A Scary Prospect….

An acquaintance of mine is back on the streets, homeless once more. Now Kerry (I am taking his word that he does not mind me using his name as opposed to Mr. X) is bright, articulate and hard-working. Once he arrived in Abbotsford last spring he hustle jobs to get the cash together to meet the amount required to get off the street and into habitation. As I have observed, personally experienced and written about, getting the money needed to take that HUGE step from being homeless to having a home is daunting. Social assistance tends to be more a series of obstacles rather than of assistance and the shelter rate is so low and totally unrealistic that in its way it acts as a barrier as well. The city government has been a barrier to any organization wanting to help with the need for housing aimed to transition people off the street, into reduced rental housing, the workforce and on into the regular housing market. Thus it is that I find myself (as noted in the previous posting) starting work but facing another two months or so of homelessness in order to accumulate the stake needed to pay the full market rental costs in Abbotsford. Two tough months of struggling to get to work, managing to bath. to do laundry, be presentable and to somehow find enough food to eat.

It is fine for politicians and others, living in some world where they see only what they want to see, to talk so easily of “they just need to get off their lazy asses and find a job”. Reality is an entirely different matter. I have no idea of how many people this inability or refusal to understand a basic economic fact/truth has denied employment and housing to by failing to provide the badly needed aid to make the transition.

It was somewhat chilling to see Kerry back on the street while I am preparing for the scramble to (at some point) transition off the street. He was injured, could not work for several weeks (a broken ankle had him hobbling around with his foot encased) and having no savings (since it is hard enough to get enough $$$ together to get a place, you cannot manage a savings “cushion” as well) – BAM – out on the street. Social Assistance is not designed (but should be) to quickly step in and provide aid so you do not become homeless, bridging the gap until you can return to work. In fact the workers deny you the 185.00 (as well as the 325.00 which you would reasonable expect not to receive) claiming that homelessness prevents you from finding work. But the system will not do anything to prevent this homeless ness from occurring. Oh yes, it also ignores evidence it does not want to see – such as the fact that I managed to find employment while homeless (thanks in part to the current system) and dealing with, or at least trying to deal with, the idiocy of the current system. it just required a lot more determination and effort to overcome the millstone of the system’s “assistance”.

With all else that is on my plate in the struggle to get back on my feet, I really did not need to be reminded of the obstacles faced in that undertaking and how fragile ones grip on home, work and even a very basic, simple lifestyle can be.

Dignity

I took a seat beside him because he was reading a copy of the article on this blog from somethingcool.ca. I had printed off several copies and left them for other homeless to find and read so that I could get some feedback.

Once seated I found he had had to much to drink. He was a little on the scruffy side so most would have avoided him in the first place, throw in being drunk and the ‘avoiders’ would have been giving him a wide berth. At an earlier point I would have been one of those going out of their way in avoidance. I would then have missed out on the thoughts raised in listening and talking to him.

Aside: One of the somewhat surprising things I have learned from this arduous life lesson concerns listening. I have learned much of interest to me from a wide variety of individuals. A favorite group from a person who is mentally challenged; things I needed to help me deal with life on the street from my fellow homeless; an insight from a scruffy drunk. So – practice your listening skills, you could learn a lot of interest and use this way. Not necessarily from the homeless but from your family, friends and those around you.

He was quite upset with the statement that the system, the government and the public lump us all together and view us as one type. It developed that he was not disputing the claim that we are all viewed as one thing, rather he was upset with all those who lumped so many different individuals, stories and situations into one big pile and stick ONE label on all. He did not deny his alcohol problem, freely admitting to it. However, he stressed that he worked for the money he spent on alcohol. He did not collect welfare, did not rob or steal and while it may not be considered a traditional job he EARNED his own money – and paid taxes too (if only sales and excise taxes). He is one of those ‘lazy bums’ who are far from lazy, working hard for his money. It upset him greatly to be lumped together under one label. Worth noting is the fact that he had the courtesy to ask if he was disturbing me (I had the Daily News on my lap. And only continued the conversation when I had assured him he was not disturbing me.

As I reviewed this conversation in my mind and thought not just about the words themselves but what he was in fact ‘saying’ I realized that we were talking about dignity. I was about to use the word simple with reference to human dignity but I realized there is nothing simple about human dignity. Dignity is a part of human nature, something we all have/need and one of the first things taken from the homeless. The system, government and public view and treat the poor, those in need and the homeless as worthless excess baggage – a burden to society. Beat these people down with labels, attitudes, actions, the police and treat them as throw away people. Many look down their noses. I have heard people I know speak with contempt about the homeless (se Footnote 1 below). I know from the backgrounds of some of these folk that it was only through the best of luck, the workings of blind chance, that they have home, family and a comfortable life rather than being homeless and on the streets themselves. Perhaps it is some inner knowledge of just how close they came, how truly lucky they are, that makes them so vehement in the condemnation of the homeless and those in need. In the same vein of ex-smokers being so vehement about anti smoking laws or quitting smoking.

