Monday, December 31, 2012

Report of Findings:

 Staff / Client Relations
Observations:  The staff / client relationship begins from a place of mistrust. It does not matter how welcoming, friendly and pleasant you may be, your motives are immediately assumed questionable because you are staff. To win the clients’ trust we must present with integrity; you can be the meanest S.O.B. in the building… and the clients will still respect you, if you always take a hard-line. It is equally true, that you can be Mary Poppins and as long as they can count on consistency from you… you will gain their respect and co-operation. Ideally though most staff conduct will fall somewhere in between; firm but fair, respectful and kind with all clients.
         I found staff often had unrealistic expectations for client behaviour… beyond what they would expect from anyone in a regular world environment. Don’t use curse words, don’t be cranky when staff wakes you up, don’t bicker with other residents and don’t intentionally or unintentionally break a rule. Reality check !! Clients are just people and what is reasonable behaviour in any household is the kind of behaviour you are going to see in a shelter.
         The most striking observation was how the architecture of a building impacts staff /client relations. The most significant interactions between clients and staff come from casual encounters. Shelters with open common areas (drop-in style environments) where staff could join the clients for cards, crafts or just a cup of coffee; foster better interactions then the T.V. sitting room environment. In many shelters the staff are relegated to bull-pen style reception area buffering a small bank of offices. This style proved to be quite workable, but required a few considerations be given to accessibility and traffic flow. 
The Lookout Shelter in Vancouver B.C. had an L-shaped counter separating staff from clients but, the isle in front of the counter was wide enough that people could easily pass by when a client stopped at the desk to engage in a conversation with staff.  It was a very effective system for a facility with no common (conversational areas).  A similar bull-pen situation existed at Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa with the addition of counter to ceiling Plexiglas … the barrier could have been made of brick and been no more effective in alienating and dividing staff and clients. 
            I never witnessed any inappropriate interaction between staff and clients… but of course if it was inappropriate, measures would be taken by those involved, to keep it secret. As a client I was privy to confessions of undue attachment by clients toward individual staffers. On these occasions I would caution the client that they were misreading the staff person’s intention.
Conclusions: It would be my conclusion that not enough attention is paid to facilitating meaningful counselor/client style relationships between frontline staff and clients.  Frontline staff has the most interaction with clients and properly trained can be a great asset in monitoring changes in client behaviour as well as encouraging forward action for individual clients.   
Recommendations:  First when purchasing, renting or renovating a space… paramount consideration should be as to how it will facilitate or block staff / client interaction.  If your staff feels the need to protect themselves behind Plexiglas … they need to find a new line of work. The best protection you will ever have, is a good relationship with the clients.  That is not to say that there should not be a safety zone of some sort where staff could retreat too in the unlikely event of a riot… (Probably triggered by a comet hitting the building). Truthfully a well trained staff will be able to de-escalate and resolve any incident long before it reaches a crisis level.
             Proper training is a difficult issue to address. Degrees (book learnin’ as my granny called it) are very important, but street smarts (experiential learning) are also important, knowing the culture you are working with and respecting those norms will gain you the respect you need to encourage a client to move forward. The best staff you can hope for are both street smart and book smart.
            Requiring a former “street-person” to acquire certification in counseling or social work before taking a position in client care, provides the best staffing option; equally a book smart kid needs the benefit of situational training by experienced staff. Who should mentor is matter of their relationship with the clients, NOT YEARS of SERVICE; many long time employees would be best suited to the role of security guards. I am not sure that, “How to choose staff  mentors” falls under the scope of this paper … so until advised otherwise I will end here.
         Every staff person working with vulnerable clients needs to ensure that they and the client are clear as to the nature and scope of their relationship.  This is the only boundary issue any of us has as a worker… we do not need to worry about gossip or someone else’s idea of boundaries.  If your client is clear on were your professional interest begins and ends…he/she will only grow from your support and commitment.  Misunderstandings will cause confusion, humiliation and setbacks for already vulnerable people.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joy to the World

         HAPPY HOLIDAYS everyone! Hope everyone is enjoying a Saturnalia filled with fun, friends and family. My son is making us a traditional turkey dinner (a more recent tradition given that the wild turkey is indigenous to North America), my daughter and my friend will be joining us., my youngest and her hubby and other special friends will be here in our hearts. The commercialism has fallen by the wayside with us this year…no gifts, no tree, just good people sharing time together.
         Whatever you choose as your greeting there is something about this time of year that has always made people want to celebrate. Winter solstice (December 21st) is the shortest day of the year and in farming cultures this marked the beginning of winter. I don’t know if they were celebrating 3 months off plowing and threshing or the days beginning to get longer leading into spring. Then there are all the ancient cultures who celebrate around the lunar calendar, and in the southern hemisphere they are probably celebrating a coming harvest LOL.
          Maybe at the core of it all we just like to collectively acknowledge the passing of one year into the next. 2012 is very special, not because the world didn’t implode, but because 2012 marks the beginning of a new time in human (cultural) evolution. The old paradigms do not work anymore and we are building a new world order founded on equality, freedom, love and brotherhood… things the old regime only gave lip service to. This new order is not a restructuring of political or economic power… although that will necessarily change over time because of the shift in our priorities (and our very nature as people). I have said before that we won’t have a better world until we become better people. Once we become better people, we will necessarily have a better world. As more and more of us are living this flesh RULED by spirit… the energy shifts are making it easier for more and more people to crossover; until there will one day be more compassion than greed and more love than fear. Then we will enter the time of the 8th fire…
a time of "Peace on earth & goodwill toward men".    

