The StreetMeals project is evolving again I’m happy to say! We’re dividing up the work, growing into new roles and exploring new possibilities. Again, Caesar said it best: “Divide et impera” (divide and conquer)!
Essentially, we’re specializing in order to strategically manage our project for the long-term and I have to admit it’s exciting to see how far we’ve come so far! By getting out there in-the-flesh we are directly involving ourselves in the challenges people surviving on the streets are facing.
How do we know? Because we ask questions and we listen. We’re still listening. In fact we’re heading out again this weekend to listen some more because there is still a lot to learn and even more to share!
In my mind, this whole project is about much than simply criticising or complaining about what other people or government departments are doing, or not doing, for the people on the streets here in Vancouver.
For me, StreetMeals is about getting out there and establishing first-hand knowledge, from direct experience, in order to generate new ideas. And I have to say I’m shocked to hear from the people on the streets that I speak with, that none of them, not a single one, has ever been asked about their views on the services and programs the city and the province provides for them. Who would have thought that asking and listening were new ideas?
This type of attitude would be suicidal in the for-profit realm: not listening to your customers is the surest way to inefficiency and failure. And yet in the not-for-profit sector all I seem to see is a weird sort of patronizing, one-way communication dynamic.
All “evidence” to the contrary though: from the marketing and communication materials these various government and not-for-profit entities produce it appears that the people they are assisting are very much included in the construction of policies and programs. Lots of big, bright, colourful pictures of smiling, optimistic faces, sitting side-by-side with support workers are plastered all over these reports and briefings, but when you speak directly with the recipients of these services you can’t help but feel that there’s something missing, perhaps even something mendacious about these reports. Especially when it comes to any of the services and/or programs designed for seniors surviving on the streets.
You may recall from one of Dino’s recent blog posts the poor living conditions Francois has to endure. Francois is a person Dino, Badr and I met and shared a meal with that survives on the streets here in Vancouver. He makes ends meet by selling used, and sometimes completely new items (shoes, books, tech stuff), that he finds in the garbage bins behind apartment buildings in the West End. The difficulty Francois faces is that no matter how hungry he gets in the evening he is unable to cook a meal for himself in his own home because it will blow the breaker for the entire floor. He’s even experienced threats and physical violence from his neighbours as a result of blowing the breaker in the past. Suffice to say he no longer eats anything at home in the evening.
I’ve been down to his housing unit on East Hastings and I can tell you it is not a pleasant place to visit: dark, dirty and teeming with drug dealers. It is not, in my opinion, an environment that is conducive to attaining dignity or to ameliorating his personal, social or vocational opportunities. The city has thrown him a fish with the expectation that he will eat it, as is, with no means to properly clean and prepare it. And the really scary part is that Francois is approaching 50 with not even a smoke signal of change or improvement on the horizon for his future. That really stuck with me for awhile after chatting with Francois and it continued to gnaw at me during subsequent conversations with other people on the street over 50 years old. But I still didn’t really understand the scope of the issue until I read the 2010 Homeless Count Report.
Here’s a few excerpts so you have an idea of the reality seniors on the streets are facing:
- Vancouver’s homeless are older than the rest of the population. The largest age group (30%) is 45 to 54 years, and the median age of the homeless is 43 years, four years older than Vancouver residents in general (in 2006).
- The homeless are aging. The largest increase between 2008 and 2010 occurred among those age 55-4 and 65+ years.
- The homeless’ health status appears to be worsening. The share reporting two or more health conditions rose from 35% in 2008 to 47% in 2010. The share reporting mental illness also increased from 28 to 36%.
- Additional sub-population information: Seniors (individuals 55 and older) were the fastest growing sub-population between 2008 and 2010 and they were in poor health relative to other sub-populations, but they had a lower incidence of addiction (35%) compared to the homeless population generally.
It is this last point from the report, regarding lower addiction rates, that gives me a lot of hope and fuels my enthusiasm for pursuing measures to improve services for seniors surviving on the streets. But the irony is, according to many of the street people we spoke with, all of whom described themselves as non-addicts, that the people with addictions are the ones that have access to all the premier services and support networks!
Many of the street people I spoke with who were either nearing or over fifty lamented about the extra efforts government bodies and not-for-profit entities went to for even the most unapologetic addicts. Well over and above, what they themselves, as “regular folk down on their luck” were receiving or had access to on a daily or weekly basis. In my view this has to change! And so I want to work towards changing this dynamic and finding long-term, dignity focused, not dependency driven, solutions. I want to work towards equal access and equal opportunity when it comes to support services for non-addicts, especially seniors living on the streets.
So, as I mentioned at the beginning, we’re now dividing up the work for Project StreetMeals because there’s going to be a lot of it! I’m taking the lead on pursuing measures to improve the living situations, and life opportunities, for seniors on the streets and Dino will be focusing on connecting with businesses to encourage them to be more socially responsible by exercising idle or leftover resources.
We both look forward to our new roles within the StreetMeals project and to exploring new ways to leverage our personal, social and technological resources to fulfill our goals for the long-term.
Thank you for taking a moment to read this project update and if you have any ideas you would like to pass along, or if you would like to join us for an up-coming StreetMeal, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org