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.