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.