Group Collaboration in Moving towards a Local Homelessness Solution

7 07 2009

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for following my posts on homelessness up to this point. For the next few weeks I am working with a group of students from Simon Fraser University to collaborate on an innovative solution for homelessness. We have created a new blog and you can find it at

Feel free to take a look at what our group solution is looking at!

I will continue this blog as my own personal blog, exploring social issues with a continued focus on homelessness because of the group project I am involved in. I will also include some of my thoughts on other social issues that I encounter and read about. Thanks for reading up to now, and I look forward to discussing more social issues on this blog.




Michael Jackson – Was he Homeless?

27 06 2009


Michael Jackson was an amazing artist. He changed the face of the music industry with his amazing talent and ability to captivate audiences. He reached explosive levels of fame and made millions of dollars with his music career. Sadly it was only in Fall of 2007 that Michael Jackson’s dwindling fortune was revealed and questions about whether the icon was homeless were raised. Newspapers all over the world were asking if it was possible – that someone who had accumulated so much wealth, could really be homeless? Newspapers such as this article from Perth, Austrlaia, reported that Michael was relying on the kindness of friends and relatives to provide a place for him and his kids to stay. It boogles my mind to even think that someone with so much weath could ever reach a point of homelessness. But Michael isn’t the only celebrity to face homelessness – Check out these images asking the question of “Homeless Celebs?” from the New York Daily News.

I think that if we consider the world we live in, it doesn’t take long to realize how real and how easy it is to become homeless. Whenever the price of rent goes up, for some it means less dinners out while for others, especially those living near the poverty line, it means they simply can’t afford a place to live anymore. Homelessness can happen to anyone, and it’s time we all worked together to put a stop to it.

Homelessness Solutions: Connecting Givers in our Communities with the Homeless (Part 2 – Questions to Address)

14 06 2009


Here are some initial questions I thought of for this idea, (see Part 1 below) but there are many more which need to be considered and answered. Please feel free to share what questions you think need to be addressed, and your thoughts.

Q.) How do identify the homeless people and how can we get profiles of them on the website?

With the current outreach workers in the Tri Cities, we can identify who these low needs people are because they are known by the outreach workers. With their consent, we can put their profile and story on a website, where people would have the chance to read about them and choose to sponsor their needs.

Q.) What added benefits do the donors get with this system?

Rather than donating simply to the general cause of alleviating poverty, which many churches in the Tri Cities do, donors get the opportunity to know the person they are helping and therefore put a face to homelessness. By working with the outreach workers to track their progress towards getting housing on the website, a sense of connection between the community and the homeless can be built, misconceptions about homelessness can be dispelled and there is increased motivation for the homeless person to help lift themselves out of homelessness. Furthermore, there would be opportunities for the donors to meet with the homeless people in person if both parties choose, therefore building relationships and helping to re-integrate the homeless into society.

Q.) Who are the potential donors?

I would consider appealing to the five churches who are involved with the Tri Cities Cold Wet Weather Mat Program. These churches have large groups of volunteers who have worked with the homeless and have a desire to help them. After this, we can consider appealing to local businesses and the community in general. There is a wide interest in homelessness in the Tri Cities, as can be seen with the record numbers drawn to the city council meetings when the rezoning of the churches was required for the Cold Wet Weather Mat Program.

Homelessness Solutions: Connecting Givers in our Communities with the Homeless (Part 1 – the Idea)

14 06 2009


I was extremely impressed by a website called  Modest Needs which started in March 2002 and has grown to help over 27,000 people struggling to make ends meet and has given away more than $1 million dollars. The concept of the website is to provide a helping hand for hardworking people who encounter a small, unexpected expense that threatens their financial stability. These small needs can range from small amounts such as $40 to a maximum of $1000 and the types of people it helps can include a single mother who has to choose between rent or her child’s dentist appointment, or a college student who has to choose between books for class and the power bill which pays for the light to read by, or a senior person whose car breaks down unexpectedly and needs some extra cash in order to remain mobile. Here’s how it works: Through Modest Needs people can go to the website, and choose who they want their money to go to, and Modest Needs will pay the bill directly. Modest Needs provides the website and screens all of the grant applicants. If you’d like to donate, you go to the website and get a certain amount of points for your donation, and then you can use your points to vote for who you want to get the grant. Once a person has enough votes for their request, Modest Needs fulfills the grant.