Worthless. Burden. Human garbage. Drunks. Druggies. Ignorant. Lazy. Uneducated. Bums. Freeloaders. Chipping away until their dignity is gone. Yet they turn around and ask “Have you no pride?” – no, the system, government and public have beaten down so many of the disadvantaged, the homeless. Until they reach the point where there is no sense even trying for them. Then beats upon them for having this outlook of despair.

There are any number of inspirational speakers and sayings stressing how important attitudes are in any endeavour. That self image and belief are needed for success. How we look at ourselves and the world affects strongly our motivation. The inner conversations we have, what thoughts our minds are fed, our dreams – all affect our actions. You can live your dreams OR live your fears and self doubts.

I wonder just what the effect of building up their self-esteem/image, of granting them human dignity, of treating them (others) as you would want to be treated yourself would be? That would require ideologues in government and the public to open their minds about the reality of the poor and the homeless, actually see what is and change their Behaviours. SNORT. Yea, right. Open those closed minds? Hmmmm. With more members of local church congregations aware of and wanting to help….. perhaps a miracle such as open minds can be hoped (prayed) for.

Footnote 1 – Dignity

I have been accused of having to much pride in that I have not asked for all the help as often as I could – or more importantly as often as I should have. Pride? Or just the need ton preserve my dignity? I do not know. I will acknowledge that as my self-esteem has healed my ability to share the fact of my being homeless with others has grown. It is also true that after the latest ‘put down the homeless’ rant I heard I had to send the web address to this site to the household, not as Mr. H but as moi. I have not yet heard back but it was something I felt I had to do and was comfortable with whatever comes of that action. Of course this does emphasize that people have an image I in their heads of the homeless, an often highly inaccurate image, and do not see me (a homeless person) as fitting their image. Having judged me as a fellow worthwhile citizen they feel free to denigrate the homeless to me – how very ironic. A person at the table I was eating lunch at the Salvation Army at was likewise running down the homeless (or perhaps just trying to build herself up by putting others down0. When someone at the table informed her I was homeless she refused to believe it. After all I was to clean and presentable – not at all like the public perception of the homeless. She may well still not believe I was homeless but she did act differently after being informed I was homeless. lol She claimed she only came to the Salvation Army for company over lunch (from those she deems acceptable) and so she would not have any dishes to clean up. If these are the true reasons she was eating food prepared for those in need I can only suggest she take a long, hard, soul searching look in the mirror before decides to disparage the homeless. A case of the pot calling the kettle “sooty bottom”.

I will stop here and leave you with this thought – what does it truly say about the public at larges views and the true nature of the homeless that these self-appointed experts, who felt free to hold forth on how terrible and worthless homeless people are, cannot even recognize a homeless person sitting in front (or beside) them?

Stop wasting $$$…

… and there will be more than enough $$$!!

While writing the article concerning the fact that the City of Abbotsford currently wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs associated with the homeless to accomplish nothing, rather than spend money in a manner that would benefit both the city and the homeless, a thought occurred to me. Should the city try to get the provincial government to fund programs that are actually designed to address homelessness in a positive and effective manner, the province would undoubtedly cry “No money.” This seems a favorite response, unless the money is directed into the pockets of the well off, big corporations or the politicians pockets.

  • To help those who are in need of help – “No money.”
  • To fund programs to address the many different facets and aspects of homelessness and poverty? “No money.”
  • To deal with the reality of homelessness – “No money.”
  • To have the system actually render aid and help to those who need the help to get back on their feet – even if it means accepting that some freeloaders will get to freeload, but that those trying to find work and get back on their economic feet will get a helping hand? “No money.”

  • To serve the ideology of the government and embarrass the opposition? Millions, hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars to waste.

As has been all over the news recently, a company is proposing a service between Vancouver and the Island. Where did the ferries for this proposed service come from? Why these are the same ferries that the provincial Liberal government rushed to sell at sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub- sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-basement sale prices to make sure they could blame the NDP (who are themselves not without blame in the ferry fiasco). The ferries the government claimed ere no good, although it appears all that is needed to get use out of the ferries is so competence. Say, are we not currently spending hundreds of millions more providing jobs and benefits in a foreign country to purchase 3 ferries? Plus, just how much did the current government waste on P3’s? Evidently enough that the new Abbotsford hospital is a profitable investment for trading among foreign banks (Foreign? Again?).

How would I propose that we fund changes to the current system? Changes based on what is needed to address the varied needs of the diverse homeless people. Fund experimental programs to see what works, what does not and which are the most effective approaches. To actually begin to address homelessness rather than use it as a distraction or bogey man for the voters.

Funding is not a problem – if we can just get the provincial government to stop wasting all those hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

You are ALREADY paying.