Monday, December 17, 2012

Report of Finding:

Management / Staff Relations:
Observations: This is a very important consideration because it directly impacts on client care. Under paid, under-appreciated employees will put in the hours but will never put their hearts into their work. Working for the Calgary Drop-In, I was exposed to the best practices in management/staff -relations (not perfect, but what is?) which provided the benchmark for my observations of other facilities. The shelter industry suffers from a shortage of funds (there is always more need, than dollars) and the people who go into human services truly want to “make a difference”, unfortunately this leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. 
         The worst offenders when it comes to pay/benefits/hours are the religious based shelters. Paying minimum wage, part-time hours (no benefits) and erratically placed on-call, short shifts; leave staff frustrated and resentful. Clients cannot build any kind of real trust relationship with the staff because in a few short months each has moved on; not because they don’t love the work or their clients… simply because they also need to eat and pay rent.
         Another issue is the use of too many unenforceable rules. Perhaps it is fear of litigation or the need to exert control over a generally chaotic environment (probably a combination of both). A couple of places had a flat out “NO TOUCHING POLICY”. This policy meant that a young woman passed out on the floor was dragged to the dorm by her equally drunk cousin, who fell down twice in the attempt. It meant that staff could not intercede in altercations, and police were being called in for minor skirmishes; which created a lot of resentment between the Ottawa Police and the Shepherds of Good Hope. The no touch policy left staff feeling vulnerable; when a client became confrontational staff would all retreat to the front office and someone would try to talk her down through the Plexiglas.  Failing that, once again the police would be called.  This was by no means the only shelter with a no touch policy but it is by far the worst case scenario because we are talking about hundreds of clients. Even in less volatile situations a no touch policy only prevents good touching (a pat on the back, a supportive hug, a reassuring hand squeeze)… it does not stop clients from assaulting each other or staff.
           Another widely used and misguided rule is the, “NO fraternization” rule. Any contact between clients and staff outside of the work environment is forbidden (not merely discouraged) and can result in dismissal. I have known many good, compassionate people who lost their jobs for acts of kindness and support given outside the parameters of their job. A worker in Hamilton was fired for giving a client a ride, who was walking to the shelter on a rainy night. The shelter management sites liability issues… what if the staff was attacked by the client?…what if there was an accident? …what if the client imagined (or was) sexually harassed? 
There is under the law a level of culpability (personal responsibility for risk) assumed by both drive and passenger.
These kinds of imagined “what if ” scenarios are the excuse for much of the wrong-headed un-enforceable rules which plague the system. Essentially the more rules an organization has, the less your staff feels trusted and supported by management. Agencies adopting the more flexible Policies & Procedures approach had better relationships with their staff. The staff were then more effective with clients because they could tailor their interactions to the clients’ individual needs. 
Conclusions: Agencies that have Policies & Procedures instead of Rules & Regulations have better management / staff relations and promote better client outcomes.  Any money saved by underpaying your staff must be offset against the ongoing cost of training their replacements.
Recommendations: First let me make the following suggestions regarding compensation/hours/shifts. Pay your people a decent starting wage for your region. If there are no other shelters (or similar human service support agencies) then; what do bank tellers make to start, or what do new hires with the construction industry make? Adjust compensation for education and experience (which would include small annual increases). If a staffer is not productive get rid of them… quickly… you cannot train lazy, selfish or arrogant out of a person, let them go before their seniority (for unionized shops) saddles you with this dead wood forever. These types of people are a burden to fellow workers and damage the moral of the whole team.  Anyone who is productive enough to keep on the job, is productive enough to deserve an annual raise.  For part-time staff give them stable hours on a specific schedule… this will allow them to get a second part-time job so they can continue to work for you until you have an opening for them full-time. Know your employees, hire good people, then get out of the way and them to do their job…if you are a large organization then know your management and trust them to do their jobs. Happy staff, is productive staff and nothing makes a person happier than a workplace where they are treated with respect.
           Now regarding the issue of un-enforceable rules; you cannot hope to cover every possible contingency, so stop trying. The best RULE I was ever given was, “never do anything you are not prepared to justify”.  This was a great rule because I could not act impulsively when following that rule. Another great RULE is to always “Always err on the side of compassion.”
            A few suggestions around fraternization; zero tolerance for counselor/ client romantic or sexual interactions. Notice I said counselor not staff… the reason for this is that some agencies are so large that many clients and staff have little or no professional interaction. Those situations need to be addressed individually. Personally my policy is to never get involved with anyone from my workplace (staff or client) I find it just complicates things.
            Another RULE would be zero tolerance for racism, sexism, any of the isms, homophobia, and bullying in any form. That applies to every dynamic…  shelters (as the name implies) need to be safe nurturing environments, where everyone is treated with kindness and/or respect.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interesting times we live in

After all these years working with the poor I am still surprised that there are so many people in our population who don't understand the concept of.... NO MONEY. I wrote to one of the Spiritualist churches in the town I am moving to, to ask if someone from their congregation might be willing to billot me (provide a temporary place to sleep) for a few weeks until I can get a job and find a place to live. While I have no problem with going to a shelter, I cannot this time because if you use a shelter's sevices you are barred from taking employment with them for an extended period of time (often years), and one of the main reasons for moving to this city is because I want to work for their shelter system. Back to my rant... without asking me for references from my former church or in anyway checking me out ...the secretary wrote back, "sorry we don't do that; but hotels are pretty reasonable this time of year. Hope to see you in church when you get here."  Funny part is the church has Sanctuary in its name lol. I am currently (until the end of January) recieving the EI minimum, if I pay for a hotel room there would be no money left to pay for a rent when I find a place I can afford. As always I will put faith over fear and trust that the universe will handle everything.
There is a kind of blindness among the general population about poverty in our own country. We can understand it as a tempory situational thing (like my current situation) or we assume some failing on the part of individual (or group) in question.  We build water puification systems or donate tons of food to third world villages around the globe; while our Inuit can't afford  groceries to feed their families (4 to 6X what we pay) and northern villages in Canada are without clean water. Rent for a two bedroom apartment in most cities, is so expensive a young family has to go to 3 different food banks (most only allow one visit per month) to get the family through a month.
This blindness is perpetuated by agencies; Plan Canada has a program called "Because I'm a Girl." which provides funding to help girls with educational programs, esteem building, etc, etc. On their website I saw a tab marked "our own backyard" ... wow at last somebody recognizing the need right here in Canada. WRONG ... it contained articles about fundraising being done for Plan Canada by school children in Canada... nothing about programs for girls in poor neighbourhoods in Canada.
Sorry about the A.D.D. my point is Stop making assumptions about other people, everyone does not think being down to $100 pocket money is broke. Not everyone has a savings account or stocks to cash in if things get tight for a couple of months.... there is such a thing as NO MONEY and don't suggest they get a hotel room.

