The Value of a LinkedIn Recommendation – Social Media

or People Say the Nicest Things Department – Part II

Some of you have been following my recent job search efforts over on Twitter and Facebook et al. You can connect with me at Twitter.com/canayjun I’ve been making a concerted effort to improve the usual round of submitting resumes and cover letters to promising organizations, by using the various social networks and apps that I have access to. I figure that plain old networking has changed drastically in the last seven years (the last time I looked for a job) and realized that I’d built an effective  web of online social connections that should be put to work.

The Geocities logo of mission_log project417

In addition to 3,000+ Twitter followers, I’ve kept this WordPress blog up and it’s had more than fifty thousand page views since inception – and it is actually a continuation of my first blog over on the now departed Geocities Mission_log – where my first post was in 2004.  There’s also “a canayjun point of view” over on Blogger at http://canayjun.blogspot.com with more than fifteen thousand views. Just for fun I have also published a couple of other blogs, which I should really make more use of:  Restaurant at the End of the Internet, an End of the Internet and more. In addition to Facebook, (reserved for IRL friends and family) you can find me on Flickr, Google, YouTube,  Box.net and LinkedIn

On LinkedIn, I’ve been working on my professional profile and work history and was pleased to reach the point where it’s 100% completed, although there is still quite a bit of job history to add.  As I blogged last week, I’ve been using the LinkedIn feature to request recommendations from co-workers, colleagues and friends that are pertinent to my current job search. I’ve been bowled over by the response and humbled by the comments.  Just yesterday I received a recommendation from a former co-worker, Fred Chu, who works at Lucasfilm now as their Senior Texture Artist & Look Development. Fred was a huge help when he was in Toronto, assisting us with the Project417 outreach to the homeless – dependable, compassionate and someone who could be relied upon to be available and take the lead when we were short handed. here’s his recommendation in full:

Andy is a man of great character with incredible passion for social justice balanced by an equally wonderful soft spot for people in need. His commitment to his work was inspiring, his genuine heart for people was endearing and his easy smile was simply contagious. And regardless of how difficult & heart-breaking the work was, this man was always a beacon of positivity. I was truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with him. Thank you for letting me tag along for the ride!” June 21, 2011

Cyril Frederick Chu, Matte Painter/Texture Painter/VFX Artist, Mr. X Inc.
reported to Andy at Project417 – Ekklesia

Thank-you Fred.  An eloquent recommendation. Which brings me to the point – just how valuable are recommendations on LinkedIn? In respect to my immediate job search that remains to be seen.  As you can gather from my LinkedIn profile, I’m currently seeking a position with a non-profit / charity organization that addresses the issue of homelessness. I think the recommendations offer a personal glimpse into the depths of my experience and the breadth of all I have to offer to many an organization. Unlike Workopolis or Monster.com and similar job search sites, I think LinkedIn has a formula here that truly exploits our comfort with social media that can impact our career choices positively. What do you think?

A team of dedicated volunteers

I don’t know about you, but if I was responsible for hiring a manager or director of a progressive homelessness service organization and read these recommendations, I’d sure want to talk to me. Come back and visit soon, I’ll be blogging about other ways I’m trying to use Twitter and the rest and we’ll see how it all turns out.

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Canadians Helping Haiti – Earthquake Disaster Relief

from Google earth - by rickall

Disaster relief and emergency service organizations worldwide are mobilizing worldwide to provide help to earthquake stricken Haiti. Donations are sorely needed. It has been reported that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have already donated $1 million dollars to support Doctors Without Borders.

There are many appeals for public donations. Here at MissionLog I recommend you direct your donations to registered charities with proven disaster relief capacities AND personnel “on the ground” in Haiti backed by immediate mobilization plans to put more front line emergency service workers and volunteers as well as deliver critical supplies and food immediately.

In Canada, donate to:

The Salvation Army at http://salvationarmy.ca/
The Red Cross at http://redcross.ca
World Vision at http://worldvision.ca
Mennonite Central Committee at http://mcc.org

Although I have no immediate plans to a Project417 relief team, I’ll be supporting our partners at the Salvation Army Canada and the Canadian Red Cross.  Also check back to the blog here, once immediate relief efforts are no longer needed the emphasis will switch to rebuilding and reconstruction for many years. Haiti is still recovering from severe hurricane devastation over the last two years and now the need for both short and long term volunteer missions to rebuild communities will intensify. With experience following both Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike, I’ll be looking for the most effective way to put together a volunteer team. Join me.

