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.


A day on the streets

1 06 2009

Imagine yourself in downtown Vancouver, sitting in an alley way in the middle of a cold December evening. It’s been snowing all week and the rain has turned the snow into slush, which is seeping into the newspapers and cardboard which makes your bed. People are walking by the sidewalk, which is your living room, as they make their way back home. It’s cold, wet and you’re thinking about where to get your next meal. You heard about a new social services office that might be able to get you connected with housing, but you’re embarrassed about your smell and appearance. Just as you’re about to fall asleep for your usual 3-4 hours per night, some rowdy kids come by and kick around your stuff. You begin to wonder if you’ll ever get re-integrated into society again.

This is a fictional short story which depicts the everyday reality of many homeless people in our city today. I have learned some surprising things about homeless people – things that I would never have guessed if I didn’t truly put myself into the perspective of someone who does not have a steady roof over their heads every night. For example, some of the biggest desires that homeless people wanted was simply a shower. Homeless people want their dignity too, and one of these is derived from being clean and presentable. Furthermore, things like socks and underwear are some of the biggest needs that homeless people have – when you’re on the streets all day even a little bit of rain can soak your feed through, and underwear is not one of the usual items given in donated clothing. Putting myself in the shoes of a homeless person allowed me to better understand their needs and situation.

Craig Keilburger, founder of Free the Children, once said,

“Empathy is when you look into the eyes of another person and see yourself.”

Bill Strickland’s Principle: People are assets, not liabilities.

25 05 2009

Bill Strickland changed the face of Pittsburgh’s highest crime rate neighborhood by creating a successful vocational training center which gives disadvantaged kids an opportunity to pursue successful careers in the arts and beyond. I got the opportunity to listen to him speak yesterday night. What caught my attention about Bill was his unfailing commitment to give disadvantaged kids the very best in every detailed aspect of the center: the building had beautiful architecture and design, the latest technology and equipment were used in their facilities, and even the flowers in the building were fresh flowers, not plastic ones. In our cost cutting, profit maximizing world, I had to question the business decision of spending so much on such an elaborate center, with perhaps the alternative of cutting back on some costs in order to build more such centers. However, Bill’s method has been proven to lead to amazing achievements from students – Bill’s principle is that it’s how you treat people that matters, and how you think about people which dictates the outcome. If we look down at these disadvantaged kids and assume that they lack intelligence and skills, then they won’t succeed. However, if we look at them as human beings with potential and simply unfortunate circumstances, then we can realize that people are a function of their environment and can succeed when given the world class tools to succeed.

I think Bill’s principle can be applied towards the solution of many other social problems. Consider Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus’ microcredit financial lending model, which lends poor people small amounts of money for their business, and believes in their entrepreneurial ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Instead of looking at poor people as uneducated people who can’t help themselves, Yunus valued their creative entrepreneurial abilities and changed their environmental circumstances to give them the investment they needed to succeed.

Perhaps this principle can be applied to the homeless population in Vancouver. As Sandy Burpee, Chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group wrote, “Homeless persons are often seen as objects, rather than persons that need compassion and support.” Perhaps we can design a solution to homelessness which helps change public attitudes and is centered on looking at marginalized people as what they are – human beings with amazing potential.

The Great Turning: Be The Change Conference

25 05 2009

final_banner - be the change conference

Yesterday I met some amazing people when I attended a full day conference called “The Great Turning: An Unconference to Be the Change.” The conference used a powerful tool called circle talks, where groups of 10 or less have intimate and open discussions with each other. Each circle focused on a different social issue, including sustainable food systems, community gardens, poverty in Canada and in the world, and public policy decisions such as carbon tax vs. cap and trade systems. As a business student, I have attended many conferences before and worked on several projects with students, and what I really liked about this conference was the opportunity to meet engaged citizens from all kinds of backgrounds. Among the people I met were: a mother who is fighting for the living wage (a wage that allows adequate income for everyone who is working full time) trying to create a better world for her daughter to live in, a college professor who does research and now wants to find a way to use her skills to help NGOs, a small business woman who wants to create an action circle in her neighborhood in order to build community in our busy lives, and an entrepreneur who wants to change the world by changing the way we look at food.

I loved how this event brought together people from all walks of life in our community – although we were each inspired by different things, and with different perspectives and ideas, we were all united by our common passion to engage ourselves in social issues. I learned so much from engaging in rich dialogue where it wasn’t simply about having different opinions and ending with “Okay you have your viewpoint, I have mine, and who knows what is right.” Rather, it was open dialogue with a search for truth and for solutions. It was refreshingly different, and I’m very glad to have participated in such an event.

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:

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.”