Hiring A Homeless Coordinator Is A Bad Idea

By December 6, 2014Hot Topic

By Mike Archer. Judy Graves was a wonderful homeless advocate for the homeless men and women of Vancouver. She could reportedly, “make contact with a homeless person, find them housing and connect them to the services the homeless person needed in a single day. “

Cover Photo. Judy Graves. Diocese of New Westminster photo. Graves spent her adult life as an advocate for the homeless in Vancouver. She started as a city employee in 1974 ar the Pine Street Clinic and devoted her life fighting for some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens until her retirement in 2013. From the Diocese of New Westminster.

But wishing we could turn back the clock to a different time and invent ourselves a Judy Graves out of thin air is no answer to Abbotsford’s homeless crisis in 2014.

For every ‘hard-to-house’ homeless person who is helped by our street advocates at least one is evicted or ends up back on the street. This revolviong door is a systematic problem; not a personnel problem.

First of all; Abbotsford doesn’t have anywhere to put the majority of the men and women living on our streets. We have no low barrier, medium or long-term housing opportunities and the services and supplies needed to help most of those who need housing still don’t exist here.

A fact few in the care community or those who make a living off of the poor in Abbotsford like to discuss is the fact that the majority of those who live on the street, in the ditches, and in the woods of this community self identify as drug addicts or drug users and a significant portion suffer from mental illness.

The only solution we’ve come up with so far is to effectively make it illegal to be homeless.

Then we put the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) in charge of dealing with the men and women who don’t or can’t measure up to the high religious, moral, medical, social or behavioural barriers we created for them.

No low-barrier options. No harm reduction services. No help other than a billy club and a suggestion to move.

The Task Force on Homelessness’ main suggestion, after it met with not a single homeless person, was to hire a homeless coordinator for $100,000+ every year. No food. No shelter. No washroom facilities. No toilet paper … No help. Just another bureaucrat to keep moving the pieces of the puzzle around.

And now, word on the street has it that several of those from the front lines in the homeless crisis are being considered for the job. People with no bureacratic credentials, no public policy credentials and no experience navigating the upper echelons of municipal government on behalf of anyone.

Taking effective advocates off of the street and promoting them to a high bureaucratic post might assuage the guilt of some of those who have allowed this crisis to develop. It might even be seen locally as a PR coup or a political ‘win.’ What it won’t do is help the men and women who are dying on our streets and in our gutters.

If all the City can come up with is to begin to deal with its homeless crisis is to hire another bureaucrat then it should hire a seasoned professional with a track record of solviong homelessness in a big city by relying on science, facts, current research and proven methods of helping the people we have been unwilling or unable to help.

If we were to find such a person, it is almost certain they would insist on a significant budget and a full department in order to turn this city around.

This is not the time in our City’s history for half measures or bumbling political decisions. It is a time for courage, vision and leadership.

Carving off $100,000+ from the annual payroll budget in order to elevate one of the men or women who work with Abbotsford’s marginalized people on a daily basis not only hurts the marginalized people we are supposed to helping, it will give us the false impression we’ve actually done something.

If the City is so intent on spending $100,000 a year on the homeless then buy them some food, water, porta potties, toilet paper and help them use their own building materials to build some shelter against the cold and the rain.

Better yet; stop sueing them and devote the hundreds of thousands of dollars you currently spend on lawyers to helping them build a shelter or two – they already have the materials

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • The Editor says:

    Elsie K. Neufeld Says:
    I have to disagree with some of this article. Not all persons who are homeless in abbotsford have “their own building materials to build some shelter against the cold and the rain.” This article refers to a select, highly visible group of self-identified homeless persons, some of whom when I recently asked them directly whether they’d move into the proposed Dignity Village were it to be built, weren’t certain they would. Some of these same people scoffed at the idea of a low-barrier building, because of the rules they’d have to abide by. One highly visible homeless man said “Elsie. You know what? I think it’s better to be homeless, as I can do exactly what I want.” (He did also articulate the misery of his living conditions, and I had the thought, then of Viktor Frankl’s comment re the attitude of holocaust survivors, which was the focus, moment by moment, on the sole remaining freedom: the freedom of choice.) The reality is this: not all persons who are homeless want to go into shelters in which they are not in complete control. It’s their sole remaining “possession”. Being homeless, and surviving day to day is a miserable condition from the perspective of those of us who live in homes, and it is almost impossible to imagine that if shelter is offered to someone out in subzero weather, without easy access to washrooms, hungry, and physically compromised by either drug or alcohol addiction, as well as mentally ill — medicated or not — the offer of shelter is declined. And yet, so ti goes. This happens in Abbotsford, and this happens in Vancouver. And this happens in Calgary, and even Steinbach, Manitoba. We who wish to “help”, who take a genuine interest in persons who live without permanent addresses, are like those who go into foreign countries and tell citizens there how to live (by our ethno-centric standards, and measures of “success”). I, too, though living in vancouver now, have heard “word on the street” of at least four people who are considering applying for the new position of homeless coordinator. QUESTION: has it been co-oberated that the position will pay $100,000.00? If, indeed, the applicants are front-line homeless workers, then is it not logical that the position be filled by one who already has regular contact with persons of homeless or at-risk-for homelessness status? Relationship is essential in affecting an environment in which a person chooses to make life-style changes. Articles such as this which continue to tout one way, and only one way, the Barry Schantz way, do nothing to bring together the many agencies and individuals who are doing something already. A homeless coordinator may well bring together the various agencies so that there are less redundant “services”. And what can be so bad about that? For example, the waste going on with regard to clothing and blankets. Yes, waste. The kind none of us in “helper” positions would practice, and, in fact, critique in one another. Persons who are homeless could use a place to do their laundry. Or, if they’re incapable of doing their own, having it done for them so that there isn’t a wake of dirty blankets, footwear and clothing wherever they are. Perhaps there is an agency that would take on this piece of the story. Perhaps a homeless coordinator would bring that into effect. How wonderful would that be!? And it would also cut down on the garbage at the tent villages. THat’s just one example of redundant “help” going on in abbotsford. Well-intentioned, but adding to the waste which is then used to disparage the homeless. Someone needs to tackle the practical aspect of coordinating the various services, because the reality is that some of the service providers are at odds with one another’s tactics, and egos get in the way of a unified focus on what each is attempting to do: help the homeless. What is required is various approaches, but with a unified goal: to do everything possible to create the environment in which the very people who we wish to help find the will and the way to live healthier lives. And know that if they relapse, they can try again, accepted — either way — because they are human beings, like you and me. We MUST make room in our society for differences in lifestyle. The homeless and the poor we will ALWAYS have among us. There will never be an end to this “problem” just as there will never be an end to war, illnesses, diverse personalities, lifestyle clashes in abbotsford, and all over the world. This is the human condition. It would be wonderful if Abbotsford Today would publish articles that celebrate what is being done — quietly, openly, visibly and invisibly by so many individuals and agencies — that others might join in, not so much because it might “fix the homeless problem” but because of how it might expand them as human beings, and as agencies. While i understand that such articles are motivated by genuine care for the homeless persons of abbotsford who, yes, have been horribly mistreated by some in positions of power, the ongoing critique does nothing to nurture those already engaged, nor inspire those who might yet become involved. Abbotsford Today has done much to expose the long-standing injustices in Abbotsford, and that was much-needed, and my challenge is this: help foster a more respectful culture by also showing respect for what is. Articulate the potential, the best possible outcome of the city hiring a homeless coordinator. Cite those in an article. Invite readers to submit ideas. Dream a new dream for abbotsford, ’cause that’s where all change begins: with a dream.

    From Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/536856343099184/

  • The Editor says:

    Elsie K. Neufeld Says: See what is possible? If it can be done in Australia, it can be done in Abbotsford, too. In fact, there is a woman in abbotsford who gathers sleeping bags from some homeless persons and returns them, laundered. I am unable to identify her by name. But have heard from a reliable source that she does this “service”. https://www.facebook.com/sobadsogood/photos/a.185929708153444.48193.142358482510567/736289386450804/?type=1&theater

    From Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/536856343099184/

  • The Editor says:

    Linda Nikkel Klippenstein Says:
    Nicely said Elsie!

    From Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/536856343099184/

  • The Editor says:

    Chris Lenshyn Says:
    I concur! Well said Elsie.

    From Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/536856343099184/

  • The Editor says:

    Jordan Shaw Says:
    Yeah, this article really misses the point: when you’re nowhere, you have to start somewhere. A coordinator could, if it is the right person in the role, make a serious and lasting difference on the city of Abbotsford. To champion someone like judy Graves but to then say ‘but that wouldn’t work here’ is just plain moronic. Why wouldn’t it work? You really think Judy had infrastructure in place when she started? I highly doubt it.

    Further, to assume that a front line worker would not have the necessary skills, training, and science to to an excellent job is a particularly heinous kind of elitism. I have met many people, both in vancouver and in Abbotsford, who have an enormous wealth of both theoretical and practical knowledge regarding the systemic issues around homelessness. Several of these same people are already pouring their lives into the homeless and impoverished community, and doing it for a hell of a lot less than 100k a year.

    This is an excellent step in the right direction. Handing out socks is essential, but until you have someone with the power to enact systemic change, people will continue to die in the ditch.

    From Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/536856343099184/

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