Monday, April 22, 2013

Report of Finding: Summary

          Anyone who tells you that they can eradicate homelessness is deluding themselves. There will always be street people; those among us whose addictions outweigh any other consideration in their lives; a perfect society will build communities with room for everyone, even street people. It is however possible to reduce homelessness by 70% through affordable home ownership initiatives and supportive housing programs. Priority needs to be given to keeping medicals and working poor in the homes they have.
          As for the shelter industry …the single most important step is the diversification of shelters and services. Within 24 hours of checking into a shelter the person should be assessed as medical (needs) or poverty (financially unstable) or addict. Then the subject should be immediately channeled into a separate facility with protocols and staffing specific to their needs.
          For large organization like the Calgary Drop-In, or Shepherds of Good Hope, it would involve repurposing of the facilities which are already owned by them, much like Victoria Cool Aid has done with their housing model. Smaller organizations need a co-operative series of programs with each agency providing service to different groups. To achieve this kind of collaboration funding models would have to change to remove competition between agencies. I recommend funding by the BED not by the head which is our current practice. This new found financial stability would allow agencies to focus on outcomes (appropriate to their mandate).
          Diversification must exist in all parts of the shelter’s mandate and staffing. A transitional shelter should focus on skills training and reintegration services, psychological supports, guidance and encouragement in a structured environment. Autonomy and self-care (personal responsibility) must be re-enforced in all areas of the clients functioning. Staffing these Transitional shelters with specialists during daytime (program hours) would be optimal and night staff would be simply custodial to deal with any situations which may arise.
          Facilities functioning as Refuge Shelters would require a high level of vigilance and control over client behaviours. All medications must be dispensed by staff… searches done entering or leaving the building… zero tolerance for drugs & alcohol; anything necessary to prevent harm coming to any client. These are people trying to take a break from addiction or prostitution or just hiding from a threat real or imagined. There should be no requirement that they intend to move forward from this place.
Refuge Shelters provide clients with a safe place to recoup and hopefully rethink. Staffing here should be done by generalists… staff who can be teachers, counselors, nurses, referees and bouncers, whatever the situation requires.
          With recovering addicts in either Refuge or Transitional shelters depending on their progress, Harm Reduction shelters can be less structured. No alcohol/drugs on site is a necessary only because clients will fight over such things when it is are there. It might be a good policy (in winter at least) to bag and tag anything seized and return to the client in the morning.  Again these facilities need to be staffed by generalists with priority given to skilled referees, nurses, bouncers and counselors in that order. When a street person wants to share or seek guidance they cannot wait to see the counselor (tomorrow or next week when an appointment is available) they live in this moment. If in this moment they want to make a connection; we have to provide staff that can make that connection. Trust is hard won in this population and limiting the ability of staff to build on trust relationships, means opportunity lost.  True we will always have street people but it doesn’t have to be a lifelong condition due to neglect. I know many recovered addicts and most of them recovered because they connected with someone (usually an adult care worker or volunteer) who could see past the addictions to the person.
            The diversified housing model also would allow for better nutritional options specific to each groups needs. Transitional clients should be taking responsibility for all functions; shopping, preparing meals, building cleaning and maintenance in accordance with their ability and under staff supervision.  Refuge shelters would need to provide well balanced highly nutritious meals and snacks. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and meat protein are in limited supply at soup kitchens. So for the short time we have someone in a refuge shelter we need to do what we can to restore their health. The current soup kitchen fare is actual nutritionally acceptable for street people. The high carb diet provide the energy store necessary to go days without eating while binge drinking or on a crack run.
          Needless to say Drop-in programs are not affected by the need for diversification. Job search, literacy and life skills training are important but it won’t change anything until that person believes they deserve a better life. It is important to provide esteem building and self awareness programming. 
          I hear what you are thinking…BUT HOW DO WE FUND ALL THIS?  Short answer by making better use of the money you have. Working backwards through this summery. Drop-Ins  make better use of your volunteers. Staff supervision is not required for volunteers beyond once to train and one more time to view them in action. Allow volunteers to do more then fold sheets and hand out shampoo. I can’t begin to list the number of different programs I could provide. Allow a volunteer, who has raised her children into happy healthy adulthood to teach parenting or infant care. Let people who have lived come into your agencies to teach life skills.  
           Under the diversified model transitional and refuge client would receive at least 2 meals in-house. Because the need is finite it will be easier to solicit donations of food from local grocers, farmers and businesses. Start a recognition campaign… issue bumper sticker and window tags to the businesses that support you (the effect of this is they will want to live up to their new reputation for generosity); ongoing support gets you an annual certificate as a gold or platinum supporter. Brain storm your own campaign.
           Under the diversified model staffing levels would be reduced.  Transitional shelters would require less client supervision and administration. Clients are responsible for cooking, cleaning and maintenance. Staff only needs to supervise and handle minor emergencies. In refuge shelters slightly higher staff client ratio is required because the potential for medical emergency is slightly with this group and they are not invested enough to participate in cooking, cleaning etc. The harm reduction facilities need the highest level of staffing because of the unpredictable nature of client reactions and behaviour. Optimum numbers would be 1/6 but no less than 2 staff to any position (building location) at any time. I have found most shelters juggling staff and unable to provide adequate coverage for the areas with the greatest need.
          Reintegration from the current shelter system is not easy. It took me 1 year of medical care and 2 1/2 years of reintegration before I recovered to the point where I could write this report.  The changes I have proposed here would minimize physical and emotional damage for the 70% of non addicted clients and free up resources to help our street people with their recovery and reintegration.    