I got an email from an individual who had visited the homeless in abbotsford site and was working, himself, on trying to get something done about the homeless situation. (Quick aside – he offered any help he could to me – even something as simple as laundry, which I may need to accept in order to dry out dampness from our weather. Anyway, thank you sir for you kind offer). He did note that he expected that Abbotsford Mayor George Ferguson would say it was a provincial responsibility and the city had no money for doing anything. Mr. Ferguson et al: recall the words on Charles Dickens as expressed through the character of Marley “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Which calls to mind the ‘Mankind is our business’ of the Rotary organization.

But let us set aside the moral bankruptcy of focusing on the question of dollars and cents and just address the question of city spending on homelessness. REALITY: the city is currently spending thousands, more likely HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of dollars on homelessness. Every time the police stop to wake up and move on a sleeping homeless person the city is paying salary for the time spent moving – often over and over – the homeless. This is true for every call or interaction the police have with the homeless. Haul them to jail – more dollars added to the amount spent on homelessness. Something needs clean up? – more dollars. Dollars and more dollars spent in numerous and varied ways adding up and up and up. But these costs are hidden in other budgets so those who fail to think just say “no money” to spend on homelessness – as if they were not already spending hundreds of thousands. Remaining with just the police. The police department claims it needs more resources to deal with the local gang situation and with the gang shoot outs in public places all over the news they may well get it. But – I wonder just how many more resources they would have available Right Now for dealing with the gangs, before these gangs grow in power and trouble caused, IF they were not required to spend all that time moving the homeless from spot to spot. Because all you do is move them from spot to spot, over and over again, until you begin to address the underlying needs.

So the city is currently spending hundreds of thousands in direct costs and incurring all kinds of hidden costs (things that do not get dealt with because of the need to spend time dealing with the homeless situation) on homelessness. And what is it getting? What is accomplished? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The ranks of the homeless continue to grow. And why does all this waste occur? Lack of leadership. In this day and age it seems that leadership consists of finding out which way the wind blows, the mob is heading or what the public believes and getting out in front, into the so-called lead. This is NOT leadership. Leadership is studying the real situation, seeing what has to be done and even if unpopular doing it. Leadership is standing in front of the crowd and saying this is the wrong way to go, explaining why and where the crowd needs to go/be doing and LEADING the way to dealing with the actual problems. Those who are in the public eye who have pretensions of being leaders need to keep in mind what real leadership is about. There is enough smoke and mirrors used by the politicians on the question of the homeless that we do not need any more. What we do need is real, thoughtful leadership.

Just remember that we are already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in dealing with the fallout from the homeless situation. It is just that currently all that money is WASTED on the symptoms of the problem rather than being invested in dealing with the problem. So if you are tired of the old ‘money down the drain’ way of operating, demand a little really leadership on the homeless. If the politicians continue to prefer to be obstacles and refusing to be leaders in this area, well it is time to find and rally around someone willing to lead. Someone who is not about a popularity contest or what they believe is the case, but about looking at what is and what needs to be done.

Giving Thanks

I want to take a few minutes to say thank you to some deserving people. To all those who got together and held a Christmas Eve dinner for the homeless and disadvantaged – Thanks. To the kind people at MCC supportive Care Services who gave us games, music, story telling and a great meal on Christmas Day itself – Thanks. To the thoughtful member of al-anon who invited several of the meeting attendees who lacked a Christmas dinner destination to join her and her family – Thanks. To the people who put on the pancake breakfast in downtown old Abbotsford: nice job – I saw the joy on the faces of several people who attended and received not only food but many items very useful to those on the street and/or in need and heard how thankful they were for your thoughtfulness. To those who served a lunch at the Salvation Army on Tuesday December 27, I (we) appreciated your time – especially the young ladies who where there with their mother. Not only were they instrumental in serving the food but also their smiles and manners were a special Christmas treat – Thank you.

A general thank you for all those who took it upon themselves to help give those of us who need help to get back on our feet to have a more merry time.

I would be very remiss if I failed to take the opportunity to thank those members of the congregation of the Church of the Nazarene who come down to Street Hope on Wednesday evenings with food (tasty), gloves, hats, outerwear, clothes and the so necessary bedding. More, they take the time to get to know the people, to listen, to talk to them and treat everyone as real human beings. What a boost to the moral. What a difference in the way all to many treat the homeless – as a nuisance to be avoid and/or removed from (their) sight.

Oh and for those scrooges at social assistance for their dis-assistance a BAH-HUMBUG!!

For our so called leaders – a mighty BAH-HUMBUG for not only failing to address the many and varied shortcomings of the current system, but also for the fact that they so often fail to see the reality of the situation through their rose coloured glasses and for failing to heed Albert Einstein when he said “A man should look for what is, and not what he thinks should be”. Open up your minds, take a look at the real world and start to address the situation.