In the House

Not much has changed.

Lynn Nash, a former superintendant for our school district, former President of the Campbell River Food Bank, former Director of the Campbell River Head Injury Society, states, in his support for the current provincial government, that “our house is in order”. I hate to break it to him, but there are lots of people trapped in the basement. Some of these people used to be under your care, Mr. Nash – namely, students, the poor and hungry, and disabled. In defending your letter by stating “all I did was put down the facts”, there were some important ones you missed.
Upstairs in your “house of order” you praise the Tyee Spit upgrades, cruise ship dock, water and sewer to the airport, one new school being built, housing starts and highway uupgrades.
In the basement of that house, there is a terrible mess and the cries for help and justice are not being heard. These come from people who cannot afford to rent a home let alone buy one, disabled people who cannot get the medical transportation they need to take that upgraded highway to the medical care they need. It includes parents and students who had their community schools closed and who have been stuffed into overcrowded leftovers. It includes adults and children who cannot afford to eat nutritious food, who go to school and minimum wage workplaces hungry, tired, and with untreated dental problems. It includes people with renal failure, active liver disease, crippling arthritis, stroke, mental illnesses and head injuries, who cannot qualify for the disability assistance the government brags about. It includes children who live in unsafe housing and who cannot go to proper child care facilities because the people upstairs in your house scrapped their commitment to funding universal daycare.
In the back corner of the basement are twice as many homeless as there were three years ago, 75 per cent of whom are not on welfare because they cannot get it, and they contribute to the 40 percent increase in food bank demand. With their backs against the wall are poor and disabled people who cannot access help for their human rights, their debt issues, their legal problems such as tenancy issues, elder abuse, or accessing a benefit they are entitled to. They cannot find a legal advocate because most of those programs lost their funding along with the 40 percent cut to Legal Aid. Some of the people in the basement are out working, at six dollars an hour, or at part time, temporary, contractual jobs, some to try to save up so they can afford to take a few university classes, and many under adverse conditions , because changes to the Employment Standards Legislation gave some “flexibility” to employers and weakened safeguards to workers. Just like the Residential Tenancy Act changes ghettoized many tenants. It is quite crowded in the basement from those twenty thousand public sector employees who lost their jobs, and the others who received a 15 percent wage reduction. There are special needs students wandering around because they have no one to one support or supervision, and before and after school program cuts have many children alone when they shouldn’t be. Some of the seniors in the basement have been moved out to places south because there are no beds here for them. The thirty percent cut to the Ministry of Children and Families has many frightened and needy children scrambling out of the cracks they have fallen into in the basement of this house.
The economy, Mr. Nash, applies to everyone in your “house” not just those upstairs. The wealth of this community has been out of reach to many, so I suggest you go down to the basement and see for yourself. A start would be to visit your old stomping grounds and ask if those people feel they are better off now than they were four years ago. It is your duty, as the head of our house, to do so.
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Society not to blame for youth crime?

There is an old African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. While I agree that parents and family have the primary responsibility to raise good children, each of us plays a part in every child’s life. We need to take responsibility for that. After all, it is the adults who police their streets, write their laws, teach their lessons, care for their health, monitor the quality of their food, air and water, produce television programs, newspapers, magazines and music.
Everywhere we look children are exposed to violence, poverty, neglect, family break up, temptations of alcohol, tobacco, sex, drug abuse, greed, materialism, peer pressure, and spiritual emptiness. Against this bleak backdrop stands the families of children who are not immune to the influences of our modern society, and who may lack the skills and resources to be the parents we want them to be.
It is the environment of a child that contributes to the development of their character. Children will thrive only if their families thrive and if their community cares enough to provide for them. This calls for caring neighbours, attentive doctors, unburdened social workers, innovative public schools, keen teachers, supportive coaches, hands on ministers, creative bureaucrats, enlightened politicians, fair legislators, informed voters, safe streets, and an economy that supports a decent and dignified standard of living for every person.
Each of us directly or indirectly has an influence on the life of children who are not our own. Society is ultimately to blame for our wayward youth. If we all work together to bring them up then maybe we won’t have to take them down with a baseball bat.

Homelessness- Not what you think.

