Reflecting on the Experience as a Whole, and Thoughts Moving Forward

It feels odd to be “back to reality” – schoolwork, work, and chores, quickly busied me up once I returned home from the four day long program. It’s been a great experience, and I do not want to lose what I have learned, rather, I want to continue living with opened eyes and grow in my understanding. I am glad that I decided to blog about the experience, and that I had the opportunity to do so, as I believe that having gone through such an experience that it is my responsibility to share what I have learned with others. Each participant had their own experience, but I think we all came out more aware of the issues and of our own privileges. The objective of the program was not to solve homelessness in four days, but to raise our consciousness of homelessness and to have our interests sparked so that we can do bigger and better things in the future (i.e. professionally, to continue volunteering, to have stronger relationships with others and those experiencing homelessness, etc.).

In addition to the blogging, telling others about the experience is also important. I’ve been excited to tell friends and family about: the stories I’ve heard, the activities and things we did, about sleeping on the floor, the sorts of organizations that are currently out there, the complexity of homelessness, and simply sharing the experience with others. Through communicating to others about the experience, I hope to raise their consciousness to homelessness and its complexity so that they can reduce their stigma and misconceptions – perhaps next time they come across someone experiencing homelessness they will see them as a person first, and not just “another homeless person.” It is by talking about such issues, I believe, that community can be more empathetic and understanding – two values I highlighted in my first post leading up to the program. And it is this sense of community that was a constant theme of the program. During our tour of the Calgary Drop-In Centre, Jordan, who had given us the tour, suggested that if there is one reason for homelessness that it would be loss/lack of community or a support network. At another point in the program someone raised the question of what would it take for ourselves to become homeless? Although the reasons or paths may vary, I agree that one’s community plays a huge role. For myself, I think losing the supports and connections to family and friends may lead me to homelessness if I were to get into a situation of being unemployed and not having enough finances to support myself. Rereading that last sentence, I realize how general it is, but since I have not gone through such an experience I have no personalized story to give an in-depth scenario that would lead me to homelessness, as each experience is so different and personal to each person who has, is, or will, experience homelessness, so I don’t know what it would exactly take for myself, or perhaps it is fear and not wanting to know that holds me back from exploring this question further at this moment in time.

In addition to my post on reflections of day 2 (which also included some reflection of day 1), the last two days were also jammed packed with constant learning. On Thursday morning we had a guest presenter, Amanda from Shift, to talk to us about sex work and related issues. Personally, I think I had more stigma about sex work than homelessness by far. As is apparent, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be homeless, and selling my body is something I can’t even fathom. Although there are some that “choose” to be homeless or to become an escort or sex worker (“choose”, but what are the other options that is being decided between?), others are forced into these situations through circumstances or even physically forced (i.e. loss of property, finances, and possessions; human trafficking). I’ve been privileged to not have to even consider sex work or homelessness to be a serious option for survival, and at this moment in time I sometimes find it difficult to fully empathize or understand how one gets into, or is forced into, such experiences, but acknowledging that I don’t know is at least a start instead of thinking I know it all. I may not know each person’s story of their life and the circumstances that led them to homelessness and/or sex work, and despite all they may have lost, no one should lose the right to be respected and treated with dignity. The presentation was eye-opening to have a better understanding and sympathy for those in the sex trade, but I think it would have been more powerful if we heard from current or former sex workers themselves as the personal stories enable for better understanding of the people themselves and the experience.

On Thursday afternoon, we helped sort donations at the Mustard Seed. It was great to see so much stuff, but I wonder how many of those that donated would approach someone on the street, or if they ever spent any time volunteering or talking with someone experiencing homelessness. Are they helping out at a perceived “safe distance”? I’m sure at least a few give not only material items but time as well, and I hope that myself and others (both participants in the program and people in general) will approach those experiencing homelessness with respect and with a kind heart. It was interesting to sort donations, we would sometimes question why someone would donate a certain item (i.e. expensive brand name items, or things that seemed impracticable) or nod in approval of other items that were thoughtful donations.

