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

GeoCities closing – the original Mission_log site moves here to WordPress

Sad but true, Geocities is closing –

I created one of my first websites there – called it the Mission_log, it was located at http://ca.geocities.com/mission_log/ (it’s still there until Yahoo! pulls the plug on all the sites later this summer) I’ve been referring web visitors here to the new WordPress Mission Log since September of 2007, but back in the day that little GeoCities site really helped get the news out about the homeless and my work with Project417.

The older logo of mission_log project417

One of the logos of mission_log project417

What was Geocities? How soon they forget.  Geocities grew out of a small internet start-up called BHI – Beverly Hills Internet back in 1994, changed names to the current one in 1995 and quickly grew to one of the busiest sites on the web, by 1999 it was the 3rd most visited website behind AOL and Yahoo!  Before the dotcom bubble burst, Yahoo purchased Geocities for billions, but it never reached its former popularity as Yahoo!Geocities (which was where I joined in) It had grown to popularity by offering ordinary users a free place to host their personal website – and offered a strong array of tools to help design the sites. Yahoo added to those – but as you can see if you visit the old site, the pages always managed to look a little clunky, and to get any kind of custom look I had to try my hand at raw HTML editing, which can be daunting. But it was a learning experience, and I found several open source WYSIWYG applications like NVu to help edit the html.

The first missionlog logo

The first missionlog logo

squeegee

squeegee

My first post there was in 2004 (actually, ported over from an earlier Sympatico home page, which continued to show up in search engine cached results for many years after it was taken down – the internet has ghosts).  It was when I first left my job at Meteor Telecommunications to work for Project417 fulltime helping the homeless in Toronto. I used it as a kind of newsletter (blogs were not so popular back then) to let folks know what was going on in my life, to appeal for donations to Project417, and to tell stories about the homeless people I met out on the streets of Toronto. Often the content matched the hardcopy newsletters I was producing on an old blue bondi  iMac computer (which I still have, disassembled in storage)

Using a work-around here on wordpress that actually is for future scheduling of posts, I can change the date field back to the original dates of the original mission_log articles – so I’ll be importing them and they’ll show up in the archives like Back to the Future…

The first is the Toronto Sun Letter of the Day from 2005.

To be continued…

Project417 Online Newsletter – June 2009

StreetLife – Project417 – June 2009 Vol 6 Issue 8

Chuck - I'd rather die than be homeless another winter


Our friend Chuck – his portrait at the ROM exhibition June 2009

Dear Friends,

Thanks for reading the online version of the Project417 newsletter. This will give you the latest updates on Project417’s ongoing mission to the homeless. We’d like you to be able to read more, but frankly, without continuing financial support from great people just like you, Project417 is unable to provide additional web content for the newsletter at this time.

Our financial needs for support right now are critical. Without your donations Project417 will not be able to continue to provide essential services in 2009. These services include:

Sandwich Runs to the Homeless

– more than fifty thousand meals delivered to date
– on average, we deliver a nutritious bag luunch to around 500 homeless street people every month
– more than two thousand church and school volunteers visit Project417 every year to help
– your donations provide for expenses to traansport volunteers visiting the homeless, salaries for staff to provide volunteer safety and additional food, water, sleeping bags, and clothing during severe weather alerts

Project417 Urban Adventures

Short Term Missions – an urban, inner city experience – Project 417 has been hosting urban missions teams to the inner city in Toronto since the 1980’s but is now growing this ministry through Project417 Urban Adventures (UA). Urban Adventures will provide teams with the opportunity to come to Toronto and participate in a variety of urban outreach experiences. The goals of this program are to effectively serve the at-risk, low income communities we reach out to, to impact the worldviews and opinions of students toward a more Christ-like view of the urban reality. UA provides missions opportunities to Youth (and other group) leaders that will be easy to plan and allow them to experience the trip alongside youth – providing discipleship along the way. UA is a partnership with Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship.

Bloor Lansdowne Community Dinner

– A Partnership program with the Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship, a church that has been located here in Toronto since the 1930’s
– runs every Wednesday evening from 6PM to 8PM
– provides a free, home-cooked meal for anyone in the community. So far we are serving about sixty to one hundred guests including street homeless, residents of neighbouring shelters and transitional women’s housing, needy families and other local church neighbours
– Live musical entertainment every week
– volunteers are needed, and donations to purchase the fresh food every week, clothing bank donations are also accepted

The STEP Program Sex Trade Exit Program

STEP strives to help sexually exploited people in Toronto, Canada. The core of our work is to express the gospel in both word and deed and to engage in discipleship with our community. We do our best to address the suffering of those who are currently involved in prostitution and provide opportunities for change for those interested in exiting the sex trade. Project417 welcomes the addition of Tara McPherson, our newest faith-based missionary, to run the STEP program. For the past few months, in partnership with BLCF, STEP has run a late evening drop-in for women on Bloor Street every Thursday night from 9:30pm to 3:00am called Serenity Cafe.

