Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Singing the praises of making music

The teeny little house on Woods Avenue in Courtenay is still there. I have a flash of a memory of learning my first Christmas carols at the piano in that house, where my teacher Kay Wilson lived. I was 10.
Kay and my determined mother gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life starting that day - the longing to make music. I’m reminded of such things this year more than most, what with music being such a major part of my life again in all kinds of unexpected ways.
If I could recommend one thing to add to your busy 2010 schedule, it’s this: Make music. Help your children make music. Having the ability and opportunity to create music has been a wondrous thing for me, and I wish it for everyone for the joy it brings.
Learning the piano was years of hard slogging, I admit. I’d love to tell you that I laid my hands on the keyboard for the first time and the rest was glorious history; the truth is that I’ve always had to practise long and hard. I was ready to quit when I was a tempestuous 14-year-old, but to my great fortune Kay and my mother ganged up on me and wouldn’t allow it.
Effort notwithstanding, the journey has been amazing. When I make music, all is right with the world - for an hour at least, or maybe even a whole lingering afternoon if I’ve got the time for it. How many things can you say that about?
Learning music has also turned out to be a fine primer for life. It taught me that the way to get better at something is to practise, and that most problems can be sorted out if you just take things slow. I learned the discipline of doing something every day even when I didn’t feel like it, and that the magic would find its way to me even on bad days if I just kept playing.
Music is all about that magic, of course.
I remember how it felt to be able to play Away in a Manger for the first time, my hands performing miracles before my very eyes. I still feel that same rush for every new piece of music I learn. And nowadays my musical discoveries might just as easily involve something other than the piano, because the other great gift music gives you is the ability to go in different directions.
A long-time classical pianist, I never would have expected to be jamming tunes from the 1930s and ‘40s with my daughter at our now-regular gigs at local retirement facilities. But I am.
I wouldn’t have expected to be playing French musettes on the accordion, either. But I’m doing that, too, and got my busker’s licence this past summer solely for the pleasure of playing the accordion outdoors. And I’m three happy years into my first real “band” experience, playing taiko drums with Victoria’s Uminari ensemble.
I fear the modern time, where it’s possible to walk through a home and not see a single instrument. Or where music in the schools is viewed as “discretionary,” and its absence denies children their moment of discovery. Music and art truly are the universal languages, and no child should miss out on such a profound way to experience the emotion and beauty of the world.
The very good thing about music is that it’s there for whoever wants it. Nerve-wracking recitals and conservatory exams gave me a healthy sense of my own limitations - another excellent life lesson - and I knew early on that I had neither the natural brilliance nor practise habits to become the next Glenn Gould. But hey, I can still make some pretty good music.
That said, the lesson I’ve learned lately is that sometimes you need to let go of your limitations and just jump into the deep end anyway. Set your mind and best practise habits on achieving something that looks out of reach, and there’s no saying where it might lead you. Thank you to my youngest daughter Rachelle for breaking me out of 40 years of certainty that I couldn’t sing harmony.
You don’t have to be rich to bring music into your life, either. If lessons are out of the question, scrounge up a used instrument or two and see what happens. Open your mouth and sing. Tap that place inside you that’s going to light up like the proverbial Christmas tree when it gets the chance to make music.
Happy New Year, everyone. May the beat go on.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shut off the phone, pack up the 'Berry, and be here now

It’s my birthday today, and I don’t want an iPhone.
I don’t want an iPod Touch either, or anything that looks or acts like a Blackberry. I’ve even got mixed feelings about having a cell phone, especially now that I won’t be able to use it in the car anyway.
I can’t bear the ads for “world at your fingertips” devices, in which people are depicted having unbelievable amounts of fun interacting with their phones. Have you seen the one where the young guy is sitting in a coffee shop “getting caught up with” half a dozen friends, none of whom are actually there?
It’s the new norm, to be present without actually being there. You think you’re sharing a meal with someone, but then their cell phone rings and you’re forgotten. You go to a meeting and count 20 people in attendance, but then realize that half are covert Blackberry users who aren’t paying a lick of attention.
I’m not a devout practitioner of Eastern mysticism by any means, but whatever happened to “be here now?”
Author Ram Dass coined that particular phrase in his 1971 pop-culture classic about spiritual enlightenment, Remember Be Here Now. But the concept at the core of the book - mindfulness - has been a teaching of ancient Asian religions for many centuries.
More and more these days, we live at the opposite end of mindfulness. Technology has given us the ability to fracture our attentions instantaneously in a dozen or more directions. And we seem only too happy to go along, with little thought to what is lost along the way.
This is not to rail against technological advances, which have broadened our ability to communicate across any barrier. I love technology.
But we’re on this Earth for such a short time. I puzzle over why we choose to spend so much of it in a haze of texting, sexting, tweeting, updating, emailing and cyber-chatting, even while the moment we’re actually existing in slips by unnoticed.
I’m 53 today. If I live to age 82 - the average lifespan of a British Columbian woman - I have just 29 Christmases left after this one. I have but 348 summer weekends left to enjoy.
Time passes at a breathless pace at this age. It can only go faster now that I’ve reached the age where 24 hours is worth half of what it was back when I was 25.
(Do the math and it turns out that each day at age 53 is equivalent to .2 per cent of the days you have left to live presuming an average lifespan, compared to .1 per cent at age 25. Yikes.)
I’m glad to be alive at a time when it’s possible to share music, photos, videos and thought processes at lightning speed with the whole wide world. It’s downright awe-inspiring to ponder the creativity and imagination of the people coming up with all this stuff, and the impact it has had on our culture.
But the precious days that make up a life are made up of precious minutes, and you can fritter away far too many of them on cyber-communications with people you didn’t really want to communicate with in the first place. Meanwhile, life unfolds around you and you’re half-aware at best - present in body but definitely not in mind.
I wouldn’t suggest that a life lived in a state of distraction could bring harm to people, of course. But I do know that I don’t want my own life to pass that way. The older I get, the more certain I become that every day is a gift and every experience worthy - and best savoured when body, heart and mind are all in the same room.
We have such a difficult time living in the now. Our lunch hours are spent with a Blackberry beside us on the table, its constant beeps and buzzes disrupting conversation and restaurant ambience even when we do our best to ignore it. We sit in coffee shops alone but never lonely, our headsets cranked up and our laptops open.
Do we remember who sat next to us? What we ate? Whether the barista looked like she could use a friend? How many potentially interesting moments came and went without us even looking up? How many experiences did we miss out on? Day after precious day slips by, with only the number of messages and phone calls received that day to distinguish one from the other.
Life’s short. Don’t waste a minute of it. Be here now.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cop secretly driving protest bus is serious cause for alarm

The funny thing is, I always thought B.C.’s Olympics Resistance Network was just being paranoid with its talk about police trying to infiltrate the ranks of Olympics protesters.
Guess I was wrong. As Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham has now confirmed for all of us, police are so deep into the ORN that they’re even driving the buses that protesters travel on.
I’m not sure what alarms me more about this new information: That police have the right to do that kind of thing to people who have committed no crime, or that the way it came to public attention was through Graham blurting it out at a public dinner a couple weeks ago.
You’ve probably heard the story by now: Giving a keynote at the Vancouver International Security Conference at the end of November in Vancouver, Graham joked about how Vancouver Olympics protesters unknowingly travelled to Victoria for the launch of the torch relay in a bus driven by police.
“You knew that the protesters weren’t that organized when on the ferry on the way over, they rented a bus - they all came over in a bus - and there was a cop driving,” Graham said, to appreciative chuckles from the audience. (Hear the audio clip on reporter Bob Mackin’s blog at
I’m grateful for the heads-up, because it’s always better to know what’s really going on than to continue thinking that creepy police-state kinds of things just don’t happen in Canada.
But Graham also destroyed the cover of the officer who was driving the bus with that glib comment, and I’m sure that must be unsettling in a whole other way to all the undercover police officers out there on other assignments, not to mention whichever police force put the time into planting that officer in the ORN.
My first thought was that some Vancouver bus company must have informed police, because I couldn’t figure out how a police officer could have ended up driving their bus. But apparently the protesters in fact hired a bus privately, using a driver who was a friend of one of the ORN protesters.
So that means police had thoroughly infiltrated the group, just like they do in the movies. But in this case the “bad guys” were just regular British Columbians setting out for a garden-variety protest.
Who is ORN, anyway? Judging by the group’s Web site, they’re a focal point for all sorts of people with a bone to pick about BC hosting the 2010 Olympics.
ORN’s primary purpose is to protest that the Olympics are being staged on “stolen land.” The group’s roots go back to the 2007 Intercontinental Indigenous People’s Gathering in Sonora, Mexico, when 1,500 indigenous delegates signed a statement boycotting the 2010 Olympics because they were being held “on the sacred and stolen territory of Turtle Island - Vancouver, Canada.”
But ORN has also drawn in people whose passions are around things like capitalism, poverty, labour standards, migrant justice, homelessness, the environment - the usual stuff. They’ve even got a few civil libertarians.
Whatever your feelings about the group’s disruption of the Olympic torch relay in October, the fact is that people do have the right to be against such things in this great land of ours. They have the right to pick up a sign and protest, or to rent a bus to get to that protest with no fear that an undercover police officer might be behind the wheel.
Police obviously have a very difficult job to do at the best of times, let alone when a global party as big as the Olympics is shaping up. But we are giving up something very, very important when we allow our governments free license to plant police officers anywhere that state resistance might spring up. History has been a powerful teacher on that front.
You have to admire local activist Bruce Dean’s response to all of this. Having had his photographic equipment seized by police in 2007 on the grounds that he might have compromised the safety of an undercover officer with his photos, he’s now filed a complaint of misconduct against Chief Graham for doing the same thing to the officer driving the ORN bus.
In the Times Colonist story this week, Dean notes that if the mere “remote possibility” of his having taken a photo of an undercover officer was enough to suspend his freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, then Graham has to be held accountable for the damage his comments may have caused.
And our government must be held accountable for directing police to spy on British Columbians whose only crime is to disagree with the party line. How frightening.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Telling details in letter to impoverished victims of identity theft

