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 contact@angelsoftheroad.com . 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.