News from Geneva – (ICRC) –

The International Committee of the Red Cross has set up a special website to help thousands of people within Haiti and abroad who have lost contact with their loved ones. Haitians as well as family members around the world can log on to register a missing loved one at http://www.icrc.org/familylinks

or this short link at http://bit.ly/8B4sBA

Together caring and giving Canadians and friends worldwide can make a real difference to our suffering neighbors in Haiti.

Thanks ~ Andy ( follow @canayjun on Twitter)
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Gala Charity Benefit in Toronto to Help the Homeless

Toronto Charity Benefit – ‘Our Toronto includes the Homeless’

Reserve November 28th on your calendar to make a difference for the thousands of people in Toronto who are experiencing homelessness. We pass them on the streets every day and, as the cold weather comes, see them huddled over hot air grates outside Toronto’s downtown skyscapers and lining up outside the crowded emergency shelters or soup kitchens. What can we do? It has to be more than dropping small change in a panhandler’s battered Tim Horton’s cup – real change is what’s needed. For almost twenty years, Project417 has mobilized thousands of community volunteers. They operate relief outreach programs to the homeless year round – building bridges of trust, encouraging the homeless to seek shelter & housing and helping them to move into healthier lifestyles. You can help Project417 continue their work and improve our community – our Toronto – for everyone.

Project417 presents:

The ♫We Are Family Gala♫

Music by: Big John & the Night Trippers
Motown – R&B, Blues, 60’s Rock
&Roll

Saturday, November 28th, 2009 – 6:30 – 11:00PM
Reception & Dance Hors D’Oeuvres & Finger Foods :: Desserts & Pastry Table ::
Silent Auction :: Live Auction – original Artworks :: Raffles, Games & prizes
Tickets $75 pp – VIP Tickets $100 pp ::
RBC Auditoriums, 315 Front Street West, Toronto, ON
(next to the Rogers Centre and CN Tower)

Check back soon for more details – Buy your tickets now.
Online @ project417.com ::

We’re having a party! Project417 is hosting a gala charity benefit – The ♫We Are Family Gala♫. We want to celebrate this community we call Toronto with an evening of live music, good food, dancing and fun! All proceeds from the ♫We Are Family Gala♫ will benefit people in our community who are experiencing homelessness

It’s going to be a Motown theme this year, backed by the rockin, R&B sounds of Big John and the Night Trippers. Fronted by vocalist “Big John” Morris, the Night Trippers will have you puttin’ on your dancin’ shoes and groovin’ to your favorite 60’s and 70’s Motown and Rock n Roll hits. The ♫We Are Family Gala♫ will be a must see event this fall – be prepared for the red carpet treatment and paparazzi when you arrive.

We chose ♫We Are Family♫ to reflect the spirit of the programs Project417 runs to help the homeless. It’s about engaging people in community – more than two thousand volunteers this year – and it is about relationship building. We want to show that this little community we call Toronto cares about the people in our midst who are experiencing homelessness. We won’t pass them by. We won’t leave them behind. We realize that our community can not reach it’s full potential while they are left out in the cold. We need them to find a place to call home with neighbors who care and community services that meet the needs of the whole community.

How can I help?

Do you have a flair for organizing? or decorating? Graphic design? Have some great fun ideas to make our party more entertaining? Just email us at volunteer@project417.com and we’ll hook you up with our fund-raising committee.

We invite all community members to donate new, unused gifts and services to be auctioned or awarded as prizes. If necessary, donors of goods can receive a charitable donation receipt according to CRA guidelines for Gifts in Kind. You must tell us the fair market value of the gift you are donating. Currently, CRA guidelines do not allow for tax-deductible receipts for the donation of services. These types of gifts however, have proven to be very popular at silent auction and we appreciate your support of our cause. We already have a night for two in Niagara-on-the-Lake at the elegant Copper Lane B&B, a week at a resort in Quebec and some Toronto Raptors tickets! What do you have that you could offer to our guests at the gala?

