For the past three years Calgary, where I live, has been working on its “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.” One of the biggest shifts since ‘ending homelessness’ became a part of the city’s social consciousness, and an official component of its social policy structure, is the decrease in panhandlers on our streets. Agency workers, in consort with police and other emergency services and city workers are continually scanning the streets for individuals in need of assistance. In their efforts to provide appropriately framed help that reflects the individual’s level of need, they have made a difference.
I believe raising the goal of ‘ending homelessness’ into the public psyche is vital if we are to create kinder, more caring communities. When one person falls on the street, we all fall. Providing essential care, from emergency shelter to food and clothing, and assisting in ensuring every individual receives support to address their personal needs, is critical to creating opportunities for those experiencing homelessness, and its many contributing factors, to find their way back home.
Here in Vancouver where I am currently visiting, a ‘plan to end homelessness’ was introduced last fall. And, while street homelessness has declined significantly since its high in 2008, panhandlers are very evident on the downtown streets. As in other metropolis across North America, cost of housing, addictions, lack of jobs, mental health issues, and a complex myriad of other causes contribute to ongoing homelessness. Subsequently, in a city deemed ‘the most expensive city to live in North America‘ which also boasts a temperate climate, visibly homeless individuals of all ages wander the streets, sit with hats upturned on the pavement before them, panhandling, or, aimlessly waiting for ‘that something’ that will make sense of where the path away from home has led them.
Homelessness is a complex social issue that eats at the fibre of our communities, spilling people onto the streets who never dreamt this is where they would find themselves. Helping them find a way back home is vital, important and at times, exhausting, work.
When I worked at a homeless shelter in Calgary, I believed it was vital that agencies work together, collaborate and cooperate in finding solutions that address not only the immediate needs of the people being served, but that also addressed the social and economic contributors that were leading so many people to our streets.
Being here in Vancouver, I am reminded of that imperative again. One person, one group, one agency cannot solve the social and economic issues that contribute to homelessness in one person’s life. Only through working together, only through having a goal and a dream of ‘ending homelessness’ can we build pathways that support individuals in their quest to come in from the cold.
Hats off to the team at the Calgary Homeless Foundation and to other organizations with the spirit, heart and vision to build the dream for all of us to follow. Kudos to all the agencies, from the shelters to social services to emergency services to housing support, who assist individuals to stay alive, and reclaim their lives, away from the street. And, near and dear to my heart, ’big props’ to the arts and culture groups who create innovative programs to assist individuals both with the lived experience of homelessness and the artists and art groups with a desire to connect and inspire individuals on the streets and in communities in decline to discover their dreams once again through exploring their creative essence. (ie “Art from the Ashes” — Detroit’s Heidleberg Project)
And blessings to those experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is not a dream they once held near to their hearts. It is a nightmare that only love and time and sustainable action through communities that care can help them awaken from.
People working together to end homelessness are Heroes!
And people experiencing homelessness, people sharing their lived experiences of homelessness and those seeking to understand and take action — you are all heroes too.