This idea is effective and efficient because it provides a low cost website as the medium for givers to connect with those in need. It’s novel because rather than just asking people to donate to a charity, the donors have the power to choose who gets the grant, perhaps attracting more donors by providing the added benefit of getting to choose who gets the support.The video below shows the website featured in the news.

Other websites that have provided the connection between givers and those in need include:

  • kiva– a micro-lending website that connects donors to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities all over the world. Throughout the loan, you can keep in contact with your sponsored entrepreneur with journals.
  • education generation– a website that allows you to browse student profiles in order to help fund education for students in need.
  • Compassionlogoworldvision – these organizations allow you to sponsor children in some of the poorest countries in the world in order to provide them with food, education, and health services. You can browse their websites to select a child, and then maintain correspondence with the child through letters and updates.

Providing a connection between givers and those in need has proved to be extremely successful for many social issues throughout our world, from children in developing countries, to students in need, to people struggling to make ends meet. I would like to extend this concept to the homelessness problem by proposing a website which connects donors to the homeless people in the Tri Cities. I looked at the Modest Needs website, and there is only 1 person from British Columbia that I could choose to sponsor – these websites have yielded tremendous success around the world, and it’s time for us to bring the idea home so that our community can benefit from their advantages. I have met so many people who really want to help the homeless and simply don’t know how, or don’t feel that they can have a big impact. What if we could target the low needs homeless people in the Tri Cities and connect them with people in their local community who can help them financially? Our low needs target would be people who have recently slipped into homelessness and are not addicted or hard to house. Looking at the Tri Cities homeless population of 200, a rough estimate of the low needs homeless would be around 20 people. These are 20 people whom we can help get out of homelessness before they get into the cycle of poverty and addiction. What if we could ask members of our local community, local businesses, and other groups to donate and support these low needs homeless people, tracking their progress on the website, and giving the community the opportunity to support them financially and also leave them encouraging comments on the website? Here we would be providing people with the chance to support someone who is not half way around the world, but lives in their very own community, without a home and in need of support and love from the people around them.

I welcome your comments and thoughts on this idea.

Viewpoints – What people think about Homelessness in Vancouver

14 06 2009

make good ideas happen!

I am a firm believer in the amazing power of human collaboration and while thinking about ideas for how to alleviate homelessness, for inspiration I decided to take a look at the over 100 comments which people left on the inov8 website. I think that good ideas don’t just come out of nowhere, and require revision and feedback from many people. So in order to “Make Good Ideas Happen!”, I would like to share just some of the many comments which people have shared about the homelessness issue. Feel free to add your views below, and take a look at the other comments by clicking here.

Sandy Burpee, Chair of the Tri Cities homelessness task force:

The causes of homelessness are well known, as are the solutions – the factors which continue to sustain it in Metro Vancouver are worth studying. I believe that public perceptions and attitudes have a lot to do with it. Homeless persons are often seen as objects, rather than persons that need compassion and support, not judgment and censure. The interweaving between homelessness and addiction just exacerbates this negative perception. Public censure just widens the gulf between homeless persons and the community, increasing their social isolation. BTW, I am chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group.


I also agree that the level of homelessness in “our own backyard” is totally unaceptable. Not only do we need to rely on our elected officials to take action (and we can impact that through voting), we need to look for ways of involving many more members of our communities. I also agree that we need to take action and support initiatives that will really make a difference. In my view a huge part of the problem relates to our lack of programs and support for those suffering from mental illness. Thank you for your efforts!