Picture what would happen if 1,400 middle-class British Columbians suddenly discovered that a provincial government employee with a criminal record for fraud had all their personal information stashed at his home.
We’re talking all the good stuff: social insurance numbers; birth dates; phone numbers and addresses; personal account numbers. Worse still, he’d had it for seven months by the time anyone who’d been affected even knew it had happened.
The halls of the legislature would be ringing for weeks with the howls of outrage and indignation. The government would be turning itself inside out to make things right for the victims.
Unfortunately, the actual story involves 1,400 welfare recipients. And the way the tale has played out in real life is so strikingly different than how things would have gone had the crime involved British Columbians with political clout, that there’s no hiding the government’s disregard for people on income assistance.
There’s a small but telling detail in the greeting line of the letter that government sent to those 1,400 people last month to inform them of the privacy breach.
How might you expect to be greeted by your government in a letter like that? “Dear Ms. Paterson”? Maybe “Dear Jody Paterson” if honorifics were too much hassle?
Nope. The actual letters opened thus: “Dear PATERSON, JODY LEE.” The impoverished recipients were then informed that they would need phone access, computers and ID to sort out their problems, and given a few Web sites and toll-free numbers to get them started.
It speaks volumes that the government couldn’t even bother to cut and paste a respectful greeting line into 1,400 letters to people being told they’d been screwed over.
The tone isn’t helped by the little note at the top of each letter telling recipients they may have accidentally received somebody else’s letter in the mail earlier due to a “clerical error.” Their privacy was breached twice, in other words: once by the theft of the information, and a second time when a botched mailing resulted in letters with people’s names and income-assistance file numbers being sent to someone other than them.
The letter - from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development - makes it clear that people are on their own to sort out problems arising from the theft. “Take the necessary precautions to protect yourself,” the letter urges before briskly listing the many things that will need attending to if people hope to make that happen. Good luck, little camper.
The recipients also found out in the letter that their health records have been flagged due to the breach, so they’ll have to show ID the next time they need medical care. A utility bill with people’s name and address on it will suffice, the ministry said this week, but added that it’s ultimately up to health-care providers to decide if that’s sufficient proof.
Is the ministry so out of touch with the circumstances of the people who walk through its doors every day that it doesn’t know that phones and computers are rare commodities for people scraping by on income assistance? Or that many of them will have no ID whatsoever? (One bit of good news: The ministry will waive the once-a-year-only proviso for replacing lost or stolen ID for these 1,400 people.)
Does the government get that some of the victims will have developmental disabilities, literacy issues or mental conditions that will make it impossible for them to understand those letters? Or that people move around a lot when they live in abject poverty and may not have even received their letters, let alone have a bill with a current address?
The privacy breach won’t go unexamined, mind you. The government has launched no less than four reviews into how this could have happened, including one by B.C. Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis. One day soon at what will doubtlessly be great expense, we will know much more about how the breach came about.
But come on, guys, free up a few thousand bucks for some community organization to help the 1,400 victims sort their stuff out - the people who are the actual victims of this crime. “I think a lot of this does fall to government to take on,” notes Loukidelis.
People have been frightened by the letter, says Katie Tanigawa of the Together Against Poverty Society, an advocacy organization that has fielded a number of calls from worried recipients.
“All the ministry has given people are phone numbers and Web sites to contact,” says Tanigawa. “But at the end of the day, it’s inaccessible information. And it makes life just that much more difficult for people who are already living in very stressful situations.”

Friday, November 27, 2009

Look left, look right - you still end up with child poverty

If we devoted even a fraction of the time to ending poverty that we spend on debating whose statistics are right, we’d have been a nation of thriving citizens from coast to coast a long time ago.
Instead, we divide into ideological camps and bicker over the differences between “relative” and “absolute” poverty, and that’s as far as things ever go. It’s a good explanation for why we’re 20 years into a national commitment to end child poverty in Canada with no real end in sight.
The latest figures, released this week in First Call’s annual report card on child poverty in B.C., use relative poverty as the gauge.
That measurement, also known as the low-income cutoff (LICO), is based on what an “average” Canadian needs to spend for food, clothing and shelter and presumes relative poverty among those who have to spend significantly more. LICO is the favoured standard for those who want government to do more to support Canadians at the low end of the economic scale.
Those who like their governments lean and their taxes low tend to prefer measurements of absolute poverty, which use a much narrower definition of poverty. Such stats capture the people who aren’t just relatively poor, but in truly dire economic circumstance.
Those estimates generally come from a group like the Fraser Institute, a think tank that conservative politicians love. The organization has found a kindred spirit in Ontario economics professor Chris Sarlo, who for the last several years has issued his own annual poverty report on behalf of the institute.
As you can imagine, there’s a big difference between the two styles of measurement. Who to believe? Unfortunately, that question ends up dominating the debate whenever the conversation turns to the number of impoverished Canadians. But run the numbers and it turns out that B.C.’s child poverty rate is on the rise no matter whose version you buy into.
For argument’s sake, let’s use the most conservative measure of poverty to gauge whether B.C. really does have a child-poverty issue.
The First Call report, using LICO, found B.C. had the highest child-poverty rate in Canada for the sixth year in a row, at 18.8 per cent. Sarlo would be more likely to estimate the rate at around five or six per cent. We can all fight later over who we think is more right, but for now let’s just look at child poverty in the province using Sarlo’s method.
Sarlo contends that the correct income measurement for absolute poverty in Canada is $10,520 for an individual. For a household of four, it’s $23,307.
Are there B.C. children growing up in families that earn that little? Absolutely. The 35,000 or so children whose families are on income assistance quickly come to mind.
A four-person family with both parents on income assistance lives on $17,088 a year even after the family bonus is factored in. That’s 27 per cent less than the amount that even the most conservative voices out there consider to be poverty.
The number of children living in welfare-dependent families grew by more than 20 per cent in B.C. in the last year. That figure is higher than it has been since 2004, meaning B.C. has seen an increase in child poverty these past five years no matter which way you measure it.
In fact, one in 10 Canadian families has annual household incomes under $25,000. More than 100,000 single-parent families get by on less than $20,000 a year. A single parent with two children working for $12 an hour, 35 hours a week, essentially meets Sarlo’s definition of absolute poverty.
So now we know: However you analyse it, hundreds of thousands of Canadians - and tens of thousands of B.C. children - are living in poverty. What say we put ideological differences aside once and for all and get to work doing something about that?
The Fraser Institute and others of similar leanings rightly note that Canada’s overall poverty rate has dropped considerably over the past three decades. But in my opinion that will most definitely change if those from the school of lean and mean don’t soon get a grip on what they’re doing to Canada.
Poverty rates have fallen over time because Canada introduced all kinds of social supports to make that happen. Both our provincial and federal governments are busy dismantling that support structure right now. We’ll be back to the poverty rates of old in no time.
We’re a wealthy country with a rich history of doing the right thing. There’s no excuse for poverty in Canada.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Project Connect 2009 stats

Here's an interesting document I did up for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness as part of my work co-ordinating the Project Connect service fair last month at Our Place for the local street community. Sorry for the weird formatting in the "comments" part, but that's what Excel tables do when you paste them in Blogger, I guess.

