Tag Archives: homelessness

How 10 people, some cold concrete and a cardboard shelter revived my optimism

Last night I spent the wee hours of the morning with the five individuals who have been campaigning and sleeping outside for the 5 Days for Homeless national campaign as well as my three co-workers, Eric, Brodie and Adam. It was fairly late/early when the four of us crawled into the makeshift cardboard shelter the five volunteers had created.

The night was terrible, am not even going to bother to sugar coat it. The ground was cold and the wind did not stop, the smell inside the shelter was a pungent combination of wet dog, feet and the kind of musk only a heap of unwashed humans can create.

10 of us were crammed into this shelter, which became pretty beneficial as despite the aroma that 10 unwashed people give off, 10 unwashed people also give off a lot of heat. The shelter was well made and supported so it was a fairly stable area to sleep in, however the constant fear of one of the 7-20 lb rock’s that were holding the roof down crashing through what seems like flimsy cardboard  kept me awake throughout most of the night.

Getting up this morning wasn’t all that bad. It was cold and grey but it seemed that once I woke up there was no more incentive for me to remain “in bed”. Unlike at home where my huge comforter and soft futon mattress beckon me long after I have begun my morning routine, there was nothing in the dank and cold cardboard ground I was sleeping on to keep me there.

The interesting thing about my sleep was the physiological aspect of being miserable. Annoyed at the wind, annoyed at the person shifting around next to me, annoyed that this is something people do every night, the negativity was more demoralizing then the physical discomfort.

This morning I shrugged on my neon colored jacket and hit the main area of campus to solicit some donations. Wearing the brightest piece of textile known to man I figured no one would be able to walk on past. How wrong I was. We have become so conditioned to ignore those who ask for help or look to be in less than desirable situations that many walked right on by even when it was abundantly clear I was not homeless.

The classic lines such as “I don’t carry change” or “I don’t have any change” (as they pat their pockets and a faint chinning noise can be heard) or the straight up walk-by-don’t-make-eye-contact-if-I-don’t-see-them-I-don’t-have-to-feel-guilty technique were all employed. The most frustrating one was the avoidance tactic. Of course, you see me, of course, you can hear me asking you and yet you chose to not acknowledge that another human being is speaking to you? Classy UofL. Not just students either, three professors walked right past me after I had asked them for change without saying a word or even making eye contact. A fine example they provided.

Those individuals, although numerous, were far out shadowed by all those who did stop and did give whatever they could. Whether it was $10.00 or $0.10 every amount is truly appreciated and even the acknowledgment means something. I also struck up a couple interesting conversations about the merit of the 5 Days events.

On professor questioned me on the use of humorous tactics to get donations and thought it to be making light of the situation and a poor reflection on the cause that is being advocated. While humor may look like the participants are making light, in fact humor is often used as a coping method when dealing with jarring life style changes or a threat to basic rights. These five individuals have chosen to do this for the week and came prepared for what was in store, however I doubt that psychologically any of them were ready for the constant cold, the loss of all comfort and the lack of support from many people.

This event is not about proving that five people can hack it as homeless, far from it. It is meant to create visible awareness about the homelessness problem all across Canada and act as a weeklong fundraiser for charitable organizations in Canadian cities. The part of being homeless that is harder to see and even harder to truly empathize with is the physiological aspect. Everyday not being sure of a hot meal, a warm bed or even a space to call your own; everyday some have no choice but to beg for change to afford coffee or some food. Worst of all is that many see no end to this lifestyle Yes, there resources available but those resources are scarce and there are many out there who fall to the bottom of the pile.

As a child, I didn’t have the most stable living environment. For reasons that are unnecessary to go into, growing up I experienced periods of uncertainty of where my family and myself would be sleeping that evening or that week or next week and how we would be able to move on from there. Thankfully my sisters and myself were incredibly fortunate in having family members who were able to support us and were able to ensure a level of safety and security and there came a time when housing and security were no longer questioned and just accepted as a right of life. Not every youth has those resources and that support system and not every homeless person is alike. There are varying reasons and motivations for turning to the streets, mental health issues and addictions notably, but there are the more subtle reasons. Depression is very common amongst those who are homeless and resource’s are hard for them to find as many of the resources available are specific to high needs individuals (re: families, addicts, those with mental health illness…). The working poor is also common, especially in Alberta. Abuse in the home is a prime motivator for someone to leave home, women’s shelters and youth emergency homes are often at capacity with women and children who have left their abusive enviroments but do not have the financial stability to support their families right away.

