump. Today’s barons either have family wealth (or wealthy backers) or gain their foothold through exploitation enterprises like buying up foreclosures, or providing payday loans or buying your family treasures for pennies on the dollar. But not to worry there is always the lottery or… "The Secret" by the way, manifestation was intended for benefiting the universe, not to get you a private jet, but that's another discussion. Since, so few of us can actually have wealth; we keep ourselves in the chasing happiness game through credit. Let it go already …this is the 21st century… if the people in your life are only there because of your stuff; you should probably get rid of them and the stuff.

Thanks to the black and white sitcoms we all labour under the misguided notion that life should be perfect; free of any hardships, struggles, losses or challenges. But these hardships are what build us; through our pain we can gain strength and confidence and learn compassion toward the trials of others. Surviving (childhood abuse, teen pregnancy, single parenting, divorce, illness, death, depression, deferring your personal goals until the kids are grown, re-educating, changing professions) is not heroism …this is just living your life. My sainted old granny would say “shit happens …deal with it”. Stop trying to live up to imaginary lives…reality will always fall short, instead take another piece of advice from granny, “no matter how bad things get you don’t got to look too far to find somebody worse off than you.”

Just an interesting note Robert Young (Dad Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best fame) died an alcoholic. And here’s an interesting quote from Billy Grey who played the son on that show.

[On his "Father Knows Best" (1954) years,] "I wish there was some way I could tell kids not to believe it - the dialogue, the situations, the characters - they were all totally false. The show did everybody a disservice. The girls were always trained to use their feminine wiles, to pretend to be helpless to attract men. The show contributed to a lot of the problems between men and women that we see today....I think we were all well motivated, but what we did was run a hoax. "Father Knows Best" (1954) purported to be a reasonable facsimile of life. And the bad thing is that the model is so deceitful.....If I could say anything to make up for all the years I lent myself to that kind of bullshit, it would be: *You* Know Best."

The attitudes and mythology of the 1950s belong in the world of nostalgia … Reality requires new solutions applicable to the new situation which western society has to deal with in the 21st century.
Have a joyous day my friends... we'll talk again soon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Just an Old Fashioned Girl

There was an interesting story in the “O” online newsletter this week about a woman who formally adopted a 22 year old U.S. marine. It seems she was a social worker with child services when she met the boy and became interested in his future. She took him along on family outings and invited him to holiday dinners. She welcomed this troubled kid into her heart and into her home and he grew-up to be a young man she can be proud of. Now the family has formalized that relationship with an adoption.

This story reminds me of my first experience as a ward of the crown (yes I too had a misspent youth LOL) many decades ago. My case worker was a woman named Margie Grant, she was only 10 years my senior and I didn’t have a lot of respect for her authority… like many of my street friends it is hard to imagine any real understanding from someone who has never lived in your world. What Margie brought to the table was a genuine love for her clients… I never doubted this was a person who actually gave a crap about me. My second daughter is named for this lovely woman, and any time I am in B.C. a visit to the sunshine coast is at the top of my list. Margie and her husband Michael took in many kids over the years, changing each one of us for the better… love will do that ;-).

I often speak of “Freestyle Social Work”, it is the way Margie and the woman in the article practiced social work… fearlessly and openly caring about their clients. Today agencies are paralyzed with fear of litigation or public (mis)perception; staff is mandated not to get too close with their clients. Simple social niceties, sitting down for a cup of coffee, or giving someone a lift in the rain can get you fired, if that someone happens to be a client. Because of support from my immediate supervisors (Tim Gorman & Greg Smith two of the best role models I could have hoped for) I was given a little more freedom regarding client interactions than is usual for someone in my position. Now that I have been working freestyle for a couple of years I don’t know too many agencies I could work under, 454 in Ottawa, Bissell in Edmonton, The DI in Calgary , so far that is the whole list.

Last week I was sitting in a local soup kitchen after lunch and struck up a conversation with the person at the next table…Their personal struggle had been going on for many years and they were at the end of their rope. During our conversation I was able to provide contact information to useful agencies, with advice on approaching these places to get the necessary services. But I was also able to share insight on matters physical and metaphysical which could influence their perspective. And fortunately I was also able to give them some insight into the medical options around their issue. This person would never have sought out the counsellor's office, that is why I like outreach.  We spent 2 hours together over a cup of coffee… that is freestyle social work. Doing whatever you are capable of (not whatever you are allowed to) to help your client friends. I don’t believe we can truly know someone or what they need unless we are willing to open up and be a friend. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way… thanks to my friend Margie Grant.