Analysis of surveys done at Project Connect 2009
Nov. 18, 2009

The following is a summary of surveys done with participants at Project Connect 2009, held Oct. 14 at Our Place Drop-In Centre.
This is the second year of PC and the second year of doing surveys, so there is some ability to compare the data from year to year (the actual survey had to be shortened from last year due to it taking too long, so some questions asked last year were gone from this year’s survey). We managed to survey about a third of the 700+ people who attended Project Connect, and completed considerably more surveys than last year: 238 this year, up from 164 in 2008.
Survey results obviously can’t be assumed to be representative of the overall population of people living homeless or at risk in the downtown, as there are several limitations in the way we gathered the information. The volunteers at Project Connect essentially selected who they approached about doing a survey, and that person then had to be willing to complete one. Also, the surveys were done only that one day and in a single location, so anyone who wasn’t at the event wasn’t captured.
Still, they offer an interesting snapshot of the people living homeless and at risk in our community right now, as measured by who would be inclined to attend a service fair at the region’s main street drop-in.
One of the things the data reveals is an aging population that is slightly less likely than last year to be fully homeless, yet spends so much on rent that the people have ended up dependent on places like Our Place to provide them with daily meals. Some 58 per cent of respondents are currently housed, but access to affordable housing was nonetheless a top priority for the vast majority of those surveyed.
I’ve attached the Excel spreadsheet so those who are interested can look at the data themselves, but here are a few key findings:

Men are overrepresented among the homeless, but women are catching up
• Of the 100 people who reported being homeless right now, 29 per cent are female and 71 per cent are male. That’s a slight change from last year’s figures of 26 per cent female and 74 per cent male

The population is aging
• Of the 42 per cent who are currently homeless, 66.4 per cent are over age 40. Approx 10 per cent are 25 or younger.
• The age range of those who are currently homeless is from 17 to 76, but almost 40 per cent are over age 40 (47.5 per cent of women are in that age group, 65 per cent of men).
• This year, 35.5 per cent of respondents reported being over age 55, compared to 20 per cent last year.
• Young people make up just 10 per cent of the total respondents, but are experiencing disproportionately high rates of homelessness - 76 per cent of those ages 25 or younger reported being currently homeless.
• 35 per cent of those who are homeless are staying at shelters at the moment; 10 per cent of those who are homeless said they were sleeping on the streets, in parks, or in the bush

People were more likely to be housed
• 67.5 per cent of women participants and 55 per cent men said they’re currently housed. That’s up from around 50 per cent at the 2008 PC.
• Three-quarters of participants receive some level of income-assistance support from the province, with 58.4 per cent receiving both support and shelter. Those figures are very similar to last year, with a slight increase in 2009 of people receiving both support and shelter (77 per cent of those on income assistance, up from 75 per cent in 2008).
Mental illness and addiction remain major problems
• Almost half of the women surveyed (47.5 per cent) have been diagnosed with mental illness, as have 39.4 per cent of men. That’s about the same as 2008 figures.
• More than half of the men surveyed (50.6 per cent) said they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Women were considerably less likely to have drug/alcohol problems - just 16.25 per cent said they had problems. This is a significant change from 2008, when almost half of the women surveyed reported drug/alcohol problems.
• 100 per cent of women who reported having a mental-health diagnosis also had problems with drugs/alcohol, as did 74 per cent of men with a mental-health diagnosis

People were more likely to be victims of crime
• Almost one in two people reported having been victims of crime. That’s up from 2008, when one in three reported being victims of crime.
• Men were more likely than women to have been victimized: 55 per cent of men, compared to 40 per cent of women. Of those who are currently homeless, 100 per cent reported being victims of crime
• The majority of the crimes were committed by other people living on the street or at shelters. More than a quarter of those who’d had a crime committed against them reported that the police had victimized them.
People are most likely to have a City of Victoria address
• Whether homeless or housed, most people surveyed lived in City of Victoria, 84 per cent. However, most communities in the region (with the exception of Highlands, Metchosin, and North and Central Saanich) were mentioned at least once as somebody’s home address.
Downtown services are heavily used and appreciated
• Asked what services they used, the vast majority of respondents listed Our Place, the food banks at Mustard Seed and St. John the Divine, the shelter system and the 9-10 Club (a breakfast program run out of St. Andrew’s Anglican). But many other services were mentioned, including St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, REES services and casual labour pool, the needle exchange, ACT, VICOT, the Rainbow Kitchen, VIHA Alcohol and Drug services, and mental health programs.

What those surveyed wanted to tell the coalition:

