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  • Writer's pictureJay Hall

Canadian Policy: Death in the Streets

A few years ago I started to tune into a problem on a very personal level; homelessness. On a deeper level when you start talking about homelessness you find that the discussions quickly become about how we should treat our fellow humans who are in danger of hurting themselves or others. Quite often someone will say, “Lazy fucks need to get a job.” Then there is the always popular, “My tax dollars should not support a bunch of losers.” Of course, my personal favourite, “Not my problem.”

A lot of these responses come from a lack of understanding. I too, at one point in my life didn’t understand why they just couldn’t get a job. “If I can, so can they,” I would say. Then a few years ago I lived a couple of blocks away from a homeless shelter in Winnipeg, Canada. The nature of living in that area was such that you’d constantly run into homeless people. I got to know a few, and their stories were equally fascinating and disturbing:

  • 3 were military vets.

  • 2 were abused their entire lives.

  • 1 woman was forced into prostitution at the age of 12 by her mom, and you know how humans and habits work.

  • 5 admitted to substantial drug problems.

  • 4 lost everything due to “corporate restructuring”.

  • 1 guy was in his 70′s and gay. Back then, society rejected you for your sexual orientation and he just couldn’t get ahead.

I remembered these stories because I knew I would write this blog one day. I’ve had the info stored on my iPhone Notes app for years. Already, if you just look at the cross-section of homeless people that I know, you see the problem is not as simple as it may seem at first glance.

After spending time getting to know some of these regulars at Siloam Mission, I decided to take a tour of the facility when asked by a friend of mine who volunteers at the shelter. What I witnessed changed my perspective forever. While I was there I saw a lot of disturbing and interesting things happening around me. However, one man’s story really woke me up. 

I was taken to an area where they fit homeless people for glasses. The guy that was in the room had been abused his whole life by his dad (fracturing his skull on one occasion), lived in poverty, and turned to drugs early on just as his mom had. There was no opportunity for him to understand that his vision problems required attention. At the age of 36, he was handed his first pair of glasses. I watched his face intently. He went from indifference to utter joy within seconds. Could you imagine; 36ish years of blurred vision, and suddenly you’re able to see clearly for the first time? You’d probably cry tears of joy, right? He did. That guy sobbed in the arms of the technician taking care of him for as long as I stood there. He walked out into the main area to applause, giving the crowd a thumbs up.

This single act of compassion changed the man’s life and awoke something in me. Suddenly being homeless wasn’t about getting a job or doing drugs. It was about challenges that we see as hills and they view as Everest, or in this case challenges they literally couldn’t see. Physical ailments, mental illness, experiential DNA, genetics, nature vs nurture—the list is long—all create a set of circumstances that have some people losing the battle before they even start to fight.

So, if this revelation came years ago, why am I just now writing about this? Well, to be honest, life got in the way. I have been too busy trying to make money, be a good boyfriend, spend time with family, pay the bills, travel, and enjoy a few moments of peace. I just couldn’t actively do anything about the problem. 

Last year, my event Fear needed a charity to work with and I decided to go with a different cause in comparison to previous years. For the 2017 edition of Fear (a Halloween event), I backed that shelter from years before—Siloam Mission. While I couldn’t get anyone to call me back to get an official relationship going I decided not to let their inattentiveness sway me from helping. We launched a campaign for food, money, and clothing. Our ticket buyers, as well as staff and volunteers, contributed an overwhelming amount of goods. In fact, we had such a haul that those at Siloam asked us to take items to other shelters because they didn’t have the manpower to accommodate all of our items. I guess that’s what happens when your admin staff really don’t care about community relations. This year I hope to work with them officially.

I felt a huge sense of accomplishment from this endeavour but once again … life. Now, all I can offer the cause are my thoughts and ideas. They don’t do much good stuck in my head; hence this blog. One day, when I’ve established a sound foundation I’ll get more involved. For now, I write.