Myths about Homelessness

Homeless Action Week, October 12th to October 19th, is intended to highlight the homelessness situation in our province. There are vigils planned across B.C. Some groups are fasting, some are holding political rallies, others are having resource fairs, and agencies that can are increasing their food and clothing distributions. I applaud all of these initiatives. But, I don’t think we need a special week to bring homelessness to the attention of anyone, it is pretty obvious that there are too many people who do not have homes. There is just cause, however, to educate the public and our leaders as to the reasons behind homelessness in our communities. We need this week to focus on breaking some of the myths that prevent community members and leaders from really caring about this issue, and making the problem of homelessness a priority to solve rather than just another cause of the day. There are a lot of myths out there about homeless people. Here are seven, one to represent every day of Homeless Action Week.
Myth number one; People choose to be homeless. I hear this opinion frequently, and sadly, from politicians, those who have the power and mandate to make a difference. To say someone chooses to sleep outside and experience all the indignities that go with that type of existence, to suggest that those who couch surf prefer this type of transient lifestyle, to determine that those who put up with beatings and abuse in exchange for shelter must not mind it or they would leave, shows that we are nowhere near solving the issue when we still do not understand why it exists and worse, we blame the homeless for their plight. It is always easier to blame the victim when that victim is bothering you for a handout, when that victim smells and looks bad, when that victim has loud arguments with imaginary companions, when that victim goes back to the abuse but continues to ask for assistance, when the victim continually uses the resources of cash and manpower strapped social service agencies but does not improve his or her living situation. It is easy to blame the victim when they cannot get or hold down a job, cannot find an apartment like the rest of us seem to be able to, when the victim cannot stay clean and sober. Many people look down their noses and say they choose to do that. They choose to have mental illness, learning disabilities, childhood trauma, childhood poverty, broken homes, health problems, sudden job loss, or for their rent go up beyond what their income is. I hope my sarcasm is well noted. These are not choices people make. For those who are so damaged by trauma, mental health and addiction issues, for those taken out of institutions with no proper supports, for those who have made bad or stupid choices, we must remember that they were not capable of making informed choices in the first place. It is like blaming a two year old for touching a hot stove. Addicts do not choose to become addicts. Often the drugs are the only safe place they have from their long history of personal pain, some of which is so horrofic we cannot even begin to comprehend. Until we change the circumstances around them, the addictions will remain their one fix they can rely on.Myth number two; Homeless people do not seek assistance and services and would simply prefer to be on the street. The data proves that when people are approached in a respectful and kind manner and with available and appropriate resources, they are eager to accept help towards self-sufficiency. National outreach professionals agree that it takes multiple contacts to build trust towards accepting assistance. Most people living on the street have little or no history of trusting or safe relationships. Parents have abandoned them. Caregivers have abused them. Partners have beaten them. Bullies have humiliated them. Schools have failed them. Employers have rejected them. Fellow homeless have stolen from them. Drug sellers have offered them a scourge of mind altering substances. Government has taken away their social safety net. Many have had no experience being housed permanently and with no access to training and supports, all they know is the street. It is not their preference, but it is their comfort zone.Myth number three; Homeless people are lazy and just do not want to work and are looking for a free ride. They do not care about their future. One in five homeless people are employed. Many homeless people are among the working poor, and a relatively small percentage of them receive government assistance. Welfare rates and minimum wages do not even meet the poverty line. There are no incentives for people on income assistance to work, and the costs of employment often make it impossible to keep that employment. How can someone get a job when they don’t have a home? How can one think about their future when they are too busy thinking about where their next meal is coming from, and where they are going to sleep in order to stay warm and dry?
Myth number four; It is easy to be poor and homeless. For those not having a warm place to live during the winter and missing days worth of meals, life is not easy. For those telling their kids the family is camping because they don’t want the kids to know their permanent home is a tent, life is not easy. For those who pull their teeth out with pliers to deal with pain they cannot pay a dentist to fix, life is not easy. It is highly unlikely that there are any homeless people who actually enjoy it or choose is consciously and with a clear mind.
Myth number five; Homeless people are mostly single men. In reality, families constitute a large and growing percentage of the homeless population. A recent study found that families comprise 38% of the urban homeless population. Other research has found that homeless families comprise the majority of homeless people in rural areas. Most don’t realize this because homeless families stay hidden.
Myth number six; Homeless people are dangerous and they break the law. In general, the homeless are among the least threatening group in our society and are more likely to be victims of crime. Although they are more likely to commit non-violent and non-destructive crimes, they are less likely to commit crimes against person or property.