• The cycle hard to get out of; more services for youth to help that cycle. Stable shelter.
Services for youth (Victoria is child prostitution capital of Canada) • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• Police shouldn't put people in shelters • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need longer term projects that teach people how to live sustainably • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• no trespass tickets, more beds, help with crim record/hire • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• housing's expensive • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• getting a house is difficult with pets • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• experience firsthand for one month like it is right now • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• build more homes • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• stop police brutality agst homeless • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• listen to people in recovery and what they need/don't need.
There is considerable prejudice in med system agst amphetamine addicts • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• homelessness is mentally damaging for most people • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• listen to the people who've been on street instead of creating prejudice for those labelled drug addicts • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• it sucks - we need more low-income housing and help for single people • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• being homeless sucks • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• youth out of rain shelter is not safe; less prejudiced landlords who are willing to rent to people • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• don't cater to homeless people; look after those trying to help selves • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• keep family in mind • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more outreach, better attitudes • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more support, fewer brick walls • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• H1N1 - try and help people on street; open up church for people on street • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more Connect days • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• not much to complain about, always food • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• Shelter for people who are not addicted • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• Much need out here - getting worse every year • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• hard to pay rent, no $ for food • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• 24/7 shelter&drop-in • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• lots of diff reasons why people homeless. Open services 7 days • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• welfare rates need to go up • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• cause of homelessness isn't homelessness - it's cultural, societal, individual • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• it's n a choice - it's really hard to get out of, doesn't take long to get in • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• not fun for anybody! It's hard trying to make ends meet • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• red tape, rules changed, barriers if you in good shape • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• no address for my resume; how about a postal box for people to use for their resumes.
Appreciate your efforts • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• things are improving but more contributions needed • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• resources help those who abuse system and not those who are honest and in need.
Can't use shelter because of dog • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• expensive to live on credit; hard to access ACT team $200 subsidy • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• services great but need clothing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• abolish needle exchange - it has led to more use of drugs • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• park people and cops kick you awake, even if you're out of sight • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• tough adjustment from 10-yr prison term • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need more housing for the poor • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• police abusive • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• waiting for disability • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• people who care should live on streets for 1 wk for experience • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• wants to change life, needs home • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more drop-in in evening; FBs need to make hampers for homeless people • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• smooth access to service; not fucked over • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need affordable rents, outreach programs; difficult to rent without credit • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• when crisis grants come as food vouchers, other necessary things are inaccessible.
Inflexible and depersonalized bureaucracy • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• activities for poor people - kayak, rock climb, hike • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we're an urban ghetto • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• Mk it more like Amsterdam • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• thanks for the help; things are pretty much in balance • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• affordable housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we're no throwaway people - lots of talent, compassion among the homeless community • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• Sunday service, more for mentally ill • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we're not all "schmucks" • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• affordable housing needed • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• I'm fine • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• important to teach people about maintaining good health • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• create living wage • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more connect days • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• not going to get better without more help. Such a stigma to homelessness • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• not enough affordable housing with the three-strike rule.
There are people who don't have drug/alc problems who also need help • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• i would like to be working • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we need more jobs, more homes. Open OP on weekends. We need low income housing! • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• homeless safety; more people at night to check up (vancouver angels) • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• doing OK • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more affordable housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• too many people on the street - they're not so hungry but they're very cold • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• thanks! • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• open more shelters, more afford housing, extended hours OP • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• build housing instead of more shelter beds • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• visit Dignity Village in Portland, tent city in Olympia, for examples of how a
community can provide real assistance to people who want to live independent lives • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• people who work with bc housing need to be more respectful • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we don't want to be here • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• not enough done for those with disability; we all have diff needs • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more subsidized housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• people don't know anything about homelessness • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• wake up, please • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• being on income assistance can hinder you in getting housing because of stigma, discrimination • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• tho I'm not homeless, my disability cheque all goes to rent. Been on bc housing list for 6 yrs! • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• #1 commit should be to people living on street • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• got apt but no food. Need help addiction • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• don't judge - we are all only one paycheque from the street • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• put more money into homelessness rather than olympics • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• extra funding for OP to keep open 7 days/wk; more housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• the feeling of exclusion can crush you • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• press government to open up closed bldgs. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• too much violence, not enough shelters. Too many condos.
More B&Es and theft in stores when government decreases support • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more sufficient income • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need more help, someone to listen • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• that what we receive is not sufficient to live on; will need to find PT work to make it.
Also, provide vegetarian meals • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• everybody needs a hand • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we need more jobs, more homes. Open OP on wknds • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• there shouldn't be homelessness when we have resources • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more money - $375 for shelter is not enough. We shouldn't be needing food banks • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need more women's shelters; daughter was on street for 4 yrs and had lot
of negative experiences that could have been avoided had there been a women's shelter • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• please get heads out of your ass, esp police • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more shelters needed, help with forms • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• rental assistance not available; on bc housing waitlist for 5 years • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• affordable housing is critical • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more support for people with alcohol problems; more people to listen • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• I'm lucky - i have my own place. Others need housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• there is stereotyping around appearance and clothing; if you homeless, you have less value.
Bandaid solutions look good but don't address core problem • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need more housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• a lot being done but access slow and frustrating • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• too expensive rent and utilities, visitors not allowed • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• panhandle in order to make up shortfall of income. Increase in local street pop due to prep for Olympics.
Not enough affordable housing, not enough being done to keep people off the streets • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• better access to counselling and psych help • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need more room for single affodable accom. Welfare system failed me. OP very helpful • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• are there homeless people in coalition to get a firsthand experienced opinion?
Why are they stopping 4 single people from residing together? Why not using boarded-up housing? • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• live on street for week and see what it's like - a week is forever if on street • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more counselling and self-help groups, opportunity to talk • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• it's cold, need a place to live • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• don't give us money, give us housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more connect days • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• how people treat homeless and mental health people - it's sad.
Fed up with all the needles. Support for special-needs people • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• it will cost a lot more in the long run if you don't support us now • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• Without OP would go hungry - lost 10 pounds in 5 months because can't afford food.
Need affordable housing, Nx • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• raise min wage to $12/hr; more low-cost housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we should buy traveller's inn • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• lack of affordable housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• street link shelter very good • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• law needs to change so landlords can't require credit checks • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• 1-1 talk • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• advertise this event more • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• provide nutritious food, adequate places for women, immed temp shelter • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• too many apartments are empty. Not enough support for rental places. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• talk to us • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• ask us what we need - listen to us • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• wake up! We are not units • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• get more input from the homeless • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• walk a mile in my shoes • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• free enterprise means no one wins unless someone loses - we don't really have a democracy • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• 7 wks waiting for EI to kick in - would be on street if not paid 2 month rent in advance • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• 4-hr day job not worth it • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• no co-ord • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need safe housing, nicer staff • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• shelters not the answer - we need homes • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• a lot more BC Housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• hard to find public washrooms; more affordable housing for 55+ • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• need more low-cost accommodation • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• see homeless as individuals; more respect for our needs; more holistic.
One week for homeless is great, but need to continue engage and involve us • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• change attitude, we not criminals, affordable housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we need access to coalition to tell them our needs and our ideas • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• it's awful • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• victoria great place, services tremendous, people treated with dignity, community generally mellow and safe • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we need more than one solution - we are individuals. We are in an emergency • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• homes! • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• fair treatment for everyone • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• housing not enough low-cost; too many condos; OP needs to be open 24/7; get service clubs involved • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• think about the working poor - min wage doesn't cut it • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• services for seniors with disabilities; would like support from community living • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• it costs $60,000 to keep a guy in jail • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• nurse/doc on site at coolaid and OP • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• needs to be some damn affordable housing. More dental services, better income assistance.
Look at Dignity Village in Portland • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• a place to call home • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• be more approachable, provide info when asked • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• homelessness is 24/7 - need something to do • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• put money toward fixing old buildings to make shelters and housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• why coalition set up behind security guard? Disconnected from real people • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• bias toward people who homeless by those in health care system • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• housing! • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• social services - $3-5 a day for food! • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• cheaper, less restrictive hsing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• concerned about young women on street, esp ones not on drugs. Seeing mothers with kids • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• more and better housing • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• less talk, more action • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• Asked Jody to attend ACE committee • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• rents too high; not always safe for women • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• interview clothes, better food • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• vic is greatest place in canada for homeless people - feels like "home" • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• we welcome opportunity to speak on our own behalf. That doesn't happen very often. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• less survey, more action. Open OP 7 days week • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Services that participants want but can’t find:

• help finding housing, more dog friendly spaces, legal help for youth
• welfare accessibility
• income assistance
• job
• job
• housing help
• housing
• ID, credit, child support for 2 yr old
• a roof over my head!
• help with house search
• need more money
• free schooling for people with serious brain disorders; awareness of how to support amphetamine addicts; support groups for women who have lost their children
• legal help
• non-prejudiced doctor. Someone who will help regardless of my condition. Need more support with crystal meth
• more shelters
• supported housing
• More for pets on cold days
• tax service
• More programs for lifeskills
• welfare
• immed detox, more shelter, housing
• employment
• job finding service
• dental, ID
• nutritious food, more
• hard to get cognitive behaviour therapy
• places to grow food, nut trees esp
• need laundry and proper storage facilities
• housing
• help with getting job - new to vic
• need more laundry facilities/ drop-in on weekends
• home that allows pets, affordable
• i have celiac disease and need a meal program
• housing
• men's transition house
• help with ID, clothing in plus size
• clothing
• adopt an addict' or sponsorship like that in AA
• adequate housing
• alarm for morning; temporary housing; help from welfare for rent deposit for Traveller's Inn
• free reading/education, job (GT not helpful)
• medical, more money for rent/food
• has love in her life
• welfare would not give rent deposit for Traveller's
• services i don't know I need
• unite homeless to protest Olympics on stolen native land
• existing services don't help working poor due to schedule conflicts (e.g. Night work and shelter access); concerned with some staff suitability to be in service position
• housing, banned from sobering centre, no help if meth
• job counselling,
• regular doc, psychiatry
• safe shelters
• my kid back and my own place!
• housing, physio, guys' clothing, shoes
• Cheap rent
• dental, ID
• legal help
• housing is slow; waiting a year
• bus pass
• place to stay clean
• housing
• money
• dental- need partial plate and can't get it funded
• more support for detox
• ID replacement, clothes
• training and work
• clean available housing; ability to make money without affecting my IA
• full disability; someone to talk to
• better home
• housing bus pass/ticket
• housing - very hard to find a cheap place to live
• elevator, supplements, attention for med needs
• bus tickets, extended hrs at OP, phone, 24hr crisis service
• dental work
• housing, literacy support
• forced to have roommates because of rent cost; wait list for bc housing 2 years, go every month
• bus tkts
• housing, help for disabled
• bc housing waitlist for families
• counselling, sleeping bags/tents
• 24-hr drop-in centre
• subsidized housing
• none
• help with loneliness
• more Connect days
• housing
• more money to live on; motel is expensive
• a home
• help with ID
• doc, housing, food
• access to acupuncture
• toilets, low-cost housing
• foot care, better food bank system, better telephone system for people who can't afford it, cable too
• food needs be more sufficient
• lockers
• more access to mental health system
• help with housing expenses
• dentist, eye doctor, hearing aids
• rent supplements, nice food
• Counselling; supportive and compassionate shelter staff
• health care, help with vaccinations
• FB - more food for singles; drug and alcohol centre, NOT jail
• work
• subsidized housing
• handicapped with cerebral palsy; would like to earn a living
• housing that allows pets
• companionship
• housing
• homecare
• my own place
• access to housing - services inadequate
• took 1 yr to find family doc. Need glasses
• access to phone; laundry; place for her dog
• most services geared to those with multiple probs - nothing for those who aren't addicted
• housing
• more health services - have memory deficit due to heroin OD
• safe housing
• Housing! Hard to sleep in shelters with things going on - exhausting
• cheap affordable housing
• food bank rations inadequate, shelters not safe, medication expenses should be covered
• clothes for larger women
• shuffled around in housing until you don't know which end is up
• replacement of ID, sleeping bags, tents
• housing, injection site
• find temporary job, problem due to criminal record
• housing
• help finding housing; optical help (legally blind)
• medical pot
• medical marijuana
• subsidized housing
• a home, love
• medical marijuana
• a partner and companion
• larger clothes
• gay help
• job
• housing
• need place for homeless working person
• system not able to deal with the volume of people needing help
• income tax
• subsidized housing
• services on weekends, holidays, 24/7
• more rehab, more shelters, more family counselling
• doc
• transportation an issue
• fill forms
• resume help; hotel manager at rental unit
• finding a doc to get referral to eye specialist
• money
• counselling
• bipolar support
• meditation centre
• nothing on weekends
• help with writing letters, etc. have problems putting words together but can use computer
• office for CPP, more quiet to meditate
• need apartment, better access to US consul (he's american), more dental work, housing for pets
• part-time work
• assistance to find affordable housing when you don't fit current criteria for help
• $ for SA dinners, housing
• need vitamins, brace for separated shoulder, legal services
• money
• more help with lifeskills, addiction, etc
• want change to OP rules around people coming to room, smoking/drinking
• food costs
• vision
• a place to live, money
• exercise to get out
• permanent home
• I get $60/mo - that's not enough to get by
• a good lawyer

