Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’

A Call to Action from Kindred Spirits

May 7, 2014

Today I am pleased to share a post by Doug Rankin of the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre (KDCHC).  He has an important message about a great community event coming up this Thursday!  Tomorrow I will share an interview that he did with Clarence, a Shelter to Housing Worker at the Hostel and former Peer Health Worker with KDCHC who will receive an award at this event.


“We stand here tonight in solidarity with those who are experiencing homelessness and poverty. We all know that without our health we have nothing. Living without a home makes it impossible to maintain health. Every day is a challenge to find food, to stay warm and dry, to search out services, to find shelter, to seek health care, to be safe. Every day, witnessing friends struggling with illness and disease, often dying prematurely. We are a wealthy Region and it is not just that there are those without adequate shelter and living in poverty. No one should have to wait years on a list for affordable housing, sleep in unsafe and unsanitary rooming houses or spend the end of their life dying without a home. We ask you to now observe a moment of silence to show your support and to reflect on the work yet to be done.”

This is what volunteer Kim Wilson said to those attending the 9th Kindred Spirit BBQ last year, calling us to action as a community and highlighting the difficult reality that many live each day. (more…)

The best way to deal with homelessness? How about giving people homes.

May 30, 2013

Here in KW, there is a man who everyone involved in the service sector seems to know. He used to tend to gravitate toward the downtown area, and was often the target of verbal and physical violence. People would call the ambulance or police for him regularly, sometimes several times a day for mental health or other reasons. Over a long period of time, people began to realize that contacting emergency services on such a regular basis was not helpful to this individual, and was also enormously expensive for being so ineffective.

hand and key

In the dominant model of dealing with homelessness, the person described above would be expected to get cleaned up and healthy before accessing housing and other supports. This model is often called the ‘treatment first’ model, under which people who are homeless spend time in emergency services accessing treatment before they are deemed suitable for their own independent housing. There is an alternative model though, which even exists here in KW, called the housing first model. It’s exactly what it sounds like—first get people dealing with homelessness a home of their own, and then support them in accessing support for issues such as mental health, addictions, employment (whether paid or volunteer), or social engagement.


Feeding our furry (or feathered!) friends

April 15, 2013

The other day I was browsing the ALIV(e) (Awareness of Low Income Voices) blog, and came across this post, where Teri-Lee talks about how much her cats mean to her. In her words, “my cats give me a reason to get up in the morning and a feeling of being needed and loved. They give me a reason to laugh. When I feel down and alone, my cats make me feel secure and worth the effort of being.” Her post made me think of my own pets and how important they are to me, and of all the people who come in for hampers and ask for cat food, dog food, or even bird food for their animal friends.

Georgie is a dog without a home. Adopt him from the Humane Society!

Georgie is a dog without a home. Adopt him from the Humane Society!

A few years ago Matt wrote this post about giving out pet food. Many people who come in for food for themselves also come for food for their pet, usually a cat or dog. In fact, in a typical month about 17% of people we serve ask for pet food, which is over 400 hampers. We give out pet food whenever we have it, and many people are thrilled to get some food to get their furry friend through the week. This is a great service, but sometimes I am asked questions like “why do people coming in for food have a pet when they can’t even feed themselves?”

This is an important question and one I’d like to answer in this blog post. Being able to care for a pet is more complicated than simply having money, and everyone deserves to have the companionship and health benefits that come with having a pet.


There is no place like home on day 3 of 12 Days

December 12, 2012

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Home is not a long word.  Only four letters. But for being such a short word, it has a lot of weight.  It is a big deal.  What can you do if you don’t have a home?  Today, Allison, the program coordinator of Eby Village shared Andrea’s story with me:

“After moving from shelter to shelter, I was so happy when I received the news that I was accepted at Eby village. For the first time in my life, I had my own private space and I finally had my own kitchen where I could cook my own meals.

 I shared my new home with other people who were in similar circumstance as me, such as being on social assistance, and coming from homelessness.  I have met people with different personalities and each person has brought something unique to my life.  I have learned things I never would have thought from people in the building such as gardening, cooking, and arts and crafts. I’ve stayed close with the people I’ve befriended throughout my 15 years of living at Eby Village and I have grown as an individual.

Having my own private space has brought me security, and my confidence has grown by participating in community activities. I hope everyone can have a home like Eby Village because it gives people autonomy, a feeling of self worth, and increases self esteem. Your own home gives you a place to invite your friends and family to that you feel proud of, and you don’t have the influence of alcohol and drugs so you can live the way you want to and work on becoming the best person you can be. “

Looking the story over, Andrea said “People aren’t going to believe that someone from Eby Village wrote this!  Most people think we can’t even read and write.”           