Thursday, April 18, 2013


          As I began to write the Summary for my Report of Findings yesterday, I found myself reflecting on, why it took me so very long to do this. The physical research was finished in October 2010, I haven’t spent the night in a shelter since and any time I have spent at soup kitchens and drop-in was about outreach, there was no information gathering. So why did it take to 2½ years to report on 16 months of research? Each section probably took a day to write and it will probably only take a week of rewrites to get to the final draft. So why not do this 1½ years ago? In a nutshell, I wasn’t ready.
           After spending so much time living an impermanent life, I could not really settle into living normal routines. Even in Hamilton from Dec 2010 – Aug 2012, when I was working as a childcare provider… my hours fluctuated sometimes from day to day. Until recently I had no sense of what was supposed to come next, so no particular need to close off the past. There were of course times when I didn’t think anyone would care about what I had learned… that the only value of this project was in what it has taught me as a social worker and a person.  
          The Angels of the Road study into homelessness is unique in several ways, which is why I felt the need to do it. The most significant difference is in the scope of the study, a broad sampling of shelters and services from all across Canada were assessed by the researcher (me). The few observer/participant studies into homelessness have been limited to one city, sometimes one facility and usually lasted only for a few weeks time.  There have been journalist reporting of staying several months within the homeless population; these reports while truthful are skewed by the writers need to produce saleable material. This makes the finished product a selection of dramatic high points taken out of context to the whole shelter experience. Many other authors have recorded the shelter experience through biographical accounts from the lives of street people; one of the best of these being, “Radical Compassion” by Father Gary Smith.
         Every city does reporting (many have censes data) on homelessness and often share information to create a national picture. This kind quantitative information is essential for projecting costs, allocating funding and planning service needs.        
          Surveys are taken of homeless population with a myriad of focuses; but data from these can be tainted by several factors. Clients will often try to give you the answers they think you want; this kind of compliance is a survival instinct which is prevalent in institutional environments. Assuring them they are free to speak without consequence is of little use because this is an unconscious response. Also client observations of services and shelters is coloured by their personal drama and limited exposure (usually 1 or 2 facilities) objective assessment is not really possible from client surveys without an extremely broad (100-1000s) sampling.  
            I felt there was a real need for an objective assessment of programs and services by someone with both knowledge and experience of the shelter system. Angels of the Road was a qualitative analysis of the shelter system and services to the homeless in Canada. With no outside funding I was free to be entirely truthful about my findings. Where we have succeeded, where we have failed and how to create better outcomes for our clients in the future.
          As always the most important thing we can do is to create affordable home ownership initiatives and develop supportive housing systems to get the poor and the medicals out of the shelters entirely. Regardless of the cost… housing is infinitely less expensive to taxpayers then shelters, prisons and all their support systems. Until that perfect future, I hope that my Report of Findings for Angels of the Road will guide the shelter industry, policy makers, politician and social planners into the most productive models for client care.
         Back to me! and why am I finally wrapping up Angels of the Road. It is because I am feeling settled again. A few months ago I moved permanently to the west coast and a new chapter of my life is opening up. It is time to end Angels of the Road as a project and a website (which expires in Aug 2013) ; the blog will continue as an op/ed vehicle for me to address social justice and anti-poverty issues. I will always be involved with serving street people in their journey to their best life; I imagine from here forward that will come through volunteer work.  My new role is to serve all of humankind through spiritual teaching and healing. The Spirit of the 8th Fire website is the beginning of that journey and I hope some of you will choose to join me there.

Have a joyous day.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Two Posts in One

From Russia, With Love
That was Ian Fleming’s line this blog is to Russia with love. Yesterday Angels of the Road had 70 hits from our friends in Russia; that is 50% more than Canada had in the past month. Once in a while strange things like that happen which remind me the issues around homelessness and poverty are still relevant, not just in North America but globally. So thank you, to everyone who has taken an interest in Angels of the Road for the past 4 years (June)… and for all your personal efforts to make our communities, our countries and this world a better place.
OMG that was amazing…
I laughed… I cried… (this from me , who hates seeing reality coming out of my television) LOL.
Today is an exception which may become a rule; or at least happen more often as time goes on. Angels of the Road has evolved into what is essentially a social justice site focusing on anti-poverty and housing issues. Spirit of the 8th Fire is about our spiritual ascension into abundance, brotherhood and peace.  Sometimes, like right now, these two things intersect. So this blog will post to both sites. I just had the most awesome (I don’t use that term loosely) experience, I was awe-struck and joyous watching this episode of CBC’s 8TH FIRE documentary, “Its Time”.   Unlike the first episode Indigenous in the City: which carried a lot of bias, this was so full of promise I really... REALLY believe every Canadian needs to watch this. Truth without guilt, real people of both races pushing forward building a new Canadian reality. “It’s Time”, offers a view of the future created from our pastt…our future as one country with respect, opportunity and hope for everyone. As I have said before we cannot and should not take responsibility for the past, but every one of us is responsible for what happens next. Whichever side of Native/Non-Native divide you are on educate yourself, then educate others, lets close the gap. There is value and beauty in each of us, open your eyes, see it, embrace it and rejoice.
Have a joyous day.