As those reading my posts may have noticed, I have been trying to pay attention to the language I use and have therefore used “those experiencing homelessness” instead of “the homeless”, using people first language instead of overlooking someone’s identity by referring to them as “homeless” and nothing else. Just as life is dynamic, our identity and state in life fluctuates and changes as we go through different experiences. Examples of this is seen in each person I have been privileged to meet throughout the experience, or to have heard a snippet of their story. While sorting donations, a staff there received a phone call from a lady who use to use the services of the Mustard Seed, and is now living independent of the Mustard Seed and makes jewellery; the staff and the lady are planning to meet up as friends, which is great to see a relationship change from service provider staff and guest/client/consumer to friends.

On Thursday evening we spent an hour in our groups of 5-6 people walking around downtown with a Mustard Seed guest who told us his story. My group was honoured to hear Ty’s story. In 2011 he had to give up his house as he was unable to pay the high mortgage rates once he lost his job, around the same time his father passed away. Although he mentioned he did start to drink more at that point in time, the factors that seemed to contribute the most to having to live on the streets was the unemployment and mortgage (which he had already been paying for 14 years). After living on the streets for 2 weeks, Ty then went to the Mustard Seed and is now trying to transition out of homelessness. While at the Mustard Seed, he tried out an art program and discovered his talent; although he prefers oils, he is content with using pastel crayons as they are more portable and cleaner, and he really is talented! His goal is to apply for an art grant so that he can promote himself and one day tour across Canada to showcase his art in galleries. When he showed us all some of his art pieces, we were all amazed by his attention to detail and memory for drawing places he had once visited, such as Great Falls or Rosebud. Hearing his story, and snippets of others’, it served as a great reminder that although one may be in homelessness or poverty at one moment in their life, they may not have always been in that situation for the entire life, and may get the supports to be able to live other experiences beyond homelessness.

Friday, our last day of program, was spent debriefing and forming an action plan as we move forward after the experience. Although the experience was great and eye-opening, we do acknowledge that we only got a peak into homelessness and will never fully understand it unless we go through the actual lived experience itself. The learning goals I had set for myself included: finding out what services are offered specifically to those with mental illnesses; to find out how people experiencing homelessness cope within the system and within their current situation; and, what is being done to educate the public about homelessness. As I didn’t want to limit my learning my solely focussing on these specific goals, but rather to be open to the experience and to take in all that I can, I didn’t fulfill my learning goals in any sort of rigid format. However, to address the learning goals I had set, here are the thoughts I left with after the experience:

  • There is not too much services out there to support those experiencing homelessness and mental illness, especially more complex illnesses (i.e. the Mustard Seed doesn’t take in those with severe mental illness). Unfortunately I did not get around to doing any research into this question beforehand, but during the experience I did not hear much about these specific services, so this is a question I would have to look more into.
  • Early on in the program, during the workshop on the first day, the presenter (who had experienced homelessness herself) said that people must heal, not cope. This is so true, as coping only pacifies the issue and doesn’t do anything in regards to real change. So my question about coping within the system should’ve been “how to people heal?” To me, coping would include drugs, alcohol, sleep, etc, while healing could be through art, writing, music, supporting others (building community), volunteering or working, etc.
  • Finding out about what is being done to educate the public and improve their perception was something I haven’t done personal research into, but it was great to hear that the Mustard Seed is going into schools and educating students as young as kindergarten about homelessness and the issues, and that there are opportunities for older youth and young adults to help out at the Mustard Seed to go through similar programs that I have just gone through. This is a start, and gets the people to start thinking about these issues at a young age so that they can hopefully critical analyze current systems and look for ways to improve it, and to approach the issues and people experiencing homelessness in a better way.

Moving forward, what do I hope to do? Before getting into my personalized action plan, some things I want to be cognizant of include:

  • Notice when others voice or act out stigma against others (specifically homelessness and those experiencing it) and use those moments as teachable moments to raise their consciousness so that they can reduce their stigma
  • Be self-reflecting and self-aware of my own privileges and language so that I can reduce stigma
  • Acknowledge those I meet downtown, or wherever, that are experiencing homelessness (i.e. talking to them, listening to them; giving them change if I have any, or at least giving them my attention and acknowledgement)
  • Be more present and a better support to friends and family so that they can depend on me when they are going through tough times, and so that I can depend on them when I am

And now for my action plan, which includes how I plan to go about getting to the goal as well as obstacles that may stand in the way:

  • Continue writing and learning about homelessness, oppression, system and societal failures, discrimination, etc. on a blog of my own -> I have created a WordPress blog already, but it is currently on a private setting as I figure out how I want to go about doing this exactly, the format and focus, as well as the title of the blog; obstacles could include: using excuses such as being “too busy” (which may or may not be an legit, but should not be an excuse), overlooking certain issues or not getting in depth enough, technical difficulties or issues
  • Volunteer over the spring/summer break -> I will have to research various places to see where I would like to volunteer, such as seeing where the gaps are in my current experience, then I will have to go through the process of becoming a volunteer and commit to it over the summer (or perhaps longer depending on how things are looking come autumn); obstacles could include: having a bias of where to volunteer, not casting a wide enough net of where to volunteer, using the excuse of “being too busy”
  • Learn about Holodynamics (which was suggested by a commenter on my first blog post) -> research on my own, as well as ask others about it and see if it is being used and why or why not, find out its benefits and if there are any cons; obstacles: misunderstanding it, not researching in the right places or asking the right people about it

Thank you to those who have been reading my posts, as well as the posts of others of the Homelessness at Home program or other ucalgarycares programs. Again, it’s been a great experience, but a experience that will be lifelong, and I appreciate the feedback I have gotten as well as any more that I may get.

Take care,

Julia

This entry was posted in Homelessness at Home, Reading Week 2014, Student Posts. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reflecting on the Experience as a Whole, and Thoughts Moving Forward

  1. Judy Lapointe says:

    YOU HEARD ME thank you thank you thank you – The biggest challenge with homelessness is not being heard, not having a voice, not having an opinion, not being understood – causes all levels of mental health. These tours are not showing you what you needed to see. These shelters are so abusive they increase mental health problems, but they are not about to tell you as an organization “we basically emotionally torture people who become homeless”. People who are homeless receiving crumbs won’t voice the abuse in shelters as that is what gets people kicked out.

    We live in dysfunctional systems, the output is social problems. Failing to diagnose problems allows problems to grow. The only way to end homelessness is by preventing – stop the causes that creates – fix each dysfunctional system we live in. There is zero focus in that direction. What is happening is -the only road out of homelessness is by working -getting a job inside a dysfunctional system, the very dysfunctional system that caused you to become homeless so it will affect another and force them into homelessness. If all systems are dysfunctional, those successful in dysfunctional systems are in fact successfully dysfunctional and can’t recognize that. You learn how to be successful in dysfunctional systems through our education system. If you are in school and this program THOUGHT they were teaching you about homelessness by your tour – they failed, BUT to blog and be open to hearing the truth from people is a WIN – IT’S proving to me through this dysfunction we can learn, gain information and find our way out. But we have to let go of everything we believe to be true to find a new truth.

    My experience in shelters – this is something that is never spoken or your kicked out. I’m at the point where the street or death is better then keeping this quiet.

    I stayed at the DI for a few days, there is where I lost my mind. After two days of being in that building I lost my ability to process information. I was hanging on by a threat unable to barely say the word “help”. I went to Sheldon Shumar and was rejected help because my address was the DI. A gaurd who experienced homelessness watched me, as I was leaving in total rage she approached me – I was scared of her thinking she was going to harass me as this is what “workers in justice or non profits do”. She was nice, bought me something to eat and told me to see someone else. So I went the next day and again the professional talked down to me, I was lower then dirt saying “what do you think I can do for you” in the most condescending tone possible. I lost it and out of my mouth came “if you were in my position is this the way you would want to be treated. That snapped her out of it and she had a long list of excuses as to why she couldn’t be a nice person. Still in her condescending, demeaning manor she got me into Sheriff King.

    I then was moved to the YWCA, I can only compare that year as it’s our modern day “residential schools”. It’s described by clients as a jail you can leave. I’ve witnessed people driven to suicide caused by the abuse by staff. It’s run by the bullies, the drug addicts and those so angry they take it out on the weaker clients. Because they are a larger group most times management always supports the wishes of the bullies and they can’t see that happening. I’ve witnessed the weakest, the ones at their very lowered, the one’s really truly interested in improving their lives kicked out at Christmas at -34 temperatures. In the two years I’ve experienced the YWCA they have zero skills in problem solving. Every time they make a decision to solve a problem, they increase the problem and can’t recognize that yet. The most insulting “sign” is the sign that says “we won’t tolerate abuse” – staff is able to abuse the client but if the client RESPONDS “that’s not tolerated”.

    What is happening today inside this Calgary Homeless Foundation building will give you a good insight into the problem. One year ago the homeless foundation caused people to become homeless by buying this building and forcing them out. The guy who use to live in my apartment is still homeless a year later living on someone’s couch not even counted “Homeless”. The women placed lived in pure hell – screaming, fighting, beatings, police was a 24/7 experience and the YWCA and homeless foundation did nothing for 6 months. Public is told we are getting services yet workers are not providing services. Eventually they kicked out 3 people who needed the help the most. We are talking about young women who were forced to be raised in abuse, they have zero life skills, they are deep into their addictions caused by the life of pain they experienced which included child sexual abuse. Putting people into an apartment with zero support to develop life skills is asking for failure. After they were evicted I asked Cynthia Wild – one who should never be working with people EVER – “how can you end homelessness with such high eviction rates”? So “problem” and without knowledge or even an interested in gaining knowledge on how to design a program that would be cheaper and more helpful they used their own knowledge and designed the worst program possible.

    Every client that was placed here a year ago was told this was stable housing, you won’t be moved, you can start working on other goals. it took a year for people to calm down, reverse the conditioning from shelters, develop trust with workers only to find out “we are all forced to move”. We were lied to, we can’t trust our workers to look after our best interest. Everyone living here is a trauma victim, the notices were given while our worker was on vacation. We each received the envelope which did nothing but traumatized trauma victims. Everyone developed an increase in their health issues. People aren’t eating, people aren’t processing information correctly, addictions are going up, people are crashing and not one person cares. This increased our medical costs, as well social costs. We all have to move became they are going to be placing higher needs people in this building. Two years experience watching the YWCA service people and they have zero concept on how to help, the only services that will be provided for this next group of people is security to ensure they get evicted increasing the eviction rates. If they know how to treat people with high needs we all would be feeling that success but we aren’t. if they can’t service high needs people how do you think they can handle even higher needs group? This building is being transformed into a shelter not housing. Eviction rates will be high as they haven’t solved the problem on how to improve services. I’m told “SORCE” will be placing these new clients. They think they can categorize peoples needs yet fail to be able to receive information – fi they can’t receive correct information you put me in a wrong category. so while they get it wrong with what our needs are, they also place people with organizations they believe can provide services but because of a lack of responsibility and accountability with non profits you can just say you are doing a job when you actually aren’t doing a job.

    Our homeless count is way off. It is not accounting for everyone on couches, the hidden population that is avoiding these abusive shelters. The homeless foundation is now introducing a pattern of transforming housing into shelters – since this is where we gain numbers for those homeless, all those in a homeless foundation building are technically homeless and not housed. We are still waiting for stable housing. They place people only to evict them and use the placements as a count as to how many they helped but they fail to report on the even higher eviction numbers so socially we are not getting an accurate count of how many are actually getting housed.

