Tag Archives: Hidden Homeless

Question of the month – Barriers To Health Care

We all know it – it has been HOT here in Niagara. For the women and families who come to our shelter doors, the heat is not a question of whether or not you like the summer – a hot day without air conditioning, with limited access to a shower, a place to cool down can be catastrophic for them and their children.

It made our bloggers think about health and poverty – is our health care as universal as we claim it is? Blogger Slavica starts us off on this August’s theme by answering the question of the month: What are barriers to health care?

Our Barriers are NOT Real, They are Simply of Society’s Making

Today, my dad told me that there are no honest people out there. That all they care about is themselves and having money in their pockets. In my almost 20 years of life, I am still hopeful. I still think that there are good people out there but it’s just they are few and far in between.

Privilege

However, the sad reality is, even if there are good people in this world, we live in world with systemic barriers that privilege the few and disadvantage many.  In simple terms, unless you have giant pockets for your boat load of money, you’re screwed.

Even the universal health care system in Canada, which is supposed to be helping us is lacking, especially regarding dental and mental health care. Unless you have good insurance, you have to pay out of pocket.

Students now are more anxious than mental asylum patients in the 1950’s.

Which is ridiculous because students now are more anxious than mental asylum patients in the 1950’s. Teenagers and young adults like myself are falling short of the society’s expectations of us. We can’t keep up with these demands to the point many of us are harming ourselves and doing dangerous things just to keep sane. To relax.

The hidden poor

When we look at the poor population in our society, we have this stereotype that they are all homeless bums that are living on the streets and that they deserved what happened to them. As if somehow it’s their fault but the large majority of the homeless population aren’t living on the streets. They are the hidden poor. Their all around us. They are people we most likely know who could be on the brink of an eviction or simply choose to pay for rent rather than food because they need a roof over their heads more.

These hidden poor are usually people with low income jobs. Jobs that many people in society think are being taken away, but the jobs that these people are working have no benefits, long hours, are manual labour. The jobs that nobody wants. These jobs are usually given to immigrants, people of colour, low educated individuals, really, society’s throwaways.

Stereotypes and health

Based on health care professionals,  pre-conceived notions and stereotypes, be it consciously or not, based on a patient’s sex, gender, race, class, ability etc, can determine the health of their patients and the care that they get simply by the way they are treated.

This tends to be with less care, respect, and understanding of their health care needs. They usually aren’t even told of the resources available to them and even if they are, they’re less likely to use them due to issues of systemic racism, sexism, etc.

As Canadians we have always been compared to the States as being nicer but the truth is we are not better. The States are just louder about their systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, and any other “isms” out there.

The solution is simple. We are all human beings, who deserve equal care. No one person is more important than another.

Homelessness, Cars and Community: The Making of No Fixed Address

fundraising piggy bank

One of the biggest decisions of a non-profit organization is deciding what kind of fundraiser to hold. It’s pinning down a vision, need and goal…and then communicating that need to the public in a way that makes them want to get involved.

 

This is rarely an easy feat, especially in its first few years.

The YWCA’s Women of Distinction Awards was a great example of honoring leadership in our community.  Started in the mid-eighties, the YW held the awards dinner and banquet to highlight the women in our community who were accomplishing great things.  It was an honor to be nominated, as it was always a wonderful evening spent in a room filled with women the community held in high esteem.  However, this event rarely did anything to highlight our organization—or raise the funds needed to help keep important programs running.  For an 85 year old organization, our profile was still very much obscure within the region.  Few people knew what the YW did for our womenAnd so, it was with sadness that we decided to quietly say goodbye to this fundraiser, the last one taking place in May 2011.

So there we were, without a major fundraiser…and let me assure you that our Fund Developer, Nicki Inch was just a little stressed about this.  Fortunately with some reassurance from our Executive Director, she was given some time to hold a focus group to begin looking into new ideas.  While researching, Nicki came across a 24 hour event held in San Francisco addressing the issue of homelessness and inspiration struck.  She just knew this was going to be a success.

I remember her excitement.  Her mind working on constant overdrive, frantically trying to keep up with the ideas that were just pouring out of her. That excitement was contagious! In fact, it started spreading like wildfire. I remember being so proud of Nicki.  We finally had an event that felt right. I was inspired by her and proud of her not just as a co-worker—but also because she is my Mom.

Now she just needed a catchy name for the event.

NFA LOGOIn March 2012, Nicki began ‘shopping’ No Fixed Address around.  It wasn’t a hard sell, in fact, it really had legs of its own.  For the first time, we had people coming to us; sponsors that had previously turned us down in the past, or been a hard sell were now asking to be involved!  Incredibly awesome people started clambering to sit on the numerous committees Nicki developed to help put the plan into action.  Donations were rolling in…..AND people were signing up to sleep in their cars!