On an entirely different subject thanks for visiting Spirit of the 8th Fire we have had wonderful (allbeit erratic) attendence for our first week. I hope you will find the blogs there, informative, helpful and supportive in your own journey to self-awareness and enlightnment.
Have a joyous day. 


Friday, December 7, 2012

Creating something new

Well the past week has been all about building and launching my new website... Spirit of the 8th Fire.  In the 7 Fires prophecies of the Native people ...the 8th Fire is a time when humankind will unite and the energy of that time of brotherhood & sisterhood will bring healing to the earth.
The new site is for everyone wishing to become better, both in their phsyical existence and in their connection to their spirit self (which is already divine and perfect). I want everyone to have the tools and opportunity of moving forward into a better life.... A life filled with love, joy, peace and abundance.
The website is a work in progress so feel free to share your thoughts, advice, observation (spelling etc) and suggestions. I will copy this to that blog page so you have a place to leave your constructive input. Thank you sooo much. Have a joyous day.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Forever Forward

This week I discovered that due to some radical upgrade at my current web-server the Angels of the Road .com site is “static” I will never be able to edit or add to those pages again. I won’t remove the site; at least not until the domain name expires next August… then it will depend on the kind of traffic it still has.  Good news is I will be able to continue posting on the blog-site, for those of you following my Report of Findings, the last few segments will publish here. I will never stop working with the homeless or caring about social justice so I suspect this blog will continue for a long time to come. In January I am moving to Victoria B.C. where I will find work, settle down and someday soon start a centre for spiritual healing. I don't know how any of this will come about, no friends, no job (I know where I will work just have to convince them they want me),  no place to stay ...sometimes all you have is faith ;-) and this time has to be enough.   
Angels of the Road was not only a physical experience but a profoundly spiritual on as well. I have come to understand that we are first and forever spiritual beings and that our fleshly existence is a vehicle for each soul to experience, interact and grow our spirit.  
The past two years while living in Ontario I have been on a quest to grow my own awareness and understanding of higher orders of consciousness… not sure I am expressing this well. There are many methods by which we can increase control over our physical (health, wealth, relationships) existence and increase our understanding of (and access to) our spiritual (love, wisdom, peace, joy) existence. As I wandered through the maze of gurus, coaches, teachers, prophets and practitioners gleaning what information I could; I noticed something… as with so much in our world money was an issue. Think of this market place of seekers like a Costco…. some sellers tell you about their cookies and ask you to buy some (probably at some allegedly deeply discounted price) others will give a eighth of a cookie hoping the taste will entice you to buy some. The best of these people give you a whole cookie of your very own. It is business like any other business.
Don’t get me wrong I do not begrudge people making money…especially spiritual people and life coaches. At the very least they are adding something of true value into the world. Teaching people how to be better people have better lives, experience more peace, love and joy; ultimately as each person’s life becomes better the people in their life become better for it…So keep up the good work.
But as usual I believe in equality for all people regardless of means. The tools and knowledge for a better, more spiritual existence should be available to everyone…so in a few weeks I’ll be launching a new website to share everything I learned (or will learn) during my own spiritual journey.
Watch for it, Spirit of the 8th Fire ! Have a joyous day my friends.




Friday, October 26, 2012

so disappointed

Since I leapt to Lance Armstrong’s defense a couple of blogs ago, I should probably comment on the recent unfolding of events.
Yes, I am disappointed in Lance Armstrong …I am disappointed in Lance’s parents…I am disappointed in all the other doped up athletes (ball players, cyclists, olympians) and their parents… I am disappointed in the doctors and coaches who aided in these elaborate deceits and I am disappointed in their parents. I am disappointed in a system and a culture that believes a medal is more important  than one’s personal honour.  I am disappointed in all the people out there who are only disappointed in Lance for getting caught, and I am disappointed in their parents.
Usually I can blame Disney for many of the psycho-social ills of today's society; but this one I have to assign to Vince Lombardi, “Winning  isn’t  everything… it’s the only thing”. This is wrong on sooo many levels.
Why am I disappointed in the parents? It is up to the parents to teach children live with honour. It is up to parents to teach their children to take pride in doing their best (win or lose). Someone once said, "it isn't whether you win or lose that matters... it is how you play the game!".
Easy rule of thumb for those just getting started on the "high road" (living honourably) is that if you have to hide what you are doing...don't do it.  Never do or say anything you can't own with pride and you will live without guilt or regret and your children will follow your example.
Have a joyous day my friends.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. Lincoln

This submission was made in response to a blurb published in a local newspsper by a person who was outraged to see so many people in the local soup kitchen texting on their cell phones. I share it here with you my dear readers knowing this not a lecture you need to hear. ;-)
Have a joyous day

Dear Editor
On Saturday September 29th the Chronicle- Journal carried a Thumbs Down comment regarding soup kitchens and cell phones… to this person and everyone who read it and thought “HERE, HERE!” God gives each of you a big Thumbs Down… He wanted to use it to squeeze the ignorance out of your stupid heads, but I convinced him to wait on that and try education first.
            My name is Bonny L. Cameron and I am the foremost expert on homelessness in Canada. Let me begin by saying cell phones are no longer a luxury or an add-on, millions of Canadians (including myself) choose cell phones over landlines, also unlimited plans run between $25 and $40 per month.
           That said now for the sad reality; 50% of people using Canada’s shelters &/or soup kitchens are there simply because they are poor. Marginally employed and marginally housed these folks move often, a cell phone is often the only consistency in a turbulent struggle just to get by. It keeps them connected with family, friends, social workers, doctors, teachers, babysitters, employers, potential employers, potential landlords…again a cell phone is a necessity, NOT a luxury.   

