What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? – Part 4

Visit Part 1 of the series at this short url –

http://tinyurl.com/whyhomeless

A Call to Action:

In Parts 1 to 3 of the series, we have investigated the root cause of homelessness.  I mentioned the need to decide upon a definition of homelessness.  I’d like to postpone that for a short time because there is a window of opportunity right now to impact homelessness services that requires a call to action.  There is an excellent article on defining “homelessness” by Lyne Casavant, of the Political and Social Affairs Division, Government of Canada,  from January 1999 at “Definition of Homelessness”.

I recently proposed the formation of a task force on the root causes of homelessness in an email to some key stakeholders here in Canada, because as I have said –

the issue of affordable housing does not sufficiently capture the underlying “root” cause of homelessness

My message was addressed to the members of the EFC Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness – advocates in their own right representing several organizations devoted to helping the homeless. I also included Joe Elkerton, our Executive Director at Project417 and several other stakeholders, friends and community members with a heart for the homeless. The text of that message follows –

city of angels

“Some of you I have met and had a chance to discuss the challenges in ministering to the homeless.  I’ve been with Joe Elkerton at Project417 – Ekklesia Inner City Ministries for more than five years – my position there is 100% faith based and I was commissioned to this work with the homeless by my home church,  Mississauga Chinese Baptist Church.  Primarily I work out on the streets of Toronto year round in what we call “sandwich runs” to the homeless with over 2,000 volunteers every year. I’m currently engaged in a process that is exploring the root causes of homelessness – in a series of posts at my blog  (quicklink http://tinyurl.com/whyhomeless )  and I would appreciate your comments and input.

More –  in keeping with the spirit of the Ottawa manifesto, I would suggest that now is the time to –

“…SPEAK on [the homeless’] behalf when their own voices are not heard, and support them in speaking for themselves, to the end that Canadian churches, governments, media and businesses would make the substantial reduction of homelessness, poverty and their root causes a high priority”.

I know that each of you works tirelessly for the homeless both in your respective organizations and as members of the EFC roundtable – don’t consider it an indictment when I say that we have not yet done enough for our homeless friends. Consider it a call to action or a call to arms:

” — Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon… Neh. 4:17

We need to re-visit the issue of the root causes of homelessness and use our findings to publicly articulate an actionable plan to reduce homelessness. We need to wrest control of the issues from interest groups and some activist organizations which, in my opinion, have co-opted the true needs of our homeless friends. We need to make recommendations that can be life changing and give hope to our entire community. We all suffer the effects of homelessness in our society.  One of our friends, Bob Buckley,  has said recently in his blog The Pathway to Hope –

“Our society in it’s desire to help the brokenhearted,  is part of the problem. We provide enough care to maintain a level of survival that I would call the living dead”.

All of us when pressed admit the root causes of homelessness are complex, but complexity is not impossible to fathom. We all know the simple straight-forward answers most people give for homelessness –

# Alcohol and drug abuse, addictions
# Loss of a job, the economy, bankruptcy
# Family problems and break-ups
# Lack of education – not being qualified for well paying job
# Poor judgment, making bad choices and laziness
# Choice – some people just choose to be homeless
# Mental illness
# Physical disability
# Abuse in the home – youth runaways
# Violence against women


To these are most often added
a key element – the lack of affordable housing.  Housing has become the clarion call for many homeless service organizations across Canada and the United States and for some time, I too thought that was the key, (or adequate housing to use the UN definition in which affordability is but one factor).  But we all know that it is still not so simple.  All of the homeless must be missing one thing in common, like lacking the anti-bodies to fight a disease. I often tell my volunteers they are missing just one person who cares. Love is the missing ingredient.  And our Christian community is called by Christ to be the people who love other people.  We have the Author of love as our example. God IS love. We are called by love its very self to love both our neighbours and our enemies.

How then is this “lack of love” manifested in people before they become homeless – because that is what we must address. We are all very skilled at loving the homeless after the fact. It is this realization that suggests that homelessness is not primarily a poverty issue. Here in Canada at least, it is not primarily the poor that are becoming homeless.  Homelessness visits every strata of our society, rich and poor.  The poverty-centric disaster relief and healing services must continue – we can do no less.  But we must take the next steps in the fight against homelessness – just as with heart disease or diabetes – Prevention and search for the cure.

Many of you have already said as much, although in different words. Greg Paul writes on the EFC website –

Although these “reasons” are some of the huge problems to be addressed if my friends are ever to find homes, these aren’t the root cause why they have ended up living on the street. Experiences of significant and repeated physical and/or sexual abuse—which many studies correlate with roughly 85 percent of homeless youth—now that gets a little closer to the bone…

Joe Elkerton has discussed with me the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD – displayed amongst our most chronically homeless street friends, especially of the First Nations,  and how their inner pain triggers the terrible and self-destructive behaviour we witness daily.

A recent study by Dr Stephen Hwang at St. Mike’s reveals that more than one in three of Toronto’s homeless suffered a traumatic brain injury prior to ending up on the streets .

A recent study I became aware of only days ago, by Heather Larkin of the University of Albany – shows the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences – ACE – and homelessness. From her study –

More than 85 percent of the homeless respondents reported having experienced at least one of 10 categories of adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Many (52.4 percent) had experienced more than four categories of traumatic events when growing up. … There is a high ACE prevalence among the homeless people in this study. Individuals with high ACE scores may be more vulnerable to economic downturns and cultural oppression, a person-environment interaction increasing the likelihood of homelessness. Service responses focused on identifying and addressing childhood traumas hold an opportunity for addressing ACEs before they contribute to homelessness.”

I’d suggest a task force be assembled to re-define from the ground up the root causes of homelessness, refine the church’s response, to separate service responses pre- and post-homeless, to help prevent, treat and heal homelessness in our community. You’re all invited.

We really should meet.

<><
Andy Coats
Project417
andyc@project417.com

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Acts 3:1-7
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.  And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene–walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. NASB

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Andy! Read the latest post and wholeheartedly agree with your idea of establishing a task-force! We’ll certainly continue the dialogue (as well as the action)!

  2. Thanks Rahim. Welcome to the task force! Invite more friends

  3. […] my last post I said: We need to re-visit the issue of the root causes of homelessness and use our findings to […]

  4. […] my recent post, What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? Part 4,  I wrote:  “A  study by Heather Larkin of the University of Albany – shows the link […]

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