We are
also accepting cash donations to assist with the operation of this worthy cause. Donations of $100, $500 or more can be identified as Sponsors of the Gala. Please make your cheques payable to Project417. A charitable donation receipt will be mailed to you. Online donations will be available soon. Those interested in donating an item can leave it with a member of the Project417 fund-raising committee- contact us by email at donation@project417.com. Thank you, your contributions are much appreciated!

Project417 Programs

Project417 has several active programs in the Toronto Area. Project417 is a division of Ekklesia Inner City Ministries, a registered Canadian charitable organization – CRA registration #890482763RR0001. Our vision is to create a community which is accessible to ALL who are in need. We develop and implement programs which enable people to move into healthier lifestyles. Project417 hosts almost two thousand volunteers each year and guides them in meaningful outreach to the homeless right where they live – out on the street, in shelters, meal programs or drop-ins.


[and just in case you thought it was all pointless, there an answer]

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A Girl Named R

canayjun A friend recently told me that people who want to help the homeless are interested in reading more personal stories about those who are experiencing homelessness.  They didn’t know I’ve been posting stories about many of the homeless people we serve at Project417 for several years. It comes with the territory of being a small grassroots organization:  how do you get the word out about the challenges faced by people who are homeless?  If we tell their stories, how do we distribute them to the widest audience possible?  We can blog about them, share them on Facebook, Digg and Reddit and tweet links to the story on Twitter, but there is still no guarantee the information will reach people who have a heart to help.  Some are better at the storytelling than I.  I follow @invisiblepeople on Twitter. He’s travelling across America on his Road Trip USA, telling the stories of the homeless people he meets along the way.  See them at invisiblepeople.tv Me?  I just keep trying to get the word out by writing about my experiences with my homeless friends.  I’m re-blogging and expanding on this story – A Girl Named “R” –  because it is an example of the terrible circumstances that lead many young girls to end up homeless, living on the street.

I first wrote the story after a volunteer blogged about “R” at the CSMurbanupdate.blogspot.com site,  a place where students can describe their inner city volunteering experiences.  She wrote about her identified as “R” only to protect her identity.

I met her on the first afternoon we were there.  I looked down and realized she had prominent scars all over her arms…

It was particularily moving to me because of the young woman the student met – I’ve known “R” for years.  I first met “R” out on the street panhandling with several other homeless youth.  I soon got to know her better at a local Out of the Cold program for street youth.  “R” has been street involved and homeless since she was thirteen,  heading to Toronto to escape the tragedies that befell her in her hometown.  She has endured a youth no one should have to face,  and she bears scars in deeper places than just her arms.

I’ve celebrated birthdays and Christmas holidays with “R”, but she has no home to host her celebrations.  She often conceals the scars on her arms beneath long sleeves,  but even then,  once she gets to know you,  she will push up the sleeves to reveal her pain.  From her wrists to well past her inner elbow,  her arm is a patchwork of deep, parallel and crisscrossing scars,  the result of self-inflicted injury.  “R”‘s life on the streets is one of extreme ups and downs, not unlike many others who experience homelessness.  Sometimes she finds a place to share with friends or a partner,  but it never lasts and she is once again back on the streets.  Her life is ravaged by drugs and her drug of choice changes like the spinning of a roulette wheel.  Morphine,  oxycontin,  crystal meth and crack – they all have carved pieces out of her soul.

She has been in and out of jail,  first youth offender facilities,  and now adult jails and provincial correctional facilities for women.  She has been to well respected treatment and recovery centres.  When she inevitably returns to the city,  (and I have witnessed this now more than once),  “R” is a changed person.  She is clean – she is healthy – the glow is back on her face and her hair shines.  But it’s never more than a few days until she is dragged back under by the street life and the irresistable force exerted by the weight of her painful past.  It is terrible to watch this transformation over and over. On release from jail for example,  she is provided housing – the type of housing governments everywhere reserve for the chronically homeless,  recovering addicts and people with concurrent mental disorders.  Halfway houses they call them, or treatment centers or  “transitional housing”.  Almost all of them are located in the worst areas of inner city Toronto with drug dealers staking out street corners and visiting the houses  to lure back old customers. There are any number of crack houses within spitting distance.  The system always sends “R” right back to the very street that is trying to kill her.

more to life than this?