Have a joyous day everyone

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Canada Day is almost over… the “pop… pop… pop… boom” …of the fireworks has stopped now; all that is left are the sounds of the city traffic. Sirens blasting as various emergency response vehicles race to someone’s rescue. Car radio’s thumping baselines which rattle the walls or my tiny main street apartment. Basically the night has returned to normal.
An hour ago I sat on the daybed (just me and the cockroaches) listening to the Canada Day celebrations outside of my window. Mostly pops, bangs and whistles offered the only indication of the festivities; but every few minutes one of the missiles would burst open just above the billboard, which provides the vista from my penthouse suite (150sq ft bachelor on the top floor of a 100 year old building struggling not to be a tenement LOL). Though the colourful display was somewhat diminished by the street lights, still there was enough to enjoy and remember previous Canada Day celebrations.
My first Canada Day on the road, I was living at the WEAC (women’s emergency accommodation centre) in Edmonton at the foot of Boyle Street. The staff opened the rooftop patio so we could go up and watch the explosions of colour against the velvet back drop of the night sky. Best seats in the house or at least pretty close and no charge. I loved my time in Edmonton; the city has a great sense of community rivaled only by the DTES (downtown east side) of Vancouver. In all of my travels these two places seem to be best at collaborating with agencies and the homeless populations to build a working relationship and develop some real solutions for reducing the problem.
Last year I spent Canada Day in Ad Sum House in Halifax…although no special effort was made, my room happened to be at the back of the building, facing the harbour… So once again I had an amazing view of the fireworks. Bursts of colour, reflecting in the water, raining down and collapsing into itself. How could you not love this country?
Canada Day has a way of reminding me that for all of our flaw and failings, there is no place in the world that has as much right with it as Canada and no place I would rather live then here among her people. Have a joyous year my friends.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Cold War Re-examined

Since the end of the cold war between Russia and the US, we don’t hear much about the capitalism vs. communism debate any more. This past week I have had 3 such conversations, first the 9 year old I babysit suggested that Fidel Castro is a “bad guy”. Of course I had to explain that although the Americans (who had a lot of financial interests in Cuba pre-Castro) think he is a bad guy; many of the Cuban peasant population loved him. No one holds onto power for decades without the support of most of the people. Then I was talking with my daughter about capitalism (surprise I am not opposed to capitalism) and just a couple of days later I was discussing the nature of capitalism, limited vs. generated resources with my son. As an antipoverty activist it is for me to ponder, what the best is for people (particularly North American people) as a community. While no one should be without the basic necessities of life…neither should anyone be denied the opportunity to move forward with their life.
The problem I have with both communism and capitalism is the assumption that every person has the same needs and the same mindset and the same ability and the same opportunity and the same temperament. We view the world from our perspective and expect others to be like us… which would be great if we then treated everyone one else the way we wish to be treated.
Communism in principle allows for the collective wealth to be shared equally among the citizens. Everyone’s basic needs are provided for… while ignoring the fact that not everyone shares the same needs. Some people need a 3000 sq ft house to be comfortable while some of us only need a 300 sq ft apartment. There is no incentive under communism to be productive or innovative, which causes the population to stagnate.
Capitalism has become a dirty word probably because of its history, centuries of personal and corporate empires built on the exploitation of people and resources. In time, all such empires topple to revolution… in the olden days these men and their wealth fell to the sword and even today corrupt empires fall to unionization and public scrutiny. As with communism... capitalism fails to accept the many differences between individuals, (talents and limitations). It is a system which punishes people for being poor, and assigns worth to society based on personal wealth and property.
It is not the wealth (or the wealthy) which is bad… it is only the blind irresponsible pursuit of money for money’s sake which is unhealthy. I personally know many wonderful people who are extremely well off, they spend their much time and resources to bettering their communities. I also know many poor people who are of great value to our society, giving of time, energy and talent to make a difference in the lives of others. Knowing that wealth is power and with power comes responsibility makes for good capitalism. Capitalists produce needed (or indulgent) goods and services, which through free market enterprise provide the means to comfortably support themselves and their families. The good capitalist pays a fair wage to employees so they can also provide for their families. Good capitalists, provide their service or product, at a reasonable and justifiable cost to the consumer.
I guess the message here is that Capitalism can evolve into something truly good when everyone acts with responsibility and compassion. Creating a community where everyone has enough of the material world to be safe and comfortable… (whatever that means to each person).  Have a joyous day my friends and we will talk again soon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring is Sprung