          Another 20% of homeless are what I call medicals, people who struggle with disability (visible or hidden), living on a fixed income, in and out of hospitals, moving often and in need of  consistent contact information for family, friends and service providers to reach them.
         The last 30% are street people (your stereotypical homeless) addicts, drunks, and people struggling with undiagnosed mental illness or concurrent disorders. If any of these guys have a cell phone I celebrate “WooHoo”…. That’s 40 bucks that did not go to buying crack this month.
          If you witnessed this atrocity you must have been at that soup kitchen… if you are eating there you also have too much month at the end of your money. Perhaps you should change your priorities, move from your apartment into a cheap rooming house or give up your (landline) phone or television service so you can afford food. You don’t want people judging you …do not presume judge others. The world will be a better place when we all practice the Golden Rule.
          On the other hand perhaps you volunteer or work for that organization… if this is the case “Leave at once and never look back”!  Go out and save a baby whale for Jesus…. Your kind… does more harm than good working with the poor and disenfranchised.  Your sanctimonious, judgmental attitude just causes more hurt to people already suffering.  Re-read Matthew 25:40… and don’t wait until you are standing at the Pearly-Gates before you figure out how you are going to explain your behaviour.
For anyone who cares enough to want to know the truth about homelessness in Canada you can visit my website
Bonny L. Cameron


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Strong Arming Armstrong

Love yourself…first and best. Honour truth. Never look for validation from others. Seneca said, “A thing can be presumed bad when the common sort applaud”. O.K. you are probably wondering what brought on today’s rant. In a word Lance Armstrong (ok that’s 2 words lol). Most of you have heard the story by now. Mr. Armstrong won 7 Tour de France cycling races, passed thousands of drug tests and is still being accused of doping and threatened with censure. Yesterday Lance finally said, “enough of this shit I’m done”. To me it is about time… as long as he knows the truth, screw the committee.  The chairman went on the news and said Lance’s decision to not fight the charges (after years of fighting them) is proof of guilt. To me that is just proof of good sense… a wise man once said, “Don’t get in the mud and wrestle with pigs…you’ll both get dirty and the pig will like it.”  My argument is simply this…someone had to win those races…and unless the 2nd 3rd and 4th place winners were on performance  enhancing drugs why wouldn’t a slightly better athlete beat them to the finish line. This incident, as with the SteveFonyo vs. the Order of Canada  just proves that you should never look to others for validation. Do your best in any given moment, enjoy your victories, forgive your mistakes and learn from both. Life is about the journey … live, laugh and love. Treat yourself with the same kindness and respect you show others. Have a joyous day.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Just a Little Update

Yes, it has been 6 weeks since my last post… in my defense I have posted 2 more sections to the Research Findings page of the website. I want to say welcome back to Drakakis, after almost a year away the LowLives Blog is posting once again. Hope life is treating you well.
Now, for my rant “de jour”.  On the news this past week it said that India (you heard right) is planning to have a launch to MARS in 2013… What is this sudden obsession with Mars?  Haven’t we done enough damage on this plant?… Now we want to spread that around the rest of the milky-way. Jeeezzz people... does anyone besides me think this is messed up.
I was complaining a few blogs ago that people (governments) should clean up the problems in their own countries before sending resources and/or criticism out to other countries; but now I have to say that even taking a one world “global economy” view…let’s at least keep our mess on our own frickin planet.   Maybe someday when we have repaired the damage we have done here, it will be time to spread ourselves into the rest of the galaxy.
For those of you not up to date on my plans, I will take this time to share. The Angels of the Road journey is over and I have been publishing my findings on the website…. There are still a few entries to come but all should be there by the end of September. My job as a nanny ended in July… and I am looking to get back into the shelter industry (addiction, recovery, rehab, reintegration, etc). I am especially interested in working with urban Native populations struggling with addiction and recidivism (in and out of corrections). So if anyone knows of a position…. feel free to give me a heads-up. Thanks.
It was always my intention to publish an account of my life (two years) living homeless in Canada, but I am going to be putting that off for a while. First, I am going to write a handbook for human services professionals about how we can best serve this client population. I am calling it… OUT REACHING: A Streetwise Guide to Social Work.  The 100ish page manual will be a staple for the industry… student and professional alike will find the information very enlightening. I have started looking for a literary agent and expect to have the book ready by year end.
I don’t do these personal updates too often so it is hard to know what is of interest to all-ya-all. The Blepharospasm treatments work well and I’m hoping I’ll be able to get another one done soon. The treatments last 3-4 months but are quite expensive ($400) by my standards LOL. Other than that, I am enjoying good health and just have a couple of appointments to wrap things up before I leave Hamilton. The time I spent on the road took a toll on my health, as it does with anyone who is in that environment of more than a few weeks. But with the help of  Dr Walser-Jebb and a program of supplements, I am as healthy as anyone else ;-)
The cost of health care to homeless people is in addition to the $100 per day per person this country spends on shelter services (sleep, food, monitoring, laundry, counseling etc, etc, etc). This is why housing first programs make so very much sense from a taxpayer/budget perspective. With a comprehensive program to create affordable home ownership and supportive housing we could reduce homelessness by 70%... saving 50% of the $1.4 million dollars we spend daily; a whopping $255,000,000 per year. Go Habitat for Humanity ....yeh!
That is my 600+ words for today I’ll be adding more on the research findings soon. Have a joyous day my friends.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Conspiratorial Ranting

I have always had a problem with conspiracy theories. In part I guess because the person alleging to be the victim of a conspiracy is usually labouring under an exaggerated sense of his or her own importance. Big corporations (insert conglomerate of choice here) is not worried about what one person (or 1,000) might be saying about them, unless those people happen to be shareholders. Great stuff for movie plots... but people are not blocking your computer signals, reading your mail or cutting your brake line. Big business/Governments operate under a “stick & stones policy”, unless you have hard evidence, you are no threat. As the court of public opinion starts to sway, so adapts the corporation into whatever is the new acceptable norm; the auto industry is one shining example.
That is not to imply that the activists of this world (I include myself) are impotent in their efforts. We should continue to rail against injustice and greed, doing so sheds a little light of knowledge into the world and with awareness comes eventual change. For example when one person decides to protest animal cruelty by eating only happy meats, she will naturally share what she has learned with those around her. This prompts her mother to pay 2x as much for chicken breasts because only a painfully deformed chicken could have produced the breasts that were on sale. So get informed do not blindly follow media (social or otherwise) become a seeker of truth, then share the truth with anyone who will listen. Keep your mind open to opposing views, they may have a perspective you had not yet considered; or at least provide you with insight as to where they are coming from. Always keep your EYES on the PRIZE… by that I simply mean focus on the result you want. Worry less about being right or getting recognition, instead of angrily demanding someone STOP “whatever”….work on a collaboration to get things done. Our egos may like to cling to an us against them mentality…  the reality is that approach does NOT bring results.  Instead of rallies and expensive advertizing and petitioning government to “Ban the Seal Hunt” it would be more effective to put your resources into establishing economic alternative for Newfoundland & Labrador. If your group wants  to end the use of leg-hold traps… then it is for you to purchase cruelty free traps and swap them out with trappers; whom you have taken the time to educate regarding the proposed option. The second problem I have with conspiracy theories, is that it endows the alleged perpetrator with intelligence and organizational skills far beyond what I am willing to give them credit for. Most of these things come about by way of ignorance and apathy, usually rooted in GREED. A Native gentleman (about my age) was telling us how the white men (Indian Affairs) delivered rations to the reservations when he was a boy. The processed flour and sugars and other contents were designed to make the Indians sick with diabetes, heart disease etc. In truth these were the foods that we grew up on and the idiots at Indian Affairs simply did not know it would be harmful to the Natives. The Americans air lifted tons of pork to a barricaded city during a civil war several years ago… not bothering to find out that the population they were trying to help was Muslim. My thought was “Dumb Asses” but a conspiracy theorist would have said the US was allied with the other side and was trying to force them to give-up their immortal souls or die.
So my friends … we are all stuck on this rock together, it is for each us to live in the world as we want it to be NOT as it is. Take responsibility and be the change you want to see in the world. We must teach others with our example as well as our words. Treat everyone with kindness and respect; we are all just doing the best we can in any given moment. So my activist friends, step out of the shadow of fear... Speak freely, speak loudly but always speak the truth.   