It is not just a lack of decent housing that causes “R” to fall back to the street. She has taken shelter with loving and caring volunteer families who have opened their homes and asked “R” to be part of the family while she recovered.  The pain runs too deep – her disorders inadequately treated – and “R” has to leave.  That would be a time when she cuts herself again.  She has told me,  “Andy, I just want to feel something.  When I cut myself, I can feel again for a little while, but the drugs…with them I can’t feel a thing…”.

I met a psychiatrist while I was working in New Orleans who works in Chicago’s inner city with troubled youth.  We spoke about “R”.  He told me the significance of scars due self-inflicted cuts:  it is a major indicator of the victims of childhood sexual abuse.  He told me that more than 90% of youth who suffer from “self harm or self-injury” are victims of childhood sexual assault and abuse.  The illness is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a symptom of borderline personality disorder and depressive disorders and described as,  “sometimes associated with mental illness, a history of trauma and abuse including emotional abuse and sexual abuse …”.  A study in 2003 found an extremely high prevalance of self-injury among 428 homeless and runaway youth (age 16 to 19) with 72% of males and 66% of females reporting a past history of self-mutilation.  [Tyler, Kimberly A., Les B. Whitbeck, Dan R. Hoyt, and Kurt D. Johnson (2003),  “Self Mutilation and Homeless Youth: The Role of Family Abuse, Street Experiences, and Mental Disorders”,  Journal of Research on Adolescence 13 (4): 457–474] .

In 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 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 include this technical background because although “R” is now a young woman,  she has been on the street since she was a child in more than one Canadian city.  Many more people than our organization have become familiar with her.  This would have included coming to the “official” attention of the authorities both while she was a child and as an adult.  “R” is definitely “in” the system that is supposed to help her.  Why has everyone been so ineffective in helping her,  how has she remained homeless for so long?  As a teen, “R” was labeled by society as a “runaway” with all of the negative connotations that carries.  In effect, most people would write her off as the author of her own condition.  Far from it.  “R” is a victim.  She deserves better.  Hell,  dogs deserve better than “R” has been handed.

I met her once on a street corner in Toronto,  Spadina and Queen,  where she was panhandling.  She was in particularily bad shape that day,  very high from her drug of choice at the time,  which was making her slur her words almost to the point of incoherence and made her body twitch uncontrollably like a scarecrow on strings.  When I arrived,  she dragged herself up from the foot of the light pole she was leaning against and,  arms wide,  asked for the only thing she has ever requested of me – a hug.  Not the little, hihowareyou hugs we deliver in polite company, but a great big, bone crushing, head burying HUG.!  It always cheers her up.  Standing to one side were two semi-official looking people with those City of Toronto ID cards hanging around their necks.  One had flashes from a private security company on his shoulders.  He was “protection” for the other – a city worker carrying a clipboard.  They were part of a new task force set-up by the city of Toronto’s Streets 2 Homes program to reduce panhandling and homelessness.  They were trying to interview “R” by asking her a very long list of canned questions.  They seemed oblivious to her state,  as if she could be coherent while jonesin for the next fix.  After our hug,  she turned to them and said,  “I can’t talk to you now, Andy’s here.  He saved my life”.  After we talked for a while and I encouraged her to head for a woman’s shelter down the street,  I left and went into a store at the corner to buy her bottled water.  Her lips were cracked and bleeding she was so dehydrated.  As I brought it back to her,  the city social worker was back at it again, making little check marks on her clipboard survey.  How those little pen strokes were supposed to bring healing to “R”,  I’ll never know.  She certainly deserves better.  I still hear her saying, “he saved my life”,  in the small hours of the night when I can’t sleep,  thinking of the hopelessness faced by my homeless friends.  I hear it and know in my heart – I haven’t saved “R”.  She’s still lost and that hurts.  She recognizes and loves the people who love her back,  but why can’t we save her?

This not "R" - but my friend Crystal too faced homelessness and overcame.
This is not “R” – but my friend Crystal also faced homelessness and overcame it.

