Solutions to Homelessness – Initiatives Started by Youth

12 06 2009

I have found countless examples of young people engaging themselves in the issue of homelessness. The success they have achieved has been extremely amazing and inspirational. Here are two examples I would like to share with you:

  • A Dollar a Day Campaign – The vision of this campaign was to get as many people as possible in Vancouver to contribute a dollar a day for 30 days in the month of November 2008 in order to fight poverty in Metro Vancouver. By campaigning in order to raise funds, this initiative also raised awareness about poverty and homelessness to schools, communities, and clubs all over Vancouver. Started with only a few young people and led by a youth pastor, A Dollar a Day raised over $40,000 to fight poverty. See the video above to get a glimpse of the project.
  • 5 Days for the Homeless – To raise awareness and funds for homelessness, university students lived on campus for 5 days without food or any housing, in order to experience what it was like to be homeless. Food and any other survival items could only come as donations from passerby. Founded by University of Alberta business students in 2005, this campaign has spread to over ten universities across Canada by 2007, raising over $132,000 to fight homelessness across Canada.

I think that initiatives which are led by young people help to create a generation who care about social issues and feel empowered to do something about them. This is extremely important in our world today. Initiatives which involve collaboration and the contribution of individuals for success can build community and empower people to work towards social change. Engaging young people is especially important because when they begin learning about social issues and believing that they can make a difference at a young age, then this can dramatically change their thoughts and actions for the rest of their lives. By engaging them at a young age, we are building a generation of people who care about social issues, are engaged in the community, and will make a difference in it.

Innovations such as You Tube, WordPress, and other online collaboration tools and alternative media has changed the way we communicate in our world today. This has brought the far reaching issues of the world to us, raising awareness for social issues in a way that has never been down before. Even businesses have began to recognize that when they recruit employees, often one of the top criteria that new graduates have for selecting a company is whether the company is socially responsible and ethical. Indeed, when a small group of people are dedicated and committed to doing something positive, it’s amazing what results can be achieved. Compared to the rest of the world, we are the richest people in the world in terms of wealth, knowledge and resources. It boggles my mind to think of the amazing things we can achieve when we put our mind to it!

Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead


Solutions to Homelessness – Trade Fairs and Connect Days

12 06 2009

we all have a story

One idea to help alleviate homelessness is centered on helping the homeless get connected with the services and programs that can help them get off the streets. Often the wide ranges of programs are a frustrating maze and it can be difficult to know about which services are available.  Creating a trade fair for homeless people has achieved great success in San Francisco, where a large convention hall was rented and nearly every social service provider in the city set up a table. This helped the homeless get connected with resources, clothing, short and long term housing options, legal rights information, benefits information, government identification cards, and more. The trade fair considered the needs of homeless people very well by having a secure place where they could place their belongings during the trade fare, which are often everything they have since they have no home. The results of the program in San Francisco can be viewed here, in terms of the number of services people got connected with, identification cards issued, and other services provided. This idea has also been implemented in Vancouver during our Homelessness Action Week where we had Homeless connect events throughout Metro Vancouver. Find out more about this and other proposed solutions to homeless in Vancouver here.

The benefits and value of any service can only be achieved if it can reach its clients, and this is essential especially for social services. Because the impact that any organization attempting to serve the homeless is dependent on getting connected with the client, I think this solution is a great way to make use of the resources available for homeless clients as well as to provide a networking tool for service providers to meet with each other as well.

If I were to pursue this solution, the key question I want to answer is: What is the capacity of services directed at serving the homeless in Metro Vancouver? If they are operating well below their capacity in terms of their performance measurements regarding how many homeless people they could serve, then perhaps this is an avenue that must be pursued year round, and not just in a onetime fair during homeless action week.

If I could improve this idea, I would make this more of a year-long initiative rather than a one time fair. One idea is to develop a comprehensive website listing all of the social services Metro Vancouver has directed at homelessness. The Red Book is a good start, but this online list of social and government agencies is quite broad and does not focus on services for the homeless only. Having a comprehensive website with links and basic descriptions of the many organizations serving the homeless would be useful for the homeless people themselves, and also for volunteers serving the homeless to be informed about the services available for their clients. They are often a regular contact with homeless people and can provide invaluable information to them. If anyone knows about such a website existing in Vancouver, please share it with us. Another idea is for each organization serving the homeless to nominate a few of their regular volunteers to be “Connect Ambassadors” who are experts on the services available to the homeless. These Connect Ambassadors would be familiar with the social services landscape and be able to make recommendations and referrals to their clients, thus providing each organization with a few experts on the services available to the homeless.

What are your thoughts on the idea of connecting homeless people to services designed to help them? Do you think this would have a big impact on the homeless problem?

