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 http://helpthehomeless.wordpress.com

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.

Cheers,

Jackie.





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

14 06 2009

questions

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 in Numbers

31 05 2009

poverty olympics

Just how many homeless people are there living in Metro Vancouver? On March 11, 2008 there was a count of homeless people, attempting to estimate the scale of the homeless problem in Metro Vancouver.  A point in time count was conducted, looking at the number of homeless people in any given day. You can see the full report here, and I will summarize the key findings below:

  1. The general count found 2,660 homeless people, with 41% being sheltered and 59% on the street. Because it was a point in time methodology, this number is an extremely conservative estimate.
  2. The number of homeless people grew by 22% in the region. What is astounding, is that many suburban municipalities saw more than 100% growth. The Tri Cities homeless number grew the most, at 140% compared to the 2005 count!
  3. There are more homeless on the street in 2008 (59%) compared to in 2005 (52%). Of the homeless living on the street, 3 out of 4 live in inhumane places, including the street, abandoned buildings, and public spaces.
  4. There are still more homeless men, but the number of homeless women is rising at a faster rate
  5. Just like the rest of Metro Vancouver, the homeless population is aging, with an average age of 41 in 2008 compared to 38 in 2005.
  6. Aboriginal people are worst affected by homelessness. While they only represent 2% of the population (based on a census), they make up 32% of the homeless population.
  7. 84% of the homeless population suffers from complex health problems. This is a 47% increase since 2005. These health problems include: addiction (61%), mental illness (33%), and physical disability (31%).
  8. 43% of the homeless receive income assistance as their major source of income, which is a 30% increase compared to 2005.

These statistics have forced me to ask the following fundamental questions:

  • If there are 30% more homeless people with access to income assistance, why has the number of homeless people still increased?
  • With the Winter 2010 Olympics coming to Vancouver, has it raised the costs of living, especially housing, so much that the affordability of living in Vancouver is just too high for those near the poverty line?
  • Why is the number of homeless women rising faster than men?
  • Why do aboriginal people make up such a huge proportion of the homeless population, relative to their size? What problems do we need to fix there?
  • Why was the greatest increase in homeless numbers found in the Tri Cities?




NIMBY!

31 05 2009

NIMBY

My last post was about the principle of valuing all people and treating everyone with dignity and respect, even those who are out-casted and marginalized from our society. The comments I received from this post were generally positive – people seemed to agree about the importance of valuing every single person as true human beings. Then something came to my mind – when I was volunteering in Coquitlam for the Cold Wet Weather Mat Program in its first year, we had to get it approved by the City Council. The situation was that there was and still is a growing number of homeless people in the Tri Cities and unlike the DTES there is no permanent shelter in the Tri Cities. This was my first time working with homelessness, and I figured that the idea of the Cold Weather program, which used church facilities as temporary shelters during the cold winter months, would be something that would be a guaranteed yes in the minds of everyone in my community. However, I was wrong and when I went to the city council meeting it brought record numbers of people who wanted to have their say about this temporary shelter idea – the city councilors had to stay well past 1am listening to the communities’ voices and there were a good amount on both the yes and no sides. The main objections of people to having a homeless shelter could be summed up by the statement, “Yes there is a problem and we need to help them, but don’t’ put the shelter so close to home – not in our backyard!” I looked back at the City Council records, and the arguments for this were based on these ideas:

  • The churches which will house the homeless are very near schools
  • Most of the homeless people are addicted
  • Our communities will see more theft, vandalism, and crimes
  • It is possible that the homeless people could have criminal records
  • It is possible that the homeless person could be a pedophile.
    • (Isn’t this also true for the person sitting next to you in a public bus stop, or at the movie theatres?)
    • Homeless people could be there at the same time that the church’s kids program
      • And they could also be walking down the street and sharing the same sidewalk as us..

I could go on, but it seemed clear to me that there were many prejudices about homeless people. Homeless people are simply a group of people with one thing in common: they are all homeless. Continuing to hold such prejudices and separate the homeless from our communities would only keep the homeless people marginalized and away from the goal of re-integrating them back into society. We have to realize that if we are to solve the problem of homelessness, we would have to accept that they would be living with us – our neighbors even, if we are to achieve the goal of bringing them back into society. It seems like we want to help them, but only if it doesn’t affect our lives at all. Only if it’s “not in our backyard”.  As I thought of Bill’s principle more, I had to think back at these experiences, because it’s often easy to agree and say that homelessness is a problem and something should be done about it, but the real challenge to our statements is when solutions start getting proposed which may affect our lives, and require changes in our perceptions, beliefs, and actions. I must ask:

If not in our backyard, then in whose?

If not now, then when?





A Permanent Homeless Shelter = Permanent solution?

21 05 2009

I contacted local politicians to get an update about their thoughts, and the current status of the homelessness initiatives in the Tri Cities. Here’s what I have found out so far:

  • Dennis Marsden, from the BC Liberals, writes that “The Tri Cities Cold Weather mat program is a valuable tool to assist at extreme times and I am supportive of this type of program as a part of a strategy to a longer term plan including transitional shelters and ultimately a more permanent solution.”
  • Diane Thorne, my local NDP representative, informed me that currently the City of Coquitlam has donated a site for a permanent shelter in the Tri Cities, but actions still need to be taken to ensure that provincial funding can help get the facility up and running. Diane wrote that she has spoken in the legislature about getting funding for the shelter, as well as other solutions to housing issues in B.C.
    • She wrote, “Homelessness would also be reduced if services such as supportive housing for the mentally ill on the Riverview site were expanded instead of selling off the property to a private developer for condo towers, as suggested by Housing Minister Coleman.”
    • Diane supports affordable housing, stating that, “There are a number of affordable housing alternatives available — all that is needed is the political will to support and expand these options.”

It seems that both politicians support working towards a permanent shelter. But is a permanent shelter the solution to the homelessness problem? What do you think? If so, how long do you think it will take to get funding for such a shelter?





Welcome to Give a Voice

17 05 2009

While I am extremely interested in social issues affecting vulnerable populations all over the world, I would like to start my blog by focusing on the homelessness problem in my own hometown. In the Winter of 2007, I was heavily involved in the Cold Wet Weather Mat Program in the Tri Cities, and after having just returned to Vancouver after studying abroad in Vienna, Austria for one year, I would like to investigate the issue once again. Soon you will be able to find out more about the CWWM Program in the “Local Homelessness Issue” page above, so you can get updated on what projects I have been up to.

With this blog, I will be sharing my investigations of local homelessness in the Tri Cities and in Vancouver. I will share my conversations with people working towards the elimination of homelessness in these areas – including local polititians, the Hope for Freedom Society, the Tri Cities Homelessness Task Force, Wendy Pederson, and volunteers from soup kitchens. I will also post resources, news articles, and stories which will help you get to know the problem better. Please feel free to leave me a comment if you have any other ideas about how to investigate this problem!

Currently I am reading several books on global issues and problems, capitalism, corporate social responsibility, and different ideas about how to create a world without poverty. I will also share interesting ideas and thoughts from my readings in this blog.

To finish off my first blog post, I’d like to share a poem from Homeless Nation, Canada’s online homeless community:

MY NAME IS NOBODY
Let me tell you of a place that exists
in so many cities and towns;
The city may change in location
and size but this place exists.
Most people try to turn their eyes,
and say it does not exist.
This place? It is the place of the homeless

Who am I?
And what gives me the right to say that most people
Try to say it does not exist?
My name is Nobody
I heard a mother say in response to her child’s enquiry
“Mommy, who is that man?”
As she pointed toward me
“Nobody, dear, he is a homeless man.”

by MYRLIN