Where does it hurt?

I turn around and go back, setting down my bike.

“Hey guys, I’m a nurse, is everyone ok?”

(She’s not ok, they’re not ok. At a glance I see poverty, my nose senses alcohol.)

“No man, she’s bleeding good and out of it.”

Blood out her nose and mouth, unconscious. I get a pulse on her wrist and never let go of it the whole time. Breathing is shallow but regular.

“Did anyone see what happened?”

“She said someone smashed her.”

(Is this an assault? Is it an accident? Does anyone here or out there care?)

“I think she just fell.”

“Yep, I saw her fall, just blam.” He claps his hands sharply.

“Mam, can you hear me?”

I rub her shoulder, turn her to the recovery position.

“oww oh oh”

“Where does it hurt?”

(Your body? Your heart? Your mind? Your spirit?)

Her hand drifts around, settles on her back and nose, drops back to the ground.

“You guys already called an ambulance?”

“Yep, I think I can hear it now.”

“If you can hear me, can you tell me your name?’

“Tanya”

Bless you Tanya. I hope that some day soon you stop hurting.

The Charitable Impulse: Part 6

So far in this series I have presented a rather gloomy tale. We do charity for ourselves, or in a disorganized manner, or in a way that actually undermines development, and unintentionally makes things worse. However, in the next few posts I will look at how there is still room for charity, development, social services, and the non-profit sector in general.

The good news is that although we can do things wrong, we can also do them right. In their annual letter, Melinda and Bill Gates break down many of the myths of international development, and in the process start to set the foundation for a discussion of how charity can be done well. The first myth the Gates break down is the myth that the world is getting worse. In fact, there has been a huge positive move on global poverty, with the number of people experiencing extreme poverty being cut in half from 2 billion to 1 billion people. A significant portion of this has happened in African nations, defying perceptions of sub-Saharan Africa as being immune to development. Life expectancy in even the poorest regions of the world has increased from 41 to 57 years. This video by Hans Rosling shows how quickly nations in poverty are developing and catching up:

In addressing the second myth of foreign aid as a waste of resources, the Gates unpack how development is being done well. Aid can be delivered in a manner that builds an independent economic foundation rather than increasing dependence on foreign resources. Aid can address root needs around vaccination, illness prevention, and violence that hold nations back from developing. Aid can serve to address policies of inequality that prevent women from being safe, secure, and financially independent. Aid done well does not equate to dependence, as many of the primary recipients of aid in the past decade are now aid providers.

Charity can be two-pronged: it can address the basic needs that are the foundation required for people to then advance their lives, but at the same time it can produce opportunity. An ill child requires malaria treatment to survive, and at the same time needs opportunities for education and employment. Charity/aid/development can do this, and do it well.

From Every Angle, At Every Level

Many of you who read this blog are afflicted with a particularly common human passion, the desire to create change in the world.  I say afflicted, because there is a sense that the desire to create change has a toll in terms of time, energy, and the ability to maintain hope.  In fact, I recall an academic mentor who once told me that beginning a career in research with the expectation of changing the world is simply setting one’s self up for disappointment.  Not a particularly cheery outlook, but what she was trying to impart to me was to seek my happiness in places other than the impact of my work.

I have not heeded her advice.  My ultimate desire is to end homelessness in London (or broader?), and at a bare minimum, confront poverty and mitigate some of the harmful effects of the experience of poverty.  This is a big goal, but looking to other cities like Oslo and Stockholm, I do believe it is an achievable goal.  The challenge is that there’s no way I can do it alone.

