Monday, 7 April 2014

Southridge Shelter

In my neighbourhood there is a small non-denominational church called Southridge. As we all know churches are supposed to be helpful to the needy, and many are. Excitingly this church is directly helpful; half of the building is also a shelter for those in need. The shelter is not the biggest I have seen, but it is quite large as it is at 35 beds, and they also have separate “dorms” for men and women. This is part security and part for privacy sake. Men can be more comfortable around men and vice versa. Southridge is not just about offering shelter it works in conjunction with many other organizations such as Ontario works or Niagara Health. The goal is not to just offer a place to stay for evening but to direct people towards employment and becoming self-sufficient. They even work with housing to try and get the residents situated in something permanent.
                They do not only operate as a shelter for sleeping, they also offer meals throughout the day and someplace warm when the weather becomes unbearable. Southridge will also regularly schedule even nights at the shelter for the residents. These event nights are just a movie night, they have even gone to rock climbing and other interesting and fun activities. This may seem wasteful or expensive but some of the residents are teens or young adults, and some are young at heart. This night out can do wonders for lifting a person’s mood or instilling hope in them. Hope can go a long way in getting the person back on track and feeling good about themselves. I was impressed to see many people were not depressed but hopeful and grateful.
                As for the food served, it is quite good. They serve a well-rounded meal with many options that is clearly appreciated. This made me think back to when I volunteered with Food Not Bombs, where they will not serve meat as they believe meat is cruel and abusively obtained. When Food Not Bombs served food to the people in Montebello park it was quite obvious that, though grateful, they were missing meat. This is wrong to me to force an ideology on to other people, especially those that are hungry. Southridge does serve meat and they serve some non-meat items also (salad) so you can choose to not eat meat if you like. As for ideologies, it is a church, and that much is clear. They do not seem forceful about the message and I think part of that has to do with the fact that the church itself is non-denominational. They do offer a program called Devotions that is optional and teaches the fundamentals of Christianity, but since it is optional it is not as if they expect you to be Christian. Overall I have to say that Southridge is preaching through practice not by words, and I see no problem with that.
                One last interesting thing about the shelter is that it is not a “walk in” shelter. As in they will help anyone who needs it so long as they do not appear violent or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They door is a buzzer door and you will need to be let in by a staff member. This may seem excessive but the safety of the residents is their main priority. Along with safety, they strive to keep their residents healthy through daily recreational activities. Southridge has a goal to have residents be healthy and happy, and have found that many friendships have been forged through recreation, be it sports or just an outdoor activity. Again this leads to happier people with hope.
                All in all, I was impressed by Southridge. I was hoping to write about how they force scripture down people’s throats and that they are condescending, but this was just my atheist side being exceptionally biased. I am happy to say that Southridge seems like a very positive shelter actively striving to better the people who pass through their doors.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bett-Lou Souter - For Facts Sake

                My background is two different science majors and an advanced diploma in biotechnology, so I am stubborn as hell. There is pretty much only one thing that can ever sway me away from my position, facts. To my delight, I had the opportunity to listen to Betty-Lou Souter speak about her organization, community care. Why is this to my delight? Simply because she had facts, and they were informative and eye opening. Here main focus is on poverty, but in a unique way.  She focuses on poverty in her area.

This concept has always made sense to me, fix at home before you fix your neighbours. We currently have a disparity within our backyard, there are currently 10 641 individuals on the affordable housing waiting list (Niagara Region 2011). Of those, 2022 are families with children, and it is increasing, so that number greater than 10 000 is getting even larger. In 2011 there were 1800 households at risk of becoming homeless and just over 800 individuals. This does not include those that are currently homeless; they are a much harder problem to collect data on. Last shocking fact, in 2011 400 000 people were accessing food banks, mind you this may include repeat visits for regular patrons, but regardless this is a huge number. So it looks like we need to fix here, shouldn’t we?