Out of the Cold Program for Street Youth (November – April)

– established in the fall of 1996, by Rev. Joe Elkerton, in conjunction with Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto, now known as Knox Youth Dinner & Foodbank
– this emergency shelter program was thhe first Out of the Cold program specially for street youth from 16 to 25 years of age
– currently the program has expanded to proovide meals, a food bank, clothing depot, service referrals, and counselling; overnight sleeping accomodation can no longer be provided
– serves more than one hundred youth every week
– several of Project417’s staff and volunteers are on site at Knox every week to provide mentoring to street youth, and assist Knox coordinate volunteers

Counselling Services

– Under the direction of Rev. Joe Elkerton, Project417 provides counselling services to the homeless
– clients include homeless men, women aand youth, street involved youth and at risk families living in poverty
– counselling includes healthy lifestyles reeinforcement, addiction counselling, anger management, and family counselling
– in addition Project417 staff have been trained and certified in Critical Incident Stress Management to be involved in emergency response services and disaster relief
– CISM components include: Group and Individual Crisis Interventions; Trauma & Addictions; Pastoral Crisis Intervention; School Crises

Street Outreach to the Homeless

– the staff and missionaries at Project417 conduct regular outreach to the homeless street population and at-risk inner city residents
– the Project417 model is not a traditional shelter based approach, rather it takes place out on the street where the homeless live
– the outreach comprises both individual one on one interaction and group settings
– in conjunction with the sandwich run ministry, it is the most relational of Project417’s programs
– outreach includes: social program referrals; crisis intervention; personal friendship evangelism; discipleship; fellowship; faith community referrals

Short Term Missions

Hurricane Disaster Recovery – Gulf Coast – Hurricane Katrina – Hurricane Ike

– In September, 2005, the first short term mission teams from Project417, visited New Orleans for one, two and three week terms
– fifty volunteers in seven teams have gone on Project417 short term missions to New Orleans, Louisiana and Galveston, Texas
– Andy and a team of fifteen volunteers from Georgia State University visited San Leon, Galveston County, Texas to help with Hurricane Ike relief in the renovation of a storm damaged home belonging to a Vietnamese – American family
– there is currently no funding available for the next short term mission, but plans are to visit the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans in 2009 and team with Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Housing Institute
– On TV –  “The Old Man and the Storm, a PBS FrontLine documentary by June Cross describing the rebuilding efforts of Mr. Herbert Gettridge and his family in the Lower Ninth Ward, aided by volunteers (including Project417); the documentary aired Jan. 2009 and can be watched online at PBS

Thanks for reading this far. We hope you have a better understanding of the essential services Project417 provides to the homeless, both here in Toronto and where disaster strikes elswhere. We need to continue. We need your support. Over 500 street homeless and 6,000 shelter housed men and women benefit from Project417’s core ministries. Thousands in New Orleans and Texas are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt.

A donation of $10 – $20 will help pay for our team leaders’ expenses to support the volunteers for one evening’s sandwich run. A donation of $50 will buy a Tim Horton’s coupon book and give a panhandler a meal instead of small change in his cup. $500 =  sandwich run van for one month. $1000 would pay for the travel of one short term mission team to New Orleans or fund two weeks of inner city street outreach. Partner with us today. Follow the links below to make your donation, online, or in the mail. Join with us to bring the love of Christ to those forgotten by society.
Sincerely,

Rev. Joe Elkerton
Executive Director
Ekklesia Inner City Ministries
Project417

Hurricane Ike Photos – Texas Disaster Relief – Galveston Cty

The aftermath of Hurricane Ike – most of the photos taken by me volunteering with Project417 and the Salvation Army from Sept. 26th to October 9th, 2008. Location: Texas – Houston, Pasadena, Galveston County, Seabrook, Kemah, Bacliff, San Leon. So many of them remind me of working in the Lower Ninth – New Orleans after Katrina.

Please Volunteer!

See the photos on Facebook – click “read more

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Gulf Coast New Orleans Spared as Gustav Downgraded and Passes Through

Hurricane Gustav moves inland, Hannah, Ike and Josephine move in.

Hurricane Gustav moves inland, Hannah, Ike and Josephine move in.

Thankfully, Hurricane Gustav weakened before striking the gulf coast and passing New Orleans. According to news reports, Hurricane Gustav was downgraded to Category 2 hurricane before making landfall about a hundred miles to the south west of New Orleans in the Cajun bayou country of coastal Louisiana. Although Gustav packed a punch, with strong winds up to 170 kmh, the recently repaired and improved levees in New Orleans held back the storm surge – which was about three metres less than that during Katrina. The levees held, and the newly constructed storm gates were effective. The main levee along the New Orleans Industrial Canal was tested by Hurricane Gustav though, with the waters rising to the brim of the levee walls and storm blown waters cresting the top and cascading down into residential neighborhoods. The Industrial Canal was one of the levees to fail catastrophically during Katrina and cause the devastating flooding of the Lower Ninth Ward resulting in almost total destruction of the community.

