The Social Singularity…

Hi,

Andrew here:

What an awesome time it is to be a part of StreetMeals!  We’re learning, adapting and growing every time we get out there and engage with people around us.  We’re asking questions, listening, sharing, imagining and creating—it’s an incredibly energizing experience because you get to see the effects of your actions right away!  There’s little doubt in my mind that people power is one of the greatest resources in the world and I’m becoming more and more confident in the idea that,

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And it’s amazing what a little direction can do for your focus.

Many times in the past I would sit around thinking to myself that I could do things better here or there but it wasn’t until I got out there on the streets and tried, that I realized what it really takes to affect change for those in need around me: 

You have to listen.  You have to be flexible.  And you have to act on what you learn!

Through the process of creating and conducting our own philanthropic project, Dino and I are really beginning to appreciating the power of our personal, social and technological resources.  Not only are we both fortunate enough to live here in Canada: a peaceful, prosperous society with lots of social and technological infrastructure; but we also each know a bunch of amazing people! And in my opinion, at the end of the day, it’s the people we share this project with and the people that get involved that will make the difference!  And so far, we’ve been able to attract some tremendously talented and insightful volunteers that are helping us take StreetMeals to the next level and towards some very promising and important long-term goals.

When we first began to plan this project a few months ago we had some solid ideas about what we hoped to accomplish, and what we felt could actually be achieved, but now that we are out there in the guts of this thing, we’re realizing that if you really want to affect change in this arena you have to get out there and listen first, plan second.

One of the most surprising things we have learned so far is that all of the people surviving on the streets that we have fed have homes.  

I really thought at the beginning of this project that most of the people I saw out on the streets all day had nowhere to go at night except for a cramped shelter or grungy hostel; moreover, I had the impression that the city, and the province of BC, was not working hard enough to create affordable housing and support programs for people surviving on the streets in Vancouver.  It turns out, after doing a little research via the BC Provincial Housing Strategy and the final report from the 2010 Homeless Count, that I was incorrect, a bit.

The city and the province are indeed enjoying some success with their programs and do in fact have a very promising plan in place to mitigate homelessness and provide support.  But I can’t help but feel something is still missing; especially after speaking directly with the people using these programs and services on a daily basis.  There appears to be a subtle disconnection between how the housing programs and the social support services integrate with each other.  At some point along the chain of implementation for these services and programs a solution is not presenting itself at the individual level and I suspect that at least part of the problem is that too many resources are being used to give people fish and not enough are begin used to teach fishing.

We’re looking into all this as we go, so we still have a lot to learn and explore, but we know one thing for sure: want to use StreetMeals to shed some light on the dynamics between the housing programs and the social support serves.  Hopefully we’ll be able to generate some simple but effective ideas to take to the City of Vancouver for action!

It’s great to live in an age where change is not only possible but flourishing!

This morning I watched one of my favourite TedTalks, again, by Katherine Fuller.  She’s an author, teacher, speaker and also President of the Monitor Institute, an organization pioneering breakthrough next practices in how complex social problems are framed, funded and ultimately solved.   During this TedTalk, Katherine paints a picture for the future of philanthropy and explores how regular people can achieve amazing things!

We’re approaching a new social zeitgeist—Katherine calls it the social singularity: all the traditional barriers to change, charity and collaboration are breaking down—and it’s an exciting time to be peering over the precipice of new possibilities from the event horizon!

Enjoy!

Andrew G

Looking forward to Sunday and looking back at last week!

Hi,

Andrew here:

We’re heading out again tomorrow and this time we’re making omelettes!

Last Saturday (Aug.6th) was a very positive learning experience for us and so I wanted to share some of the pics and things we learned with you before we head out again!

For me, the day began at 7am as I quickly popped into JJ Bean for a coffee and a muffin (my fav is the the very berry!).  On my way into the coffee shop I noticed someone sleeping outside on the sidewalk just down the street.

He had just turned over and fixed his jacket so I knew he was awake; I went over and introduced myself to ask if he wanted a coffee and something to eat.

His name was Don.  He likes his coffee dark with sugar.  After returning with a very berry muffin and a hot coffee we had a quick chat, I shared a little about StreetMeals and I asked if he had any advice or insight into how the issue of homelessness and poverty could be addressed more effectively here in Vancouver.

Don thought for a bit and said that, “they should keep the shelters and food open more so that the people can get things they need when they need’em.”

Makes sense to me.

I think it’s a good idea to take time to hear what people on the street have to say about how the current social services and support programs can be improved and so moving forward I want to use a part of the StreetMeals platform to share their suggestions and ideas.  A few weeks back, Dino and I were out in the DTES scouting locations and we spoke with a man living on the street named Paul.  We asked him what he thought could be done to improve things in the DTES and Paul calmly suggested the answer was simple,

“ …take out all the bars and smash all the pipes!” 