Monday, November 16, 2009

Federal government fumbles again. And again. And again...

Never mind the federal inquiry into B.C.’s vanishing sockeye salmon that will soon be underway. How about an inquiry into the federal government itself?
I’m sure the feds must be good at something. But they’re routinely quite hopeless, in ways that would almost be funny if it weren’t for the harm being done to Canadians and the country.
How have they hurt us? Let me count the ways:
H1N1 - If this had really been “the big one,” we’d have been as hooped as a New Orleans hurricane victim waiting for rescue after Katrina. As luck would have it, we’ve been allowed to test our national pandemic strategy with a virus that wasn’t as terrifying as expected, but picture the shape we’d be in right now had the new flu strain remained as lethal as it was in its early days in Mexico.
Canada has a 550-page pandemic preparedness plan, developed by the Public Health Agency four years ago after a botched national response to the SARS crisis. But the Canadian Medical Association Journal sounded the alarm in September that the plan was neither workable nor in keeping with best medical practices when it came to H1N1.
For starters, the plan around H1N1 was to have Canada’s single flu vaccine supplier produce three different flu vaccines at the same time, even though the Quebec plant has just one production line. No deep thinking required to see the problem that was bound to create.
The plant was already busy producing seasonal flu vaccine by the time the H1N1 vaccine was developed this fall. So that delayed production of the H1N1 vaccine - to the point that two waves of the flu had already swept through most Canadian communities by the time vaccinations were underway.
Then the plant had to switch course again when the government ordered 1.8 million doses of “non-adjuvenated” H1N1 vaccine for pregnant women, having grown nervous of the shark oil derivatives added to the vaccine. That delayed production of the regular H1N1 vaccine a second time.
Nor did the plan take into account human behaviour in times of crisis. The honour system breaks down quickly when people believe their lives are under threat, and who can blame them for thinking that after seven months of hysterical and confusing media coverage? There’s always a way to jump the queue if you work the angles, which is why junior hockey teams and wealthy Toronto hospital donors have ended up vaccinated while high-risk populations are still lining up.
Why did we choose a single vaccine supplier? The Chretien Liberals signed that exclusive deal back in 2001 with Quebec’s Shire BioChem, bought by GlaxoKlineSmith in 2005. Coincidentally, Shire BioChem gave a $56,000 donation to the Liberal Party that year.
The gun registry - This sad tale started in 1995 with the passing of a new Firearms Act. The plan required all gun owners to register their weapons and was sold to Canadians on the basis of it costing taxpayers just $2 million a year. Fourteen lost years and some $2 billion later, parliament voted this week to scrap the registry for all guns other than handguns.
The data on seven million registered “long guns” collected over the years will be thrown away. More than $21 million in registration fees has already been returned to Canadian long-gun owners, with more to come. Your tax dollars at work.
Employment Insurance - Remember when Canadians who were unemployed could actually get benefits to help them through a dry spell?
Back in 1990, 80 per cent of unemployed Canadians qualified for such benefits. These days, only 38 per cent do. That’s because the federal government has spent well over a decade tightening up policies, to the point that most out-of-work Canadians no longer qualify.
The denial of benefits has resulted in significant annual surpluses accruing to the federal government for more than 14 years now, even while the number of Canadians receiving benefits has plummeted by more than 56 per cent.
Fisheries - The latest concern is a Fraser River sockeye salmon return this fall that was 93 per cent smaller than what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had forecast. The federal government has now launched an inquiry, which is what we do in Canada when we want to douse the flames on a hot issue.
But that’s just the latest addition to a long list of alarming examples of fisheries mismanagement in B.C. Federal government policies have decimated fish stocks, sandbagged monitoring and enhancement, and wiped out a thriving community-based industry in order to give the resource away to a handful of wealthy men. It’s unforgiveable.
I could go on. The sponsorship scandal. The e-health scandal. The isotope fiasco. The fumbling bird flu response. The deeply flawed immigration system.
George Bernard Shaw once described democracy as “a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” Frightening to think what that says about us.

Friday, November 06, 2009

If you want to fight back, make it effective

I find myself thinking about protest a lot these days, mostly because of the ill-considered social cuts going on in B.C. right now.
It’s really the only form of democratic action we have in between elections, and a proven tool. When the public “blowback” is intense enough, as Housing Minister Rich Coleman might say, governments tend to change their minds.
But last week’s Olympic torch dustup reminds us that there’s protest, and then there’s effective protest. Those of us who want real change had best keep that in mind.
I mean no disrespect to those who protested the torch relay last Friday. The majority were there for all the right reasons. I certainly share their pain over a $6 billion party being thrown next February even while growing numbers of vulnerable British Columbians lose the programs and services that help them cope.
Still, little is gained when the only thing your protest accomplishes is to frustrate and sadden the people who didn’t get to carry the torch because you blocked the route. The media stories over whether it was protesters or undercover police who threw marbles under the police horses’ hooves didn’t help. Protest is a powerful tool, but less so when it alienates potential supporters.
The environmental movement has had remarkable success with protest. The Clayoquot protests of the early 1990s stand as great case studies of effective action for anyone wondering how it’s done.
The point of conflict at that time was a provincial plan to log the old-growth forests of Clayoquot Sound, on the Island’s west coast. We’d been logging coastal forests flat in B.C. for decades by that point, but a new environmental consciousness had started us questioning the prevailing wisdom that every B.C. tree was there for us to log.
The line in the sand turned out to be Clayoquot Sound. One summer day in 1993, almost 800 average British Columbians turned up on a logging road in the middle of nowhere, and stood down the logging trucks.
They got arrested by the dozens and went to jail - regular people, looking earnest in their Goretex jackets and Tilley hats as police led them away. Average folks, including grandmas and office-worker types, went to jail for the love of a forest that a lot of them probably hadn’t even heard of a year or two earlier.
And wouldn’t you know it, B.C. forest policy started to change. It wasn’t all love and flowers from that point on or anything like that, but the Clayoquot protests did indeed change the course of B.C. history.
So I flash back to Clayoquot whenever I need a reminder about how you go about getting the government’s complete attention.
First - and this is a big one - the Clayoquot protest had timing. British Columbians didn’t have much of an interest in environmental issues until the late 1980s, but we’d come a long way by the time Clayoquot was an issue. We knew enough to have an informed opinion on the subject, and to resist government’s usual attempts to pat us on the head while doing whatever it felt like doing.
Lesson No. 1, then: Make sure there’s sufficient public awareness out there of what you’re protesting about. Government responds only when they sense a major groundswell of opposition to their plans. If your issue isn’t yet well-known enough to elicit that groundswell (parents of autistic children losing services, take note), then doing something about that is your first task.
The Clayoquot protest also had a charismatic leader in Tseporah Berman and other home-grown environmentalists, and celebrity support from the likes of the late Robert Kennedy Jr. It had smooth-talking, well-informed spokespeople to disseminate its messages, but also slightly crazy protesters on the front line doing dangerous things like chaining themselves to logging trucks - guaranteed to draw the news crews.
It also had economic power, which perhaps more than anything explains why social protest has not been able to get off the ground in B.C. despite more than 10 years of ruinous policy. When the logging trucks didn’t roll, somebody somewhere didn’t get paid. That made all the difference to getting government’s attention.
We who toil for causes where the economic impact isn’t as instantly apparent need to figure that one out. History tells us that economic disruption matters much more than “heart” in changing the course of social policy. Protest works when it hits government and the private sector in the pocketbook.
As for last week’s Olympic torch protest, it will be a brief blip in history that most people will remember as a dispute over marbles. Whatever your issue might be, learn from Clayoquot and do it right.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Excuse me, doc - any advice for the uncertain?

