Harm Reduction – Humanitarian Approach to Drug Abuse Treatment

In my time working with the homeless community on the streets of Toronto, one of the hardest issues to deal with was the incidence of drug abuse – crack, morphine, heroin, oxycontin, crystal meth – especially among street youth. When I learned of the “harm reduction” approach to treatment, I realized it was the true humanitarian, compassionate approach. The following is a ground breaking document produced by the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies with resources for supporting Harm Reduction programs in your community.

Report – Out of Harm’s Way: Injecting Drug Users & Harm Reduction,

Author: IFRC, published 2011 on Scribd

In this report, the IFRC challenges policymakers, governments and donors to move beyond their own prejudices to work with stakeholders, multi-lateral organizations, civil society and those living with HIV to provide prevention, treatment, care and support to injecting drug users and their families.

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Joe Elkerton of Project417 – First Nations Survivor

My good friend Joe Elkerton was recently interviewed and shared the challanges he faced growing up as a First Nations child in Toronto. A true survivor, Joe works tirelessly out on the streets of Toronto with Project417  to help the homeless, the disenfranchised and the vulnerable, forgotten people trapped in the sex trade. Worth watching – share it widely.

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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

:: Forward this to anyone you like and re-print it onyour website or blog

:: connect with me on Twitter @canayjun and join the #whyhomeless movement

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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Toronto Tamil protest increasingly disruptive

Toronto Tamil Protest – latest demonstration

[read the full post here]

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The Tamil community has probably lost much moral support as a result of the disruptions yesterday. I first reported on their denigrating verbal assault on a defenceless homeless woman on University Avenue and the protesters attempts to dislodge her from the small patch of concrete she sleeps on last week. I lost respect for their protests then, even though I support an end to the violence in Sri Lanka.

Many will be similarly opposed to the local Tamil community’s support of the Tamil Tigers, offficially known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and classified as terrorists by the Canadian government. Many in history have called rebels freedom fighters, and to a certain extent the designation is often decided by the winning side in a civil war. But terrorism has an uglier side, and I’m reminded that some in Canada viewed the FLQ – the Front de Liberation du Quebec – as freedom fighters – when in fact they were violent criminals best known for murdering Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte and stuffing him in the trunk of a car. The FLQ committed more than 200 violent crimes including terrorist bombings resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians….

read more | digg story

The distateful under-belly of the Tamil protest in Toronto

Discrimination and hate-speech mar protest

(read the rest here – Canada News)

Harassing the homeless: deplorable conduct

One incident, not reported in the news until now, revealed to me the distasteful underbelly of the Tamil protest movement in the GTA and their view of the community they have chosen to live in. I work for Project417 a grassroots charity that helps the homeless out on the streets of Toronto. I’m out there several nights a week with volunteer groups of about ten to fifteen people, meeting with our homeless friends who are absolutely without shelter, sleeping on the streets of Toronto. As we passed the Tamil protest one night recently on University Avenue in front of the Court buildings we were headed to visit one friend, a homeless lady who has been sleeping nearby for several months – right through the depths of the winter…

Groups of protesters began visiting her, many of them Tamil Canadian youth. They yelled at her, they swore at her. They told her to leave, because they didn’t want her sleeping there. They said she was dirty and indecent. They said they didn’t want to be near her disease (their faulty asumption, our friend is healthy). They called her a prostitute (whore) and a drug addict, neither of which is the case. Unfortunately, I was supervising several youth volunteers (youth, by the way, who were with me delivering food and friendly smiles to the homeless) and had to leave, so I don’t know how the night progressed, but I fear the worst.

Here is an example of a not so desirable, but instructive view of the Tamil protesters. Claiming to be speaking out for fairness and a humanitarian cause – they prove to be blind to the needs of people in their own GTA communty…

read more | digg story

Chief Phil Fontaine and AFN receive Pope’s apology for abuse

ChiRo dreamcatcher::

Pope expresses sorrow over residential school abuses –

Papal visit results in apology

Pope’s expression of sorrow over deplorable treatment of First Nations native children in Canadian Residential Schools assimilation program where the Catholic Church ran 90% of the schools. Abuse was…

read more | digg story

Youth Grafitti Artists still treated as criminals

tagged!

tagged!

Grafitti – a fact of life in most urban areas, has always been a topic of much controversy. Some see it as art and expression, while others see it as vandalism, and a barometer of criminal gang activities. All municipalities have laws prohibiting grafitti to varying degrees and by far the majority of grafitti and “tagging” is created by youth. [ all photos with the article by ACoats 2007]

Reported last week on the CBC – “Manitoba man arrested after posting graffiti on Facebook“. [note – the man was a youth under 17 when posting the tags – A tag is the unique, stylized signature of the person who created the graffiti]

And my comments posted with the cbc.ca article:

Grafitti: nuisance and crime? or, art and free speech? The majority flows from the spray cans and brushes of our youth – as was this “creator”. Is it vandalism, or expression? Which is more visually disturbing – a taggers signature, or a giant 50% OFF SALE sign? Which is more depressing to see plastered all over the city – grafitti artists’ tags and names or public signage in bold black and red, “NO LOITERING”, “NO SHIRTS, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE”? Note to business owners – you want attention? Engage a tagger to liven up that blank concrete wall or make your window display more relevant. Note to Selkirk and St. Clements’ councils and the RCMP – treating grafitti as crime will never end it. You need to support community initiatives which give youth alternatives to gangs. You have far worse problems in your midst than tagging. The Five Man Electrical Band’s anthem, “Signs” is still worth a listen…

Living and working on the streets of Toronto, I see my share of grafitti and I feel it falls into four categories: street art, social commentary, tagging and lastly destructive defacement. You can see from the photo below, that this tag has a destructive element in blocking a store window. You should also know that the storefront was empty for months, and the only view it offered to the street was peeling, yellowed newspaper taped in place.

window grafitti on SpadinaIt could have been worse – in this area, taggers have taken to using glass cutters on windows to carve their grafitti right into the window, causing shopowners to replace the whole window at a very high cost. This is destructive tagging as protest and defacement.

So Hip It Hurts mural

So Hip It Hurts mural

Here, on Queen Street West in Toronto, a clothing store commissioned a large grafitti mural on a second floor sidewall of their store. Normally, I find these murals remain untouched, but this one has been defaced by other street artists and taggers alike.

City of Angels muralAlso on Queen West, the City of Angels store mural has remained untouched by taggers for years, and Grossman’s Tavern, a blues club, has had it’s beautiful yellow facade left untouched until only recently.

Grossmans Tavern or Big Yellow

Grossmans Tavern or Big Yellow

apple iPod grafitti :: Compare street artists, taggers and other grafitti to    the  corporate grafitti and other “approved” legal signage and banners around the city. Which is more pleasing to the eye? Apple’s iPod campaign at the left or the literally thousands of signs that compete for space in the same Chinatown district so plagued by grafitti. Maybe taggers  are reacting to the senseless commercial sign pollution of their neighbourhoods.

Is Toronto's sign bylaw being obeyed?

Is Toronto's sign bylaw being obeyed?

Then there’s the famous “Hug me tree” on Queen West. The photo below is as it appeared a couple of years ago, but then a turf war broke out between the original street artist, who’d cared for it for years, and a newcomer who thought the space deserved a change.  They’ve repainted and sculpted it back and forth and it now stands in disrepair. Perhaps the spring weather will bring it new life.

Hug Me TreeIn the following three photos compare the street art graffiti  to bland booze ads or blank crumbling brick.  Is the painted over brick better esthetically than the tag it covered?

Contrast - which is more appealing?

Contrast - which is more appealing?

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