Can’t argue with that!

After chatting with Don for a bit, I continued on my way downtown to meet up with Dino and prepare everything for StreetMeals.  As I was driving I got a call from Dino’s friend Badr (on my Bluetooth, don’t worry!) that we was on his way to join us.  What a great surprise!  Dino has an amazing ability to bring people together!  He had sent Badr a FaceBook message the night before about what he was doing and asked if he was interested in coming out to give it a try.  Badr (who I found out later had volunteered in the past for other urban social projects in San Francisco) was excited at the opportunity to help out a friend and have some fun doing something positive!

That’s the cool thing about this project, we have an opportunity to get our friends involved in something we are passionate about, it’s way better than just “hanging out” and watching TV.  Everybody experiences something new and something positive gets done in the community!  Dino just put out the notice out on FaceBook and that was it!

And the cool thing is every week more and more people are getting interested and asking questions about StreetMeals.  We’re fortunate enough to each know a bunch of talented passionate individuals and they all know other passionate and talented individuals.   Each of them are exploring new ways to leverage their personal, social and technological resources to make things happen for StreetMeals.

Many of our most recent volunteers are now filling important roles for the project.  By leveraging his resources intelligently Dino has already been able to bring more than six volunteers on board that are helping us with food, logistical support and creative talents like photography and editing.  StreetMeals is a synergy of talents working together to do something good for people in need around them and it’s awesome to be a part of!

Just before heading into Dino’s apartment on Albernie street, I took a quick look around Albernie for Mark (a person I met the day prior who was out on the streets and interested in participating in our project) but he wasn’t where we had agreed to meet.  Luckily for us, but sadly for our city, all I had to do was turn my head in the other direction to find another person surviving on the streets panhandling.

He was hunched over on a yellow milk crate out front of the 7-11 on Thurlow asking people for change.  I went over and introduced myself and asked if he was hungry.  His name was James and after sharing a little bit about StreetMeals he agreed to wait while I ran upstairs to get the cooking gear and Dino.

We were back outside within about 20min, with Badr too, and we set up shop in the alley behind the 7-11.

Steak, eggs, whole wheat toast and orange juice were on the menu and James was very grateful for and surprised by the meal.

He didn’t want to be on camera so Badr kept the video camera focused on the cooking, and Dino and me.  While things were heating up I asked James what his thoughts were regarding our project.  He was grateful but I have to admit he was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing and I think a bit confused.  I’m not sure he understood or even cared about what it was all about, but it was nice to make a connection, and gain some insight, while doing something positive for his day.

And it’s amazing what you’ll see and who you’ll run into while you are out there doing something positive in the community.  We were fortunate enough to catch one of the residences from a co-op building behind where we were cooking, quietly pass along some bottles in a bag to James while he was eating in the alley.

We were all naturally very curious as the transaction between he and James was smooth enough that it looked like a regular thing.  We introduced ourselves and shared a little about what we were doing.  His name was Fraser and after a short chat we learned that he’s been working with and providing ad hoc support for people surviving on the streets for years (more about Fraser and the help he has offered us in a future blog!).

After Fraser returned home, and just as James was finishing up his last sip of orange juice, a group of three guys with rough looking and overloaded backpacks walked up and sat across from us in the alley.  We still had lots of food to cook so I extended an invitation to them. At first they were all a little reluctant but the idea of steak and eggs was just too good a proposition to turn down.

As we began setting up and preparing, Derek, Mike and Brutus sat hunched over, arms crossed, up against the wall not really engaging eye contact with us; but once the steaks hit the grill and the sizzle filled the air, something interesting happened: all three of them sat up and lifted their heads higher to meet our eyes.  When they spoke to us they sustained eye contact and suddenly we were just a bunch of guys chatting around the grill on a sunny Saturday.  It was great!  And it was somethings that both Badr and I hadn’t experienced before in past volunteer gigs.  That day we made a connection and everyone for a little while was equal and enjoying life.

I find that when you’re working in a kitchen as a volunteer and cooking meals, you are still very disconnected from the people you are serving.  You are on one side of the counter and the person from the street is on the other side, and it stays that way, bowl after bowl, cup of coffee, after cup of coffee.  But when we were out there cooking for them, engaging them, sustaining eye contact with them, sharing a laugh with them, asking questions and more importantly listening to them it’s was a totally different dynamic.   It’s awesome to be a part of and I am looking forward to having an opportunity to make more connections in the neighborhood tomorrow!