What are we to take from the fact that a majority of adult Canadians don’t want to be immunized against the H1N1 flu?
I know how they feel. I’m still on the fence myself about whether to get the shot. Being immunized definitely appears to be the logical, civic-minded choice, but there’s this part of me that’s just really hesitant about getting a flu shot.
And 51 per cent of the Canadians apparently feel the same way.
Asked in an on-line poll this month about whether they’d be getting vaccinated against H1N1, more than half said no. That’s up significantly from July, when only 38 per cent were saying no.
That fact must be a great disappointment to the public-health officials working hard on the H1N1 front. People were alarmed as all get-out when the new strain of influenza first took hold in Mexico, and the task back then looked like it was going to be about keeping a worried public calm until a vaccine could be developed.
Instead we’ve ended up here, with immunization now available but fewer Canadians actually wanting it. That’s a fascinating turn of events.
What it speaks to more than anything is that the public no longer knows who to trust about such things. That’s especially true when it comes to flu shots.
We were terrified of H1N1 when it first started wreaking havoc in Mexico. I followed each new development with great interest as the virus took hold in the spring, and had long conversations with my own adult children in hopes of getting them thinking about vaccination.
But then H1N1 arrived in our own home towns. And in most cases it looked a lot like any other seasonal flu, except with more people getting it.
Public health experts continued to emphasize that H1N1 had the potential to be a much more serious type of flu. People do die from it - 87 so far in Canada. But it seems that the more H1N1 has taken hold in Canada, the more our scepticism has grown about getting immunized.
Canadians are sceptical of flu shots to begin with - less than a third of us get the seasonal shot.
The peculiar thing is that we’re generally pretty happy to get immunized. I got seven immunizations for a trip to Ghana a decade ago, and didn’t second-guess any of them. Most Canadians are quite willing to be immunized against major illnesses and to get their children immunized as well, so it’s not like vaccination is a foreign concept.
Ah, but the flu shot - for some reason, that’s a whole different thing. North Americans overall just haven’t taken to the flu shot, despite years of admonitions from public health officials about the importance of doing so.
Is it because you need a shot every year? Or because you’ve had the flu many times and it hasn’t killed you yet? Is it about the horror stories of vaccinations gone wrong that emerge just often enough to confirm your reluctance, or maybe a secret suspicion that it’s good for your immune system to have to fight off illness on its own once in a while?
I admit to a little of all of those in my own feelings about getting a flu shot. And I know it’s all about having an emotional reaction to the issue rather than a logical one. I hate being sick with the flu and I’m asthmatic to boot, so there’s no sensible reason for me to resist inoculation.
In the case of H1N1, experiences in my own family this past month should have also pushed me toward immunization if logic had anything to do with it. My brother’s wife is still recovering in hospital after a terrible bout of H1N1 that left her incapacitated and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit for almost a week.
But there’s something that I just can’t get my head around when it comes to flu shots. I wish I understood my resistance better, because I like to think I make good choices when it comes to my health. Public health officials might want to try to understand the resistance of people like me as well, because their messages clearly aren’t having the desired effect if the majority of Canadians are saying no to a flu shot.
Please take my musings on this subject as nothing more than that. I offer no advice on whether to get an H1N1 shot. I’m just saying that rightly or wrongly, many of us need more convincing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's community involvement that sets Project Connect apart

For the past two years, I’ve had the honour of organizing the Project Connect service fair for the street community, put on by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.
This year, we saw at least 700 people through the door for the event at Our Place drop-in last Wednesday. They came for help: a new birth certificate, care for their broken and battered feet, a haircut, vet care, a backpack full of useful stuff They also came for food, eating a whopping 2,100 hamburgers and 1,000 hot dogs by day’s end.
I don’t know whether to be delighted or heartsick that the number of people at the event was up by more than 200 this year, or that we served twice as many burgers and dogs. Sure, it’s great to draw a crowd, but I dream of the day when an event for people living in profound poverty fails to attract anybody.
If you’ve done any event-planning, you’ll know it’s a crazy-making activity with a million details to attend to. But when it all comes together, it’s a whole lot of fun, especially when the event is Project Connect. What sets it apart is that it really is a community-wide effort - one that depends on hundreds of people in our region stepping up to make a difference.
Consider, for instance, what it took to be able to hand out 700 backpacks last week.
First, it took the efforts of leadership students at seven local secondary schools to help us hustle up some of those packs - 250 all told. But we needed many more than that, and couldn’t have done it without a generous cash donation from a local businessman and a sweet deal on back-to-school packs offered to us by Wal-Mart and Real Canadian Superstore.
Then we needed things to put in those packs. We wanted to put a dozen or so items in each pack: a new pair of socks, gloves, toque, scarf, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, and other essentials. But that meant collecting almost 9,000 individual items.
For that, we turned to the community. And people really came through.
The Church of the Nazarene bought us 500 pair of men’s gloves. Lambrick Park Church’s “The Place” congregation rustled up 400 toques and 200 scarves. St. Philip’s Anglican Church bought 400 emergency blankets. UM Marketing donated 200 deodorants, 800 razors, and 600 packages of tampons. Save On Foods, Safeway, Thrifty Foods, Lifestyle Market and Costco loaded us up with food.
Workplace donation drives at Telus, Queen Alexandra Society, Victoria Foundation, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, Royal Bank Oak Bay and Shaw Cable brought us box after box of the kinds of things we needed. So did you - for four days straight in late September and again in early October, members of the public poured into Our Place with armloads of donations for Project Connect.
That all of the above happened was largely due to the efforts of five amazing volunteers I’d gathered around me to help organize the event. My deepest thanks to Gloria Hoeppner, Ruth Simkin, Deb Nilsen, Jill Martin-Bates and Willie Waddell - women who I’ve come to count on whenever the occasion calls for a crack team of volunteers.
The packs wouldn’t have been packed without them. Some 10,000 donated items would have gone unsorted. These women’s vehicles, husbands, living rooms, charge cards, friends and neighbours were all conscripted to the cause, as were mine. But hey, we got things done.
As for Our Place, which hosted Project Connect this year - well, I can’t say enough good things about those guys. Everybody on staff was unfailingly helpful and patient with us. I don’t know where we would have stored our overflowing bounty of pack items, let alone physically done the packing, were it not for Our Place making room for us every step of the way.
What was particularly nice was that anytime someone from our group arrived at the drop-in with the latest load of big heavy things needing to be carried in, at least four or five of the men who come to Our Place would immediately step forward with offers to help. Is there another place in the city where you can count on such gentlemanly behaviour?
And this long list was just what it took to get the packs together. Multiply the effort tenfold for all the volunteers who turned out that day, all the service providers who were there, all the work Gord Fry and the Capital Lions Club put in to help us feed such a big crowd, all the media support for getting the word out.
It was a remarkable community achievement. Thank you.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Pointless prostitution laws help no one but hurt many