Last week I was in Vancouver, Canada and below you’ll see exactly what I saw. I didn’t take these pictures to disparage or degrade those captured, but rather to articulate how disgusting this problem is. Pictured below are humans; mother-fucking-humans. Some are surely good people, some not. Some are likely to have mental illness, drug problems, and at the very least an identity crisis. Amongst them is a common thread—challenges that seem impossible to solve.

No one should be able to look at those pictures and dismiss them, but here’s the thing, we do it often, and our government does so daily. How many times have you driven past homeless people and not given them a second thought? For how many years have we empowered government to take charge of these situations, only to end up with an East Hastings Street of Vancouver in nearly every city in the country? Now here’s a video that you probably won’t want to watch:

You’ll likely find that vid disturbing or disgusting. Perhaps you’d be scared to walk past this guy. It just depends on your life experience as to how you view his actions. I didn’t walk through the park above with fear, but that’s because of my experiences. Instead, I felt ashamed that we allowed this to happen.

The government has failed. Social programs have failed. We have failed. On so many levels we can be doing more to solve this crisis but we’re spread too thin. What I’m going to propose may be viewed as controversial and perhaps even inhumane, but I urge you to carry the following thought with you as you read on:

Doing nothing means that these people will likely die alone in a back alley somewhere or as a victim of violence. Doing nothing means that they will probably never feel the joy of a roof over their head they can afford, a relationship that fulfills their heart, a job that offers substantial rewards, or a sense of community that isn’t born out of desperation or fear for one’s life. How much do you enjoy these aspects of life? Doesn’t everyone deserve a chance to fulfill their dreams?

Before we get into the proposed idea I’d like to talk about something else.

Foreign Aid

In 2017, Canada had pledged to spend $5b on foreign aid. In the 2018 budget, an additional $2b was earmarked. Now, our country is criticized heavily for “not spending enough”. I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but don’t those in other countries look at Canada as a land of opportunity? How can we present ourselves as such a prosperous country when our own people are suffering in the streets?

Now, let’s keep in mind that foreign aid budgets get chopped up and broken down before they get to the actual countries. Plus, on top of that, out of sight out of mind; we have no idea what’s happening with that money. Additionally, Canada is spending over $500m talking about the issue of foreign aid. Justin Trudeau and company get to travel and live it up while discussing how to help people in other countries as if we in Canada is an authority on the subject.

Yes, Canada is in better shape than Syria, however, it stands to reason that if we’re going to draw these invisible lines in the sand called borders, that we should be minding our own house before telling others how to run theirs.

What could we do domestically with an additional $5b/year to combat homelessness?

Look at these stats:

  • In Canada, the annual costs for persons struggling with homelessness and mental illness are high — a whopping $53,144 per person. This number comes from research published this summer from the At Home Chez Soi (AHCS) project, which offers an accurate costing in Canada of those often termed “hard to house.”

  • Some 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night, while 235,000 will have this experience over a year.

  • Between 3 million and 4.5 million Canadians (9 to 13%) are living in poverty.

  • In 2014, nearly 3,000 veterans spent time in a shelter.

  • The 2017 federal budget was Canada’s most important for housing since 1993. It proposed investments of $11.2 billion over 11 years, including $2.1 billion to expand and extend funding for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) beyond 2018-19. 

Between mental health, addiction rehabilitation, assimilation back into society, housing, and general homelessness issues we aren’t even scratching the surface, and it’s because we’re treating cancer with a band-aid. 

The Proposal

We let problems get worse because we’re too scared to do what needs to be done to solve the underlying issue. Currently, unless a homeless person becomes a real issue for those that aren’t homeless, or unless he or she is approached with help we ignore what’s happening.

Right now, you are paying on average, $53,144 for treatment of homelessness and mental illness PER PERSON. Do you feel like your money is well spent? If we dealt with the problem of fires by arming children with buckets full of water would you accept such a policy? Fuck no. So why do you accept this? Oh right, you don’t really go into “those areas”.

What I’m going to propose will seem radical but we’re not the solving problems currently, so we need to step it up in a big way and fast. What I propose is a new program to deal with the problems head-on through a series of new initiatives.