 It has just been so incredible to see the many people that are drawn to this event.  Not only have people embraced it, but they have made it their own. NFA has become a vehicle to educate individuals, as well as, their children about some of the social  realities connected to homelessness.  It has become a common ground for employees to bond beyond the office, while working together for the common good.  NFA has given a voice to those who have personally experienced homelessness.  It has become a venue that exudes hope, offers encouragement and expresses sincere compassion for those in need.  NFA has succeeded in its goal, to raise awareness about the persistent and rising problem of homelessness in Niagara.

So what does fundraising have to do with leadership?

For me, leadership is an entire community coming together to work towards ending poverty and homelessness in Niagara.  Leadership is also the many people behind the scenes who tirelessly commit to seeing the plan through to action.

Be a leader and get involved in NFA.

284752_274619232653331_874822578_nNo Fixed Address is a 24 hour Live-In-Your-Car-A-Thon to raise awareness about and funds toward ending poverty and homelessness in the Niagara Region. Like a marathon or a walk-a-thon, participants will gather sponsorships from friends and family and take part in an event that gives them a taste of what it is like to have to live out of their car. The event will take place from Friday August 15th to Saturday August 16th in the parking lot of the Pen Centre (by the Target side of the mall). Over the course of 24 hours, participants will experience just how little room a car has when you sleep in it, what a convenience store diet means and how difficult it is to find a rest room when you need it the most. Participants will be stretched and challenged and will leave forever changed.

To become involved or learn more information please visit our website at: www.nfaniagara.com

Images courtesy of Google and YWCA Niagara Region.

Don’t Forget the Cause

As Christmas approached, I was bombarded by requests to give to various charities. When I went to the mall I heard the ringing bells of the Salvation Army kettles. I received requests in the mail from Covenant House and the Christmas Wish Foundation, looking for a donation. There were many pleas from the Food Bank to help stock their shelves.

Now that Christmas is over and a New Year has begun it’s got me thinking about the plight of the less fortunate. Will they still get their basic needs met? Do people get back to their daily routine and forget about the needy when there’s nobody constantly reminding them?

As we move into the new year, let’s not forget that poverty doesn’t take a break. Let’s not forget that there are children and adults going to bed hungry in this country. There are people who have to choose between paying their bills and putting food on the table. There are people living in shelters who rely on others to help them make it through this difficult time in their life.

We need to work together year round to bring awareness to the plight of those who call the shelter their home. We need to remember that others depend on the kindness and generosity of strangers to help them meet their basic needs.

As we head towards Valentine’s Day let us find it in our hearts to remember to donate what we can to our community to better the lives of others. May we all continue to show our giving spirit throughout the year.

Let’s not forget the cause now that Christmas is over. The families that rely on the shelter are depending on all us.

Written by our community blogger, Marilyn. 

“Those People”

This is a re-post from the blog “Scary Mommy” by Jennifer Ball.

“There’s a food drive happening at the school where I work. Several bins have been set up throughout the hallways, with cute kid-decorated signs that implore us to SCARE HUNGER and donate non-perishables for the local food shelf.

As I am wont to do, I look at the food as I walk by. Why? Because I like food. It’s like porn to me. I wish I was lying. So I walk by, several times a day, and gaze at the donations.

Dang. We have some swanky grocery shoppers at our school…the bins are filled with “fancy” foodstuff, lots of organic offerings, and some deviations from the standard mac and cheese/boxes of spaghetti. There’s rice pasta, artichoke hearts packed in seasoned oil, gluten-free crackers, olive tapenade….and quinoa. I look at those bins like Sylvester looked at Tweety Bird.

Like I was doing earlier this week. Walking by, checking out the bins. One of the women who helped organize the drive was in the hallway, and I called out to her “Wow! Look at all this awesomeness!” or something similarly enlightening. She beamed and said, “I know! The parents at this school are amazing.”

As she was saying this, another woman happened by. She smiled at us, like people who see each other several times a day in passing do, and then she said this:

“Too bad they won’t know what to do with most of it.”

It was one of those moments in life, when your ears hear something but your brain can’t quite process it. I was fairly certain I’d just heard her say what I thought I’d heard her say…but it didn’t really sink in. It floated there, like a film of rainbow-hued oil over a puddle in the street.

I spoke up, while she was still within earshot. “What do you mean?”. I wanted to know. I wanted to verify what she said, make sure I hadn’t misunderstood.

The woman stopped. She turned towards me, one hand holding a couple of manila folders, the other resting lightly on her hip. She was still smiling.

“Those people won’t know what most of that is. I mean, really, quinoa?”

Yep. I’d heard her correctly. 

Those people.