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Report of Findings Around Skills Development & Education:

Here is another slightly boring (unless you happen to be a stakeholder in the shelter industry) entry in my report of findings. But we must do our chores before we can do the fun stuff LOL. Next project will be a very insightful & entertaining handbook for people who are working (or will be working) with the homeless and street people. So only a few more segments of the Findings... then I'll prep it for distribution, by the end of July, I should be writing and ranting again like my old self.  Have a joyous day.

Skills Development& Education:
Observations:  As I explained in demographic about 50% of shelter residents are homeless due to poverty issues. Many are between jobs or are employed in low income service industry positions. This situation, in combination with a personal crisis can easily cause one to be displaced from their home.  These are, our transitional clients and the best candidates for skills training and upgrading. The DI (Calgary Drop-In) is the only shelter I have found offering all levels of these services in house. Most shelters work in conjunction with other agencies and programs.  Given the wide variety of needs it is understandable that most client care providers do not offer job skills training.  
         Drop-In centres are often good sources for basic needs in the area of job search. Many have literacy programs run by volunteers; given that 20% of Canadians are functionally illiterate this should be seen as an essential service. Also tutoring is offered in resume writing and job search, these are usually managed by an employment counselor working for the centre. Most cities have some kind of “Dress for Success” program which provides free wardrobe options for interview situations or re-entering the workplace. Some even offer self awareness programs, personality testing and such to help clients who (through illness, injury or just economic shift) are forced to rethink their life plan including employment options. Much can and is being done for clients wanting to re-enter the workforce. Some shelters which designate themselves as “transitional” have these programs mandatory for clients.
         Many able-bodied homeless and street people choose to work day labour, earning between $40 - $80 for 6 -12 hour shifts. Some of these agencies are reputable and honest, matching workers with companies for a reasonable percentage of the hourly wage. They screen employers and employees so that all parties are satisfied with the result. Unfortunately this industry is rife with exploitation… agency taking as much as 50% of the hourly wage while providing little or no assurance to the workers. The good agencies have a regular base of workers so it is difficult for a new face to catch-out. This is a good option for street people because it provides ready cash, when you are feeling up to it… without any ongoing commitment to an employer. The DI and the Bissell Centre in Alberta both run a day labour office on site in the mornings, this a real benefit to clients and can result in ongoing employment if the fit is right.

Conclusions:  I guess my conclusion is we are doing what we can. Unfortunately shelters which designate as transitional also house people who are nowhere near ready to move forward with their lives. Their failure to comply will result in conflict with staff and having them barred or boycotting the one safe shelter a city may have. Acquiring a forklift ticket (or any other accreditation) does not insure a person will use it. As the environment erodes a person’s self esteem, it also erodes their sense of purpose and direction.

Recommendations:  Well first it would be great if every shelter/drop-in ran its own day labour program.  If I haven’t said it before… separate the client populations.  For this particular matter the benefits would be better concentration of services and staff.  Clients could be assessed and served based on their individual needs. I would also recommend that every client care worker be knowledgeable about the services, training and education options offered through other agencies and the various levels of government, within their communities.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Report of Findings around Food & Nutrition

Hi Everyone this is the next segment in my Report of Findings from my time living in Canada's shelters. It is not so opinionated or entertaining as most of my blogs but, it is the truth and if you want to learn about how the homeless in Canada are living this is a must read. It is twice as long as the usual blog (really it is only eqaul to 4 typed pages). As I have said before nothing in this report is to be taken as an indictment of the shelter industry, everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances. But this is the reality and we have to own that. Feel free to comment and be kind on spelling and grammer, it is only the first draft. Have a joyus day Bonny