The message is this story is simple – if you give someone a home, they have the opportunity to thrive. But the reality in our region and across Canada is not everyone has access to a safe, affordable, and acceptable home, and as Andrea points out, barriers and stereotypes still remain.  In a survey  done by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA), there are  over 156, 358 Ontario households waiting for affordable housing like that offered in Eby Village, and more than 3,000 people waiting for housing in the region of Waterloo alone – year after year, this list continues to grow. The wait time for families, singles and seniors is on average 2-3 years which indicates the need for more affordable housing options, particularly for those in deep need. (more…)

The Power of 12

December 10, 2012
Volunteers swing into action and put together the first of several thousand Christmas Hampers

Volunteers swing into action and put together the first of several thousand Christmas Hampers

Last Friday, volunteers in north Waterloo were busy.  They came together, many of them only seeing each other at this time of year, and got to business assembling boxes of food for people they will never meet.  Christmas Hampers officially got into gear.

Inspired by these volunteers and the hundreds who will follow them each day until the 25th, House of Friendship invites YOU to get involved in our community to the power of 12.

Welcome to 12 Days.

The idea is simple: do something, anything, in the next twelve days to help someone else.  These can be 12 big things, 12 little things or even just one thing. We`re not asking you to join in on what House of Friendship is doing (although you are very welcome to) we simply want to share the enthusiasm and drive that we see around us and encourage others to make a positive change.

This year, since it is a traditional time of gift giving, we are organizing our own efforts around 12 different “gifts”:  the gift of Justice and Equality, Food, Home, Community, Health, Joy, Knowledge, Friendship, Warmth, Diversity, Hope, and finally, Celebrating the Good!

Each day we will share some tips, suggestions, stories and inspiration that you can use to share that gift with our community.

Follow #12daysforgood on twitter, on Facebook and come back here for daily updates.

Day 1: How do you wrap the Gift of Justice?

In my University days, I found myself sitting with some co-workers for lunch, enjoying the nice summer weather.  We were doing door-to-door sales at the time and the spirit of the work place was making money and self reliance.  You were responsible for your success or failure.  Every day, before hitting the streets, it was drilled into us: keep pushing, stay confident, work hard and you will do it.

As we dug into our lunches, the conversation turned to a homeless man we had interacted with earlier before starting work. One of my co-workers observed “If I was on the street, I would never stop, I would clean myself up, get a job and get off the street in a few days.”

If only life was that simple. (more…)

Advocacy with purpose: ‘speaking up’ at the House of Friendship

September 4, 2012

As I talked about in a previous post, at House of Friendship we recently developed a new strategic plan, including a new mission, vision, and values. Of course, any strategic plan is useless if it gathers dust on someone’s shelf, never being read and updated. With that in mind, the next few posts I write will be looking at how our programs are living out and acting upon the new plan, or, in other words, how the plan is shaping House of Friendship programs.

Today I want to focus on a part of our new mission statement, which reads, “House of Friendship strengthens people and communities by being there when needed, speaking up and working together.” In particular, I want to look at how House of Friendship programs are ‘speaking up’ for, or with, program participants. To me, speaking up to affect social change is the definition of advocacy. Of course, this is broad; advocacy can be cultural (changing people’s minds or perceptions of a certain group or issue), or legislative (changing actual governmental policy).


Steps to community integration

April 18, 2011

Hunger is just one side of a very complicated set of problems. Housing, income, employment, food and more are all part of what is called the social determinants of health.

A recent video highlights some new thinking in the region on helping people get off the streets and into housing.  As  our executive director John Neufeld sums up:

“Homelessness is a complex issue that impacts individuals and our community on many levels.  There are no simple solutions but that doesn’t mean we’re unable to create effective change.  The STEP Home video shows how meaningful change can happen when progressive Regional Government, community agencies, and the broader community collaborate to address an issue.  This video reminds people that there are no simple cookie-cutter methods but we can do the work creatively, make a difference, and save money in the broader system.”

We have seen first hand the level of commitment the workers at the various community agencies show.  The House of Friendship’s own Brandon, who speaks in the video, often brings people in to receive a hamper, working closely with them and ensuring that they get whatever support they need.

York University academic Dennis Raphael highlights the role that housing, food and income play in supporting health.  He will be in town April 27 to give a talk organized by the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre.  I’ve spoken of him previously (here). I encourage you to have a look at his The Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts (a free .pdf download here) which is an excellent introduction to fact that poverty means more than an empty wallet and fewer options: it cuts years off your life and can burden you with many chronic ailments like diabetes.

More details of his talk can be found by clicking here for a .pdf flyer or by calling Gebre at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre.  His number is (519) 745-4404.

May this video and the upcoming talk spark conversations and awareness, and remind us of our own humanity and call to celebrate and care for each other.

Out of the Cold

November 30, 2010

The onset of November welcomes visible change. Daylight sayings time is over, and with its conclusion comes earlier sunsets and what feels like much shorter days. The mornings are now frost covered and crisp, and I cannot make it to work on my bike without mittens. The weather is more and more winter-like everyday and for many people in our community, this creates challenges that are particular to this time of the year. (more…)

One year, mulitiple programs, hundreds of people

May 3, 2010

Twelve months ago I graduated from the University of Waterloo, and embarked upon a journey into a rich world of cultural, social, and economic diversity. During this time I was introduced to delicious foods I had never even heard of before, like lychees or star fruit, and I was able to share this food with others. I met people who were living, or had lived through, circumstances unimaginable to many. I communicated with individuals who spoke languages different from my own. I held babies, I organized and attended parties, I planted seeds, I drove thousands of kilometers, and now, my year-long adventure has come to a close. Friday, April 30th was the last day of my House of Friendship Social Service Internship!

I enjoyed my experience as the intern, and although I wasn’t actually traveling the world, it sure felt like it sometimes. The majority of my time was divided between three programs each week– Emergency Food Hamper Program, Live and Learn Program, and Eby Village. However, I also assisted with the Sunnydale Community Centre Summer Playground Program during the summer of 2009, the Christmas Hamper Program in December 2009, and various other programs and events over the course of the year. I am sure that the insights and understanding that I gained during this time period will continue to guide me for years to come, and can not be easily summarized. What follows is just a small slice of everything I would like to say, without crashing this blog site with too much content!

To me, my involvement with food assistance was about much more than food. It was, and always will be, first and foremost, about people. The people in need of help and the people who offered that help to them: the patrons, the volunteers, donors, and staff members who astounded me with their resilience, resourcefulness, generosity, and humility.

It seems that sometimes, when life hits you with a pile of bricks, it hits you with a whole house worth. Your husband loses his job, your car starts making a funny noise, your kid complains of a tooth ache, and next thing you know you’re paying for two fillings and a new fan belt on top of everything else. What do you do? Well, if you’re anything like the people who access any of our programs, you keep going. You move forward, and you do the best you can with what you have.

A man came in to the Food Hamper Program last week. He wore a large knapsack on his back, with a rolled sleeping bag attached. He was homeless, and living out of a tent. He needed food, but the items he could take with him were limited – he didn’t have a fridge, or cooking tools. After he received his hamper, he asked if I could open his can of tuna for him. He was starving and needed something to eat right then, but did not have a can opener of his own. It broke my heart to see this man’s eyes light up when I offered him a simple fork to accompany what may have been the first thing he would eat all day.

We couldn’t provide the food we do if it weren’t for our generous donors and volunteers. Having the chance to work side by side with people who give so much of their time and resources has been a heartening experience. Being able to work in a place where I witness extreme generosity on a daily basis has been a huge blessing. Whether it may be 10,000 ripe mangoes, 33,000 lbs of corn, 1,000 lbs of canned food, or one can of baby formula, it is amazing to know that there are so many farmers, supermarkets, community members, companies, schools, and church groups out there who remember and choose to help other people in need.

Many months ago, I met a single mother in need of food assistance. She seemed  ashamed to be in such a position. It was apparent that she felt she needed to justify her need by explaining to me her current situation. Her eyes were full of tears, but she choked them back as she explained how her son was sick, and she was missing a lot of work because of it. She told me there was a time she never would have imagined having to ask for food. She’d gotten a Philosophy Degree, but then she got pregnant and became a single mother. Finding a job in her field was extremely difficult, so she took whatever she could get, minimum wage, part-time, etc, to raise her son.

Recently, I met this woman again, but it was now me standing on the other side of the counter asking for food. I was at a local fast food restaurant. She didn’t remember me, but her service was excellent and we ended up having an interesting conversation. I couldn’t help thinking after saying good-bye that we all sit at the same table, just  sometimes in different chairs.

This woman’s situation, like many others, really stuck with me. I too have a university degree, and like her, I might one day find myself in a situation I would never perceive possible. Like so many patrons that come in to the Food Hamper Program I might go from food bank donor, to food bank recipient in the blink of an eye. No one foresees a future in which they will need to ask for help from complete strangers. No one wants to do this, but for over 20,000 people in our community, this is their reality.

