Red Cross Red Crescent refugee relief in Tunisia and Libya

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Via the IFRC Flickr photostream –

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working tirelessly at the border of Tunisia and Libya providing shelter and basic relief to tens of thousands of refugees from the civil war in Libya.  Gadaffi is systematically waging war on his own people seeking democratic freedoms and has been charged by the UN with crimes against humanity.

Volunteer work is not often glamorous as William Carter, IFRC WatSan delegate, can tell you – seen here resting after digging latrines in the Tunisian desert for a Red Crescent refugee camp.

via @canayjun on Twitter

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Homeless, Why homeless?

Homelessness – not simply defined as “absolutely without shelter” or “the chronically homeless” – is a plague on our society, sapping the health of our communities.

homelessness homeless #whyhomeless

home-less


There’s been a hiatus here at the MissionLog as I’ve transitioned from a full time outreach worker to the homeless with Project417  back to a more traditional career as a phone guy in the telecommunications industry. Reasons?  Ask me offline – but at the core is a realization that volunteerism and community development is driven by ordinary people working ordinary jobs who have the desire, opportunity and ability to give back.  And I’m about as ordinary as they come. I’m tired of homeless friends who die without hope of ever having a home again.

I still have a vision:  to definitively identify the root cause of homelessness and find the cure.  Homelessness is not a poverty issue. It’s not simple economics, nor is it a self-inflicted wound.  It is complex. It is pervasive.

So I’m working towards that end by founding The Whyhomeless Movement – a grassroots campaign to really help the homeless. This can’t be left to governments. It’s our city, our community, our village.  Joining the WhyHomeless Movement is easy. Start by visiting Twitter and tweeting homelessness issues with the #whyhomeless hashtag. Search for people who are making a difference and tweet their story.  Tweet out and re-tweet links to sites on the web that make a difference in the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness.  Follow me at – http://twitter.com/canayjun and let me know you’ve joined the WhyHomeless Movement.

Christmas Eve 2009 – Special Events

Christmas Holy Night Star of Bethlehem - Jesus Christ is born

O’ Holy Night

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior— yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!


Thank-you to all my readers of the Missonlog blog.  Hope you all have a blessed Christmas and joyous New Year! –

<>< Andy Coats

Follow me  @canayjun on Twitter

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward everyone.

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Galaxy

homelessness homeless #whyhomeless

home-less

What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? Part 5

Visit Part 1 of the series at this short url –

http://tinyurl.com/whyhomeless

In my last post I said:

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.

NA_helps

Naturally, this has garnered a fair level of criticism from some existing homeless service providers.  I ask once again that people who are working so tirelessly to improve the lives of our homeless friends not view the ongoing quest to redefine the root causes of homelessness as an indictment – our goal is to identify major risk factors before people become homeless and to do this we must move out of the realm of considering homelessness primarily as a poverty issue.  This can only strengthen existing homeless services.  In contrast to “housing first” based efforts, as a grassroots program Project417’s #whyhomeless movement will be a people centered community development effort.

We’re not alone in our search to re-define homeless services. Alan Graham, founder and president of Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin, Texas recently announced a groundbreaking program to survey the homeless themselves to determine their critical needs.  He posted this startling declaration:

ISSUE:  Despite decades of heart-felt attempts at finding solutions, millions of dollars and countless hours of effort, the homeless services system in the United States is officially broken. There are few, if any, large, transformational, paradigm-shifting programs that are effectively, productively and permanently moving homeless people off of the streets and into meaningful and purposeful solutions. Many services are tiny band-aids on a gaping and gushing wound: one meal for a person who doesn’t have a regular source of nutrition, one counseling service with no continuation of care, one night of shelter in a public, crowded facility. In August 2009 an Austin collaboration will be conducting a landmark survey of the area homeless population. The goal is to better understand the needs of the chronically homeless, in hopes of creating transformational change. The results of this survey will be the foundation for a full day educational and community action symposium in March 2010. [in Austin, Texas]

At Project417 we believe that people have priority over money, structures, systems and other institutions.  At Project417, a program of Ekklesia Inner City Ministries,  our Executive Director,  Rev. Joe Elkerton has a long history of ministering to and advocating for the homeless in Toronto going back over twenty years. He promotes a vision of people centered community development.  From the Project417 mission statement on our website:

Our definition of development is –

“people in community engaging in a spiritual, social, physical, economic and political process of positive transformation towards a sustainable future”.

People centered development focuses on the well being of people and their living system while promoting the worth and dignity of all human beings. It therefore encompasses value change, popular participation, human resource development, gender issues, appropriate technology, children’s issues and sustainability.

People centered development “emphasizes the process of development and its essential focus on personal and institutional capacity”. It also rejects the notion of experts, asserting instead that no one is outside of the development process and that each person has something to contribute as sell as something to learn.

People centered development seeks the active involvement of all stakeholders in every stage of the development process. It affirms the worth and contribution of every community member. It promotes transparency, justice and equity, asserting that the first priority in resource allocation should be the achievement of community objectives related to the satisfaction of the basic needs of all community members”.