I wish I had a happy ending to the story of a girl named “R” to tell you.  But I don’t.  I’ve lost track of her in this patchwork quilt system that serves the homeless.  The last time I saw here,  she visited our Wednesday night community dinner in the Bloor Lansdowne neighborhood.  She was happy to have just got housed in a transitional home for women right across the street.  She showed me a small white bible in a lovely cedar box that she’d just received as a gift.  She was straight – she was clean – she was healthy – the glow was back on her face and her hair was shining.  She was smiling and,  before she left,  she offered up one more bone crunching hug.  The last I saw her she was walking up Bloor Street with purpose and hope.  Later that night,  she got into a fight with one of the other residents of the transitional home.  The police were called and “R” ran before they got there.  I’ve not seen her since.

If you want to help young girls like “R” overcome homelessness, contact me here, or at Project417.com

And join the #Whyhomeless Movement on Twitter. Connect with me @canayjun and send out tweets on homelessness issues with the hashtag #Whyhomeless.  Join us for our next meeting in Toronto – or start your own movement in your own neighborhood.  The root cause of homelessness is about more than just jobs and housing.  There is a brokenness in our communities that only your love can start to heal.

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Toronto Helps – More volunteers help with sandwich runs to the homeless

Numbers of new volunteers increase at Project417 grassroots program for Toronto’s homeless – Thanks to Social Networking , Blogging and Search Engine Optimization:

2009 has been an exciting year here at Project417. We’ve seen a marked increase in the number of local Toronto volunteers willing to come out and help us on our sandwich runs to the homeless

A sandwich run is simply volunteers delivering nutritious bag lunches to homeless street people by walking well traveled routes in the downtown Toronto area where street involved people live. It is a relational outreach – a grassroots community building activity – in addition to delivering a meal to a hungry person, hopefully friendly conversations take place and bridges of trust strengthened.

Volunteers handing out bag lunches

Volunteers handing out bag lunches

Project417’s volunteer ranks have been swelled this year by caring people from all walks of life, from young teens to working adults – bank executives, health care professionals, singles clubs like Meet Market Adventures, whole families and even the cast of Toronto’s smash hit “We Will Rock You”. This past year we have hosted more than two thousand volunteers. Most of these new volunteers found out about us through search engines like Google. If you follow that Google link you’ll see that Project417’s sandwich runs are ranked first and three other results relate to our sandwich runs to the homeless.  Even Microsoft’s brand new offering Bing -which replaces their MSN Live search – ranks the MissionLog right here first and five or six other Project417 results including volunteer videos on Facebook.

I’ve worked hard over the last few years to improve our search results so that Project417 can more easily connect with volunteers, because, in the end, the beneficiaries are Toronto’s homeless and under-housed. We can’t afford professional SEO services or IT  Web 2.0 and 3.0 consulting, so all of this sucess has been home grown sweat equity. By far the biggest success has been WordPress.com – where you’re reading this blog right now – the MissionLog or missionlog.wordpress.com – WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms. It’s free and the blogs don’t carry any advertising. It is easy to use and set up your own blog, but has powerful options like tagging, gadgets, video and topical categories that really help  optimize your search engine ranking. There are a host of other online tools I’ve used to promote this blog and the Project417 official website and I’ve listed some of them at the end of this post.

Here at Project417, we’ve been facilitating sandwich runs for almost twenty years – our Director, Joe Elkerton first started going out to visit the homeless in the late eighties with a handful of college friends when reports of deaths among the homeless outside on the streets first surfaced in the news. This was before government sponsored programs like StreetHelp and Streets to Homes. The main focus of the program is not simply delivering food to hungry street people. The key factor is communication through conversations with our friends on the street. We don’t try to be experts or counselors, rather we try to help our volunteers – ordinary people – engage with the homeless. This is true community demonstrated by the caring act of delivering a meal.

Anyone can volunteer with us by invitation by emailing volunteer@project417.com – After taking part in our orientation presented by experienced team leaders the night of the sandwich run we head out on the streets for two or three hours. Find out how truly liberating this volunteer experience can be – to step outside your personal comfort zone and meet our homeless friends on their own grounds.