Blaming homeless people for being what they are will not solve the issue. Many of us say they are what they are because they are lazy, do not want to help themselves, and rely on other people for help, etc. In our complex world now, we are sometimes thrown into a situation which we have no control over and we need the support and help from our community to survive. We all have consistently turned a blind eye to this particular issue and it is sad that no one has taken them seriously. I have personally interacted with a few of them and it is sad to hear their story of how they have become this way. And I have also witnessed that given the proper tools and support, many of them have been productive to society. “The test of our progress is not whether or how we can add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we can provide enough for those who have little and need help.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt


Hi, Great topic, here’s my opinion. Maybe one question to address is: How do they get there to live on the streets? Is it because of financial reason or health issues? What I find frightening is that there are more & more families with children living on the streets too. How can a middle class family make ends meet in Vancouver, it is an expensive city to live in. How can a working middle management afford a 2 bedroom apartment in Vancouver? Middle class is getting poorer by the day, salaries don’t follow the rate of living. Unfortunately income doesn’t increase as quickly, therefore families & people may end up on the streets. The gap between rich people and middle class is widening up. While walking in Gastown I saw homeless people with animals and speaking French fluently. Showing that these persons are bright, have the ability to love and learn. They have the right to be treated with dignity & respect. Perhaps given the needed resources they would lead a productive life. People tend to stereotype homeless persons as addicted “nobodies”, that don’t deserve a second look or chance. Getting back to my question how do they get there? If it is not financial then it may be for mental health issues. Our government with its good ideas of saving money has deinstitutionalized people with mental issues that with a regular follow-up and medication can lead a good life but instead cause of lack of resources and monies theses persons are left to fend for themselves alone on the streets cause social & community organizations lack the necessary resources to help these persons. Too often unfortunately people with mental problems are not kept in hospitals therefore end up on the streets.

Solutions to Homelessness – Raising the Welfare and Minimum Wage Rates

12 06 2009


With Metro Vancouver real estate prices being extremely expensive, and a stagnant welfare rate over the years, one solution to homelessness would be to raise the welfare rates. As the Tyee newspaper wrote, “It’s cheaper — not to mention more humane — to help people pay their rent rather than rescue them after they fail.” Find out more about this solution by visiting Raise the Rates.

I wrote an e-mail to Wendy Pedersen, homeless advocate in the DTES, and here is her response:

The solutions to homelessness are systemic and require un-electing the liberals in BC and electing only people who will redistribute wealth properly.  Unless we talk about the unfairness of our current system and not work with those who are creating that system, we’ll never get anywhere.  The only feasible project you could design would be a campaign plan to raise welfare rates to $1300 a month and minimum wage to $13/hour and a national housing program that builds 30,000 or more units of housing a year like we used to in the 70’s. Homelessness would disappear. Reduce need for and cost of band-aids – outreach, treatment, emergency services etc.   The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has an end poverty campaign that you could investigate.  That’s the way to go.

This is more of a macro level solution to homelessness, driven by policy changes. I agree that in order for sustainable homelessness prevention, we need to look into the minimum wage. I believe in the living wage, because I think it is only fair that if a person is working full time, they can afford to at least support themselves, not even taking into consideration if they have children and a family. It breaks my heart to think about new immigrants or anyone who is working full time with a family, and has trouble making ends meet every month due to the low minimum wage in B.C. I was talking to Cathy Burpee, a member of the Tri Cities Society for Community Development, and her words and stories let me quickly realize how easy it is for someone to become homeless, and that we are all susceptible to it. Consider someone who works full time on the $8 per hour B.C. minimum wage (that’s $1280 per month without deducting taxes yet). If they are living from pay check to pay check with minimal savings, and were to get sick and be out of work for 6 months, could they support themselves? I could see them slipping into homelessness quite easily. Sometimes it’s shocking to think of how easy it is to become homeless.

I will consider micro level solutions in my next posts, where I will share some micro level solutions, involving individuals working together on innovative projects.

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