Easter weekend and I have a few days off … so Happy Easter weekend everyone and enjoy whatever down time this allows you.
Yesterday a man was standing on the street corner handing out a 500 word essay reminding people that Easter is about Jesus NOT about eggs and bunnies. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, that it was about eggs and bunnies … long before we (western Europeans / Christians) hijacked the holiday for our own use. The Christians whom I know have mixed feelings about the holiday. Some take it as a commemoration of Jesus’ death and it is for them, a time of sadness and remembrance. For others it is focused on the empty tomb/ the resurrection and Easter is therefore a time of great joy. The promise of resurrection and eternal life is probably the most significant doctrine in Christendom. It is pretty much the one constant through the thousands of divisions within Christianity… for all the disagreement of organized religion, death, rebirth and resurrection / ascension (physically or metaphysically) are agreed upon by all Christian churches.
Personally I’m an old-fashioned girl; I like the bunnies, the chocolate eggs, and celebration of the awakening and fertility of the coming spring. Yes, I will attend church, but that is less a custom in my world then the watching of Jesus Christ Superstar, which I do every Easter.
Traditions are important, ritual and celebration have their place in our lives and in our culture; but nothing is more important than the way we live day to day. Walk the Talk. So whether you are celebrating the resurgence of life from nature or the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb; have a joyous Easter and a bountiful year ahead.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stand by Me

Advocacy….advocate….to speak for or on behalf of another. I have over the past few years become an advocate for affordable housing. My initial thinking on this is, “Get poor people to hell out of the shelters so that resources (human & other) can be used to help street people. This is the population shelters were built for.” Beyond that, are the obvious benefits for taxpayers, community and individuals; which I have blogged about before or you can go the Calgary Homeless Foundation (or your city’s 10 year plan to end homelessness) to get detailed stats.

Today I am talking about advocacy… My website and blog advocate for Canada’s homeless and street people by giving you information and insights which you may not happen across elsewhere in your day. I have often advocated for clients, with other social workers, agencies or the administration at the D.I. (Calgary Drop-In). Now I am taking on my biggest challenge yet… I will have to advocate for a young friend through his most recent encounter with the legal system. This will require an ongoing commitment of months or even years, what can I say... I don’t give up easily. I think this challenge actually began three months ago when my friend came to join me from Alberta. It has been an emotional rollercoaster, FYI… I do not like roller coasters and the ride isn't over yet LOL.

I’ve only been in Hamilton for 6 months so my knowledge of resources is limited. I need a psychologist or psychiatrist who will treat him on an ongoing basis and a really good lawyer practicing criminal law, who would be willing to work on a legal aid ticket. If you know someone like this, or are someone like this, I can be emailed through . As you all know Angels of the Road in not money making venture. And of course there is no handing off of responsibility for providing personal support, weekly (or more) visits to the jail, letters of encouragement, liaising with professionals and keeping up our church attendance (probably the hardest given my Buddhist leanings). But, my friend is Christian, and we attended All Nations Church together (and I alone since) until a few weeks ago.

Commitment is so important in human relationships. First and foremost to ourselves and our purpose, do all that you can do before giving up on anything and you will never have to look back with regret. When we value others (spouse, children, family, friends, co-workers or clients) they come to see themselves through our eyes and learn, over time, to value themselves (a little tougher with street people). To commit your acceptance, your love and your time someone (anyone) is the most important gift you will ever give. My directive to you is that you touch the world gently, speak softly… treat everyone with kindness and respect. Have a joyous day my friends.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

From a dream to a reality.

My last blog reminded me it has been a long time since we talked about affordable housing. I am typing this with one hand because I am using the other (fortunately my non-dominate left hand) to hold my a/c adapter cord at the optimal angle to sustain power to my laptop.