You can help get the word out online – visit any of the following links and share them in your blog or on facebook, or post them on Digg or Reddit. There’s lots of photos and even video of our volunteer experience.

Project417 Sandwich Run to the Homeless

TOStreets – another blog on Windows Live Spaces

TOstreets on MySpace – the MySpace page

Project417 – The Facebook page – become a fan

Canada News Blog – a more general blog by Canayjun (moi)

Hogtown Prophets – Listening to prophetic voices from the street

And some of these great link sharing sites –

Twine.com – visit Homeless on twine

Technorati – Homeless blog search by Outreach417

Twitter – follow @canayjun on Twitter

Delicious.com – Outreach417’s bookmarks – hundreds!

[I’ll post more here soon]

Homeless prefer grassroots Out of the Cold program versus city run shelters

It’s spring right? I mean it’s getting warmer right?  Well, I don’t know about where you live, but here in Toronto there has been a dearth of fine spring weather. We’ve had more than our share it seems of unseasonably cold weather, especially cold, blustery winds and the perennial April showers. Most of us, we live with it, it’s an annual thing – how soon will it warm up – and doesn’t seem to affect our daily routine more than getting the car out of the garage and walking from the parking lot to work or other destinations. To our homeless friends on the street however, it is much more than an inconvenience.

Out of the Cold: for the homeless

Out of the Cold: for the homeless

Toronto’s Out of the Cold program has wrapped up again for another season. What this means for the few hundred homeless people who attend the Out of the Cold programs is that they are once again “Out on the Streets”. I was out with a small volunteer group a couple of weeks ago with the regular Project417 Sandwich Run outreach to the homeless on a Monday night. The streets have been particularly quieter this winter as far as the presence of the homeless (more on this later) but most of our route was busier that night and as we arrived at Nathan Phillips Square at the Toronto City Hall, there was a marked increase in our homeless friends that I haven’t seen since last fall.

Five years ago
, it was very different at city hall. Then Mayor Mel Lastman had unofficially condoned the homeless sleeping outside city hall all around Nathan Phillips Square “if they had no other shelter”. It was a year round phenomenon with upwards of two hundred people sleeping in a cardboard jungle right next to the front doors of city hall or just bundled up in sleeping bags on every available bench and corner protected from the wind and elements. That whole period in Toronto’s homelessness saga deserves a more detailed analysis. There had been a marked population boom when Home Depot and the city shut down Tent City down by the harbour, but suffice to say that upon the ascension to power of Mayor David Miller, the official policy changed, Streets to Homes was born, the 100 plus bed Edwards street shelter opened (now closed and slated for “affordable” housing) and city security quickly turfed the homeless residents of Nathan Phillips Square. This prompted one homeless bard to pen a lilting country tune, “How do You Sleep”, dedicated to Mayor Miller. One woman, who had slept on the Square for a few years, simply moved down a couple blocks onto a hot air ventilating grate across from a major hotel, where we see her every night we are on the street – yes, that’s right, she has slept in that exposed sidewalk location every night for the last five years. Again, Mayor Miller has demonstrated that he is not unfeeling when it comes to homelessness and more independent study is required of the touted success of the Streets to Homes program he championed, but this blog is about our friends still sleeping outside at City Hall.

Homeless on Queen Street W., Toronto

Homeless on Queen Street W., Toronto

During the winter months, Nathan Phillips Square is one of the stops on our Project417 Sandwich Run that has several routes spanning the downtown core from about Bathurst out to Parliament and from Bloor down to the Gardiner Expressway (with a van route that reaches more outlying areas). This winter – we go out on sandwich runs even during cold weather alerts of which there were many this year in temperatures below minus twenty – there has generally been only two or three homeless men and women sleeping at city hall. There has almost always been at least one – our dear friend Randy*, a double amputee, who sleeps there sitting upright in his wheelchair with his sleeping bag upside down over his head. During the recent celebrated Earth Hour on Nathan Phillips Square (I’ve never encountered such bright lights and high powered amplified music during any other “blackout”), we spent almost three quarters of an hour talking to Randy and looking on at the eco-revellers from Randy’s dark, hidden alcove just steps from the celebration. Randy practices “lights out” 365 days a year, except for the daily charge his wheelchair battery receives at a friend’s close by. Streets to Homes outreach workers are in constant contact with anyone, including Randy, who sleeps at city hall, but so far have been ineffective in convincing many chronically homeless men and women like him to choose the severely limited housing options available. [*Randy is not his real name]