Meal Programs:  
Free Food:
           Meal programs vary widely depending on the source… but generally a person living homeless in Canada can expect meals to be very high in carbohydrate fillers, usually pasta, rice and potatoes in that order. Meat protein is included in very small quantities and is often of questionable origin (just meaning unrecognizable by sight or taste). There is equally limited access to the fiber provided by fresh vegetables or fruit. Grains are accessed through the use of day old (or 3 day old) bread products served dry (unbuttered).
          The least nutritious meals were provided at centres which serve multiple meals per day to a large client base. Such programs rely heavily on donated food and there are storage issues, a well as the problem of anticipating what will be needed, so many considerations effecting these programs, making it difficult to provide good meals on a regular basis. In these situations it is easier to grind up 100 lbs of pork into a pasta dish then it is to fry 400 pork cutlets. In an effort to prevent any waste all leftover meat is chopped or dumped together into a soup… which provides endless lunchtime entertainment (speculation).
          Next up the culinary food chain are facilities providing one meal per day or in some cases per week. This is often done by churches or benevolent societies. They do it once and generally provide more balance meals. Breakfast programs will include cereal with milk and/or egg in some form, toast, juice and or a piece of fruit and coffee. Lunch programs are where we see the term soup kitchen applied seriously. Low sodium soup served with a half sandwich or buttered roll/bread… juice (this term is applied loosely and includes powdered drink mixes) but the best places offer milk as an option. Dinner has an identifiable meat source and a couple of times a week you might even need to employ a plastic knife… potatoes show up more often; with sides of vegetables, the occasional wilty salad and from time to time even condiments.  In other words, something a little closer to what you would call a “home cooked” meal.  
          Some very good meals for the homeless were delivered at the smaller shelters, these were available only to people who were sleeping in their sleep programs. The Lookout shelter in Vancouver served three meals a day, to two seatings of 60 people each. The meals were always well balanced and nutritious with fresh fruit, cereal, milk and juice in the mornings; salad with lunch and meat with dinner. This was an acceptable option in Vancouver or Edmonton where there are several other options for the homeless (or poor) to access meals. Calgarians have few options outside of the DI so their meal program must be open to the entire homeless community.
Low Cost Food
       I only found this service in the DTES (down town east side of Vancouver)… but it is a model worth looking at for other agencies. The Carnegie Centre is a community centre on the corner of Hastings and Main. They have a cafeteria style restaurant where they sell $2 - $3 “blue plate specials” and low cost accompaniments (sides, desserts, beverages). The best run of the cheap meal programs is provided by the Evelyn Saller Centre on Alexander St in the DTES “The 44” as it is popularly know , serves three meals a day at a mere $2 per meal. That is all inclusive… and meals are usually well balanced. Menus are posted weekly on the door and except for the occasional swapping out of rice for potatoes things are usually as they were predicted. Meals can be purchased individually for cash or in bulk at the beginning of the month. Under some circumstances people recieving income support can have a monthly meal card issued through the area Social Assistance office.  The pre-purchased meals are listed in a ledger which is kept at the cash register and marked off as used.
Conclusion: I met a worker in Regina who plans to do her thesis on Nutrition and Homelessness… I would be interested in what she finds. When I was doing my research I developed a problem with my ligaments, as well as a severe weight gain, and dangerously low iron and vitamin D levels. My doctor here in Ontario has had me on several supplements over the past year in an effort to recover my health.   
On the plus side for street people the high carb diet provides quickly accessed energy stores for a lifestyle which often sees them going days without food. That fact was pointed out to me by a former street person.
Cities with multiple sources of free food, especially agencies/churches providing one meal per day or week have better nutrition over all. A single source for multiple meals, while convenient, struggles with the cost of providing meat protein and/or fresh produce. This also removes the need for our clients to get out and do a little walking between meals… which is for some their only source of exercise. Edmonton had an excellent network of meal providers, all within a 6 block radius of Bissell Centre drop-in on Boyle Street.
Recommendations: There is not much to recommend here, everyone is doing the best they can with what they have to work with. My only suggestion is that, agencies could communicate with each other to ensure all days are covered with a couple of options for each meal. In Regina, women had 0 – Breakfasts… 3 Lunches & 5- dinners per week; with a co-ed Sunday meal at the Marion Centre which normally only caters to males (3 meals per day 7 days per week).
         It would also be a good idea if sleep programs could make multi-vitamins available to client who might be interested in dietary supplements.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yes, I get angry too

Hi everyone this will be the first blog attempted in Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and if I can't resist the urge to edit as I go, I may have to do this job blind folded. So welcome to the wonderful world of visual aids. Just shy of 400 words and I give up…for now. 
There is an arrogance in North Americans that gets me incredibly frustrated (even angry). When the western delegation went to North Korea a few weeks ago, some of our leaders suggested it was wrong for the North Korean government to be putting money into a space launch when people in their country are going hungry. Canada has its own poverty and hunger problems that are not being properly dealt with, yet we're asking other countries to put human rights first. The audacity! Call your local food bank if you want to know how many kids are going hungry in Canada while our government spends money sending our politicians overseas to criticize others.
Then yesterday as I watched my television I saw an ad from an aide agency... they want your money and volunteers to go around the world to create clean water systems in poor third world villages. This made me angry… not that I begrudge third world villages clean water systems, but because there are villages in this country where people are living without clean water. Is it simply that the good people of these agencies are unaware of the need here in Canada? These are Native reserves which are remote and difficult to access... but it can't be any more difficult than accessing a remote village in South America or Africa. 
I'm trying to understand why we overlook our own people. It can't be racism,,, South Americans are brown, Africans are black; I can't imagine drawing the compassion line at Red. It seems much more likely that we fail to take action locally because we do not want to believe such a thing can happen in Canada. Perhaps it is because we expect our government to take care of it. Under the Indian Act, isn’t the federal government mandated to care for the Native reservations? I don't know enough about the Indian act venture an opinion but, even within the Native communities there are mixed feelings about the efficacy of that particular legislation. The important thing to note is that these villages have been waiting decades and will wait decades more before the government takes action. Why don't they fix it themselves? A lack of expertise and money , is my guess. It would be easy to say, “If conditions on the reserve suck so bad, why don’t they just move?”  For the same reason the poor in those third world villages don’t fix it themselves or move… or why the poor didn’t evacuate New Orleans before Katrina hit… no place to go and no money to get there. Altruism doesn’t judge or ask why… it just does what needs to be done to make the world a better place.  
Today I just want to ask those aide agencies how do our third world villages get on your recipient list? Where do we apply? Or are you like the CIA, only mandated to serve outside your homeland? Perhaps there is an aide agency in Kenya that will fly a crew over to help our struggling villages.
Before we smugly go flying around the world fixing everyone else's problems, let’s make it a priority to heal our own country. Take your drills and your volunteers and your hammers and whatever the hell else you are using; and go up north to one of these villages and spend your summer doing what you do, for our people, in our country. That's a project I'd volunteer for.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Apologies to my friends.