Back to the subject for today…. Taking affordable housing from a dream to a reality. There are several options for affordable housing, some are better than others. As most of you know my preference is to see cities partnering with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat provides affordable home ownership through donated materials, volunteer labour and expertise, as well as the sweat equity of the future owners. The system is self-regulating; the required 500 hours of sweat equity insures the commitment of those on the list. One complaint about Habitat's program is that they only take low income (working poor) families and persons with physical disabilities. Habitat homes are a scarce resource and as with all scarce commodities, there is a triage in place to see that it is assigned to the best possible use. The reason Habitat homes are scarce is due to a lack of land to build on. Almost all money from fundraising goes to the purchase of land.

Social housing built, owned and operated by cities / provinces is the most expensive and least sustainable of affordable housing options. I was raised in Social Housing. Built to the lowest possible standards, it is fraught with repair problems. As tenants the occupants are NOT allowed to maintain the building and the city is slow to assign a maintenance crew to clear up problem. Out of sight… out of mind. Subsidized housing is privately owned and by agreement with the government a potion of the rent is covered by tax dollars. The problem is that these units are often being listed at well above the actual market value. Gouging the government / taxpayers out of huge amounts of money every year. These units, also, are often poorly maintained… the occupants feel fortunate to have a roof over their heads and often fear eviction if they complain. One option which is proving useful is the involvement of Not-for-profit agencies in creating rental properties to accommodate singles and small families who are not ready (for whatever reason) to assume the responsibility of home ownership.The Calgary Homeless Fondation and E4C in Edmonton are two good examples of this kind of work. The Calgary Drop-In is making some inroads in this regard, but reviews are mixed on that project. This is something new to the shelter industry, but given the high numbers of homeless in Canada every effort should be welcomed.

So I encourage every person, corporation and government level in this country to put as much land as possible into the hands of Habitat for Humanity… donate or just lease… doesn’t matter which. It is time to stop studying the problem. Let us put down our pens… pick up our hammers and build a society where everyone can live in safety and dignity.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

No Place Like Home

WOW…. I’m living Bizarro-land or maybe it is just Murphyville, but everything that can go wrong has gone wrong for the past several weeks. Now the cord to my laptop has a short, I am kneeling over my coffee table trying to type this so I don’t lose my power LOL. Anyway as I mentioned in my brief blog of last week, I was requested to vacate my last apartment because of a conflict between my landlady and my room-mate. I confess that finding something affordable and immediately available is easier for me, then for most people. Not because I have connections… it is just my standards are very low.

The day before we had to vacate I saw an ad on Kijiji… I was prepared to take it sight unseen. But the girl at the management company insisted I view it first. I was so committed to the place (it just felt right) I took a money order for first month’s rent with me. When we came (my daughter and I) to view the place, the building super was slapping on a coat of paint. The place has character, wood doors and trim and French doors closing off the single bedroom (where the room-mate sleeps) from the rest of the living room (where I sleep). It is a basement unit in a century old building, with a great location. Dairy Queen across the parking lot, there’s a rockin’ church on the corner (been there a few times), a pizza shop next door, buses, 7-eleven, etc, etc.

By the time we moved our stuff in, the smell of paint had begun to dissipate and was replace by mildew… it has been 12 day and I barely notice it anymore. Although we have the occasional cockroach, it is nothing like in the movies… they are fairly small and easy to squish. My room-mate harbours a Buddhist nature and doesn’t want me to kill them. Thankfully I believe in the natural order and God created cockroaches to breed in the 10s of thousands because he knew every other living thing would be killing (or eating) them. Haven’t seen any mice yet but I cleaned up a lot of dropping from the cupboard in the kitchen. I have never seen my neighbours.. but it is like we all live together in one big house. Every noise, every conversation, every smell is shared among the adjacent apartments. This morning I woke up to the smell of someone’s burned coffee (hate that smell). In short I very much like our new place… if I were staying longer I might take the time and money to fix the place up. For now this is a place to sleep safe from the elements, keep my shit (stuff) dry and spend some quality time getting to know my room-mate and exploring the possibility of tomorrow.

