Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Thanks for the great feedback on homeless issues!
April 4, 2008

Many thanks to everyone who responded to my column last week speculating whether my stories from Victoria’s streets were wearing thin on readers. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I can’t tell you how nice it was to read so many inspiring and heartfelt stories about people’s own thoughts and experiences around homelessness.
All told, I got 226 e-mails, seven letters and a couple of phone calls. That’s easily 20 times the response I’d normally get even for a column that really struck a chord with readers, so the abundance of feedback alone was immensely heartening.
Only nine readers wanted me to give up the issue altogether, and I classified another nine as “not sure.” So that leaves 218 who urged me to carry on, all of whom were obviously very passionate about the issue themselves. (Of course, let’s acknowledge the inherent flaws of a poll asking whether people are still reading, in which only those who still are would even know to take part!)
It was wonderful to hear what people in our community are already doing to bring an end to this heap of problems we call homelessness.
They’re organizing study groups. Launching church initiatives. Volunteering at street-serving agencies. Giving money. Writing letters to government. Renting their suites to somebody who really needs it, even if the new tenant is a bit of a pain in the neck sometimes. Reading up on the issues, and raising the consciousness of friends and family.
They passed along terrific suggestions on ways for me to keep writing about the issues without turning readers off. Here are a few key ones, all of which I’ll be heeding:
Keep up the stories, but give us some successes once in a while. I hadn’t intended to be a downer every week, but somehow it happened. I’ve always been a bit of a gloomy thing in terms of what attracts me as a writer, and that has understandably turned out to be a bit of a bummer for readers.
So I’m going to work harder at including more columns on what’s working out there, as opposed to what’s not.
Don’t expect typical success stories - ones in which the person finds a great place to live, recovers fully from an addiction, stabilizes in his mental illness, gets a job, reconnects with his family and lives happily ever after. But at the very least I’ll bring you more happy-for-now stories.
I also want to be more attentive to all sides of the issue, and include the stories of people like the frustrated downtown merchant who’s replacing her store’s plate-glass window for the third time in four months.
Mix it up a little. People encouraged me to keep a focus on street issues, but to write about other things from time to time - maybe even something light-hearted once in a while. Great advice. More variety in my topics will keep things fresh, both for readers and me.
One reader suggested I’d gotten too close to the issue to maintain journalistic objectivity. Could be, as the issues dominate my volunteer life as well and I sometimes feel like all I ever talk about is homelessness, addiction and the sex trade. It’s probably not healthy.
Dump the “homeless” label. Readers rightly noted that “homelessness” is in fact just one characteristic of a wide variety of problems, the vast majority of which are much more complex than the mere need to house people (although that would certainly be a heck of a good start).
The streets are Ground Zero for problems as diverse as mental health, cognitive ability, criminal behaviour, physical injury, work injury, trauma, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, hippie-kid syndrome, and bad luck. Solutions need to fit the problems, and that requires knowing exactly what those problems are.
Tell us how to help. This was hands-down the most common request. There’s clearly a lot of energy and urgency in our community for making things happen, but people need help in figuring out how to connect to the issue.
I’ll put some serious thought into that in the next while. And if you’ve already found a meaningful way to make a difference, please feel free to pass along what you’re doing so I can share those ideas with other readers. But do remember that while individual effort is a powerful thing, we still need to keep the pressure on all levels of government to restore public health, civil order and human dignity in our communities.
I was particularly touched by readers’ concern for me, and whether I was losing heart. One elderly woman unfamiliar with e-mail got her daughter in Vancouver to send me a message on her behalf to cheer me up.
Believe me, I’m cheered. Thanks so much for your kind words and big hearts.


Unknown said...

please contact me re David Ramsey I had dealings with him and his gang back in 1980 and it would be interesting to see how many women have been his victims even back then
His evil hehaviour goes way way bsck I think he could be the person responsible for the Highway of Tears where over the last 20 years native girls have gone missing or have been found on the side of this Highway dead
My experience with him is Legal as he used his position to steal my children with the help of his legal friends on Vancouver Island who were into Satan worship
I can provide some information that would be valuable to all of the women he has hurt over his life time

Jody Paterson said...

Hi, Spirit Message. Noted your comments and am very interested in talking to you further about Ramsey, but I haven't been able to get through to your blog. Can you e-mail me directly at patersoncommunications@gmail.com?

Hoping to talk to you.