The last time I got groceries at our local food shelf was this past February. Eight months ago. The long-overdue child support from my ex kicked in later that month, and although it wasn’t much, it made the difference between being able to buy groceries and having to get them from a food shelf. For that, I’m grateful.

Those people.

I can still remember the first time I visited the food shelf. I had driven by, so many times, trying to work up the courage to pull into the parking lot. I’d whisper to myself, “Dammit. I can’t” and I’d keep driving, home to the barren fridge and the Old-Mother-Hubbard cupboards. Until the desperation overshadowed my pride.

Those people. Once you get past the hardest part, which is walking through the door, being at the food shelf isn’t so bad. I mean, it’s not something that inspires one to burst into song and run around high-fiving people, but as far as life experiences go, not so bad. Sure, there’s the heat on your cheeks as you fill out the paperwork, giving these strangers your life history. Telling them how you got into this pickle. This predicament. Telling them what you do for money, how much you get and how you spend it. But you get used to having hot cheeks. You become accustomed to averting your gaze so as not to make too much eye contact. You eventually become, dare I say, comfortable at the food shelf.
Those people. I quickly found out that food shelves are a lot like TJ Maxx…it’s hit or miss. Some days the shelves are full, and full of really good things. Annie’s Mac and Cheese. Organic marinara sauce. Fresh vegetables. Whole chickens in the freezer. Brie from Trader Joe’s that’s only 2 days past the expiration date. Other days, you have to scramble to even get near the required weight of food in your cart (yeah…you get a certain number of pounds of food, depending on the size of your family). Dented cans of creamed corn. Spoiled produce that even the most resourceful, broke chef couldn’t salvage. Individual sleeves of saltine crackers. But beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Those people.

I visited the food shelf a total of 5 times in about 11 months. I only told one friend. I told my kids, and when I did, I expected them to laugh, or get angry, or embarrassed. They didn’t do any of those things. They helped me put the groceries away, and they did so quietly, not saying much other than the occasional exclamation of “Yum!” or “Gross!”. I can recall for you, on command, most of the meals I made with food shelf goodies. Oven roasted chicken with quartered rosemary potatoes. Turkey chili. French toast. More mac and cheese than I care to admit. One of my favorites was an organic risotto, flavored with mushrooms and olive oil.

Those people.

I wanted to walk up to that woman in the hallway, and smack the folders out of her hand. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her as I got up in her face and yell at her “YOU CLUELESS, PRETENTIOUS B****! YOU DON’T KNOW HOW IT FEELS TO WALK INTO ONE OF “THOSE” PLACES AND BE ONE OF “THOSE” PEOPLE! YOU’VE NEVER HAD TO SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE AND ADMIT THAT YOU NEED A HAND! YOU’VE NEVER LOOKED AT YOUR KIDS AND HAD TO HIDE YOUR TEARS BECAUSE YOU HAD NO IDEA HOW YOU WERE GOING TO FEED THEM! YOU KNOW WHAT??? “THOSE PEOPLE” WILL BE MOTHER EFFING GRATEFUL TO SEE THIS FOOD. THEY’LL BE SAYING SILENT PRAYERS AS THEY BOX THAT SHIT UP AND BRING IT HOME AND MAKE IT FOR THEIR FAMILIES. AND THEY WILL NEVER FORGET HOW IT FELT TO BE SO THANKFUL FOR SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS FOOD!!”

I wanted to say that, but I didn’t. Instead, all I could muster was,

“I like quinoa.”

To which she replied, “Well yes, of course. You’re not one of those people.”

If only she knew.”

It is the goal of the YW to break down the wall between “those people” and “us.” The women who come through the doors of the YW are our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends. During the holiday season, we ask that you remember us and help provide hope. Please visit our Christmas wishlist to help bridge the gap.

This Year, Are You Along for the Ride?

It’s hot and you’re tired, uncomfortable and hungry. All you want to do is brush your teeth in a proper bathroom and crawl into a real bed, one without a hump in your back. But then you remember, “Wait. Tomorrow I’ll be back home and this will all be a distant memory.” Sound familiar? This is No Fixed Address, the 24-hour-live-in-your-car-athon in support of the YWCA Niagara Region. For those who didn’t participate last year, this small anecdote may not sound very appealing, but No Fixed Address is an event experience where you have the opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of the 85 peoplein Niagara who are homeless each night.
The YW is excited to launch No Fixed Address 2013 with the release of our Are You Along For the Ride promotional video. Join us this year as we bring awareness to the hidden homeless in our community.

It’s because of the funds raised through events like No Fixed Address that the realities of today for those 85 people can too be made into the memories of tomorrow. Through the work of the YWCA Niagara Region, each night 52 of those 85 homeless people have a safe and comfortable bed to sleep in. This year, we invite you along for the ride so that no one has to sleep in the back of their car, with a hump in their back.