Affordable housing is too rare… and everybody needs a place to call home… a place to live in safety and dignity… it is NOT an impossible dream… It should be a goal.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mia Culpa

My Latin is not good so I'm not sure of the spelling on the blog title for today. The translation I believe is "my blame or my fault" and comes in the way of an apology. Sorry I have been off of the blog for so long. The last few weeks have been very stressful... evicted because of conflict between my room-mate and landlady and I was caught in the middle every step of the way. Hunting up a new / affordable / immediately available apartment on short notice... is just another experience I now share with so many people I have met in the shelters. I promise I will blog you all about the new place over the weekend. We are still unpacking and we don't have internet hookup just yet. Have a joyous day everyone and hope you have taken the time to visit the Low Lives blogsite. You can go through the active link at the bottom of "Ego & Id" from February 13th.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ego & Id

I often speak of the duality in human nature, usually exampled by my own darker impulses. We all have the capacity to do good or evil… for most of us these two, share one body and one mind. We always have the option of choosing good, (kindness, generousity, humility, love) or choosing evil (hurtful words or deeds, selfishness, arrogance, spite); they dwell together in our psyche and we choose which one to release into the world at any given moment.

Could there be people who don’t have a choice… who do not have the capacity to exercise the free will the Creator gave to humankind? Thanks to media we are all familiar with the concept of sociopaths, people incapable of feeling empathy, compassion, or value toward other people. I see these as the most dangerous and destructive among us, because they can blend into our communities; (unlike the psychopath who is just whacko (Charles Manson) or the borderline personality who is self- absorbed but doesn’t have the skill set to hide it). A few sociopaths will become serial killers (Ted Bundy et al) but most go about their day to day lives allowing their selfishness to disrupt and even destroy the lives of the people they come into contact with. This is a function of the way their brain is wired… they are not able to choose to do good. If we go with that, then where is the duality, the yin to their yang? Does that mean there are people whose brains are wired in such a way so they are incapable of having a bad impulse? Even Gandhi admitted to hating snakes… even the best of us has a dual nature, it is an act of will by which we choose to be our best, to do good in the world.

I have met someone who has me doubting how this can apply to everyone… remember the tale of the good Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego Mr. Hyde. It is as if, the good in this person exists entirely separate from the bad. My friend is one day kind, compassionate, joyous, loving, rational, patient, all good things with no trace of the bad. Then another day he is completely the opposite; arrogant, sanctimonious, selfish, intolerant, impatient, irrational, stubborn. While we are all subject to mood swings and external stressors, which affect our impulses and behaviours from day to day, our core personality traits remain constant. This does not seem to hold true for my friend. I see no overlapping traits... each personality is unique and consistent unto itself. Very strange indeed. I am left with the quandary of how to respond in this situation. The easy thing, would be to enjoy the company of his Jekyll and avoid contact with his Hyde. But is that the right thing to do? The right thing isn’t always easy (sometimes it is ;-) but not in this case. I wrote this blog in the hope of finding my answer, and I thank you for listening so patiently. I have a good idea of how I must proceed... for now at least.

On an up note, yesterday we reached another milestone on Angels of the Road with our 10,000th hit on the website. Remember each hit represents a new visitor (a new ip address)… for each hit we are averaging 100 page views…so yes this is an exciting/encouraging moment. Only 1 year and 8 months after adding the counter … from only a few hits a day to over 20… I never would have imagined so many people would care about our cause. Thank you everyone. There is another blog site you might want to checkout. Low-Lives carries articles and commentary on homelessness and is written by a homeless gentleman from Ottawa. Have a joyous day my friends.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mountains and Molehills

This week I met a man who believed there was no point in creating affordable housing because, the root cause of poverty (and pretty much all the world’s problems) was over population. He suggested a voluntary moratorium on reproduction, which he readily admits would be ignored. There really is no humane or ethical human solution to this underlying problem. The problem will perhaps one day be corrected through acts of nature and evolution... but this is most definitely out of our hands.

We, too often rally ourselves to inaction by the overwhelming nature of root causes. Too many, too much, too big, too powerful, even too small… brings us to despair a problem and surrender before the (good) fight has even begun. We see a mountain before us blocking our progress… so daunting the task that we forget that even the weakest of us can pick up a single stone and move it. With enough hands (helpers) and/or enough time we can move our mountain, or at least enough of it to allows us to get to where we need to be. Whether it is bringing an end to the epidemic of homelessness; or a personal goal that seems insurmountable, one need only take on the task a step (stone) at a time. Each time you complete one thing in the effort towards your goal you have something to be proud of and heartened by. I’m not telling you anything new here… self-help gurus have been saying this stuff for decades. This is simply a repeat of ancient wisdom from many cultures; the Buddhists say “A journey of one thousand miles is begun with a single step”.

