Issac Newton said that for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. While this may be true for physics, it certainly does not carry over into interpersonal matters. Often the gentlest of gestures, smallest of actions or the quietest of whispered kind words will have an avalanche effect on the lives of others.
Something largely overlooked by wide media coverage of the federal government's Economic Action Plan 2013 was that it marked a significant change in the way we will tackle homelessness in this country. The policy lens dramatically shifts from supports for "helping the homeless" to "ending homelessness."
My daughter would come home sad everyday. She would cry every week. We would have pep talks regularly, but I could not mend her broken heart. I could not take back the words kids said to my child. Her loneliness haunted me. As a mother, I was watching a child dying on the inside. It was like watching a beautiful flower wilting in the cold.
With support from Electronics Arts, the Directions Youth Services media room helps street youth find the voice many never realized was inside them. Co-ordinator Colin Ford and the staff teach music, art, audio recording, film-making, computer literacy, digital media skills and teamwork. They provide an opportunity for social inclusion and creative expression where it might not have existed before.
Project Winter Survival is a remarkable event where volunteers come together to help the homeless survive the cold winters. With the growing Canada-wide demand for Project Winter Survival's kits, being able to help as many of the homeless as possible is what my Bargains Group team pushes for, and this year were able to pack and distribute 3,000 kits.
Homelessness is more than a social issue, it's a health issue. At Home/Chez Soi has housed about 1,000 people with mental illness in five cities across Canada. Many of them are thriving. A chronic lack of affordable housing and stable employment opportunities that pay a living wage for low-skilled workers are often the reason people end up homeless in the first place.
The hardest part of that week was trying to maintain some semblance of normality in every other aspect of my life. I tell this story for one reason: to highlight the incredible resilience of those living on the streets. I was fortunate. My experience was fleeting, and yet, that brief stint of not having a place to call home impacted me greatly.
Until I started working at The Mustard Seed, an organization working with individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty, I asked and was asked "how are you?" a lot. The reply I got was almost always the same: "I'm good, thanks, and you?" But one girl changed my mind, and taught me to listen. As important as I've realized this practice is in everyday relationships, it is even more important when working with vulnerable populations.
I am sitting in the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto, with Ve'ahavta Street Academy (VSA) students. VSA is a school for the homeless and near homeless. As a Holocaust survivor begins to relay her tale of struggle, I wonder, what are the addicts and former addicts thinking when the presentation is summed up with, "This isn't a very happy story"? But they are alike: They have all survived one more day.
Housing is increasingly unaffordable for many. Federal support for housing has plummeted and could decrease further in an era of so-called fiscal restraint. The numbers point to more and more households unable to meet, or at risk of not meeting, basic needs including housing. Something's gotta give.