Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Good News Week

When I started travelling with Angels of the Road back in 2009… I would never have imagined I would be able to say what I am about to say, “we have come a long way baby.” For me as a worker in the shelter industry, all I ever wanted was to see progress in getting the homeless housed; so that industry resources and workers could be focused on helping the street people (drunks, druggies & drop-outs). We are unlikely to eradicate homelessness 100% unless we rethink what it means to be housed. But with affordable housing initiatives and supportive housing, we can reasonable expect a 70% reduction in homelessness.

The good news out of Homeless Hub this week is that Edmonton Alberta has reduced their homeless population by 30% and that Alberta’s 10 year plan to end homelessness is on track. Apparently 6,600 people have been re-housed, 1600 have been taken into a Housing First program for hard to house... and of those people a whopping 80% are able to maintain housing. For those of you who don’t know, the Housing First Model targets people with disabilities, mental health issue, addictions and concurrent disorders. Once this population has housing it is easier to provide consistent and ongoing supports for their health and well being. This Housing First model actually reduces costs of providing services by around 60%. Currently the cost for shelter services per homeless person is $100 a day or $3000 per month. The income support system allows $600 -$700 per month per person; which does not allow any “wiggle room” what people used to call rainy day (emergency) funds to hold people over in a minor crisis. In fact at the current rate of payout one cannot hope to meet day to day necessities. An income support system which offered a base of funds at $1200 per month would ultimately save taxpayers $1800 per month per person and give people enough income to live without additional services.

Whatever myth you are labouring under; NO this will NOT make people lazy… it is our nature to want to be productive and to contribute to society. People you are seeing caught up in this system who appear to you as lazy, are beaten down by that system and have given up on ever being more or having more. We invented this system in the 1950s and whatever small modifications we have made over the decades it still remains judgmental and punitive. We need a new way of dealing with poverty one which reflects the realities of the 21st century and the global economy. Enough said, today is about celebrating our successes. When the journey is long, knowing how far you have come always makes the road ahead a little brighter and easier to walk. Never be afraid to look back, but never stop moving forward... it is the only direction we have ;-) Have a joyous day my friends.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Deaf No More

What is most important in this time of Idle No More is dialogue. Much of what we think we know about each other was born out of a culture of colonialism. Non-Natives and Natives alike, have deep rooted and for the most part wrongheaded views about the current situation and each other.  We must seek to learn more about each other; listen and hear what the other party (group or individual) is telling us. It is reasonable, even necessary in a dialogue to express your perspective, but be prepared to be educated on points which may be wrong. Looking at a situation from another’s point of view can open whole new worlds of possibility for you.
Last year I spent a month in a town where racism is rampant and self-imposed segregation is the norm.  I came back to Hamilton exhausted…I said I could not live there because it was a constant struggle to enlighten people about each other’s cultures. Someone suggested I should “just ignore it” …with knowledge comes responsibility and it was my responsibility to speak up. I have been blessed, to be close to both the Native and non-Native cultures, so I found myself uniquely qualified to share in that situation.
It is funny but (with the exception of government) everybody with an opinion, seems to think it is time to get rid of the Indian Act. Societies grew and evolved, slaves were freed, then woman were freed now is the time for our Native brothers and sisters to be freed. The first step is to abolish any legislation that prevents equal opportunity and access based on lineage. Both African-Americans and women will tell you, what follows will be decades of growing pains. Struggles to invoke, enforce and enjoy, their new found freedoms.
Will the Natives spring full-blown into a perfect system of self-government and self-reliance?  Most unlikely, since we’ve been working on our system for thousands of years and still have not got a functioning model. But the greatest hope of all is that we can learn from each other. We (individuals, agencies, businesses, institutions and governments) need to share what we know with each other. On many levels Native culture has much to teach us especially around spiritualism, resilience and family. Dialogue is the way in which we share ideas; listening, hearing, and speaking. Keeping our hearts and minds open to learning from each other will make us better people and better neighbours.
I cannot speak to the Black experience but as a woman I can say we made more than a few mistakes when asserting our independence… I guess the biggest, was thinking that to be equal we had to be the same as men. Thankfully we now celebrate the differences. I bring this up because releasing our Native brothers/sisters from the paternalistic constraints of the Indian Act is not going to make them White. Hopefully what will evolve is a strong, proud 21st century Native culture.
I look forward to participating in the Canada which will emerge from the shake-up that Idle No More is bringing our way. I will speak more on the individual issues again soon but for now, have a joyous day my friends.