Myth number seven; Charitable groups will take care of the homeless. The growth of homelessness has far exceeded the capacity of charitable groups, many of whom struggle just to keep an address and employees on payroll. It cannot be left up to non profit societies and churches to apply band-aids to this public wound. Homelessness is a societal problem that requires a partnership between charities and the government, and the key to make this happen is active public support.
For those who have homes and resources, there is a social and moral responsibility to ensure the well-being of other community members who lack these essentials. When one suffers, we all suffer. Poverty tends to roll uphill and none of us are untouchable. More and more people are realizing this in 2008. In fact, at some point in their lives, one out of fifteen readers of this column will find themselves homeless, either living on the streets, in a shelter, or sleeping on a friend’s floor. Many of us live one paycheck away from eviction, and many more barely cover our living expenses even with the money we earn in forty and fifty hours on the job each week. So don’t be too quick to judge those who are currently less fortunate than you are right now. Don’t let the myths define your reality.

Poor First Aid

Politically Incorrect!

There is just cause, sometimes, to be politically incorrect and even risk offending people in your community. This is one of those times.

Campbell River is a giving community. We donate to the food bank, the soup kitchen, the shelter, camp for impoverished kids, the pediatric ward, mentoring programs, christmas presents, breakfast programs, and hot lunch programs. Teachers are struggling to help some students at least to eat and at times personally paying for food. Over and above what is donated by corporations and individuals, our tax dollars go to support more band-aids for the poor. Yes, I said it. Band-aids.

Hunger is not the problem. Parental inability to buy christmas presents or a turkey is not the problem. Children having no access to recreation or role models is not the problem. Children who are sick with asthma from mold induced allergies, or scabies from poor living conditions, or low immunity due to poor diets are not the problem. POVERTY is the problem and investments are needed to address systemic sources of disadvantage.

People do not have enough food, they eat an unbalanced diet relying on low-cost food, they have anxiety about food supply or stress associated with trying to meet daily food needs and are ashamed about having to acquire food through socially unacceptable means such as food banks, soup kitchens, buying food on credit, and, in some cases, stealing. The coping strategy of many parents is to compromise their own nutritional intake to feed their children as best as they can.

This issue affects the health of our entire community. If we keep throwing money at the surface wounds we are never going to get to the infection and that infection is having long-lasting impacts on our community citizens. Most recent data indicate that nearly 1.2 million children – almost one of every six children – live in low-income households. B.C. has had the highest rate of child poverty consistently for the past 7 years. Among low income families, 66% live in unaffordable housing, and just because it is unaffordable does not mean it is high end by any stretch of the imagination. Children make up 41% of food bank users, but only 25% of Canada’s population. Families are the fastest growing group needing emergency housing, shelters, transition houses, hostels. The lack of access to proper income assitsance rates, or for the working poor, to a living wage and to extended health care benefits denies quality of life and eyeglasses, prescription drugs, and dental care.

The systemic sources of poverty include extremely low welfare rates, minimum wages that do not allow for a basic standard of living, claw backs, lack of incentives to get ahead, no affordable housing, no continuum of care for people with mental handicaps, illnesses, or addictions, limited child care options, and social services and health care system that is completely ineffective in dealing with impoverished individuals and families.

We must invest in pathways out of poverty, not nice stops along the dead end road. We need to ensure there are good jobs at living wages that provide full-time work; an effective child benefit that is indexed; a system of affordable, universally accessible early learning and child care services available to all families irrespective of employment status; an affordable housing program that creates more affordable and safe housing and helps to sustain existing stock; and affordable and accessible postsecondary education and training programs that prepare youth and adults for employment leading to economic independence. We all need to join provincial and national coalitions aimed at ending child poverty. We need to stop defining it, analyzing it, setting up committee upon committee to meet about it because all that has produced few, if any, perceived results and has fragmented any responsible cohesive action plan which should be very simple. “Who”, “What”, and “By when?”

It is our elected officials who make the decisions that have kept people in poverty for so long and kept shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and responsive rather than preventative programs in business for far too long. It is up to us, the community, to realize this and as icky as it might seem, peek under the band aids to see what is really festering.

Crazy!

Yes, it’s crazy.