When it comes to this kind of social change, you need to approach it from every angle, at every level.  This was reflected in the creation of the London Homelessness Outreach Network where we organized projects at three levels: Personal, Public, and Political.  Personal meaning engaging directly with homelessness such as volunteering with an agency.  Public meaning raising awareness around the issues.  And political meaning advocating to affect policy change.  And even that categorization is too simplistic because there are more than three levels to ending homelessness.  You can also:

  • Do grassroots community-building
  • Do grassroots advocacy and protest
  • Build programs to provide needed services
  • Do research to create solutions
  • Do research to enhance programs
  • Confront stigma/discrimination/marginalization
  • Raise money for agencies
  • Raise time for agencies
  • Build better local policies
  • Influence broader policies and politics

There needs to be a whole constellation of responses all with the collective goal of addressing homelessness if we are to achieve any success, and no one person can do it all.  Rather, it requires a network of different skills, different passions, and different abilities, which are all aligned.

This brings me to October 10th and building a cardboard town on the lawn of a church.  Although a number of individuals experiencing homelessness expressed their appreciation of the event, and participated in varying degrees, there’s no doubt that such an event is much more focused on creating a media splash than driving solutions.  No one became housed because of our boxes.  However, this kind of event cannot be taken independently of a whole constellation of other activities aligned with this goal.  If I wasn’t also working hard on developing healthy public policy and doing impactful research, then I would find this event tokenistic.  If I didn’t know that others are providing life-saving services, or journeying relationally with those in poverty, then I would find this tokenistic.  However, each event, each service, each document can be considered part of a whole movement to create change, to make the world a slightly better place.

We address homelessness from every angle, at every level, and no angle or level is more important than another.

This post was stimulated by the reflections of James Shelley on Cause-Related Marketing.  He asked me to reflect on this, and we have published our posts simultaneously. Please read his synchro-post now at: http://jamesshelley.net/2012/11/the-perils-of-having-a-cause/.

Considering Development (Part 1)

Having attended all London City Council meetings this year except for one (which I caught online), planning and development has become an interest of mine.  This has led to me making my first public submission and comment on a development proposal.  I have been an active observer of some developments this year that have hit the media as controversial for one reason or another, such as Richmond and Sunningdale, Reservoir Hill, the Huron St drive-thru, and most recently SOHO and Victoria Park.  In my own neighbourhood, I have been following the developments at 162 and 170 Wortley Rd.  I was struck by the comment of one of the councillors around the Reservoir Hill site when he mentioned an “anti-development lobby”, and feel the need to highlight the difference between being anti-development versus pro-smart development.

First off, our city needs development, and therefore developers, particularly those who are expert in their trade.  The last thing you want is for somebody like me with a shovel and a plan on the back of a napkin building new subdivisions.  Developers are of course driven by a profit motive, as is any business, which is a logical thing.  If businesses are to add value to the economy and the community, and ensure re-development and housing, then they must be successful.  This profit motive includes not developing terrible buildings, neighbourhoods, or plazas, because they need what they build to sell.  As is highlighted in this excerpt from an ebook by Gracen Johnson, the sprawl that we often criticize is a reflection of market demand, our own demands.

I have heard the development industry referred to as some kind of evil empire, and I have cringed.  The second point I would like to make is that like any business, there is a great variability in how companies work.  For example, Dave Tennant from Hampton who is doing the Wortley properties held extra meetings with the community of his own accord prior to proceeding.  Similarly, Wes Kinghorn and the Woodfield Community Association often see this same degree of collaboration by having shown themselves to be open partners in discussing development.  Councillor Matt Brown was able to mediate between a developer and community members in his ward to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on a site that was getting dicey.  The best example that I’m familiar with is Z Group, and how they have worked in the community.  They participated in both the Placemaking Demonstration Project and the Energy Efficiency Partnership Project.  Their developments have been consistent with neighbourhood plans, thus avoiding major conflict with community members.  And, in one situation where significant environmental concerns were raised for a planned development, they put it on indefinite hold.

Therefore, the first step in considering development, is that we temper any frustrations with a particular application with the understanding of the value of development to our community.  Also, it is worth considering that any application that hits the Council floor has already been through an extensive and expensive process with staff.  On the other side, it is worth noting that there is no particular lobby opposed to development, I have witnessed that the players involve in public meetings change with each parcel of land.  Lastly, the ‘anti-development’ label is both naive and inappropriate as on any planning agenda most citizens will support 19 of the 20 items.  Even if at every meeting there is an item where community members side with staff against a proposal, the majority of items are still supported.

