These are the final four of our twelve recommendations for provincial candidates:
C. GIVING DIGNITY
People experiencing homelessness rely on the system at times to provide basic necessities of food, clothing, income, and places to be. Therefore, we offer the following recommendations:
- The current social assistance rates provide an income at less than half the Low Income Cut-Offs (LICOs). A dignified social assistance rate would require an immediate increase of 43% to bring us back on track with rates prior to 1995 cuts.
- Nutrition support for people experiencing homelessness is greatly dependent on the charities and faith communities in our city. Food banks require provincial support at a minimum of funds matched to those provided by private donors.
- When a person is living homeless, they lack private spaces in which they can live, love, and be. Drop-in centres must be considered an integral component of supporting people through difficult times, particularly in our harsh climate. Provincial support of drop-in centres could be accomplished by matching existing federal HPS funding.
- More and more, we are finding people who are homeless who are also employed. Increases of the minimum wage are key to addressing this issue, and need to be continued, annually, indefinitely.
My primary activity with the London Homelessness Outreach Network is to explore street-level healthcare for people who are experiencing homelessness. The idea is that we know there is a gap in care in terms of healthcare services that go out to people, rather than requiring them to go to the care. So, although there are clinics such as InterCommunity and the Centre of Hope FHT, or walk-ins and emerg, these all require that the individual accessing the service goes there, waits, and sees a professional in an examination room. This often leads to people waiting far too long to access care, and having complications of relatively benign conditions.
Our initial thought is that we should create some kind of community health bus that brings the care to places where people are at, and can also provide some kind of system-wide coordination/communication. However, in talking with folks around town, we have found that more agencies are continually adding more services, but with little coordination or thought for the big picture. For example, while we were engaging in our discussions, a local shelter started to host CCAC nurses. The goal was to pick up patients who would go missing after being rostered to CCAC in emerg, but to also provide minor care and triage for anyone seeking assistance. In talking with them, they stated their current goal is to get a nurse practitioner or a physician to join them.
So, the problem is, we just keep doing more of everything, without thinking about how, why, who, what, when, and where we should really be doing this. People who are homeless in London continue to have high morbidity rates and low age of mortality, even though we keep adding more providers into the mix. Our solution is to host a community summit in the fall to bring together all parties who are currently involved to do some mapping, do some ‘follow the money’ exploration, and see if we could do smarter rather than just doing more.
For the London Homelessness Outreach Network, we have had a couple of wonderful graphic designers helping us with pro bono work. One of the tasks includes developing a flyer that we can hand out to inform people about what we do. It has been a bit of a struggle in making this flyer in terms of knowing exactly what images to use. Interestingly, I was talking with a photographer who works with some international development agencies, and he goes through a lot of the same struggles.
The issue is trying to make a human connection to our work, without peddling poverty pornography. How can you capture an image that encompasses human suffering, without exploiting that suffering human? You may notice that on this blog I only use images of places that speak of poverty, not of people. And, in the only video I have made, I only used images where you could not identify the person. I want to demonstrate respect for those whom I work with, but also allow others a glimpse into their world.
I’m not sure where the balance is, but for now I err on the side of caution. I have thought about doing a photovoice project in the future with people experiencing homelessness, so I’m sure this issue will come up again.
So my group, the London Homelessness Outreach Network, has volunteered to take the lead on World Homeless Action Day this year in London. This is an international day for raising awareness that occurs every October 10th. Last year we found out about this only about a month in advance, so didn’t have a chance to put anything together. We vowed at that time that this year would be better.
We don’t really have any set ideas at the moment, all we know is that we want to do something that has maximum media impact, raising awareness of homelessness in our city, and perhaps 1 or 2 simple messages (such as that no one chooses to be homeless, or that the affordable housing waiting list averages 9 years in London). It is Thanksgiving Monday, so there won’t be a lot of foot traffic, but we could also tie it in with a Thanksgiving message.
What I’m looking for are ideas. What could we do to make maximum impact? We have some great volunteers, but just need an idea of how to use them. I’m open to suggestions…
One of the ideas we have had from the outset of the London Homelessness Outreach Network (www.londonhon.ca) is to connect the different groups in town who are doing creative arts. This includes but is not limited to fine arts at the London Coffee House, the Ark Aid Street Mission, and at WOTCH, and writing groups at My Sister’s Place and InterCommunity Health Centre. This initiative is being spearheaded by Kelly, who for the past 2 years has been running a creative writing group called Grit Uplifted (check out their amazing work at grituplifted.tumblr.com).
Kelly, for a long time, has had a dream of a regular publication that features the work of these groups. This is in part inspired by a book that was put out by Youth Opportunities Unlimited, called Flying a Sign, a portion of which can be seen here. The idea is to capture the text and the images in their unedited, pure form. This whole concept fits well with our idea of engaging with public perceptions around homelessness, particularly in profiling the skills and creativity of people who are experiencing homelessness.
The good news? The project is a go. We have enough submissions to begin with already, and are thinking about an early June opening that would include a reading of some of the work, and perhaps a display of the fine arts, would have a release of the first magazine, and would profile the next Grit Uplifted group that starts on June 18th at the Central Library. Having a great network of enthusiastic people is what is making this possible.