Out of the cold, out of the way?

April 30, 2010

To most people May 1 will be a typical day: you may get up to go to work, do some errands, visit family, or follow some other regular routines. However for over two thousand people in Kitchener-Waterloo this is the start of a six month challenge to find a regular, safe place to sleep.  April 30th is the last night the Out of the Cold program, which is hosted by various churches in the region, will be open until November. To mark the end of these churches providing emergency shelter and meals, the Kitchener Downtown Community Center organizes an event called “Sleepless Night” to raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness. To test your understanding of some of the  homelessness issues, click here or here.

During the next six months, many of the homeless individuals and families that have accessed Out of the Cold will be relying on other shelters, community meal services, and emergency food hampers for basic survival. Those who seek emergency shelter will be hoping to get the same wake up calls for work that they got from Out of the Cold; or that there are enough beds for them to have a safe, warm place to sleep. Others will anxiously wait in a long line-up to hope that there will be enough dinner plates for the crowd until they can reach the front of the line. And a few will turn to emergency food hamper programs to receive a few items of food so they may have a quiet meal on their own.

Homelessness and Emergency Food Hampers

With one less meal program available some patrons will turn to emergency food hamper program to receive a few items of food. When a patron informs us that they are homeless, this may alter the type of hamper we have to offer. If they’re able to temporarily stay with friends or family, we can offer a regular food hamper – as they have access to a fridge and cooking facilities. However it does come up from time to time that people are living in tents or simply finding anywhere to sleep on the streets.  In this case, the hamper is generally limited to non-perishable products such as cans with pop tab lids that are easy to open and ready to eat. Patrons without any roof over their head are leery of accepting any fresh vegetables and fruits or meat as these food items may attract animals, making it unsafe to sleep at night. So, for example, instead of receiving fresh vegetables in a hamper we’ll provide them with a supply of canned vegetables as a safer alternative.

Substituting canned foods in a hamper are helpful but present a challenge of their own to homeless patrons because it is difficult to carry a large amount of food with them. As these patrons are likely carrying all their belongings with them in a back pack or cart, this leaves a limited amount of space to store a large amount of canned foods. However even with a lot of space to store canned foods, they likely have a limited amount of energy or strength to constantly carry everything around with them.

Carrying a lot of canned foods can be a burden, but accessing food programs can also relieve a burden. When a homeless patron receives a food hamper this can be the beginning of a connection to other resources. Being given connections or referrals to other resources may be new to many patrons as most shelter and meal programs simply only have the energy, time or funding to deal with the day-to-day basics of food and shelter rather than long-term assistance and support.

How closing Out of the Cold affects the Charles Street Mens Hostel

The Mens Hostel operates all year round to provide short-term shelter and nutritious meals for those in need, similar to the Out of the Cold program. Two of the main differences between the Mens Hostel and Out of the Cold are that the Mens Hostel conducts an intake or registration process, and the Mens Hostel encourages patrons to work with a case worker. These changes become evident during the six months that Out of the Cold closes, when the Mens Hostel sees a spike in demand for shelter and services like meals.

Out of the Cold generally calculates the number of patrons who come in each night by counting heads; where as the Mens Hostel completes a longer intake procedure to collects a patron’s name and some more in depth information. So when Out of the Cold ends, the patrons that choose to use emergency shelters are faced with new protocols to receive a warm bed at the end of the night. Out of the Cold patrons generally prefer to keep their anonymity; so Hostel caseworkers are presented with a new and somewhat more challenging group of men to support. Instead of simply providing a place to rest your head at the end of the night, and some food throughout the day, the Hostels’ caseworkers want to support patrons in obtaining social assistance, permanent housing, and steady employment.

The caseworkers at the Hostel provide patrons with a supportive system to establish goals and tasks to complete that will improve their circumstances and get them off the streets. For many of the patrons who used Out of the Cold, this is not their cup of tea. Many use emergency shelters to escape a cold night on the street, but aren’t necessarily interested in working with someone to find permanent housing and a steady employment. However the Hostel caseworkers are not quitters! Most times these patrons have come to a hostel for a place to sleep, and don’t expect  to find someone who is willing to help them, so absorbing this shock takes some time. And the dedicated staff understand the struggle people face with making dramatic changes in their life, so they allow these patrons a few extra days to warm up to the idea of working with a stranger.

When the Out of the Cold program closes many people are still left struggling. Many volunteers and donations have helped take care of them for a few months, to which the patrons are grateful. But as a society we need to remember that when the cold is out of the way, these people are not – they’re still out there looking for a helping hand.