Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

A House Of Friendship For All Nations

May 31, 2016

House of Friendship believes strongly in housing as a right

Today I am fortunate to share a story from Colin our Maintenance Director. He recently had the following reflections to share about his experience working at House of Friendship:

One the coolest and my most favourite parts of my job is the diversity I get to experience serving in my role here.

I am very fortunate to be able to spend time in all areas of the organization and see first-hand all of the great work we do and connect with so many of the fantastic people we have serving with us. I realize this is quite a privilege that not everyone gets to experience. Sometimes my work takes me to places and situations I would have never guessed getting up that morning that I would get to see. I want to share one of those stories and moments with you. (more…)

Crisis And Community Connection: Two Conversations

December 10, 2015
Children at the Sunnydale Community Centre can teach us all a lot

As a society, how can we follow the example of these children?

Last week, a young mother who is Syrian and Muslim, arrived at the Sunnydale Community Centre with her 3 year old daughter, visibly shaken.  On her drive here, she had stopped at a red light.  It was a beautiful day and so she had her car window open, as did other drivers.  She looked into the car next to her and was stunned when the man locked eyes with her and shouted “You terrorist!”  She quickly turned the corner and drove to the community centre.  We talked a long time, sharing her sadness and understanding her fear.

These are some words that were shared by Linda, who works at House of Friendship’s  Sunnydale Community Centre program.  Sunnydale is made up of people from all over our country, and from many places across the world.  Recently, many of us at House of Friendship were gathered together and the topic of conversation shifted to global events that are unfolding before all of us in the media each day.

We live in a connected world.  Decisions made by individuals or groups in distant corners of the earth can change our day to day lives in profound, unexpected ways.  They change our understanding of our place in the world, they stir our emotions, they inspire, frustrate and they terrify us in ways we cannot always fully comprehend.

How do we come to terms with our fear?  How do we stop spreading the hate and violence that occurs elsewhere and how do we open ourselves to helping those who have nowhere to turn? (more…)

Something To Chew On This Thanksgiving

October 12, 2015

House of Friendship thinks you should vote for the community you want to seeOne of the first volunteer jobs I had in Kitchener Waterloo was doing non partisan outreach to encourage people to vote. One of my tasks involved standing on a corner, down the street from St. John’s Kitchen (back before it moved to it’s new location on Victoria Street) and handing out material to the men and women who were going in and out of the building to get a hot meal.

I saw a lot of people that day, and not all of them were thrilled to talk to me about why they should vote. While some were enthusiastic, I would say the majority of them expressed indifference, and occasionally, a fair degree of hostility to the political process, in which they felt they had no say, or representation.

Fair enough, the last thing you want to do is stand around with a stranger and talk about the how and why of voting when all you want is something to eat.

Which raises a big question: how can you engage with the political process when you have more immediate concerns in front of you, namely, no food, or even, no place to call a home? (more…)

Reflections On Housing And Harm Reduction

October 9, 2015

This is the final part of the series of guest posts considering the topic of housing and harm reduction.  In this piece I am happy to share some reflections from Ron F, House of Friendship’s Residential Services Director.

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(I write these reflections in the early morning setting of a coffee shop in downtown Kitchener. Some of the surrounding tables are occupied by strangers to me, others by people I know as tenants or residents of House of Friendship residential programs. We are all included in this daily community at the caffeine dispensary.)

I really like Sara’s framing of the issue of housing and harm reduction as an issue of community inclusion. This is aligned with our House of Friendship vision of “a healthy community where all can belong and thrive”. Community inclusion and harm reduction approaches both begin with “belonging” by “accepting a person where they are at” without judgement. I believe the goal is not simply “belonging”, but “healthy belonging” where “healthy” refers to a respectful social environment in which everyone’s capabilities are nurtured and accepted as valuable contributions to the community. (more…)

A Green Community Is Growing At Supportive Housing

September 25, 2015

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This summer Chloe and Khadija had the opportunity to visit the gardens of the House of Friendship’s Supportive Housing Programs. You may remember in the spring we shared a lot about gardens at House of Friendship.

Chloe and Khadija met with Julie, who is the Garden Project leader at Supportive Housing this year.
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More Fantastic Reasons To Support a Basic Income in Canada

September 23, 2015

Part one of this series outlined the state of food security in Canada, explained that most Canadians are food insecure because they do not have enough money for food, and concluded with an idea: basic income programs, which guarantee a certain income to all adult residents of a specific territory, could be an effective policy tool to reduce poverty and so promote food security.