In the next post I will explore some of the criticisms leveled against development, and ask whether all are fair.

Site Reorganization

I have found it a bit of a challenge to balance my writing on both London municipal issues, and on homelessness.  Some people subscribe to this blog for the one, some for the other.  I have reorganized, so I will now write on homelessness over at www.londonhon.ca, the site for the London Homelessness Outreach Network.  Here at www.abeoudshoorn.com/blog I will write about London issues.  My scholarly work including papers and presentations will continue to be at www.abeoudshoorn.com.

Thanks for your interest in my work.

The Day the Music Died

When I worked as a nursing student, and later a Registered Nurse, at the London InterCommunity Health Centre, I met a lot of people experiencing homelessness who I will never forget.  Many people using the Centre would be there day-in and day-out, for a good portion of the day.  And, in working with them on the basic necessities of life, relationships were often very personal.  One story I won’t forget anytime soon is getting to know Michael (not his real name).

Mike had been in and out of homelessness for many years, struggling both with an alcohol addiction and with living in a wheelchair since he lost the use of his legs as a teenager in a cycling accident.  When I got to know Mike he was 48, had been sober for 8 months, and was waiting for a wheelchair accessible affordable housing unit to open up.  Mike had a very gentle demeanour, a great dad-beard, and loved to chat.  I often had to extricate myself in mid-sentence from conversations to help other clients, but we would carry on where we left off when I had a minute.

I got to know Mike quite well over the weeks and months that passed, about his hopes and dreams, his painful memories, and his personal perspective on every current event (he was an avid reader of the London Free Press).  More importantly though, I got to know of his love for music.  Mike was an avid guitar player, having taken it up shortly after his injury, and he found great solace in music.  However, Mike was also broke, so each month towards the end of the month he would pawn his guitar to a shop, and then when his social assistance cheque came in he would purchase it back.  He would entertain us with songs, but only intermittently.

In April of 2004 I completed my Nursing program, and told him it would be my last day there as a student, although I would be starting the next week as staff.  “This calls for a celebration,” he said, and rolled out of the Centre.  A few minutes later he came back, with his guitar, which he had purchased back from the pawn shop for the occasion.  “I like to sing people songs with their name, but yours is kind of hard, so this is the best I could do”, he said, and sang “Dear Abby” by John Prine.  The Centre, as usual when he sang, went quiet while people listened.  He sang it twice.  Moved by his kindness, it took an effort not to get choked up.

I went about the rest of my day that Friday, we ushered everyone out at 3:30 when we closed, and we had cake with staff to celebrate.  The middle of the next week I came in to work, and was busy with the usual activities of the Centre.  Mid-morning one of the clients I knew well came in and said, “Hey, did you hear about Mike?  He died over the weekend, just dropped dead of a heart attack.”

I was crushed.

I had patients or clients die before, but each death still hits you hard.  In this case, his kindness of spending his meager money to get his guitar to celebrate with me, followed shortly by his death, was extra powerful.  Very few people will even remember Mike, but I will never forget him.

Ann Arbor Presentation

I had an opportunity to present this past weekend with Alexis Chadwick from Youth Opportunities Unlimited about the work of the London Homelessness Outreach Network.  The focus was on collaboration in the community, particularly bridging academia and community organizations.  We presented some of the past, current, and future projects, and overall were very well received.

You can read the presentation HERE

Health and Homelessness Report

Through 2011, a partnership of the London Homelessness Outreach Network, the Middlesex London Health Unit, the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, the London Intercommunity Health Centre, and the City of London reviewed existing health services for people experiencing homelessness. The purpose of this review was to paint of picture of current services, providing a platform for us in 2012 to envision how these could be enhanced and refined. To view the report, click on the image below: