A Realistic, Tangible, and Cost Effective Solution to the Homelessness Problem in Calgary
This material was provided to every Calgary alderman; Alderman Dale Hodges, Alderman Gord Lowe, Alderman Jim Stevenson, Alderman Bob Hawkesworth, Alderman Ray Jones, Alderman Joe Connelly, Alderman Druh Farrell, Alderman John Mar, Alderman Joe Ceci, Alderman Andre Chabot, Alderman Brian Pincott, Alderman Ric McIver, Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart, Alderman Linda Fox-Mellway, Mayor Dave Bronconier, Provincial Politicians, Police Department and to the Media.
Street Church Ministries
1740 – 25A Street SW
July 23, 2008
To Whom It May Concern,
Please find attached to this cover letter our proposal regarding the ongoing challenges facing the City of Calgary in dealing with the homelessness issue. We believe that although there are many parties who have ideas and proposals regarding this matter, that our direct contact, on a one-on-one basis, with the poor, over the last six years, has given us insights into, not only what the major concerns are, but also affordable and effective ways of dealing with these concerns.
We would appreciate it if you would take the time to review our proposal and then if you would contact us to discuss our suggestions.
At the very least, please consider applying some of these suggestions as you see fit, since these are truly workable solutions which can start to make a difference in the lives of the homeless right away.
on behalf of Street Church Ministries
Concerned Christians Canada
A Realistic, Tangible, and Cost Effective Solution to the Homelessness Problem in Calgary
There has been much talk over the years on the matter of solutions for homelessness. After years of hearing and reading about the problem, attending forums for the poor, and seeing the governments inability to efficiently solve or even address this ongoing problem, we have decided it is time that a realistic, tangible, and cost effective solution be presented to all parties who may have a sincere desire to actually resolve chronic homelessness. This is not to say that homelessness will ever be abolished, but rather, that the problem should at least be getting gradually better rather than continuously worsening.
The most recent announcement of the 10 year plan to end homelessness, which commits over three billion dollars to the issue shows that there are funds available to deal with the problem. But throwing money at any problem, is not in itself the answer. The first place to start, is to deal with the corruption, brokenness and abuse that plagues the existing homeless shelters that have been up and running for years. There are aspects of these facilities that are redeemable, other aspects that need refining, and others still that need to be completely eradicated.
With respect to the over 3 billion dollars suggested by the plan, dealing with the current 4,000 homeless in Calgary, do the math and you will find that you could build a half a million dollar house for each and every one of them and still leave around a billion dollars in tax payers pockets. Suffice it say, that is way more than is necessary, even if you add other aspects of poverty, such as disability, mental illness, broken families, etc.
For one thing these houses have to be built, which doesn’t deal with the problem right away, as building them will take a considerable amount of time. On the other hand there are some in the homeless population who could easily live in a home that for example could be the size of an apartment rather than the size of a half million dollar home. The idea should be to provide the homeless with a clean, safe, and secure place to live, with a focus to rehabilitate them to full recovery.
This document is not theory, it is based on years of experience working directly with the poor, and will explore, testimonies, first hand accounts, problems and solutions to immediately address some of the issues facing the homelessness today and every day. If properly applied, it can save a lot of tax payers dollars and help many to get off the streets faster.
All homeless are grouped together and treated the same (in many cases)
Cyclical nature of their movement
Lack of fixed address, phone, proper secure storage, and government identification
Corruption and abuse of power in the shelters
Improper feeding of the homeless
Improper access to facilities
Laws that harass and intimidate the homeless
Homelessness is a cash cow for shelters
Ratio of workers to homeless too high (1 worker to 6 homeless – Drop-In Center)
For most of the homeless it is a warehouse
Lack of trust between the homeless and the shelters, and lack of accountability in facilities
Split the population in half
Provide secure and trustworthy private storage of belongings, provide a personal phone number with voice mail, and government issued ID, and personal fixed address (for example PO Box)
Add a under cover, private, independent accountability officer and a review board with motivating powers to monitor the facilities
Ensure that all homeless are provided with alternatives to assure that they have access to the provision of the necessities of life
Encouraging acts of selfless service of others to encourage a sense of self worth and belonging
Hand picking programming that inspires, encourages, and challenges the homeless to contribute, and to act, instead of complaining or wasting away
Homeless Are Grouped Together and Treated the Same
One of the major problems with the shelters is that all of the diverse homeless groups are put together. For example, you have drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, working poor, mentally ill, 1career homeless, and the elderly all in the same area. A case in point would be the first floor of the Drop-In Centre.
Why is this a problem? The mental state of each individual in each group is not accounted for. 65% of the homeless population are working poor, with hopes to get off the street and get re-integrated. When they are mixed together with the 35% who are not thinking along these lines, the 65% is brought down by the others.
Let us give you a few examples. You have a working man coming back from a hard day of work, most likely construction. He is tired and his psychological defenses are low. Next to him, you have a drug dealer or a user who comes along and starts pushing drugs on him. The pressure mounts, and depression often sets in due to their continued homelessness, along with the hard labor that he is involved in on a daily basis. Eventually he gives in only to repeat the cycle.
Another example; you have a working poor person coming from their work, standing in a line up or lying on their floor bed, and next to them is a career homeless who doesn’t care, and does not want to get off the street. The career homeless is laughing at the system and talks about how to abuse it. This plants the thoughts of “Why bother”, in the mind of the homeless working person. He eventually sees that it is far easier just to give up and join the ranks of the career homeless and again the cycle repeats.
You also have the elderly and mentally ill, who fall victim to the attacks of other homeless due to their inability to defend themselves. Not only that but you have women who are repeatedly and brutally raped on the streets of Calgary on a regular basis.
This whole environment puts the homeless population into survival mode which propagates more violence, hatred, depression, despair and ultimately suicide. This leaves many with the sense that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, with no way out of the viscous cycle. As this hopelessness grows, there is no hope for the future, and therefor they live for today only. They grab what they can while they are still alive since they do not know what tomorrow will bring. Bare in mind that an average of two homeless people die per week on the streets of Calgary.
This is just a few examples of what happens in the day to day lives of the homeless.
Now let us give you our thoughts, from our experience, in dealing with the poor one on one over the last six years, of how address this issue. Our suggestion is to separate into three groups the homeless population.
The first group are the working poor and those who desperately want to get off the street. This group would stay downtown. Why downtown? Because of easy access to transportation and to employment opportunities – c-train, cash corner, etc, along with direct access to the shelters which already exist.
Most likely, the working poor have one common focus in mind, to get off the street without causing a lot of trouble. The largest amount of energy and resources should be focused on this group as they are the most willing and able to reintegrate as contributing citizens, which means transitioning them to full independence.
By this we are not saying that the second or third groups are less important or less deserving. What we are saying is that the approach to relating to each group must be different, and that each group needs to be separated from the others. For the drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, career homeless, and others who are able to work but are unwilling to do so, we propose that a satellite shelter at the edge of the city should be built, with provision of all necessities of life – three meals a day, shelter and a clean bed to sleep in. This group of people will require attention for much longer.
This group of people are the group who are most likely to cause trouble in the downtown core and who will drag others into their viscous cycles.
The third group are the elderly and the mentally ill. This group of people requires special attention and health care. It is a shame that our society does not provide proper facilities for these very vulnerable citizens who are subject to violence and abuse. It’s not uncommon to meet people, on the street, over the age of eighty years of age abandoned by society.
For all these groups, what is required, at minimum, is three meals a day and proper shelter. Right now, this is not happening.
The working poor, for example, when they come back from a hard day at work are not provided the necessities of life. This is due to the fact that the other categories of homeless are at the shelters all day and have ready access to the provisions. Whereas, the working poor will often arrive at the shelter to find that there is not much food left for them, and in some cases limited access to beds means that they will not have one for night. The irony is that these people are the ones who are really trying to get back on their feet, and it seems that everything works against them, and this should not be the case. Imagine, working all day, with hope to soon get off the streets, only to find that the drug dealers, pimps prostitutes, etc…, are abusing the system and you just get slapped in the face for trying so hard.
Another aspect, of the climate of homelessness in Calgary, is the cyclical nature of their movement. Over a few months they shift from one shelter to another, using resources in multiple locations, and every shelter that helps these individuals includes them in their yearly totals. This is to say that, for example, the Drop-In Centre states that, in a year, they serve 15,000 different individuals under their roof, but these people are not just staying at the Drop-In, they shift from one shelter to the next. So although they may have left the Drop-In they are not necessarily off the street, but the next shelter records them as a new person when they arrive at their shelter, and the cycle continues.