The Lower 9th of Orleans Parish was where Project417 provided relief and reconstruction on three homes for the family of Mr. Herbert Gettridge in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina. As of Monday during the passing of Gustav, there were reports of flooding in Orleans Parish streets from ankle to knee depth due to the water flowing over the tops of the levee. There were widespread power blackouts as Gustav’s hurricane winds shredded electrical power lines and toppled poles and towers with more than a million homes affected. Thank God so far the Industrial Canal levee, strengthened and upgraded in the past three years has held. In addition, the water pumps which are critical to pumping all storm drain and sewage from below-sea-level New Orleans, continued working – during Katrina, they were the first to fail. New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, had earlier in the week ordered the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, which went smoothly aided by contraflow traffic on the interstates and a well ordered parish by parish exodus, and is expected to issue the return home notices soon. Many New Orleans residents still chose to ride out the storm and hospitals were operating with skeleton staffing crews and back-up power. Reports are still coming in from southwest Louisiana where the brunt of the hurricane hit first. In addition, Bay St. Louis and Biloxi, Mississippi, both heavily damaged during Katrina, were also reporting heavy wind damage and surge flooding from Gustav.

As the Accuweather satellite photo depicts above, there is still a triple threat of hurricanes in the Atlantic from tropical storms Hannah, Ike and Josephine.

Project417 is heading to New Orleans in November, 2008 to continue re-construction in the Lower Ninth Ward. Outreach worker Andy Coats had been scheduled to visit New Orleans over the Labor Day weekend, but the news of Gustav has postponed that preparatory trip. Visit Project417 here to volunteer and donate to the recovery efforts.

[with notes from Toronto Sun, and Accuweather]

New Orleans, Gulf Coast Brace for Hurricane Gustav Monday, and Tropical Storm Hannah on its Heels

Satellite Image Hurricane Gustav - Hannah

Satellite Image Hurricane Gustav - Hannah

Hurricane Gustav will reach major hurricane status by the time it reaches the central Gulf coast early in the week. Uncertainty still remains about whether Hanna will add to the misery by late next week. The current forecast takes the eye of Gustav into the coast of Louisiana, west of the Mississippi Delta, late on Monday or early on Tuesday. However, all interests along the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to South Texas should monitor Gustav and prepare accordingly. The heavy rain and winds from Gustav will test levees breached during Hurricane Katrina. However, the storm surge will be less across Lake Ponchratrain if the hurricane makes landfall over the southwestern coast of Louisiana.

According to the Times Picayune in New Orleans, Gov. Bobby Jindal said that Louisiana will open contraflow traffic patterns on interstates by “early, early Sunday morning”. Preparations are being made to evacuate people out of at least 19 parishes where a state of emergency has been declared.

Project417, planning a Katrina re-building visit in November hopes that Gustav and Hannah do not add to the devastation of New Orleans and the gulf coast this time.

Visit Project417 to Help with Hurricane Relief

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Private security in Toronto Chinatown sparks safety debate

Homeless at Spadina / College

Homeless at Spadina / College

Excerpt from – Allison Hanes, National Post – For a week now, a pair of private security guards have been walking the beat in Toronto’s Chinatown hired by the local BIA. So far more than two dozen “banning orders” have been issued against disruptive undesirables. Dave Wilson,of Toronto Police, complained that lesser-trained employees lower standards…

“Randy Lippert, a sociology professor at the University of Windsor, has studied the trend of BIAs taking charge of local safety. The phenomenon has been imported from the United States, first catching on in Vancouver before sprouting here in Ontario, he said, as resources for community policing drift to technology and major crime.

“Despite its popularity, Prof. Lippert said there are some compelling questions to consider surrounding accountability and training. “Generally speaking, would most people like to have a private security guard making decisions that dramatically affect people’s lives when they’re only getting paid 10 or 11 dollars an hour?” he said. “I’m not saying that all private security people are like that, but certainly you’re starting to scrape the bottom of the labour pool…. A lot of them are wannabe, as they say
‘wanstables,’ people who in some cases didn’t make it.”

[end of excerpt – source National Post]

This is a very compelling and insightful article, well researched and balanced. The main issues would be – what are the private security firms charging the homeless with? That is, what laws are they breaking that a private security guard is authorized to enforce? Provincial trespassing legislation? The streets are public property, and the ground allocated to businesses very narrow, with the exception of their storefront fixtures and entrances – there is no “trespassing” on a public street or sidewalk – the very reason police do not lay trespassing charges against the homeless at City Hall for example. Loitering similarily is not often enforced by police, an outdated law, and difficult to apply in public areas. Also the arrest process must be equivalent to the crime and loitering has no victim and is non-violent, so police may not justify the use of force or restraint to enforce it. How are security guards above the law here? Other “offences” cited in the article include Petty thieving, public intoxication, drug consumption, urination and/or defecation in public, intimidation, prostitution and aggressive panhandling.  Intimidation and aggressive panhandling are specifically provided for in the Safe Streets Act of Ontario and should not be in the jurisdiction of private security firms.

For an update visit the Commentary page by clicking the tab at the top of this page. It’s important that the rights of the public be protected and that includes people who may be homeless. It’s not against the law to be homeless! And it is our duty to protect and help them.

|| Visit Project417 to Help the Homeless ||

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