Sex work is back in the headlines again, and will be for quite some time with a constitutional challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws finally underway this week.
I wish miracles for the three brave sex workers who launched the challenge. That’s what they’ll need to survive the savaging they’re in for at the hands of those who staunchly oppose anything that might make it easier or safer to be a sex worker.
The case in front of the Ontario Superior Court is challenging three sections of the Criminal Code: the “common bawdyhouse” laws that make anything to do with operating a brothel illegal; procuring or living off the avails of prostitution; and communicating for the purposes of prostitution.
In deciding the case, Justice Susan Himel will be gauging whether our prostitution laws are proportionate to their purpose, or if they have the effect of forcing sex workers into unsafe situations where they can be preyed on by deviants and serial killers.
So let’s ponder those two issues for a moment.
Sex work is legal in Canada, yet everything required for a sale to take place is illegal - location, marketing, even the earnings. That renders the work just legal enough for men to be able to acquire paid sex anytime they like in any city, and just illegal enough to continue the pretence that Canadian society is hard at work trying to eradicate prostitution. What exactly IS the purpose of laws like that?
As for whether the impact of the laws is proportionate to their purpose, I can’t wait to hear the arguments on that point. How many vulnerable women have died across Canada just in the last decade because our laws forced them to work out of sight in the rough parts of town, getting into cars with strangers? How could a gruesome impact like that possibly be proportionate in a civilized society?
What gets me the most about the laws around prostitution is the grand hypocrisy of it all.
We wrung our hands and wept for all the missing women when Robert Pickton’s exploits were the news of the day. We went to their vigils. But we didn’t do one thing that made life safer for the women working our streets.
We tell ourselves that only deviants and weirdos buy sex, and only victimized, desperate people sell it. But Canadians of every stripe are frequenting the places where sex is sold, and leading secret lives as part-time sex workers. Were a scarlet letter ever to appear on all the chests of people who have ever bought and sold sex, I think you’d be amazed to see who was in the club.
The sale of sex is a rip-roaring business in every Canadian community. Every moment spent denying that is another nail in the coffin of women working in isolation and danger on the nation’s outdoor strolls. Outdoor work is the mere tip of the iceberg in terms of the scope of the industry, but it’s certainly the place where the most negative impacts of our poorly considered laws are felt.
I understand the powerful emotions that drive the abolitionist movement. I know that some people have had tragic experiences in the sex trade. It’s definitely a job for adults only, and even then it’s not something that most people are cut out for.
But it’s still a job. Occasional monsters and victims notwithstanding, the buyers are for the most part ordinary people. The sellers are by and large happy for the money. Meanwhile, those who aren’t happy in the work take no solace from the law, because it can only punish them further.
I read an opinion piece the other day from an abolitionist exhorting Canadians to resist anything that might normalize prostitution as a legitimate career choice. That tired old argument is trotted out anytime someone dares to mutter about decriminalizing the industry: “Oh, horrors, your child could end up working as a prostitute!”
Read the research. Prostitution doesn’t increase when it’s decriminalized, because it’s already so well-entrenched in every community that there’s no increase in demand just because it’s now legal. All the men who buy sex are already buying it.
Nor is the growth of sex tourism much of a concern in Canada. Sex workers here are no more likely than any other Canadian to work for the pathetic, exploitive wages that sex workers earn in countries like Thailand.
And even if all that weren’t so, surely we don’t want to support laws that maintain an ugly and dangerous work environment just so our own daughters won’t be tempted into that line of work.
Every woman who works in the industry is somebody’s daughter. We owe it to all of them to fix this mess we’ve made.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Fight back - these cuts will do lasting harm

I’ve kept a rough list of the B.C. programs and services being lost as a result of government cuts this fall. Maybe there’s still nothing on the list that affects you and your family, but the odds are getting slimmer all the time.
A remarkably broad swath of British Columbians will be affected by the funding cuts being carried out by the provincial government and its five health authorities right now.
The cuts are coming fast and furious in all directions, with neither a plan nor an understanding at any level of what it’s all going to mean when the dust settles. Without a word of public discussion, vital social programs and supports that British Columbians have counted on for years are vanishing.
Our province will end up wearing the scars of these cuts for decades to come. We need to shake ourselves out of our respective silos and make it stop.
Whatever your political stripe, I’m sure we can all agree that we’re against bad decision-making. That’s what is going on in B.C. right now. Government and health authorities are so consumed with hitting their financial targets that they’re selling out the future health and well-being of British Columbia for poorly conceived, clumsily executed cuts that benefit no one.
It’s still hard for many of us to accept that tax dollars are well-spent on supports to strangers who need help in their lives. That’s why our governments generally assume they can shred social services with little fear of a voter backlash.
But this isn’t about votes. This is about what we’re giving up as a society. This is about services that are costing us a little money right now, but are preventing much, much higher costs down the road. Take a look at this sampling of recent cuts and think about the vulnerable people who will be cast to the wolves as the government and health authorities withdraw their support:
• School lunch programs
• Community mental health and addiction services
• School sports
• Intensive behavioural therapy for young autistic children
• Support for programs preventing fetal-alcohol damage in children
• Help for people raising their grandchildren
• Reading centres
• Treatment for children who witness abuse
• Outreach for victims of domestic violence (reinstated this week after public outcry)
• Help for problem gamblers
• Elimination of B.C.’s only prosecutor specializing in domestic violence
• Support for sports for people with mental handicaps

And none of that includes the cuts to gaming grants for the social sector still to come later this fall. Or the much deeper cuts coming in the March 2010 budget, and again the year after that.
Those familiar with government understand that whatever is lost in the next couple years is at risk of being lost for good. Government is writing off decades of experience, evidence and social infrastructure in its ill-informed rush to make up cost overruns on the backs of struggling families. We will not soon see these programs back if we let them go now.
Billings Learned Hand, a U.S. judge and philosopher from the early 1900s, once talked about change occurring only when things reach a point that “cries out loudly enough to force upon us a choice between the comforts of inertia and the irksomeness of action.”
Are we there yet? Surely we must be close. Thousands of people and communities are affected by the cuts, but I sense they haven’t yet realized their cumulative power to do something. It’s tough to go it alone against government, but so many people will feel these cuts that together, they could exercise considerable political clout.
Look only to recent headlines to verify that. Just this week, the government reinstated $440,000 that had been cut from services addressing domestic violence, all because the public went nuts. Cuts to camping programs for children with disabilities were also abandoned earlier this year after the public made its considerable displeasure known.
Fight, people. Be the squeaky wheel that haunts government’s dreams. Give government some of that “blowback” that Housing Minister Rich Coleman talked about a couple weeks ago, because they need a big blast of it to snap them out of these dangerously short-sighted, mean-spirited cuts.
As always, the poorest of the poor will feel all of B.C.’s cuts the hardest. I’m back organizing Project Connect for another year on behalf of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, and want to thank the community for the generous donations to date that will help us put on another really successful day for hundreds of people living in deep poverty and homelessness.
We’ve got one more drop-off day to collect things like new socks, new and gently used gloves, scarves and toques and travel-size grooming products like hand sanitizer to fill the 700 or so backpacks we expect to be handing out at the all-day service fair for the street community, Oct. 14 at Our Place. If you’ve got a backpack to donate, that’d be great too.
Can you help? Bring donations to Our Place, 919 Pandora, on the morning of Oct. 6. Contact me at the email on this column to donate time or money to Project Connect.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MLAs' meal allowance just the tip of the iceberg

Ida Chong is the one we’ve all been talking about, but this meal-allowance business is much bigger than the $6,000 per-diem Chong claimed in the last fiscal year.
I can feel it in the public reaction. Like me, people see the Chong story as symbolizing much more than just one politician’s per-diem spending.
There’s real outrage and betrayal in the letters to the editor and on the radio call-in shows. Genuine hurt. It’s a shame that MLAs have reacted by circling the wagons and closing ranks, because this is an important moment to try to understand.
I’ve been surprised at my own wounded reaction, especially after learning this week that MLAs don’t even have to submit receipts for the $61 per diem they’re eligible for when doing official government work in Victoria or Vancouver. (“It costs more to administer the receipting process than to just set a flat rate,” said a communications spokesman with the Finance Ministry.)
Call me naive, but I had no idea.
Sure, I’m all for reimbursing our hard-working MLAs for legitimate expenses they incur. I know they’re putting in long hours and sacrificing family time, and all those other things that hard-working people everywhere can relate to.
But just handing them a wad of cash so they can eat, park and sleep at the taxpayers’ expense raises questions for me, and not just in an eye-rolling, cynical-about-politics kind of way. Before government started cutting vital public services last year, did anybody even consider steps to reduce these kinds of expenditures?
I browsed the government Web site for more information on the Capital City allowance that landed Chong in the news, and quickly found myself in a labyrinth of per-diems and meeting payments I hadn’t known existed.
The same arrangement that MLAs have is available to certain classes of civil servants. They get $47 a day, and $61 if their work on a particular day involves hanging out with an MLA or senior bureaucrats getting the higher rate.
Whether anyone actually spends the money on food is entirely up to them. It’s really just a non-taxable bonus on top of a (generous) salary.
The thousands of non-government people who sit on the province’s many advisory boards, tribunals and review panels can also claim meal per-diems. But I doubt many of them bother, seeing as the real money is in attending meetings, most of which pay from $350 to $750 per meeting.
I can’t tell you what all the costs would add up to, because nothing is gathered in one place. I sense from the government’s own slow response to my query for more information on this subject that they’d be hard-pressed to tell you, either.
But clearly it’s a potful.
Consider this one small example:  We paid almost $800,000 in the last fiscal year for 268 British Columbians to attend meetings of B.C.’s 75 Property Assessment Review panels.  Some panel appointees made as much as $10,000 from the meetings, held Feb. 1 to March 15 every year for unhappy homeowners wanting to appeal their provincial assessments.
And that’s just one small for-instance. Land yourself on any of the big government-appointed boards in B.C. and you’ll get $750 every time you go to a meeting.
That’s the price of doing business, some would argue. But during a recession like this one, no stone should go unturned when government is looking for savings.
Were these expenses scrutinized and considered for reduction? Were MLAs approached to reduce their own claims on public money?
One less meeting of Property Assessment Review panels would save a bundle - maybe even enough to spare a high-school-upgrade program for young moms. MLAs who were conscious of their spending and claimed only for what they spent could have made a real impact on community services that have now been lost.
Government has felt the pain of the recession, of course. Travel spending was cut in half in the past year, to $39 million, and office expenses were cut by a third. It’s been hard times for civil servants working in ministries singled out for layoffs, and for staff and clients of increasingly starved public services.
But the per-diem claims suggest that at the political level, it was business as usual. The MLAs took what the rules allowed them to take. The paid meetings continued unabated. A typical front-line community worker would have to work more than five days to earn what some people get paid just for a half-day meeting.
It’s a grave betrayal of the public trust, and profoundly unsettling for what it reveals about how our government views us. Serfs, let ‘em hear you roar.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Government knows how to end homelessness - and it's not arrest