The B.C. Ministry of Health website says one in five British Columbians, or approximately 882,000 people, will experience some form of mental health disorder this year. It is also estimated that between one and three per cent have a developmental disability, and that 30 to 40 per cent of those have co-occurring mental health issues known as a dual diagnosis. In fact, developmental disability is the most common disability in psychiatric hospitals; yet the needs of people with mental health disorders and dual diagnoses are largely unmet. This is not just about the people who are experiencing these problems. It is about our society and its well-being, because we all suffer the consequences of these short sighted, money grubbing, misdirected and careless decisions made by our provincial government.

The Ministry of Health website also says: The Province of British Columbia is committed to a comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based system of mental health and addictions services. These services focus on health promotion, prevention, treatment and recovery, and support individuals’ and families’ resiliency and self-care.

I say that’s crazy.

I don’t mean to insult front line workers and mental health caregivers who I know are working diligently with the staffing, funding and mandates they are given to address the needs of this population. I do, however, mean to insult the government for lack of funding for much needed services that keep families intact and individuals safe from poverty, suffering, trauma, victimization and neglect.

We have people who are not being productive as they could be, we have people being incarcerated instead of medicated and/or receiving adequate therapies, whose recoveries are cut short because of lack of funding, or “cost effectiveness” as the government likes to put it. We have people homeless, addicted to drugs to ease their mental anguish, incarcerated or victimized for and by crimes that stem from disorders that could have been treated, and we have children in foster care that costs more than the continuum of care would have, and ultimately, individuals and families in distress.

I should mention that the cost of dealing with untreated mental illness is in no way effective and those costs are just coming out of other Ministries, those that run the jails, shelters, welfare budgets, child protection/foster care, law enforcement, courts, and morgues.

Rich Coleman says “I think we are actually doing a pretty good job.”

I say he has lost touch with reality.
Maybe he would like to tell that to parents in Kamloops who had their three youngest children removed by the B.C. government after they gave shelter to their violent, mentally ill adult son, who had been turned away from government care. He was living in a secure youth residence, with 24-hour supervision, but when he turned 19, making him an adult, the ministry was no longer responsible for him. There was no other government agency or community agency to house him. He left the home as soon as his siblings were apprehended, he is now charged with assaulting a police officer and robbery, only two of the three children are back home. The other had a nervous breakdown over the incident.
Would it had not been more cost effective to keep him housed and stable, rather than tossing him into the void that exists especially for young adults who have mental illness? We would have saved money on foster care and now the treatment of the other child, and avoided tossing him like garbage into the criminal justice system. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, and families all across our province are desperate for help and not receiving anything but lip service on a website and a smug retort from the Minister responsible for Housing and Social Development. And for those whose conditions have costs them their families, friends, and caregivers, they are left to join the others without voices in this province, many you see on the streets. This is not indicative a pretty good job.

Bricks and Stones

Blaming the homeless for not having homes.

Campbell River recently beat the provincial average. A homeless person dies every 12 days in B.C., according to the BC Coroners Service, not two in one day. The average age at death is 45 years. The five leading causes of death among the homeless are natural disease, drug poisoning, blunt injuries, hanging, and drowning. Of course they are dying from natural diseases, how are you supposed to manage your diabetes, high blood pressure, dental infections that go to your heart, or cancer, when you don’t have a home?
If you are someone who blames the homeless for their situation and does not feel so charitable towards the issue, then think of this. According to the Ministry of Health, our hospitals are sheltering homeless patients in acute care beds because, even though they no longer need to be in hospital, they have nowhere else to go. This ‘alternative level of care” costs a thousand dollars a day per homeless person. Keeping them on the streets costs at least $55,000.00 a year but some say that between ER visits, ambulance trips, court appearances, drug and alcohol treatment, incarceration and shelters it is more like $100,000. The cost of a unit of supportive housing, by comparison, is about $37,000 a year. If you do the math, you know what the answer is.
Poverty is now the leading cause of homelessness in Canada. It used to be substance abuse and mental illness. Now there are families, women, students, immigrants, aboriginals, many working, all who just need a place to rent that they can pay for and still afford to eat.
There is just cause to suggest that had there been two business people found dead in the streets, or two school children or two grandmothers, the community would be up in arms. But when you are homeless, hurting, addicted and/or mentally ill we seem to devalue those lives, they are not as important as the others. If they are lost because of homelessness and the impacts of living rough, then it really is yesterdays news. But these people did have those who cared about them and loved them and they will at least be mourned by a few who look past their circumstance to the human beings they were. Until we are ready to acknowledge that there but for the grace of God go I, homeless deaths will continue to occur, as hidden as the homeless themselves.
There has been a lot of talk about homelessness over the last few years. Most of the talk has been about the homeless and not with the homeless. The problem has grown so much in the wake of cutbacks to social services and the fact that Canada is the only developed country in the world without a national housing plan. There have been studies, committees, task forces, homeless counts, homeless initiatives, stakeholders meetings, and action plans; all have sucked money out of the system and service providers out of their offices to all these meetings, and yielded very little if anything in return.
We need to stop profiling, defining and examining an issue when the answer has already been tried and proven elsewhere and in consultation with the very people we are trying to help. It is called Housing First and it has met with significant success in the United States and Britain. We don’t need more coalitions, we don’t need to coordinate services, we don’t need to identify service gaps, we don’t need to allocate and organize resources, because the solution we need is waiting on the sidelines while we all continue to talk about the problem. The homeless have said that finding permanent housing for them instead of just focusing on improving services as they continue to live on the street is what they need. The homeless say provide realistic and timely support after that, to help them stay housed, to give them time to heal. The homeless say we need to address the poverty and inequality that underlies their situation by raising welfare rates, minimum wages, and disability pensions to the same level as what it costs to rent a home and be able to eat and obtain health and dental care. We need to stop talking about them and for them or we will continue to mourn them as they die alone in our back alleys and our forests.