Part two of this series considered a range of practical and philosophical objections to basic income schemes, but as I further explained, no concern is insurmountable. In fact we–Canadians–have tried this before, more or less, and it worked!

I want to repeat that point, because I can: we implemented a kind of basic income in Canada, with positive recorded outcomes.

The MINCOME experiment in Manitoba

From 1974 to 1978, through the “MINCOME” project, the poorest residents of Dauphin Manitoba received monthly cheques whether or not they were working, or disabled, or whatever. The value of the cheques varied according to family income, and brought each family up to a living wage income. The payments were not universal, but like a basic income, they did establish a no-questions-asked income floor. Sadly, when a new government was elected in 1979 the project was scrapped without any analysis or final report.

However, the University of Manitoba professor Evelyn Forget revisited the project documents in the mid 2000s, and wrote a research paper titled “The Town With No Poverty: Using Health Administration Data to Revisit Outcomes of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment.” Among other conclusions, Forget found that

overall hospitalizations, and specifically hospitalizations for accidents and injuries and mental health diagnoses, declined for MINCOME subjects relative to the comparison group. Physician contacts for mental health diagnoses fell for subjects relative to comparators. Overall, the measured impact was larger than one might have expected since only about a third of families qualified for support at any one time and many of the supplements would have been quite small.

Forget additionally concluded that “these results would seem to suggest that a Guaranteed Annual Income, implemented broadly in society, may improve health and social outcomes at the community level.” Although she qualifies her conclusions, as a good academic ought to, Forget’s results are significant.

Basic income saves us all money? 

The results of her study are especially significant given what we do know about our current social assistance programs–how they work, or don’t. Don Drummond, the former Chief Economist of TD Bank, has described Canada’s welfare system as

a box with a tight lid. Those in need must essentially first become destitute before they qualify for temporary assistance. But the record shows once you become destitute you tend to stay in that state. You have no means to absorb setbacks in income or unexpected costs. You can’t afford to move to where jobs might be or upgrade your skills.

Drummond’s comments refer specifically to the consequences for individual recipients of social assistance, which I do not want to trivialize. I have never tried to survive on social assistance. The daily grinding poverty that Linda Tirado describes is foreign to me.

Implicit in Drummond’s comments is the point I’ve already made here, and elsewhere: poverty is expensive, and so are our social assistance programs. We all must pay, every time those programs fail to provide real opportunities to the people they purportedly serve.

Canadian seniors have a guaranteed income

So we had the Dauphin “experiment,” which was a relatively small and successful demonstration of the positive effects of a basic income. We should not forget that our Federal Government every day administers another kind of guaranteed income scheme, which most every Canadian who turns 65 benefits from: Old Age Security (OAS). According to Statistics Canada, “your employment history is not a factor in determining eligibility: you can receive the OAS pension even if you have never worked or are still working.” If you are quite rich, you do not get OAS. If you have no other income, you receive a top-up, called the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

So here is more good evidence that guaranteed incomes make people healthier. In her research about food security, the Nutritional Sciences professor Valerie Tarasuk highlights an important connection between a guaranteed income and food security. Her point is simple: Canadians over 65 are the only group in this country to have a guaranteed annual income indexed to inflation, and a basic ‘suite’ of in-kind benefits, like drug coverage, transit subsidies, and various kinds of ‘senior days’ at private businesses. With that in mind, consider the following graph, from Tarasuk:

 

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Of all the groups of Canadians receiving financial assistance from the Canadian government, seniors (65 years and older) are the most food secure. They are the only group whose income, meagre as it may be, rises with inflation; and they have the most comprehensive benefits package. (And still there are over 600,000 Canadians 65 or older living in poverty.)

Guaranteed incomes promote health and ensure wealth

In their paper “How a Guaranteed Annual Income Could Put Food Banks out of Business,” researchers from the University of Calgary enlarge upon this point. They start with the remarkable fact that “Canada can boast of having one of the lowest rates for poverty among seniors in the world, largely due to its guaranteed income programs for those 65 years and older.” What’s more, “when low-income Canadians turn 65 years old and leave behind low-paying, often unstable jobs, their poverty levels drop substantially.” They explain how seniors enjoy a unique protection from budget shocks, and how this “disaster insurance” translates into better health: “Self-reported rates of physical and mental health improve markedly as well after low-income Canadians move from low-wage, insecure employment to a guaranteed income at the age of 65.” So while it is true that Canadians in general are among some of the most well-off in the world, it is also true that many Canadians get healthier and wealthier when they turn 65. In other words, we can still do better, and especially for non-seniors living on a low income.

The Calgary researchers’s solution is also fairly simple, and probably not surprising: expand the basic income program that already positively serves so many Canadians, to the rest.