There is another primary challenge facing those who are homeless in Calgary. This area of concern was raised last year in a conversation with an ex-police officer, Steve Chapman. At the time, he indicated that some key obstructions that limit the poor in finding permanent, stable, and long term work opportunities are; the lack of government issued id, a fixed mailing address, a permanent phone number (with dedicated voice mail) and secure and trustworthy private storage for their belongings. He also indicated that these obstacle could be dealt with at minimum cost.
Now let’s deal with the shelters themselves. To start with, the whole system of shelters has to be evaluated and changed, for one important reason – they are not successful.
Shelters – Here are the Main Concerns:
Barring Entry and Denying Necessities of Life
Abuse of Power, Drug Dealing, and Stealing of Provisions (food and clothes that were designated to the poor) and unexplained disappearance of personal belongings
You may be thinking, “Are you suggesting that the shelters are corrupted?”. The answer is, “Yes we are making that assertion.” This is not based on our personal opinion, but rather on hundreds of complaints that we have received from the homeless population, while taking care of them downtown. Many of them have been barred from the facilities just for talking to us about the corruption. We have in our possession many taped recordings of testimonies of things happening inside some of the shelters.
For example, one lady, barred for life from a shelter, testified that she was barred for the fact that she would not sleep with one of the members of the staff of one of the shelters. Some others have stated that drugs are freely distributed, unencumbered, inside the facilities. You may not, perhaps, believe one or two accounts of such claims, but when you receive hundreds, it certainly makes you question the accountability of the facilities and causes great concern for the homeless.
Our solution would include hiring a dedicated, full-time, independent accountability officer, who would make under cover visits to the facilities, speak with the homeless and watch what goes on, on a regular and ongoing basis. This solution would only require one dedicated individual to monitor the activities of the staff, volunteers, and patrons inside all the shelters, as they would pay random ongoing visits to all facilities and report on their findings. This investigator should report to a review board who would have the cooperation of the police and should also have the ability to influence funding adjustments, as required to properly motivate each shelter. This one person would save millions of dollars in misappropriated resources.
2) Barring Entry and Denying Necessities of Life
For frivolous reasons, people are barred from the shelters, which creates additional problems for a few reasons. First, they are forced to sleep outside, without any other option, second they are hungry and desperate and fearful, which causes them to commit crimes which would otherwise not be committed. This results in an additional problem, since there are laws implemented in this city which prohibit people from camping or sleeping outside, under the bridges etc.
Don’t get us wrong, we are not against laws and regulations, which are in many cases needed to ensure public safety, but the law has to take into account the conditions at hand. There are presently hundreds of people, who are barred from every shelter in the city, leaving them destitute with no choice but to sleep outside. Add to this, the fact that you have officers and laws preventing them from doing this, conflict is inevitable, and it leaves the homeless in a catch 22 scenario.
Take for example, pan handling, if you put in place laws outlawing pan handling, and yet do not provide people with the necessities of life, what is a person to do if they are not able to work? Are they to steal for their needs? Would that be an acceptable solution? Obviously not!
Some of those people who are barred, you may say, deserve to be barred, because they show up stoned, drunk, or have become defiant to the rules of the shelters or have acted violently while in a shelter. However, kicking them out, without giving them an alternative, and implementing laws to hunt them like criminals, is not solving the problem, is it? The problem remains, and tax payers money is wasted, because after they have received many tickets, which they cannot pay, they end up in jail.
We contend that every human being must be provided the necessities of live regardless of his present state or his behavior (a meal and a clean and safe place to stay). Most of the people that we deal with are extremely violent, yet manageable. We are not denying that these people are problematic, and difficult to deal with, but by denying them their fundamental rights, you are adding to their aggression, frustration and hatred, which creates even more problems in the long run. It is better to give a person a meal and a roof over their head, even when they are drunk, stoned, or use inappropriate language, than to have them wandering around the streets of Calgary, potentially harming other citizens.
To summarize, you can implement and enforce laws if you are providing alternatives for every person that finds themselves in that position.
For example, in Poland, there are no homeless people sleeping in the parks or on the streets. Law enforcement officers, when they see such an individual, take them under their care, and drive them to the appropriate shelter, in which they will be provided with all the necessities of life. If they are violent and aggressive, they stay in the custody of the officers and are confined until the next day, at which point they are released. This ensures the safety of such a person and the safety of the public.