These are times when all ideas need to be on the table, so I’m trying to restrain my impulse to go berserko at the B.C. government for thinking that you can manage homelessness by arresting people.
But really, it’s enough to break your heart. All the effort and thought that has gone into this issue in recent years, all the proven solutions and strategies pulled together by brilliant and informed minds right here in B.C. - and this is what the province has taken away from that? Say it isn’t so.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman has been in the news this week talking about giving police the power to arrest people who refuse to go to shelters over the winter. His early plans turned shelter staff into jailors by forcing people to stay inside, but now he says police would just deliver people to shelters and leave it up to them whether they walked through the door.
The argument will likely play well with many of us in the comfortable class, who shudder at the thought of being out on a cold, wet winter night. Who can blame us for presuming that anyone who’d choose to sleep outside at night must be certifiably insane?
But the truth is that there are all kinds of sane reasons for choosing the streets over a shelter bed.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as not being able to bear the thought of lying on a mat in a big room with 70 or 80 other troubled souls trying to make it through the night in noisy, restless fashion. Or about having no place to leave your cart without all your worldly belongings being stolen by the morning, or another night of waiting in line outside the shelter just to find out there are no beds left, by which time all the good outdoor sleeping spots are long gone.
It’s about having a spouse and wanting to sleep like a couple, or having a pet that you can’t possibly leave outside alone in the cold. When our region’s “cold wet weather” protocol kicks in - and believe me, it’s damn cold and wet before that happens - only one adult emergency shelter, the one at St. John the Divine, welcomes couples and pets.
Then there’s a whole other group of resisters with severe addictions, whose sleep/wake cycles are so completely out of whack that the idea of lying down quietly at night for eight hours isn’t even an option.
Some have mental-health issues that keep them out of shelters, although not many in my experience, and certainly not enough to give Coleman the quick street cleanup he’s envisaging. There’s also a tiny group who would actually choose to live outside no matter what: modern-day hermits, maybe 32 people in all in our region based on the findings of the expert panel that worked on the 2007 Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness.
Challenging issues, yes. But not insurmountable, as Coleman well knows. The City of Vancouver has had amazing success with such populations using a new kind of shelter piloted late last year. None of it has required arresting people.
The goal of the project was to lure resisters inside by providing shelter with a difference - locked spaces for carts, couples and pets allowed, 24-hour TV room to accommodate the sleepless, the dignity of booking another night before you left the shelter rather than having to line up much later in the day and hope for the best.
The empty buildings used for the shelters were pulled together quickly and on the cheap, with an operating cost of roughly $1.5 million for the three-month pilot. All were located in areas where people were already sleeping.
The plan worked like a charm. More than 500 people who’d previously refused to use shelters came inside within a few days of the shelters opening last December.
A similar solution for the 100 to 150 people in our region who avoid shelters would cost just $750,000 to cover five months of cold, wet weather. Much could be accomplished merely by extending Our Place drop-in hours over the winter and expanding the Cool Aid winter shelter that’s run out of St. John the Divine church.
The vast majority of people on our streets desperately want shelter and housing. But that’s not to say they’re prepared to give up everything of themselves just for one night out of the cold. Arresting people “for their own good” is something that a civil society does with the utmost of care, and only after all other options are exhausted - something that’s most definitely not the case in B.C.
You know what works, Mr. Coleman. Please don’t waste any more time and tax dollars on a plan that fails on every level.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Autism cuts add one more burden to families

Cuts to government-funded programs are raining down in all directions. Alicia Ulysses gets that the end of free karate lessons for her 16-year-old autistic son is pretty small potatoes given all that.
But sometimes a mother just has to stand up and say: Hey, you guys, have you ever considered what you’re really taking away from the child at the other end of a decision like that?
In B.C., families can qualify for up to $20,000 a year in government funding to help pay for special services for a child with autism who is under age six. That amount will be increased to $22,000 next April. Nicholas Ulysses is 16, so the maximum his family qualifies for is $6,000 a year.
It’s a needed program, and here’s hoping nothing bad happens next year when the government makes changes to the way parents access the money. But the problem for families of older children is that the kinds of activities that would benefit their child often don’t qualify for funding - or not for long, at any rate. So it is for Nicholas, whose government-funded karate lessons came to an end this summer.
The kinds of autism services government prefers to support are therapies that target very young children, who benefit immensely from early intervention. Once a child moves into the “six to 18-year-old” category, however, they’re as developed as they’re going to get in terms of their autism. They qualify for considerably less support, and far fewer services that fit their changing needs.
Up until the latest rejection letter, Nicholas’s mom has been able to make a case to government that karate lessons qualified as an “other intervention recommended by a professional.” Even so, the decision has been revisited almost every year since the family was approved for $4,000 a year in funding in 2005. Each time, Alicia has to get yet another letter of support from a registered psychologist attesting that karate is beneficial for Nicholas.
It’s true that the teen enjoys both the sport and recreation of karate, and that neither of those activities qualifies for autism funding. He definitely needs the exercise, which Alicia is pretty sure the government would agree with if they’d ever actually met him.
But Nicholas’s karate is about much more than that, says his mom. When he’s at his karate lessons, he feels like he belongs. He’s got friends. He’s got purpose. Those are things that a lonely boy with autism doesn’t get to feel very often.
“At school, people treat Nicholas very nicely, because they know that’s what you’re supposed to do,” says Alicia. “But they never call once to invite him to a movie, or to a birthday party. These kids want to feel normal - they want to be involved in normal things. Not everything in their life has to be a therapy.”
Therapy is no longer the issue for a child the age of Nicholas, she adds.
“Now, it’s about coping. I took Nicholas for a job interview today and it went really well. But that’s because I did his resume. I got him in the right clothes and shoes. I made sure he brushed his teeth. He doesn’t need intervention anymore - he needs help with everyday things.
“OK, the research says that people with autism need this or that kind of service, and that’s what we’re supposed to want. But meanwhile Nicholas is a lonely boy, nobody’s calling, and he wants a girlfriend. Slowly, slowly, these kids learn to give up, because they feel the rejection.”
Laurel Duruisseau, of the Victoria Society for Children with Autism, says karate and gymnastics are two of the biggest bones of contention between her society’s 150 members and government. She says occupational therapists recommend such activities all the time, but government resists funding them.
“The funding is really intended for one-to-one intervention, which is fine for a four-year-old but not such a good fit for a 16-year-old,” says Duruisseau. “We’ve pretty much all been through it with our kids. Any activity that you can put a typical child in, chances are the funding won’t cover it.”
Her group created a new charity - Mosaic - just to try to get around the problem. It runs drama and art programs for autistic teens. “Karate is actually on the list for us to look at adding,” says Duruisseau.
A high-profile B.C. court case over funding for services kept autism in the headlines for a long time, until the case was lost at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004. Alicia says there’s still “a lot of noise” about autism in the province, but little change. This week, the government scrapped a $5 million fund that paid for a particular kind of autism therapy for 70 B.C. families.
“When we speak up, I don’t think they want to hear it,” she says. “My case is a minor one, but there are others that aren’t. And it’s not fair. Every little thing adds another burden to a family that’s already stretched.”