There is a prayer used by A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) which carries a very potent life lesson, it is called the Prayer of Serenity
                              God grant me the serenity (peace) to
                                      accept the things I cannot change
                               The courage to change the things I can
                                      and the wisdom to know the difference.

Not knowing the difference is where too many people fail and frustrate themselves. I cannot make everyone tolerant and accepting of street people or even each other… I can only share what I know about the shelter life and hope it helps you to understand. Then maybe you will share what you have learned and this will help one other person gain understanding and tolerance.
I cannot wave a magic wand and place all shelters under the diversification model, which I know will shorten stays and enhance successful outcomes for the clients. But I can share what I have learned with academics, policy makers and agencies; so they have this information to factor into strategies for service delivery in future.
I know I cannot move a mountain, by willing, wishing or praying. But I have faith enough to know that; every day I can take one stone way from the mountain (take one action to make the world a tiny bit better)… I can ask you to take one with you as you pass by. With power of purpose and persistence of effort, over time even the mightiest mountain will fall. Whatever your mountain, if your purpose is good, the Creator will give you the strength and the tools, that you will need move ahead. Never give up on the things your heart knows are right. Have a joyous day.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Innovation and the Consumer

Yesterday I was reading a few recent articles on the Poverty Insights (.org) website. Several articles talked optimistically about creating a consumer mentality around ending homelessness. If people could only get excited about social change… if innovative solution weren’t being ignored by politicians… if only agencies weren’t locked by policy into the band-aid solutions of the past… if only… if only.
One article recounted J.J. Roberts' experience at an electronics trade show, (a venue where innovation is celebrated) he said how great it would be if consumers had the same enthusiasm for antipoverty initiatives. I have to confess that attending a technology trade show would not garner much enthusiasm from me. I cannot afford such toys and have little interest in learning the level of tech-pertise necessary to maximize their potential uses. Obviously the reason enthusiasm is so high at such events is due to the fact that almost all attendee have a passion for the subject, and are consumers of the products. David Henderson’s response, “Anti-Innovation” reminds us that the end user (socioeconomically disadvantaged) of social innovation isn’t the consumer; the consumer, by his estimation, is the bureaucracies which advocate for, and administer to, the poor. I would like to counter that position by suggesting the true consumers, are the citizen’s and taxpayers of Canada (and the US) We pay for the products of the shelter industry both directly (taxes) and indirectly.
There has in fact been a lot of innovation in the poverty support and housing industry… not all of it good, but much of it worth adopting. Edmonton’s E4C does a wonderful job providing supportive subsidized housing for people with special needs. British Columbia Housing has large stores of subsidized housing, some good... some not so good…. But they do a pretty decent job housing low income seniors. Newfoundland also has aggressive re-housing programs for seniors and medicals. The Ontario government is trying a more client focused funding model…. By client I believe the program is referring to the agencies not individual clients. But it will give agencies more flexibility in how and where funds are being spent, which ultimately allows them to use funds for moving their clients forward.
After two years of working from the street level with the homeless and service providers I can tell you this is a good step. So much of the protocols which agencies were being saddled with make zero economic sense. In one province social services will support a (functional) female, in the shelter at $93 per day. Yet that same woman could expect to get $810 per month (highest rate in Canada in a provence with lowest overall cost of living) for all her need outside the shelter ($535 for housing, $275 for everything else). The government could bring the amount to a living wage by adding $390 which would provide the welfare recipient with $1200 per month … modest but certainly do-able and still $1600 a month less then it is costing to keep her in a shelter.
These numbers are by no means the exception, in most provinces the $100 per day cost of sheltering a person is shared across several different service providers. Add to this the impact on healthcare, police services and corrections; it is certainly time for a rethink. As the consumer in this equation I want to see people out of shelters and in permanent affordable housing. Programs like those run by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, are matching people with affordable (and suitable) housing. The better the fit between location and client the longer the residency will last and the more money I will save as a tax payer. As consumers we should all be enthusiastic about seeing such innovations adopted right across Canada.
Always remember the first step to ending homelessness is through affordable housing initiatives and the best of these is Habitat for Humanity… please do what you can to support you local chapter.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Daydream Believer