In the years dealing with the homeless one common factor repeated itself; despair, hopelessness, and a false belief that their tomorrow will be as rotten as today. They have the sense that no one cares if they live or die, they feel rejected from society, they feel that they are a loser and worth nothing, they literally have little or no self-worth. So what happens when these people enter a shelter is that they have an attitude of “let me be, leave me alone, I just want to get through the day, I know that you don’t really care.”
Warehousing institutionalizes people and does not promote and challenge them to do what it takes to change their situation. For example, you can have, at times, hundreds of homeless sitting around tables, doing nothing all day long, sleeping, and watching TV. Even though there are programs in the shelters, these individuals are not properly encouraged to participate in them. If they do not chose to partake in the programs that have been made available to them, the shelters allow them to wallow in self pity.
Our suggestion is that the shelters provide programs that would constantly challenge, gently force, and inspire those individuals into some sort of action and activities.
The best example, is currently happening on the streets of Calgary, when the homeless are serving, and helping to provide for the needs of the other homeless, as volunteers, along side our regular volunteers. Being involved in selfless acts gives them a sense of purpose, helps them to feel like an accepted and contributing citizen. There is nothing more that builds a person’s self esteem than feeling like they are wanted, accepted and contributing to serving the needs of others. After a while, their desire to integrate back into society grows to the point where, if they are given a chance (i.e. – affordable housing or to work at a decent job), they will eagerly jump at the opportunity.
Another suggestion, would be to, instead of allowing these people to sit and watch shows which are not beneficial and in many cases are depressing, only show inspirational, positive, hope filled, and family oriented programming. Family oriented since many of these homeless have families left behind, and watching such programming is likely to encourage a positive desire to reunite and mend rifts.
4) Abuse of Power, Drug Dealing, and Stealing of Provisions (foods and clothes that were designated to the poor) and unexplained disappearance of personal belongings
We have gathered hundreds of accounts of witnesses, of abuse of power, such as physical abuse and mental abuse by members of shelter staff towards their homeless patrons. If some kind of abuse occurs, there is absolutely no accountability in place, and no recourse for the abused. With the review board in place, we suggest that the homeless should be able to file a complaint describing what happened to them and that the review board would have the under cover accountability officer investigate and report back to them. If upon investigation it was proved that abuse occurred they could then take action on behalf of the abused. In some cases this could involve a check up by a medical professional to verify claims of physical or sexual abuse.
As an example of how a staff member can abuse their power, we will use the scenario of barring a patron. In this example a staff person has an issue with you or does not like you, or for any of a thousand different reasons, they decide to bar you from the shelter, possibly to your death, this creates fear and panic and gives an unhealthy amount of power to the staff member over you the patron. In effect, this sets the staff member as king over you, his subject. After a while, homeless people are living in constant fear of being rejected or kicked out from the facilities.
Again we want to make it clear that it is our contention that that every man, needs to be guaranteed, food, clothing, and a safe place to stay, regardless of their present state (drunkenness, being stoned, or verbal abusing staff). Releasing them back to the streets sets up a possible attack on other citizens.
Drugs is another problem in the shelters as access to them is widely available. In other words, if you are looking for drugs, just stop at the shelter. For example, the Salvation Army Centre of Hope is nicknamed by the street people, Centre of Dope. Some street people even claim that some staff members have been involved in using and distributing drugs in the facilities.
On numerous occasions we have received eye witness accounts of food deliveries being brought to the shelters, and ending up in staff members cars, in their trunks. As a matter of fact, some homeless were stating that they were asked by staff to load their vehicles and to keep it quiet. We find this especially frustrating since it has been shown that many of the homeless are underfed. How can we say that they are underfed? We know, not only because of the accounts of the homeless, but also due to the fact that we carried out our own investigation sending a licensed nutritionist to view and report on what the homeless receive.
As suspected the report indicated that they truly are inadequately fed. For example, a full grown working man, in some instances receives a single baked potato and beans representing the full meal, in another example, just pasta with no sauce. This considering that a man about to go work, doing construction work, receives a single bowl of cereal to carry him through the day.
Another concern facing the homeless is that trust between staff and patrons is constantly being broken, which contributes to the problem. Furthermore, we have accounts from the homeless, stating that their belongings have disappeared from supposedly secure lockers, which builds a huge mistrust between the staff and the patrons.