Mrs. Souter is addressing this problem head on. As she mentioned in her talk, when she goes to politicians she goes ready to tell them these facts. Also her organization is directly dealing with as much of this as possible, above I mentioned there were 10 641 people on the affordable housing list in Niagara in 2011. Well in 2013 community care took 13 732 calls asking for help in getting housing. They are trying to help as many people as possible; they offer financial support food support, legal help everything and it is all provided by the community. There is no government funding, they are not allotted any funds but what they can generate. Interestingly Community Care does not just hand out the food; they offer information on eating healthy. They seek to empower the person using their facilities, it is not about cranking through cases and just providing a service. It is also about teaching good habits and offering independence. Community Care is a great example of helping by creating social capital.

                To me it seemed that Mrs. Souter’s message was not about poverty, it is about ending poverty. Specifically through community based programs and co-operation. What struck a chord with me was the information that they work collectively as food banks in our region and share resources. That is brilliant as you may have a region with very charitable people and not so many patrons, or vice versa. Also she is actively meeting with politicians to try and get her points across and into legislature. I was really wowed by the low income cut off information. A single person cut off is at $20 366 a year. That is low, I currently make more than that and I find myself short every once and a while. Also the amount of money that Ontario works provides for shelter is currently $376. I have rarely seen a place where rent is that low and the living conditions are not horrid. Add in a child and the amount goes up, but barely. A single parent with one child gets $596 for shelter. Maybe they could rent a room together for that but not an apartment, especially not a two bedroom. I assume these amounts are supposed to be supplemented with your own income but the cut off is very low for this social assistance. A family of four living at a cut off of 37 843, that leaves only $21 500 that the parents could make, in a year and combined. If they exceed that amount they lose the $16 344 in support. This is what Mrs.Souter is saying essentially, that it is really hard to get ahead in that system. As soon as you can take your own step forward, you are knocked back to shaky ground.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Richard Mitchell - Persistence and Listening to Our Children

Richard C. Mitchell, probably one of the most involved speakers we have had so far. He is passionate, knowledgeable and engaging, but a little to focused. His overall goal is to inform as many people as possible of the UN Convention of the Rights of Children, as it is outlined in the document produced by said convention and Richard is right to do this, but he seems to want everyone else to also do this. It is his primary goal and he wants a major focus on it. In my opinion this is unrealistic, not the goals of the convention just the aspect of focusing on this, there are so many different causes that need to be dealt with and so many conventions from the UN that to just do this one seems to be negligent. Also to hold the UN to anything it says is useless because as it has shown again and again, the UN is where all the nice countries go and pat each other on the back, it is a broken bureaucracy that is effectively useless. He mentioned it himself, at a UN talk in Geneva everybody has glowing reviews of what they had done, and how good they have been, but a person on the front line of child poverty stands up and completely disagrees. I wish I had a link or article to corroborate my statement, but unfortunately it is anecdotal evidence from his talk. There are tons of examples of the UN being entirely ineffectual, one that everyone knows is Rwanda, but let us get back on track. I agree that if the UN convention says that the countries that ratify it are held to it is true, but with no consequence and so many conventions, it will not be taking as seriously as it should. Also marketing costs money and if I had to chose between marketing a UN convention of the Rights of Children and welfare/healthcare/education etc... I believe I would have to go with the latter.

Now, as for the contents of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, there is little that I disagree with. I was extremely lucky to grow up where I did and with what I had. I often think of how lucky I was I was born into a country that is stable, safe and offers me all the benefits of growing up in Canada, and how unfair it seems that some children are born into war, or extremism. I instantly agree with the idea that a child should have the opportunity to live in a safe environment, and have life essentials available. What really struck me was that 1 in 7 children still live in poverty in Canada (shown here), that also means a possible dangerous environment, as poorer areas can be higher in crime (and I am NOT saying poverty breeds crime, there are many factors to crime and generalizations are not useful) and the child can be lacking in nutrition/housing. I would love if every child could grow up happy, playing sports and not have to worry about life until they are older, worrying sucks and should be reserved for adults. Also, let us not forget about teenagers, as they are considered in this as well, they absolutely fall under the conventions parameters. I recently found out that child services does not help children older than 16, but you are not an adult till 18. How does that make any sense, if you need to leave an abusive household, or are on your own, you can't rent an apartment as you are not an adult. This is something that I think is covered by the safe environment aspect of the convention.