Just a little news bulletin… for only the second time in our website history we had over 100 views of our blog page in one day. It is heartening to see interest in Angels of the Road growing, everyday. As I pointed out in “Do Ladybugs Tweet?” our role is to broaden understanding of homelessness and the shelter system; with the intention of creating better results and reducing shelter populations. It isn’t glamorous work but it is important if we are to have hope for any real change. Thank you all for sharing my journey.
I went to church this morning with my room-mate. We are both fairly new to the city so we just went to a neighbourhood “full gospel fellowship” called the Joshua Centre. As you know I like to check out area churches, I believe they are a reflection of the community as a whole.
The sermon today was about dreaming… the source of our dreams (aspirations)… how will they manifest… how much is within our control and how much do we have to release to another power. Using the old testament story about King David’s dream to build a great temple to the glory of God, which ultimately he was not allowed to build. After 30 years of work and preparation, the project was given over to his son Solomon to ultimately build. According to biblical reports David did not resent this loss… he just accepted God’s will.
The Minister asked us to share our dreams with the rest of the congregation. Being visitors at the Joshua Centre, I didn’t feel right sharing there. But I would like to share my dreams with you all, here, where we have shared so many experiences over the past couple of years. I began Angels of the Road with a fairly small dream, “Learn enough about the shelter experience to design better programs for my client friends at the D.I. (Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre)”. Also by sharing my journey, maybe we can build a bridge of understanding and acceptance; which could make our communities a little more comfortable to live in. Not a daunting task LOL.
As I started living with (connecting with) other population of homeless and street people, my dream grew. I began wanting to create a better model for all stakeholders in the shelter system all across Canada. A model which will maximize a client’s opportunities to move forward with their lives; while making more productive use of the current available funding levels. These are dreams for the community but I also have dreams for myself. I dream of finding a way of being able to continue doing free-style social work with street people. And maybe one day …”if the good lord willin’ and the criks don’t rise”, (as my granny would say) I dream of opening a Healing Centre in the mountains. Combining the principles of Outward Bound and Native Spiritual Traditions, to build the individual’s self-esteem and provide a spiritual anchor to keep them strong in their recovery.
The funny thing is… like David… I would not mind if someone else were to take up the completion of these dreams. If my name fades into obscurity that is of no matter to me. The only thing that matters is for these things to come into being. The healing centre, a more tolerant society, the better shelter system none of these dreams are about me… They are about us and what we can do to grow a better world, each pebble (act of caring) rippling through the universe.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Looking A Head

The Roman god Janis is portrayed with two faces one looking back and one looking forward. Of course the month of January is named for Janus, and this image is especially fitting for January first. As we get older so much seems to stay the same, from year to year. Both, the good and the bad of human reality, persisting since the beginning of time. For every famine or flood or earthquake…. There are people willing to fill planes and boats with food and medical supplies, risking their own health, donating precious irretrievable pieces of their lives to help the victims of these natural disasters. For every sinner, somewhere there is a saint quietly, anonymously, changing a small corner of the world for the better. We watch wealth and power being used in self service by some and in service of humanity by others.

This is the Yin and Yang of the universe. Energy ebbing and flowing; positive and negative constantly trying to achieve Tao (said D-ow) or in lay terms balance. Does this mean that every good thing we do in our lives should be balanced by a bad act of equal magnitude? The answer to that is NO… my Granny used to say, “You don’t have to go looking for trouble, it is already looking for you”. There is enough suffering and pain in the world without any human contribution. Mother Nature takes care of that, just ask Haiti. So it is for us to generate as much positive energy as we possibly can.

Looking back on eons of struggle; individual, cultural and global … we turn our gaze forward only to see more of the same. How does anyone not just give up… nothing will ever change, why bother? We can only get our hope for the future, by looking for a BETTER world, not a perfect world. Every single person can make the world better…. Smile at someone, it is contagious. Not a big investment of time but this pebble of positive energy tossed into the pond of life will ripple into the universe helping to move it toward a balance. We must look back only to see how far we have come, never focus on the past, use your knowledge the past, to inform the present and guide the future. Neither, Martin Luther nor Martin Luther King Jr was out to change the world. Like hundreds of others (known and unknown) they just wanted to change their world for the better. If every day, each one of us does one thing to change our world for the better, we will be able to look back without regret and look forward with hope.

Speaking of things staying the same… my wish for you in 2011 is the same as it was in 2010. I wish you all ENOUGH. May you have a year filled with enough joy, enough blessings and enough love.