These past 12 hours have given me a great deal of optimism for the future of humankind. There are people who truly care and care enough to sacrifice basic needs to help those less fortunate.

Please give to those organizations who work tirelessly to provide resources in whatever city you live in. Every human being deserves to be treated as such and every human being deserves a little humanity in the face of hardship. I am sure that many are thanking all the participants of this event and without these individuals who took the time and made the effort the world wouldn’t be the same place. I thank them and I hope you will too.

(p.s. sorry I wasn’t able to live tweet, my BlackBerry stopped working yesterday which meant a cut off of all communication…)

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My one night for Homeless

Tonight I will be snuggling in tight with the five students who are sleeping outside for a week to raise awareness about homelessness and money for Wood’s Homes here in Lethbridge.

As much as I would love to have a hot meal and cups of tea all evening brought to me, I am fortunate enough to have access to those things every night. Tonight, please come by the shelter set up outside the ULSU building and bring me nothing but your change. Every little helps, truly it does and the goal this year is $10 000 for Lethbridge and I am really hoping that we as a community can come together to surpass that.

All donations over $20.00 are tax deductable and you can make donations online as well at the 5days.ca website. Myself and my three co-workers will post a blog on the ULSU blog site tomorrow morning about our experince (check it out at ulsu.wordpress.com) and I will hopefully be live tweeting our evening and my morning tomorrow. You can follow the twitter feed at twitter.com/JProssa.

By no means are we in a position to genuinely be able to understand what someone who is truly homeless has to go through as it is not just the physical discomfort but also the emotional and physiological discomfort and torment that goes along with having no place to live and no security. The societal problems overshadow the physical ones and this week is also about combating the stigma that homelessness carries as well as raising funds.

Please give, even if its just a little. The five students will be collecting donations and living outside until 5pm Friday so come by thier shelter with some change and some encouraging words and fight homelessnes.

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Where is Lethbridge’s homelessness plan?

The province of Alberta has announced a plan to “end” homelessness by 2019.With a price tag of 3.3 billion,

The plan calls for the development of 8,000 new housing units in Alberta, which could cost $1.3 billion, while operational costs are projected to hit $2.1 billion over the next decade. A major focus will be to quickly move homeless people out of shelters, and provide social supports once they are housed.

The issue of homelessness has become forefront for social activists in the last few years as Alberta’s oil boom has increased the cost of living so quickly and so astronomically that many who were scraping by before were no longer to house or feed themselves. Often the homeless are now called “the working poor”, a phrase which illustrates the lack of social housing and social support even to those who do contribute financially to our society.

While I am hopeful and commend Minister Fritz for this progressive plan of action, I am still hesitant to  give the Alberta Government a high five as the lack of action thus far has been indicative of the governments priority’s (that being said, there has been considerable amounts done to aid current homeless resource centers such as The Calgary Drop-In Center and the Invisible Project).

I echo Liberal MLA Taylor’s sentiments as reported in the Edmonton Journal:

“It’s a great plan in principle, but it all comes down to the level of commitment that is shown when Iris Evans brings down the budget on April 7,” said Dave Taylor, the Liberal party’s housing critic. “If the funding is there, I believe this is a plan that will end or dramatically reduce homelessness across the province over the next 10 years. If the funding isn’t there, it’s just a nice booklet.”

Lethbridge alone has seen an increase of 60% in our homelessness popualtion in the last year and although we are not reporting the numbers seen in Calgary and Edmonton, for a city of 70 000 people it is reasonable to think that the city of Lethbridge would see social housing as a priority and would thus create the spending to remedy this growing problem. With women being turned away from the YWCA due to lack of space and more and more families accessing resources or facing being split up among several short term and long term shelters I wonder where Lethbridge’s city council is on this issue.

Having been an invited participant in the city’s committee Social Housing in Action, I have seen the city’s lack of commitment to act and although there is a great deal of work being done to identify the problem of homelessness in Lethbridge I have been privy to the disappointment on behalf of agencies regarding the allocation of both municipal and provincial funds.

Direct action includes building more spaces for short and long term housing, resource centers for those who need access to education and living resources, greater funding to those agencies who work on the ground in Lethbridge to aid those homeless individuals, funding for emergency care and agencies such as the YWCA and Wood’s Homes which specifically offer help to high risk individuals. As citizens I believe we need to bring our concerns to the forefront and push the city council to act on this problem and demand accountablity of these committee’s and thier participants.

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