Now during the spring, summer and fall
, the number of our homeless friends sleeping on Nathan Phillips still rises to more than a dozen, sometimes double that. On the recent Monday night, we had no sooner approached Randy than I noticed there were several more homeless in view under the walkway. As soon as they noticed us, they literally ran over, happy to see us, recognizing the tell tale bag lunches out team carries. “Hey Andy, we’re back”, a couple shouted. I’ve known many of them for almost ten years going back to the first time I ventured out on the streets to help the homeless with Project417 (Our director, Joe Elkerton has been performing outreach to the street homeless almost twenty years in Toronto). “Hey, I’m glad to see you!”,  I answered back, but in truth,  I was disturbed and profoundly saddened to see their familiar faces. Yes, they’re my friends and yes I missed them over the winter, but I had hoped that some had found a place to call home in the last four months.

The reason they are back out on the streets at night is, as I mentioned at the start, the end of the Out of the Cold Program until next November. For those of you who don’t know, or who may have been misinformed, Out of the Cold is not a City of Toronto or other level of government program. What it is,  is a grassroots success story – a faith based program started by Sister Susan Moran and her St. Michael’s School students back in 1987 and a coalition of  local downtown Christian church communities. Indeed it has developed into a multi-faith initiative with representation at 23 facilities from different faith and organizations taking part now. Very simply, the model is:  local downtown churches open their doors one night a week to provide a hot meal and a place to sleep “out of the cold”. In Toronto, more than three thousand volunteers help every winter to feed and provide shelter to about five hundred of our homeless friends. The majority of the food, materials, supplies, shelter and other costs are funded by the local church members. (Note – The city does fund the program peripherally – a local non-profit social service agency -currently Dixon Hall- has an annual contract to send one or two safety and security personnel to some sites, some transportation of guests and the supply/ laundering of a limited number of blankets and sleeping mats. They also provide counselling, housing worker and referral services to the guests. A separate community health care provider offers a registered nurse at each location) Only 16 of the churches fully opt in to these city services with several preferring the freedom and intimacy of program delivery funded and guided by their own community resources and principals. This model has spread nationwide and Sister Susan was recognized with the Order of Canada in 2006 for her contribution.

Why the streets see a surge of the over five hundred homeless when Out of the Cold ends is because the majority of them would not step foot in a city run shelter. They just plain like the Out of the Cold program sites and the volunteers who run them. They tell me the food is better by far – the people are friendlier – the rules less stringent – the atmosphere more inviting and they enjoy the other programs run concurrent to the Out of the Cold like, music nights, sports, foodbanks, clothing banks, crafts and personal hygiene care services. The sleeping arrangements are often more primitive than city run shelters, usually just thin mats on the floor placed in open areas like church gyms, but still our homeless friends praise the program and bemoan the fact that it runs only November to April.

There are over three thousand city run emergency shelter beds at numerous locations from small 20 to 30 bed operations to the 600 bed monster on George Street – Seaton House, (affectionately dubbed Satan House by it’s inhabitants) and this number has dropped due to budget cuts and the questionable recommendations of the infamous city sponsored “homeless count census” – a limited, one day snapshot of street populations. The Out of the Cold program has remained stable or grown over the same period. Our homeless friends eagerly attend Out of the Cold shelters, many making the trek across the city several nights a week to the next church location that is open that night. There is one Out of the Cold program that operates more than one night a week.  University Settlement House, an independent non-profit, United Way partner agency and City of Toronto supported community center next to the Grange Park,  runs an Out of the Cold Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the winter and Saturdays, Sundays only in the summer. It is one of the best liked shelters amongst our street friends, and they all miss Fridays now that spring has come.