The Power of Touch.

Most social programs exist to ensure people have adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care so they remain healthy. But the World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Not too many social programs embrace, foster and promote the less tangible of dignity, empowerment and hope. If you’re hungry, your stomach wants food. If you are cold, you need proper clothing and shelter. If you are sick you need medicine. If you lack dignity and hope, your soul longs for wholeness. Marginalized people need to be fed in their mind and spirit, not just their stomachs.
Mother Teresa said “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”
There is just cause to suggest that social justice will only be delivered by empowering people to fulfill their potential. This begins with providing care and nurturing to those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in any way, to improve the quality of life for those least cared for in the community; those lacking family support, or suffering from the effects of poverty, abuse, addiction, trauma, loneliness, and mental or physical illness. Some of these people haven’t been touched in years, have not had their hand held, been given a hug, been listened to for their ideas or opinions, asked what their dreams are, given something to giggle about, been recognized for their talents, or even been looked in the eye. They are profoundly depressed and feel worthless.
Imagine if a poor person had access to life skills coaching, massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, recreation, music, esthetics, therapy, mentoring, pets and animals, reflexology, reiki, dental care, and courses like pottery, cooking or crafts. This sounds a lot better than a night at a shelter, a welfare check that doesn’t pay for rent and food, or a detox that just sends you back to the same thing over and over again.
According to a study by Tiffany Field, chair of the Touch Research Institute, infants of depressed mothers show brain-wave patterns different from those of other infants. These altered patterns seem to relate to the closing down of essential brain circuits that, if they do not function in childhood, are probably inoperative later on. Treat the depression in the mother, and the infant’s brain waves are likely to normalize. When a depressed mother is not treated, her immune system is depressed, she is sick a lot of the time, her children tend to end up in the welfare and prison systems: the sons of mothers with untreated depression are eight times more likely to become young offenders as are other children. According to a recent paper by Bruce Ellis and Judy Garber in the journal Child Development, daughters of depressed mothers will have earlier puberty than other girls, and early puberty is usually associated with promiscuity, early pregnancy and mood disorders. The cycle repeats itself and this is how we end up with intergenerational dependency on welfare, people who cannot hold down jobs, more addictions, more crime, and ongoing high school drop-out rates among the poor.Poverty costs us billions of dollars. Would it not be best to re direct some of those funds to care and nurturing so we can eventually decrease dependence on welfare, shelters, food banks, foster care, detox, rehab and jail?

Some pilot studies are under way on the holistic treatment of depression among the poor, and the results have been startling. Consistently, the participants felt better about their lives, and their lives got better. Even when faced with huge barriers, they progressed, often very quickly and never looked back. People reported that after so many things had gone wrong for them, they wish they had been empowered by this help much sooner as it changed their entire lives. It’s a win-win for everyone as it makes a healthy life available to all in mind, body and spirit.