In my last post, I invited any and all who are interested in resolving homelessness in our communities to join a “taskforce” to determine the root cause of homelessness with the purpose to prevent, treat and heal homelessness.  More correctly it should not yet be referred to as a taskforce because the root issues are not yet defined, so specific tasks can’t be assigned. We need innovative problem solving techniques to be applied in an environment that fosters freedom of thought and unity of purpose. We, like Mobile Loaves and Fishes , need to remember the most important stakeholders in this process – the homeless men, women and children themselves.

everywhere

You can be a valuable part of this process. Join the #whyhomeless movement. Submit a comment here. Re-post this on your blog, share it on Facebook.  Email a link to your friends, post it on Digg or Reddit. Visit Twitter and connect with me @canayjun or other friends like @MLFNOW , @_CSM_ , @joeelkerton or @invisiblepeople.  Tweet homelessness issues to the world on Twitter and include the tag #whyhomeless so we can track the movement.

Come back and visit the blog here for the next post in this series.

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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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What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? – Part 3

Homelessness – The Root Causes – Part III

In Part I & Part II,  I have been asking the question – “What do you think is the root cause of homelessness?”  (Join the movement – tweet your answers on Twitter with the tag #whyhomeless).  I pointed out that –

The right to housing is a basic human right defined by the United Nations, ratified and signed by Canada and most other Western nations. And yet,  it is the lack of affordable housing which most suspect to be the leading contributor to homelessness in every town and city in North America where it exists.

Photo - Board of Regents - Dan Bergeron / fauxreel - in Torontoist

Photo - Fatima - Dan Bergeron / fauxreel - in Torontoist

To determine the root cause of homelessness it’s important to investigate the genesis of the single cause most often targetted – the lack of affordable housing – in view of the United Nations covenant. The international agreement is:

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

It includes such basic human rights as – the right to Self-determination, equal rights for men and women,  the right to work,  the right to just and favorable conditions of work,  the right to form and join trade unions,  the right to social security and social insurance,  rights to protection and assistance for the family, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to education, the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications…

And –

Article 11 – The right to an adequate standard of living

Which clearly states:
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing- and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.

This right to “adequate housing” is so crucial, that it is the only factor to be extensively defined and in a General Comment to the Covenant, General Comment No. 4 – which  reveals the extensive nature of the protection included under article 11 and elaborates legal interpretations of the right to adequate housing which go far beyond restricted visions of this right as simply a right to shelter. In it, the Committee, which has given more attention to the right to housing than to any other right under the Covenant, states (in part):

“The right to housing, should not be interpreted in a narrower restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one’s head . . . Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity”.  The Committee has defined the term “adequate housing” to comprise –

  • security of tenure
  • availability of services
  • affordability
  • habitability
  • accessibility
  • location
  • and cultural adequacy

Affordability is defined such that personal or household financial costs associated with housing should be at such a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised;  Location so that adequate housing must be in a location which allows access to employment options, health-care services, schools, child-care centres and other social facilities; and cultural adequacy means that the way housing is constructed, the building materials used and the policies supporting these must appropriately enable the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing.

The states and nations party to this covenant (including Canada) regognize the interdependance of basic rights – ” the full enjoyment of other rights – such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of association (such as for tenants and other community-based groups), the right to freedom of residence and the right to participate in public decision-making – is indispensable if the right to adequate housing is to be realized and maintained by all groups in society” .  Further, rights such as the right to adequate housing in turn are integral to a persons ability to enjoy other basic human rights.

It is important to discuss this in our investigation of the root causes of homelessness – especially in the light of our own government policies – policies, laws and regulations at the municipal, provincial and federal levels can not be in contravention of this covenant. We must hold policy makers and politicians accountable to the rule of law in how our social safety net is put into practice and demand that barriers to the enjoyment of basic human rights are removed. We must be vigilant to ensure that nobody is subjected to discrimination which affects their right to adequate housing.

For example – if we look at the conditions on First Nations reserves and the housing solutions provided there, can we say that our First nations people have access to housing which is affordable and meets the internationally agreed upon standards for location and cultural adequacy?

In the next part I’ll review how the United Nations has helped develop a broad definition of homelessness. Many people do not take the time to define “homelessness” in their policies and programs. If we are to determine root causes then we must use a common definition.

Your comments are needed – share this with as people as possible, on Facebook, Digg, Reddit. If you’re on Twitter, tweet this link and your comments with the new Twitter hashtag #whyhomeless.  Reply to me @canayjun Get the word out.

BE the change!

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What do you think is the root cause of homelessness?

Homelessness – The Root Causes – Part I

fauxreel / the unaddressed

fauxreel / the unaddressed

Several nights a week I travel the the downtown streets of Toronto with groups of volunteers delivering bag lunch meals to the homeless. We call it a Sandwich Run – each bag lunch contains a sandwich, an apple, a snack like a granola bar or rice crispy square and a juice box – but it’s not about the sandwiches. It’s about being out on the street with our homeless friends seeing if they are OK – do they need anything? are they in distress? do they need someone friendly to talk to? We host more than two thousand volunteers a year, rain or shine, ice or snow.  If we could get more volunteers we’d go out every night. You can read more about the Project417 Sandwich Runs here.