Step 1: Policy

To enforce this new program some controversial policies will need to be passed. However, you’ll want to read to the end before you go bitch on social media that I’m a communist. The first policies of importance are laws that make it illegal to squat, and be visibly inebriated in public. Two separate policies that I’m sure you’re already fuming over. That makes homelessness illegal—how dare you! Well, that’s kinda the point. We need a way to make the program effective.

Step 2: Treatment

Now, what do we do when someone breaks these laws? Do we arrest them? Not initially. What I propose is a community enforcement initiative. The person breaking the law is given the opportunity to be checked in for treatment. If they pass on the opportunity, then they are arrested BUT NO ONE goes to jail. All persons are taken to a facility for treatment—whether that be for mental illness, addiction, or both.

This piece of the program is based on a strong assumption that I’ve tested out. No person in their right mind wants to live on the streets. If given the chance, every single person would rather live the life that many of us have made a reality for ourselves.

The program successes are actively marketed online, and those in the community that need help but have yet to be reached can see the successes on screens set up in the problem areas. This will make it more likely for them to seek help.

Step 3: Assimilation Back into Society

Once clean and treated, assignment of living can be undertaken. For those too mentally ill to take care of themselves, we treat in a more advanced facility. For those that can function on their own, they move into a dorm-style living space complete with a floor supervisor. They also sign an employment and enforcement contract. Their jobs start with the jobs that aren’t currently being attended to—meaning cleaning up the streets they once called home. From there, better jobs are offered through a program that responsible, non-discriminatory employers become a part of. This would come after a considerable time in treatment to reduce the risk of falling off the wagon. 

In the dorm facilities they will be drug tested, have access to community psychiatrists, and given the assistance they need to make it out there in the world, which could include schooling and preparation to go it on their own.

Step 4: Freedom or Jail

You can only help someone so much before there is nothing left to do. For anyone not following through on their agreements, they would then be arrested and have to go through a trial while having an ankle bracelet installed and house arrest in their dorm. This might seem harsh but we all have free will, and if it’s our will to slap the hand that feeds us, causing harm, then any of us deserve to be treated harshly.

For those that follow the program, well, they move out of the dorm after 3-years and into a normal life. You’re probably saying 3-years is too long! Well, 3-years in this program vs 3-years on the streets isn’t a bad deal at all.

Who Administers this Program?

Not a single politician! They simply approve the funding that is presented by those actually running the program; the experts. We would assemble a team in each city of the necessary personnel to get the job done.

Politicians just want to make money. This is not a program that should be corrupted by the all mighty dollar, so keep them out. Psychologists, doctors, mental health aids, and various other professionals that actually know a thing or two about the problems that these people face would head the program.

The Cost

Oh boy, would this be costly! Surely, that $53,144 per person cost that we currently shell out would look like peanuts … at first. However, we’re thinking long-term here. Over a few years our costs would skyrocket, but then something amazing would happen. The communities of homeless would all but disappear. Those in need wouldn’t be afraid of asking for help.

Crime, homelessness, beautification, hospitalization, infrastructure, and other costs would all plummet. In fact, in all likelihood, the only cost that would increase is the mental health budget. This is simply because we’d actually be helping those that need it.

It might sound harsh, but spending your nights in an institution is better than spending your nights on the street.

Hello, Justin Trudeau?

If the Canadian government wants to help other countries once we’ve solved this issue, rock on! We need to be a strong global community to survive. However, we need to take care of our immediate family first.

I’m sure you’ll read this and find all kinds of holes in my proposal. Good! That means you’re actually thinking about the problem. I propose this as the first step in a conversation about homelessness and mental health. All plans can be refined and improved upon. I’m also acutely aware we likely don’t have the right leader for an aggressive plan. Captain Snowflake, AKA Lieutenant SJW, AKA the lesser JT, AKA Tru-don't, just doesn’t have it in him to be an aggressive leader. Maybe this can be a conversation that gets us someone who is less worried about offending people, and more worried about solving actual problems. 

Let’s start talking and crush homelessness.


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