The other aspect of the convention I find interesting is the idea of listening to our children, Mitchell calls them our Silenced Citizens. Admittedly at first I thought this was silly, I mentioned asking a 6 year old if he wanted education reform and how obtuse that would be. However on further thought it makes sense to talk to them. You don't need clear concise well spoken answers, you just need to listen. If the kids say they are bored, then maybe the kids are bored, novel concept eh? Extending this, talking to adolescents makes all the sense in the world, I was teen not all that long ago (I like to say) and I would have LOVED to be asked my opinion on school or how it is structured. Obviously you will get snarky answers and likely get some junk, but I think that it is easily sifted through. Mitchell mentioned a program that was voluntary (with pay though) to get teens interested in talking about the system. This is a brilliant idea, you are likely to get people who care, which will hopefully generate good data and you pay them which shows (in less than symbolic way) that it pays to care.

All in all I think Mitchell is very intelligent and has a noble cause, I have all the best wishes for him and hope he can achieve his goal one day, even if I think it tough.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Nadine Wallace - An Insight to Anothers Life

Nadine Wallace is a very insightful person, but I would bet she would disagree. Her presentation was a journey through her own life, and her struggles as a lesbian trying to accept herself, but her message is applicable regardless of the person. Obviously the lens was through LGBTQ, but it has an overall message of knowing who you are. What I found most interesting was her inclusion of the internal monologue she has with her self, her internalized homophobia. Essentially this internalized homophobia is her wanting to be like other people, not to be different as that can make life hard or make you feel isolated, and all of this come from within. That is not an easy thing to deal with. It can restrict from being happy in who you are. This is something I think everyone can identify with. Some people hate how they look, or feel that what they are worthless, all on the inside without even being bullied. They are their own bully. She has really vocalized an aspect of herself in a particular situation, being gay but not wanting to be, and has connected us to the pain it can cause when society has a norm that should not be strayed from. I found this particularly connecting, I could have never imagined what it would be like to struggle with sexuality, just like I can never truly equate some pain to that of child birth. It is something I have not (and in the case of child birth, will not) experienced, but now I can understand. At some point in everyone's life you question yourself, I know I can be particularly hard on my self and I very rarely talk it out, I always internalize. I can become my own worst enemy, and this I think is part of what she dealt with. She has really helped me, and hopefully others, connect a little more to the issue of sexuality, and more broadly see other peoples struggle with more empathy than before.

She also mentioned, albeit briefly, the idea of heterosexism. The idea that we all think in a way that pertains to the social norm of a couple as a man and a women, if someone is to mention their partner, you are likely to assume the opposite sex (in a relationship context, not a business context). I had never heard this term before but I have definitely noticed the affects. I have always tried to keep an open mind, and never assume and I learned at a young age that sometimes life can be drastically different, even within a family. This became something I carried over into life, I try not to use my life as the structure for the norm. I find it is better to listen and learn than to talk and be heard. As for heterosexism, I can absolutely see the negative impact this can have. People with no goals of an open mind will instantly react to something that goes against their ways. If a person mentions partner and means same sex, that challenges them, and they are unlikely to rise to it. This is obviously the current hang up with LGBTQ rights in North America. A major part of her presentation was the problem with having one ideal, a heterocentric mind set. It prevents people from being accepted. The ideal should be people-centric, focused on the individual and their choice. This would be a boon for all people, not just those of the LGBTQ community. We all benefit when each is accepted.

Lastly I would just like to thank her for her work in schools, and for parading the cause of all peoples happiness. Her ideas on a safe school climate, though initially for LGBTQ, are easily spread to all students who need a safe refuge and understanding. She was even a part of the kids help phone, which is available for all people looking to talk. I couldn't begin to try and understand how many people have been helped. I always appreciate when someone takes a specific experience (her life) and applies it to help as many people as possible.