I’ve been doing this full-time for six years now and it was ten years ago that I first began volunteering out on the streets with the homeless. This post is not about me or the sandwich runs.  It is about homelessness. What is the root cause? How do we put an end to it? How do we solve the problem of homelessness? We need to be asking these questions and seeking solutions because homelessness is a problem right across Canada, the United States and the world. It takes on different characteristics in different cities and cultures, but it is a disaster in the midst of our prosperity. It affects the overall health of our communities and neighborhoods no matter where we live.

The cost of alleviating homelessness takes a huge toll on our economies. In Toronto and across Canada, hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars are being spent on homeless initiatives by cities, municipalities, non-profits, charities, provincial governments and federal departments. That being the case, you would assume that the root cause of homelessness has already been determined and programs address this cause in an aggressive manner – that the enormous amount of funding is directed at solving the major issues that cause people to become (and remain) homeless. That assumption would be wrong. Many organizations and groups are calling for increased funding to address homelessness for the simple reason that the homeless continue to be in our midst with no end in sight. More money is not necessarily the answer, because if the right questions have not been asked, if the core issues are not being addressed, if we are not targeting the root cause of the problem, then homelessness will only worsen. It’s like finding a cure for a disease. Homelessness is a plague on our society.  Instead of just treating symptoms we need to find a cure for those who are already homeless and we need to protect the entire population from the risk of being exposed to homelessness.

At the end of every evening
after a sandwich run we hold a debrief session with the volunteers. They have just witnessed a disaster scene and for their own mental well being we need to share common experiences, put those experiences in perspective, examine questions that arise and learn from each other. I ask them to share the conversations and encounters they have had with our homeless friends. I ask them what did they expect to see and compare it to what they saw. I challenge the stereotypical perception of the homeless street person:  disturbed, agressive, reclusive, drunk, dangerous, drugged out, sick, tired, dirty, lazy. From a media standpoint it is as if there is open season on discriminating against the homeless because they can no longer overtly discriminate on the basis of race, color, origins or beliefs, but anyone can put down what they call a bum or hobo.   I ask every group, “What do you think is the root cause of homelessness?

Over the years, we have asked this question of well over twenty thousand volunteers. They are adults and youth, professionals and family groups, business people and church groups, students and teachers – even front line workers and management involved in poverty programs and servicing the homeless. The volunteers are a cross section of North American society. Although we are a Christian charity, our volunteers originate from many faith persuasions.  About one third of our volunteers are from the United States, perhaps one quarter from regions of Ontario other than the GTA and the majority from the suburban ring surounding Toronto.  The only thing they really have in common is that they wanted to do something about homelessness and took the step of volunteering. The answers have not really changed over the time we have been posing the question. Perceptions remain the same. This is not statistically accurate, I don’t record these answers and these results are anecdotal at best – but they represent how a cross section of our society feels.

Here are the top causes of homelessness that we most often hear in order of popularity –

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 judgement, 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

I show a delimiter after “Choice…” because the final four reasons usually only come out after a little prompting about homeless people the volunteers may have encountered that night. I then ask every group to choose from that list they have just offered, the single, most important, or root cause of homelessness. I explain to them that to reduce homelessness we need to prioritize our efforts and direct funding and tax dollars towards the issue that will have the greatest impact. Most groups just narrow the list down to these two or three top causes:

Alcohol and drug addictions
Family break-ups including abusive behavior
Physical and mental disabilities

The groups are reluctant to be more specific, but if I ask them to narrow in on a single cause there is almost an even split between addictions and family dysfunctions.

What would you say is the root cause of homelessness?
Would you add to the list or change the order? Would you select a different criteria for the single most important cause of homelessness? I have an insight that I share with every volunteer. I try to encourage a broader perspective and I’ll go into that in more detail in the next post here on the blog, but I encourage you to leave a comment here on this post right now. This is an issue that needs to be addressed without any further delay.  Share it with your friends.  Re-post it on another blog or website (credit me and link them back here: permalink –  https://missionlog.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/what-do-you-think-is-the-root-cause-of-homelessness/

Share this with your Facebook friends.  Email it.  Share it on StumbleUpon and Google Plus or other favorite social networking site.  Post this question on Twitter –   and let’s track it with a new Twitter hashtag #whyhomeless – cut and paste this now for your Twitter update:

What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? #whyhomeless.

Re-tweet (RT) new answers, comments and links. Make sure I see them by including me with @canayjun in the tweet. I’ll post results and trending answers and share my own insights on the next post right here on the Missionlog.

Thank-you,

<><

Andy Coats.

UPDATE – Sept. 23, 2011: The discussion continues. Visit me the new Facebook page and add your comments, and give it a “Like”

You can read the next post here – What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? Part II

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