Just a quick note to explain what will be an extended absence from blogging and pretty much everything else that requires visual acuity. On the up side the injections to treat my Blepharospasm worked very well. I can now keep my eyes open any time I want. However there has been an unexpected side effect…. My vision is blurred; my eyes are watery and burn like they have chlorine in them. It has been 10 days with no change. I take antihistamines, use eye drops to no avail. So until this gets better or until I can get a copy of voice to print software (probably by end of the month) my writing endeavors are on hold. Thanks for understanding…. Have a joyous day my friends,

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sleep Programs: Conclusions & Recommendations

Conclusions: By attempting to service all our client populations under one roof we fail to properly serve anyone. The protocols we use to manage large and /or blended populations strips away what little dignity and sense of self may be remaining from people who are already fragile. As a group the current system provides adequately for the barest necessities, supervised and relatively safe places to sleep (spend the night).  For the individual client having to stand on public display (possibly in their hometown) is demeaning. There is a loss of autonomy in the tightly controlled environment of the shelter… to the point where one starts to wonder if they even remember “how” to make a decision for themselves. Uncertainty about the disposition (drunk/sober/crazy/sane/healthy/sick) of other the clients, causes people in sleep programs to isolate. This adds to the growing feeling of invisibility; which quickly erodes a person’s ability to reintegrate into society.

Recommendations: The easiest recommendation to implement would be separating the populations. Many sleep programs already separate the intoxicated clients for the safety reasons as given in the previous blog. Separation within the other population groups is of far greater concern when it comes to the delivery of reintegration services. Elimination of the line-up check-in process would be of benefit to clients from a mental health standpoint. Each agency would have to determine what would work best for it depending on several variables like size of population, number of staff, space etc. I would suggest designating a time (say the 2 hours prior to dorm opening) when clients could walk-in and sign-up for a bed.   Anyone not claiming their bed within 1 hour of dorm opening will be bumped. Anyone showing up intoxicated to claim their bed can be refused for the night, at the discretion of the staff. Exception would have to be made for people whose employment prevented them from attending early sign. Day labourers could phone-in their sign-up and confirm with a copy of their work ticket (employed should have a pay-stub on file with the shelter) when they present to claim their bed. Think of eliminating these humiliating line-ups as “harm reduction” for our sober clients.
Government funding for shelter sleep programs needs to change, these programs should be funded by the bed… NOT by the head. This change would result in more stable funding for the agencies from one year to the next. It would also encourage greater collaboration between agencies which would allow for the employment of a diversified shelter model where the various populations are sheltered in different locations. This change would reduce psychological damage and speed up reintegration of the homeless (poor).
 Also every single effort must be made to keep people housed… provincial social service agencies should NEVER tell someone to stay at a shelter because it is going to take 2 months to process their request for social assistance. This is an emergency…. and emergency protocols must be created to reduce the incidents of poverty induced homelessness in this country.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Observations Part 2: Sleep Programs

Shelters (Sleep Programs):
          The main distinction between shelters is if clients are allowed access while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Shelters which allow the intoxicated (under the influence of drugs or alcohol) have harm reduction designated sleep areas. I have never seen a shelter exclusively dedicated to harm reduction.  All common areas of the building are shared by all populations. Shelters which do not allow intoxicated people, do however allow clients in a state of withdrawal, or unmedicated, so the designation of “DRY” in no way reduces the level of chaos within the shelter environment.
         The rules around shelter use are meant to manage large numbers of people and equally important to provide the necessary “head count” for funding application to various levels of government. First you must stand in line sometimes for more than an hour to ensure you get a bed. Often these lines are outside the building where anyone driving by might see you. Once signed in your movements are restricted to specific areas and specific times. You are required to turn in personal property regardless of any consideration for your ability to manage your behaviour. Your work tools or personally purchased aspirins must all be accessed through the office and often on a limited schedule. Many places do not allow food in the dorm areas…so anything you bring in for yourself is unsecured in a publicly accessed kitchen area. Other places allowed no outside food at all… you eat only what is provided exactly when it is provided. You get up when you are told, leave when you are told (regardless of your mental or physical condition) and are allowed to return when you are told you can return. In most shelters personal property can be searched and seized by staff (something as innocuous as a nail-clipper can be seized as a weapon), a necessary evil in the current shelter system with our blended populations.
         Harm Reduction areas, for clients under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are designed more for safety than comfort. Matts placed on the floor or low lying cots prevent serious injury from falling out of bed. As much space as possible is allowed between matts so the staff or paramedics can respond to client emergencies. Clients’ belongs are kept next to their matt and carried in and out with them each day… only a handful of places provide storage for this group. Bag searches our done regularly… with smaller population everyone is searched both entering and leaving the facility.
        Transient beds are issued on a nightly basis for clients who are clean & sober… today. The smell of body oder, urine prevelant in Harm Reduction is decidedly less conspicuous in transient areas. A little more attention is paid to comfort here, with beds or bunks replacing matts. Clients do NOT have assigned beds; one must line-up and sign in each night and there is some storage available to regular users over the short term.        
 Transitional sleep programs are open to persons who return to the facility clean & sober on a regular basis. The bed is yours until you miss curfew, this varies from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. depending on the facility. The advantage for the facility, of these quasi permanent beds; is the reduction in laundry, sheets need only be changed weekly. You are allowed to leave your property behind during the day and some shelters even have lockers to secure your belongings. This is a great benefit to client who have to keep appointments with professionals to assist in moving forward out of the shelter and back into the community. Lockers can always be accessed by staff and searched for contraband (a reasonable expectation). 
I cannot believe how hard it is to separate observations from conclusions and recommendation; it all kinda runs together in my head. This is just the first draft so I will continue with this format .... for now. Who knows what the final product will look like. If you have any thoughts or suggestions I am always happy to hear from you. It is all about creating a concise and readable report.
Have a joyous day my friends. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Observations: Part 1 Demographic