Love on the street

Love on the street

It’s time the city reviewed their emergency shelter programs and borrowed a page from the Out of the Cold program’s success story. The city shelters are efficiently run, relatively clean and safe to a certain degree – but they are still shunned by many of the homeless. Many lack the humanity and compassion shown to them by Out of the Cold volunteer efforts. Our friends are homeless – not just house-less. What is the distinction? What makes a house a home? – LOVE – A commodity in short supply evidently when payed for by tax dollars and delivered by bureaucrats. Thank God, Toronto’s faith community has a surfeit of love and compassion – I only wish, for the five hundred more men and women we’ll be serving now out on the streets with the Project417 sandwich runs,  that communities could see that people need to come in out of the cold year round.

If you’re interested in volunteering with or donating to one of the local Toronto Out of the Cold sites, the best way is to contact them directly.  There is no formal or central  “Out of the Cold” foundation to receive donations, each location is self-supporting through their local congregations – and the OOTC schedule link above is maintained by Dixon Hall, a separate non-profit. So I’ve taken the time to compile this list of the 2008/2009  Out of the Cold locations:

Knox Presbyterian Youth Dinner & Foodbank

630 Spadina Ave (no overnight program)

University Settlement House

23 Grange Rd. Year round Out of the Cold program

St. Patrick’s Church

141 McCaul Street at Dundas

St. Margaret’s Church

156 – 6th Street (Islington and Birmingham)

Evangel Hall

552 Adelaide,   E. of Bathurst

York Region Mosaic Interfaith community

Yorkminister Park Baptist

1585 Yonge Street,  N. of St. Clair

Holy Blossom Temple

1950 Bathurst at Eglinton

Eastminster  United

310 Danforth Ave. at Chester

Blythwood Road Baptist

80 Blythwood Road
N of Yonge/Eglington

St. Matthew’s /  Our Lady Peace

3962 BloorSt W

St. Brigid’s

Woodbine & Danforth

Beth Sholom / Beth Tzedec
1445 Eglinton Ave W

First Interfaith at St. Matthew’s

729 St. Clair Ave. W

All Saints Kingsway Anglican

2850 Bloor W

Beth Emeth Bais Yehudah Synagogue

100 Elder St

Chinese Gospel Church

450 Dundas W

Knox United

Agincourt

St. Aidan’s

70 Silver Birch Ave

St. Michaels Cathedral

66 Bond Street (St. Mike’s parish)

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship 1307 Bloor St. W;
(Overnight tba Community dinner only, year round)

To volunteer for a Project417 Sandwich Run to the homeless visit Project417.com and check our online volunteer calendar and read about other volunteers’ stories. More than two thousand people helped us last year – come on out and see!

Millard Fuller – Founder of Habitat for Humanity Dies

Millard Fuller, 74 – the founder of Habitat for Humanity – passed away suddenly early Tuesday morning. 

Former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement in which he called Fuller “one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known. He used his remarkable gifts as an entrepreneur for the benefit of millions of needy people around the world by providing them with decent housing,” Carter said in the statement. “As the founder of Habitat for Humanity and later the Fuller Center for Housing, he was an inspiration to me, other members of our family and an untold number of volunteers who worked side-by-side under his leadership.”

After Fuller founded Habitat for Humanity it grew into a worldwide volunteer organization that has provided shelter to over 1.5 million people by funding and building low cost, non-profit homes. There are Habitat for Humanity sites in Toronto – condominium townhomes,  just south of King Street in the Corktown neighborhood. After being ousted by the Habitat board of directors over unfounded corporate allegations which were later proven false, Millard Fuller continued the work he had started by starting the Fuller Center for Housing which continues with its goal of eliminating poverty through housing.

The family is planning a memorial service for later in the month.  Linda Fuller, Millard’s wife of 49 years and the co-founder of Habitat and The Fuller Center, said that “great strides have been made toward fulfilling Millard’s vision of eliminating poverty housing around the world, but that there is still tremendous work to be done. Millard would want us to carry on with faith and strength”.

I was fortunate enough to hear Millard speak in 2008 at the Ontario Prayer Breakfast.  He truly was a remarkable man.  He reinforced my view that the root cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing.  Please remember Millard’s wife Linda, and his family and staff during this time of sadness and celebration. Contact us at Project417 to find out how you can volunteer in a rebuilding project in New Orleans or Galveston County, Texas.

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