We cannot end poverty, we are told, for so many reasons. It’s complicated, it’s inevitable, it’s not our problem. And yet, a basic income scheme could address the root cause of poverty–not enough money–and free up funds to address what remains.

“Faaantastic!”

Fantastic Reasons Why A Basic Income Makes Moral Cents

September 21, 2015

Ontarians of a certain age and inclination know Mr. Brown, the terribly obnoxious (and fictional) winner of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s “Cash For Life” prize. Each week the same mailman delivers a one thousand dollar cheque to Mr. Brown, and each week Mr. Brown crows with delight. “Faaantastic!” he says.

As a child I thought this was a lame commercial and a lame prize. As the spot progresses we see evidence that Mr. Brown is making modest material gains: golf clubs, a boat, incremental additions to his home. I had decided then that winning the lottery should mean being able to check out of life as we know it, buying a castle like Mike Tyson’s, tigers and all. This was not the case for Mr. Brown, who we see pathetically and predictably by his fence each week waiting for the mail man to bring him his cheque. I imagined Mr. Brown driving his slightly better car to his same crappy job; taking marginally better vacations; and maybe, finally, buying organic!

I am older now, and if not wiser, more experienced. I think: maybe Mr. Brown was home to meet the mail man because he quit his job. I think: maybe he quit his job to build the studio he needed, so that he could spend his days drawing charcoal portraits of golden retrievers, as was his childhood dream. I think: what would I do if I had a thousand dollars a week? And although that question invites all kinds of existential anxiety – because what should I be doing with this wild and precious life? I assume I’d eventually figure things out. (more…)

How To Take Two Trips For The Price Of One

June 19, 2015

Museums like the ROM, different cities, camps and more are all great places to go on a school trip. Photo via Flickr user Grant MacDonald

One of the nice things about being a parent is the opportunity to accompany your child or children on a school trip: you get some insight into class room dynamics, spend some time with your child, and learn a bit about the environment in which they spend so much of their time.

At the end of the year, many classes organize school trips.  I remember these as great experiences to go outside of the community I grew up in, visit new places with my friends and have a lot of fun.

For the first part of this week, my co-worker at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, Raymond, was absent as he accompanied one of his children on an end of year trip.  As a result I stepped into his role a little more than I usually do, and coordinated the challenging and interesting job of receiving, organizing, inventorying and distributing the many food donations we receive.  This week was a little more challenging than others. (more…)

What Chickens And Bowling Balls Can Teach You About Food Drives

June 4, 2015

So you want to support your local food bank?

Great! We need your help. But first, a story.

Saturday Night Special

My grandfather was a preacher, usually at small rural churches in South Western Ontario. His “salary” was unpredictable, paid out of every fourth week’s offering–more like a stand-up comic’s than the wise and venerable shepherd of his flock. My grandparents were poor, and in obvious ways dependent on their congregation.

One Saturday night, as my grandma was finishing bathing her five children, a congregant arrived bearing gifts. More specifically, five old laying hens, no longer producing eggs but still, this congregant assured my grandmother, “good eating.” The hens were alive, and so my grandma had to kill them, unburden them of head and feathers, clean them, and bag them for the freezer.

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Shut Up and Take My Money, part three! (Or, why cash transfers aren’t a silver bullet for food banks)

May 13, 2015

I spent the first two parts of this series with a bit of existential navel-gazing about food banks: should we close them down and give people money instead? Wouldn’t that be more efficient, and less paternalistic? So far, my answer is an emphatic maybe. On the one hand, people can make their own food choices with cash, and a complicated and intrusive bureaucracy would disappear.  On the other hand, that same infrastructure allows us to turn small donations into large amounts of food assistance.

In Debt to China

Cash rules everything around us

This post is part three of three, and that being so, it is time to reveal my bold answers to previously intractable problems.

It is wrongheaded to hold up cash transfers as the solution. Celebrating wealth because it gives us more choice and appears to increase our freedom has only ever worked for a few, at a great cost to many; and, ultimately, makes it more difficult to imagine new ways of living together and caring for each other.

Give a woman a fish, and she eats for a day. Teach a woman to fish, we are told, and she can feed herself forever. Give a man a can of tuna, and he eats for a day. Give a man some cash, and he decides.

I’ve so far been considering which is better, but why must these be the only options? What if her boat has a hole in it? What if her ancestors polluted and overfished all the rivers? Why are all these people fishing by themselves, for themselves? The questions we ask, and how we ask them, limits the range of possible answers and how we imagine alternatives–or not. (more…)