         Who is Homeless: First I observed that the homeless populations in other cities were very similar to that of Calgary with 50% being homeless primarily due to poverty, 20% being due to medical issues mostly mental health issues and 30% being street people struggling with addiction, concurrent disorders and/or undiagnosed mental illness. These numbers break down a bit differently in the DTES (Down Town East Side) Vancouver with easily 50% being street people.
         Some sources would like to have us believe that mental health issues account for 80% of homelessness, this very misleading (albeit comforting) because it includes people dealing with situational depression, which I contend is a normal response to finding oneself homeless. Not being depressed by such circumstances, would indicate something very mentally unhealthy within the subject’s thinking. The same could be said regarding drinking… not every homeless person who drinks is homeless because of alcohol addiction. Many are drinking as a coping mechanism for a difficult situation; for self-medicating the depression or as a sleep aide; lack of privacy, ongoing noise from other residents, 24hr lighting, antiseptic smells and body odors all make normal sleep difficult to achieve.
           Most homeless from all three population groups (poor, street people, medicals) are white males age 20 – 60… with visible minorities from the same age group comprising about 10% of the overall population. This shifts slightly as we move from east to west, homelessness among the urban Native population is visibly smaller east of Thunder Bay. There may be several factors at work, but from my conversations with Natives it would seem that conditions on eastern reserves are somewhat better than those of their western counterparts. Women of all populations (poor, street people, medicals) and age groups account for about 20% of homeless.
          Newfoundland had no year-round shelters… which I was given to understand would be changing as of winter 2011. This is due in part to a vigorous re-housing program for medicals… and the low level of migrant populations. Anyone who lives on the rock has family or friends who will put them up at least part of the time. Those who are completely on their own camp out or squat over the summer months. During the winter months there is an Inn from the Cold type sleep program in various church basements. Since I was there in summer, I only have reports from local social workers to confirm the above.
           Saskatchewan had a lower percentage of female homeless… I am not sure why that is different. The shelter where I stayed was dry and seemed to function as a stepping stone for woman entering a rehab program.  If you were not in the rehab program the bed was billed out at $10 per day for a stay up to one month. When I asked the women who lived among the street population where they would sleep, all seemed to have a place of their own. Very often they would invite me to come spend the night with them.  The women there seem to look out for each other... this is something of a "chicken and egg". 
      Edmonton has a commendable re-housing program for medicals which is operated by a group called E4C… this allows a distinguishable difference in the demographic between Edmonton and Calgary.  Also I observed fewer seniors using the shelters in Vancouver due to B.C. government making susidized housing for 50+ (drunk or not) a priority.
If you have been following me for a while you know I am NOT a supporter of subsidized housing. Too much graft and corruption, tax payers do not need that.
Have a joyous day. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Beginning of the End

Hi Friends, it has been a month since I last blogged and I apologize for that, the truth is that when I can make time to write I am working on the report of my findings. Basically just summing up what I have learned about the shelter system and services to the homeless across Canada. I’m thinking I’ll share it with you as I go along… hope you find it interesting. Today I will include the prologue and methodology section, pretty boring stuff but necessary to understanding the rest of the paper. Next time we will get into the observations. Please understand the paper is divided into sections Observations followed by Conclusions which is followed by Recommendation. What will appear are just observations… there is no judgment being made here; so don’t get all huffy and defensive on me. Nobody on the planet has more respect and appreciation for the hard work, dedication and commitment of people working in the shelter industry, than I do.

A REPORT of FINDING for Angels of the Road
Two years of living with Canada’s Homeless
         Initially it was my intention to present these findings to you as a formal research paper, however I find myself uncomfortable using that format. I will submit this report written in the first person because I lived it in the first person, and I funded it in the first person.  My only responsibility here is to the truth, good or bad.
         I will not waste valuable space listing my credentials; for more information than you could possibly want to know about me, please go to my website  and click the ABOUT tab. You will find my resume, biography, philosophy and a brief synopsis of “the journey” (as I like to call it).
        This study is meant as a qualitative analysis of program delivery to homeless and indigent population. No hard statistics have been kept… those are available through any number of government departments and stakeholder organizations. The study makes no mention of individual facilities, unless they stand as a strong example of success (or failure) for other agencies to use as learning models. No single agency has it all wrong or all right, with the possible exception of Centre 454 in Ottawa which is doing stellar work in all areas of drop-in services.
         In no way should this document be taken as an indictment of the shelter industry. Almost everything I experienced indicates good people doing the best they can with the limited resources and information which was available. It is my sincerest hope that the shelter industry, social planners, and researchers in this field will use these finding to guide the evolution of service delivery to Canada’s homeless. Resulting in shorter shelter stays with improved recovery and reintegration for all client populations.

The content of this document and the Angels of the Road website/blog site is copywrited to the author / researcher Bonny L. Cameron (me) and must be credited accordingly in any reproduction or distribution of these documents in whole or in part. The free (and wide) distribution of these copywrited materials is encouraged; however if anyone profits (financially) from the use of same, an appropriate compensation to the author can be made by donation at the website.
An Examination of the Shelter Industry in Canada 
& the Efficacy of Program Delivery
 as It Impacts Client Outcomes.
(working title)
          This observer/participant study involved almost two years of information gathering which was done from May 2009 – October 2011 (
less 4 vacations of approximately 1 month) . The study took place in 15 cities throughout Canada, except (due to accessibility and funding issues) the far north. Over that period of time I lived in 12 shelters with capacities ranging from 8 – 300 occupants. Attended programs offered to the homeless through 15 drop-in centres and accessed 24 meal programs.
          The study involved total immersion with the subject population. Stays varied from 3 weeks to 4 months depending on the size of the homeless population with whom I was assimilating.

Constant for this project was the use of a single researcher, me
Variables were basically everything else; size of facility/ population/ protocols/ staffing/ orientation (secular or religious)/ provincial government priorities/ funding sources/ etc. etc. etc.
Anyone wishing to verify my results can do so by simply repeating this process for themselves.

           I presented myself as a middle-aged woman, between jobs, without ties to the city, checking into the potential job market and looking for a new place to settle down (all of which was quite true).           
It is human nature to modify our behaviour when we are being observed; so to prevent contamination of the study, the subject staffers and clients were not informed of the my full purpose until the end stages of each stay. I lived with and among the client population for up to 4 months at a time with 4 visits home to Calgary of 4-5 weeks between each leg of the journey dubbed Angels of the Road. This immersion process allowed me to get unvarnished feedback from clients. Further I was able to observe client to client, staff to client and management to staff interactions on an ongoing basis revealing patterns of interconnectedness between these. 
Ok Guys that is today's installment, I promise others will be shorter... if you have visited the website lately you may have noticed that I removed the guest page... my overnight hit count jump to 55 so I suspect that someone had place a link to porn on the page. Counts are now back to normal 15 overnights and 40ish per diam. I have no problem with what consenting adults choose to do in their spare time but that is not what Angels of the Road is about, Thanks for understanding...Have a joyous day.