A Visit to Potter’s Place Mission in the DTES

10 06 2009

I realize that sometimes I feel so different from the people that I am trying to help, and I want to make an effort to get to know them, so yesterday I went to Potter’s Place Mission in the downtown east side.  This was my first time in over a year meeting homeless people again. My life has been a bit of a whirlwind since coming back home. In the Winter of 2007/2008 I was deeply involved with organizing the Cold Wet Weather Mat Program at Coquitlam Alliance Church, and I spent nearly every day before I left for my exchange in Vienna working on this project. Then I went to study in Vienna, Austria for one year and just came back home about 2 months ago. What is interesting is that when I left Vancouver over a year ago, my church was sending young people to Potter’s Place every Tuesday to provide the band for the church service, cook meals, and serve food to the homeless. I went to Potter’s Place last night, not even sure if I’d see anyone I knew, and then all of a sudden there was a big group of young people from my church, who have all been coming diligently every Tuesday. It was like nothing had changed since I left and I was touched by the dedication I saw in the young people. Many of them are in high school, and they shared with me how they love coming every week to meet with the homeless, and one girl shared with me how she hoped that her new friends whom she met last time would be there again. It was really touching to see the relationships that people were building with the homeless in the DTES, and the dedication of young people who simply wanted to help them.

I have to say it was a new experience for me. I was definitely out of my comfort zone. It’s one thing to organize a homeless shelter in the Tri Cities from the comfort of a clean church kitchen, and quite another to be immersed in the environment of the DTES. I’m glad I went though, and was happy that I got a chance to speak to two of the visitors at Potter’s Place. I learned a bit about the realities of street life – I guess sometimes I am quite an idealistic person and it still shocks me to hear about the drugs on the street and the difficult life that some people have to face everyday.  It’s hard to imagine. I must say that I am so impressed with the volunteers who run so many of soup kitchens and outreach centers which help the poorest and most disenfranchised people in our society. If you’re one of them, please feel free to share your stories and experiences. Hearing from people like you is what motivates me to use my skills in business and other areas to continue working on this problem.

I’d like to end with a bible verse, which I saw at the Potter’s Place Mission website:

“Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”

Luke 14:23

Expressions of homelessness

1 06 2009

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to share a very powerful drawing from artist Ben Chan. Take a look below:


I think the phrase is a great play on words, where by stating “Keep your coins, I want change!” he is not referring to spare change but rather real change that work towards making changes in order to solve the homelessness problem. I love how art can say so much.

Persistent Homelessness Problem Despite Known Solutions

1 06 2009

“It’s not rocket science. The solution to homelessness is housing. The solution to malnutrition is good food.”
– Judy Graves, Housing Advocate, City of Vancouver

As many experts on homelessness have said, the solutions to homelessness are known, yet the problem continues to persist.  3 Ways to Home is a ten year regional homelessness plan which was developed by the Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness in 2000. The ways towards housing the homeless are built on the following 3 Pillars, as shown in the diagram below: Housing, Support, and Adequate Income. 3 ways to home

You can find out more about the 3 Ways to Home Strategy here.

The reality which continues to astonish me the most is the fact that each homeless person costs the government more per year in services and shelters compared to the costs of providing housing to the person. According to a report by Pivot Legal, Cracks in the Foundation, it requires $40,000 per year to provide services to a homeless person while providing social housing to the homeless would cost only $22,000 to $28,000 per year. The B.C. Office of Housing and Construction Standards conducted a detailed study of homelessness, and the part which shows exact cost analysis can be found by clicking here.  Not only is homelessness a social justice issue, but tackling it also makes good economic sense!

So the question now is, why hasn’t this problem been properly addressed?  I want to start looking at initiatives and ideas which can contribute to developing the 3 ways to home.

A special letter

1 06 2009

I was going through my binder of materials from when I volunteered for the Cold Wet Weather Program, and I came across a letter I received from one of the shelter clients, thanking the church members for giving him a donated backpack filled with necessities for everyday living. I remember how impressed I was by the high quality items people wanted to donate to the homeless, and Jason’s letter highlights how getting such nice things showed him that people cared for him as a human being. I think this goes back to several of my previous posts discussing the approach of treating homeless people with dignity and respect. It was encouraging to remember the gratitude and positive spirits of many of our clients. Here is the letter:


Help the homeless: Their Needs & Barriers

1 06 2009

needs and barriersWe often donate things to charity all the time – clothing, hygiene supplies, shoes, bus passes, etc. I often ask myself, what do the homeless people really need, and what can I do to help them overcome their difficulties in gaining housing?  In order to help the homeless, I’d like to consider what the needs and barriers of the population are.

From the Tri Cities Homeless Report here are the definitions of both and some examples:

Needs – Things which are critical to the person’s well being.
  • Medical care
  • Clothing
  • Clean Water
  • Resource Information
  • Dental Care
  • Footwear
  • Personal hygiene products
  • Empathy and encouragement
Barriers – beliefs and conditions which hinder a person’s ability to find a home.
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • No financial resources
  • Family abuse
  • Concurrent disorders
  • Arrest warrants
  • Urban myths