The number of homeless people in the city of Vancouver is increasing and expected to reach 3,000 by the time of the Olympics next February. This is due in large part to the increasing rent, food and transportation costs as the city gears up for the Olympics. Shabby apartments were flipped to the government at a profit, and people who rely on low-cost rentals (monthly social assistance in the amount $325 has not increased in 12 years), are being forced onto the streets.
Recently, a “Shelter Assistance Act” was passed in the B.C. Legislature giving police the power to take a homeless person to a shelter with or without their consent. Housing Minister Rich Coleman says the act is aimed preventing the homeless from dying needlessly out-of-doors. Groups working with the homeless however, have dubbed it the “Olympic Kidnapping Act.” They claim the act is aimed at displacing the homeless from the streets for esthetic and cosmetic reasons. They say the act is unconstitutional and will in fact harm those who are homeless by removing them from their neighbourhoods.
Faron Hall, a homeless man living on the streets in Winnipeg for 7 years, heard a teenage boy scream for help from the icy, flowing waters of the Red River. “I’m cold, help me. Somebody help me.” The teen was Joseph Mousseau who had fallen into the river while attempting to jump between platforms on a Winnipeg bridge.
Faron, risking his life, jumped into the cold water, calmed the panicked teen and pulled him back to shore. Joseph survived and Faron became a hero.
On May 6, 2009, Mayor Sam Katz presented Faron Hall a civic Medal of Valour and baseball season tickets for his act of heroism. But, Faron didn’t like all the attention.
“As long as the kid is safe, that’s my reward,” said Faron.
Faron Hall points to the place where Joseph Mousseau fell from the Provencher Bridge (CBC photo)
He did make one special request—a new pair of shoes. The ones he wore into the river hurt his feet.
Sometimes it’s easy to judge people by their appearance, especially if they look different and live in different circumstances than our own. Hopefully, your perspective of homeless people will have been impacted positively by this story of a homeless hero.
I had never thought of this aspect of what it means to be poor. The identification of this form of personal and social lack, and the response of the team of photographers to use their craft as a world changing possibility, is profound. Read below and check the short video.
On Saturday December 12, 2009, an event called “Help Portrait” took place at Grace Mansion in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside. A number of local professional photographers shot portraits of just under 300 individuals and families. They event was run by an amazing team of volunteers. Also on location were volunteers who provided make-up services for people prior to their photographs.
The idea was to bless people with photographs and in so doing to identify the idea that all people have worth and value.
After the photographs were taken, the people were given the opportunity to pick the image they liked best, and the photos were printed immediately, so that they could be taken with the person right away. Christmas cards and postage was provided by The Salvation Army for those who desired to mail a photograph to a loved one.
This event was made possible with support of a number of Ministries in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver such including The Salvation Army Grace Mansion, Nehemiah Foundation Vancouver, Union Gospel Mission, and MoreThan12 Church Vancouver.
Other sponsors with this event included Canon & Epson who provided printers and ink.
Help Portrait is a movement of photographers who are using their time, equipment and expertise to give back to those who are less fortunate this holiday season.
The economic times are hitting everyone hard, particularly charitable organizations relying on public donations to carry out their work. The Salvation Army, which is the largest non-governmental direct provider of social services in Canada, is also affected. With less than 2 weeks to go, the kettles are at 30% of their goal.
Consider that when times are tough and we who are non-poor feel the pinch, that those who are unemployed, homeless and/or relying on social assistance, are even more impacted. Consider dropping some cash into a kettle the next time you see one, and enable the following programs to continue this Christmas:
Christmas hampers and Holiday Meals for families and individuals in dire need.
Feeding programs and food banks at one of the 275 locations across Canada.
Community and Family Services reaching people in crisis with food clothing and personal needs’ items.
Homeless Services for the homeless each night through a national network of 52 shelters and hostels.
Addictions Services assisting people with chronic additions.
Safe Houses for abused women and their children beginning to rebuild their lives.
Helen Powers’ recent blog post about buying goats for Christmas reminded me of an interesting event that happened this past Spring. The NHL playoffs were in full swing and Joel Nagtegaal, an urban planning student at the University of the Frasier Valley in BC, challenged 9 of his buddies to donate $25 to buy a goat for Africa for each playoff win of the Vancouver Canucks.
Joel set up a Facebook group for the initial 10 participants which grew in a few weeks to over 425 members. The Canucks didn’t win the playoffs, however the end result was that a total of 1073 goats were purchased for Africa! Read the full story on at NHL Canucks.com. And, on the official Goat-Canucks-Goat website developed by Joel, you can see photos of the goats being delivered to the community.
The goats were donated and delivered to the Kenyan community through CRWRC, an organization that works in communities around the world to help families suffering from poverty or natural disasters. As CRWRC’s community developers will tell you, goats are life-altering animals.
“Goats are great animals for poor farmers. They’re easy to care for and will eat almost anything. They can be kept in a small yard, and are strong and hardy. In addition, goats breed after just a few years, providing additional goats for the family and community.”
My lesson from this story? Never underestimate what one person can do to combat poverty…especially now with the power of social media!
In the greater Toronto area it is estimated there are approximately 19,000 youth living on the streets. Many of these young people have fled abusive situations and/or have been kicked out of their homes. In response, there are many programs in Toronto and surrounding areas that reach out to homeless youth. Check on the links of Sketch, Covenant House, The Refuge, Toronto Youth Street Stories, and The Living Rock. Read the stories and be moved.
These centres meet basic needs (safety, shelter, food, warmth, showers) but more importantly provide an environment where youth experience people who will listen, encourage and provide counsel. Perhaps for the first time these youth encounter adults who model right relationships; adults who genuinely care about them.
Christmas is a difficult time of year for people who are alone and/or for those who have never experienced a loving family environment. I am thankful for the dedicated staff and volunteers at these centres who reach out to street involved youth and show them love and kindness.
Do you consider the issue of homelessness to be a public justice issue requiring a response? Does our society have an obligation to do what it can to adequately house all people?
Consider the story of Julia. Julia is a single mother who is one pay-cheque away from being homeless. She has a low-income job and spends more than 30 percent of her income on rent. She is on the list for social housing. She cannot afford child care for her two children and is often forced to make hard economic choices between basic needs or depending on food banks and other social assistance to make ends meet.1
Julia is a working member of her community yet cannot support herself and her children adequately. She is at risk of homelessness and one of the 4 million Canadians in need of affordable housing.2 She is on the list for affordable housing however, the average wait for social housing to assist low-income families is between 5 and 20 years. 3
Does Julia have a right to adequate housing that enables her and her children to live in dignity? If your answer is yes, you have identified homelessness to be public justice issue requiring a response.
There are various ways to assist people who are homeless and people who are at risk of becoming homeless. Opportunities for short-term responses include:
Invite a Habitat for Humanity (HH) representative to speak at your church or community group to increase awareness and engage your peers in HH building projects.
Contact a transition shelter in your community to find out the needs of the residents and organize a drive in your church, school or office to fill those needs (ex. mitten and sock drive, food drive, baby items, personal care items etc.).
Volunteer at a shelter for people who are experiencing a housing crisis and become a source of support and encouragement for them.
Long-term solutions to homelessness involve becoming informed on the political and funding issues of homelessness and looking for opportunities to do advocacy (check the Citizens for Public Justice website which has developed an advocacy toolkit). Develop a relationship with your MP and make him/her aware of your concerns. And, if possible, donate to a charitable organization involved in advocating for those who are homeless.
1. Ling, Trixie, from “Housing Insecurity: the Face of Poverty.”
2. From the Citizens for Public Justice website www.cpj.ca.