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."
Liz Murray's childhood was bleak. Her drug-addicted parents kept a ready-supply of heroin in their family home in the Bronx -- but no food. At 15, Murray's mother died of complications from HIV/AIDS and her terminally ill father moved to a shelter, leaving her homeless. She and her sister ate from dumpsters and rode the subways at night, imagining a better life.
Talk is cheap, and Vancouver's Mark Brand exemplifies the social entrepreneur who's all about getting things done. Brand's business isn't about stuffing his personal bottom line. Over coffee at his diner, Save On Meats, he shared his vision and goal for being a leader and creating a social business model that's independently sustainable, while supporting the local community.
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.
A home is not a partisan issue. It is a basic human need, and a fundamental right. Homelessness and inadequate housing is a solvable problem for a rich democracy like Canada. Federal leadership is the only way to have a coordinated strategy across the country that ensures all the necessary stakeholders are at the table.
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.
There's a project called At Home/Chez Soi, run by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The five-year project has housed about 1,000 homeless people with mental illness in cities across Canada since it began. At Home is based on the idea that people should receive housing first, instead of waiting until they're deemed ready to re-enter society. Researchers say many participants are thriving.
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.
It is with a heavy heart that I sit to write this, because it was inspired by a recent incident in Calgary. In that incident a homeless man was eating in a local restaurant, having had a meal paid for by others. The story is a bit murky, but apparently he became a bit disruptive, and an employee at the restaurant asked him to leave. While I understand asking any disruptive patron to leave it was the words apparently used that troubles me. The employee told him to leave because he was dirty, smelly, and "looked offensive".