    This homeless plan is developing a new industry dependent on clientele. Homelessness is big business and nobody is learning how to end homelessness but rather how to sustain it, how to manage it exactly like a factory line. When you develop a new industry and your paycheck becomes dependent on having people homeless programs are designed to increase homelessness to ensure there is a steady supply. A good homeless plan would focus more on causes that creates over what our needs our in guiding us to become either homeless or work in dysfunctional systems creating homelessness.

    I am outraged at this new program and how those in this industry show zero interest in how this will increase social problems, increase social needs, increase health problems, increase taxes, increase crime. You really get to know what’s behind the “caring person” when they justify causing harm to people.

    THE GOOD NEWS
    YOU – you heard me, you read what I said and made a commitment to study holodynamics. it’s not an easy ready – us homeless stupid, lazy people read some pretty complex books. It’s deep into psychology, neurology, biology, information theory, quantum physics and systems. The Holo(whole) dynamics of a problem.

    vibrant Communities is also another organization that appears to hear me and interested in gaining information to better understand this social problem.

    I’ve also talked with a few excellent professors – which really impressed me the most.

    The questions you ask in gaining information is relevant, ask a stupid question and the answer can guide you down the wrong path. It’s extremely important to learn how to ask good questions so the answers guide you down the right path. WORST QUESTION – what do you need? We’re homeless that needs list is a multi billion dollar response you can’t provide. Better question “what caused this, what caused the causes, what caused the causes of the causes of the causes until you get to a root”. The cause you stop asking is the cause YOU can’t face when it’s you. Be prepared to see how you are attached to causes that creates the suffering for all others – that is the unknown problem. The next best question is – “What would you do to prevent this from happening to anyone else”? Those that suffer from the problem know the solutions – they understand causes better then those being the cause. At the end of the day both those homeless and those in great wealth are equally playing a role that creates social problems. I am very much guilty at creating my own homelessness by trusting and supporting dysfunctional systems when I should have been working non stop to fix known flaws. We have a flawed justice system, yet you think your wealth will protect you from every being affected by all our other dysfunctional systems – until you learn it doesn’t protect all and that all could be you one day. It’s a game of monopoly and eventually only one owns board walk and park place – eventually homelessness will happen to us all. We’ve seen these dysfunctions at play in history – called “economic depression”. When social problems cost more then our income we can’t afford to sustain the social problem.

    If $52 million is spent on ending homelessness while actually being a new cause that creates homelessness then we are spending $53 million increasing the causes of homelessness. this plan is speeding up our rates of homelessness but using biased statistics keeps the problem well hidden. But I’m sure you see the population, you didn’t see the people trying to hide from you – the one’s who can’t tell the truth or increased harm comes to them.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HEARING ME and taking up the suggestion to study holodynamics. Please take note, it also has one flaw that I recognized – it’s lacks the ability to recognize the “unknown problem” – you can see that with Dr Woolf able to cure all health issues for others but not for himself – he is unaware of his own unknown problems to use this tool with. he also avoids the conversation regarding this little flaw – I’m his greatest fan yet he see’s me as his biggest enemy while pointing out one small flaw. His behaviors are a big contradiction to what he is teaching. Without recognizing this flaw I’ve noticed others learning from his actions and not his words taught in the books. make a complaint or excuse and that defines a problem – then use the tool. It’s a tool that works for me, but it can only be 1/3 productive as it requires 2 people outside of myself to do proper tracking. Trying to track self is a massive challenge – your always fighting your own insanity. I’m an ex computer programmer so I have logical thinking working for me, but it takes longer to see your own insanity then it is for someone else to recognize it. I’ve come a long ways but I could have been healed much faster if given the right form of support.

    much love to you
    Judy

    • thetealove says:

      Hi Judy,

      I really appreciate all your comments, it’s good to hear from a different perspective, especially one that has lived experience with the issues. I will be continuing my learning journey on a blog of my own, feel free to peruse and comment. I plan to include my thoughts and independent research on Holodynamics there as well, but likely won’t get around to that until May when I will be done school. At the moment there are only a few poems posted on my blog:

      http://wallsandstalls.wordpress.com

      Take care,
      Julia

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