Let’s face it, shelters are supposed to help integrate broken down people back into society. Many of those individuals (homeless), have lost everything, sometimes due to their own mistakes, sometimes because of misfortunes. The facilities, primary purpose should be to lend a helping hand, in other words to be a blessing in a time of need. Unfortunately, what has happened in this city and perhaps in other cities, as well, is that these organizations have in some cases become a curse and instead of helping they are hurting. Our own personal opinion, is that their first motives were noble, but somewhere down the line, others became greedy, and the misfortunes of the homeless have become a cash cow for others.
Take, for example, the Drop-In Centre’s ratio of patrons to staff members, currenty at about six to one. Ask yourself a question, “Why would those bureaucrats and staff give up their livelihood serving the needs of the poor by solving the homelessness issue?” That would mean the end of their career (pay cheque). This high ratio resembles a day care scenario. The money that is designated to help the less fortunate of our society get off the streets are being used wildly on bureaucrats, which is unconscionable.
According to our research, listening to the countless testimonies, and watching closely the ongoing problem of homelessness, we came to one conclusion, some are getting very wealthy, and some are further away from accomplishing the goal of ending homelessness.
Instead of throwing billions of dollars at the problem, we suggest, that we look closely at how the money is being spent right now, a key aspect of this process would fall into the hands of a dedicated full time independent accountability officer, and the review board, who would report on ethics, financial stewardship, treatment of the homeless, and success of the programs.
In conclusion, we understand that the problem of homelessness is very complex, and not easy to solve, but also, not impossible. Of coarse, we acknowledge that affordable housing is required for those who truly desire to, and work at being, reintegrated back into society. Some of the affordable housing needs could easily addressed, with minimal additional cost, by merely legalizing secondary suites. This has been proposed repeatedly by Calgarians and the only encumbrance to this possibility is the will of city council. Thousands of suites at affordable prices could then be immediately available in the rental market. Solving much of the long term housing needs that are seen in Calgary today.
It is true that affordable, apartment style units could be built similar to the current Dream Centre project on MacLeod Trail, but this could be evaluated after legalizing secondary suites to see if there was still a need. With hundreds of thousands of homes in Calgary, there could easily be 4,000 affordable suites created from the legalized secondary suite scenario. In some cases the rental assistance program that currently exists could be employed, with some minor changes to deal with the needs of the homeless during the re-integration process, but the key issue that they regain their hope for the future, which can be tightly tied to having their own place to live.
Our success stories are always repeating themselves, with the same key ingredient, the repetition of the positive and loving, message of hope. When they grab that message of hope, it is a great source of strength that drives them to getting off the streets.
We understand that these suggestions are the tip of the iceberg, and in order for us to flesh out the details we would need to sit with interested parties and fold out the full plan. There are many details relating to how each of the different departments would work. Of coarse, the problem is bigger than the individual aspects we have covered. For example, we did not cover those individuals who are or should be on AISH, disability, or those in wheelchairs, those affected by domestic violence, or homeless families with kids.
We feel that although the homelessness issue is large, to properly attack the issue, requires only some small commitments of finances, and targeted changes in the way the shelters run, along with proper accountability through monitoring existing programs. Then when the effects of these changes are seen, the situation would need to be re-evaluated, but at that point the main problems and corruption will have been dealt with and a strong foundation will be in place moving forward. This is far better than pouring billions into a broken system which with a rotten foundation.
Another key aspect we did not cover, is the spiritual need of every human being. Access to services, pastoral care, and group meetings. In our experience, touching their very inner being, was the beginning of successfully taking people of the streets.
We have found out over the six years of our ministry, that many homeless have participated in positive thinking programs and have tried to help themselves, but were unable to. They ended up losing hope that anything would ever change, since it did not seem to matter how many times they worked at it, or how much advice of well meaning individuals they followed, the results ended up the same.
It is said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
We tell them, stop this vicious cycle, put your trust in the mighty, merciful, compassionate and loving God, and he will accomplish through you what you were never, with all of your striving, able to do. The results have been marvelous. We have seen hearts, lives, and families restored and renewed when they find out about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ for their past actions, they realize, perhaps for the first time, they can truly start with a fresh slate.
We look forward to speaking with any individuals, politicians, business leaders, or key players in homeless shelters that are truly interested in dealing with the problem in a responsible, affordable, and effective way.
Please feel free to contact us at 403-607-4434 with any questions, comments, or suggestions you may have regarding this proposal.
To find out more about our ministry, visit http://www.streetchurch.ca/.
1 homeless that are living this lifestyle because they want to, these are the homeless that generally use and abuse the system