One thing I am learning to appreciate more and more is that when you take the time to listen you can’t help but learn something new!  During our conversation with Brutus towards the end of the meal, he really helped illuminate the local reality people on the streets in Vancouver.  He said that there was in fact plenty of food in the DTES and that if we wanted to help hungry people we should stick to the areas on the urban periphery and in the downtown core.  That’s where the people on the street waste away hungry all day.

And it’s true.  There are very few support services downtown where many from the DTES come to panhandle and to escape for a bit.  It’s funny how getting out in the thick of things can change your persepective: my first thought when I think about helping people on the streets always begins with a mental picture of the DTES, but really those most in need were right in front of me in Dino’s area and around where I work downtown.

So we’ll be visiting the locations on Nelson street and the downtown core that Brutus suggested tomorrow and I look forward to sharing an update and pics with you soon!

Andrew G

Crazy cool idea! Before you speak: T.H.I.N.K.

Hi,

Here’s another crazy cool idea!  All too often we hear the phrase, “before you speak, think” but what does that mean, really?

Well, here’s a colourfully concise and conscientious way to remember what “think” can mean for you!

‘nough said!

Andrew G

Opening my eyes for someone in need around me!

Hi,

Andrew here:

Just wanted to quickly share a cool idea I had Friday night before we went out to collect B-roll in the DTES.  Dino, Chris (our volunteer camera guy) and I had stopped by la taqueria for a bite to eat and to say “hi” (Dino is friends with the owner there and has leveraged his personal resources to work out an arrangement to collect food to help facilitate our StreetMeals projects).  Unfortunately the owner wasn’t in but we did all enjoy a great meal!

While we were walking into the restaurant I noticed a person sitting near the entrance who had a very hungry look in his eyes; so as I was ordering I couldn’t help thinking it would be a great idea if I introduced myself and shared some of my meal with him, because after all the food was awesome and the portions were generous!

I am fortunate enough to have a job and enough disposable income to enjoy eating out in Vancouver a few times a week.  And now that I’m working on the StreetMeals project and learning to open my eyes to those in need around me, I want to dine-out in a more creative, considerate and communal way.

So moving forward from Friday (Aug. 5th) I’ve set a challenge for myself:  every time I’m out enjoying a meal in one of the many amazing restaurants here in Vancouver, and I see someone outside on the street that either looks hungry or asks for assistance, I will get a take-away bag and donate 25% of my meal.  The portions are often so large anyway that I will be doing myself a favour too!

Don’t forget the napkins!

Once we finished I went outside and found that he had moved up the street a bit.  I introduced myself, shared the food and made a connection.  His name was Elliott.  It was fun and easy and I look forward to sharing again soon!  From there we all headed out into the warm Friday night breezes to begin gathering our B-roll…

Andrew G

We came, we saw, we learned something Friday night in the DTES…

Hi,

Andrew here:

I love learning things.  And what I’m finding is that when you’re creating things you learn a lot!  This past weekend I learned that you have to get out there and fumble around a bit before you find out what you really need to know. 

It reminded me of an old samurai maxim I ran across awhile back: “to know and to act are one and the same”.

On Friday evening (August 5th) Dino, Chris and I went out to the Downtown Eastside (DTES) to collect some B-roll for the StreetMeals documentary.    I had also hoped to speak with some of the people there about their experience with the social programs and services in that area, but things did not go according to plan.

Now, to be fair to Chris in all this, he did warn us before we even crossed Cambie street that engagement with people in the DTES on Friday night was not a good idea.  And I must admit that from the moment we crossed Abbott street, even I, who was initially vexed by his apparent negativity, began to get the feeling that we shouldn’t be there and more to the point, we weren’t welcome—AT ALL!

It was after all, Friday night which was and is the crescendo for conspicuous drug use and drug dealing.  And in retrospect, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with myself it wasn’t apparent to me that strolling around the DTES on a Friday night with a camera in hand and sandals on would not be a good idea. 

But, we continued on, despite Chris’s remonstrations, getting B-roll and looking for a suitable place to park, get out and start chatting with the locals.  The thing that threw me off while we were driving around was the staring.  The long, snarly, almost sinister stares we received as we drove by people was the unnerving part about the whole experience for me.  It felt as though everyone seemed to be aware of the outside presence (us), and I mean everyone!

Even people way up on their balconies in apartment buildings were leaning over their railings and looking at us.  I’ve worked in that area many times over the past two years but now that I think about it, it was always during the daytime and mainly on a weekday.  But  on a Friday night things are much different and I gained some experience and insight about the DTES that I wasn’t able to appreciate before that night.

The first insight pertained to the connectivity of the DTES community; this insight came in the form of an echo from another place I had been, only at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Have you ever been out in a quiet patch of forest and had the overwhelming sensation that everything around you was acutely aware of your presence: the trees, the breeze, the bugs and the birds, all watching and sensing your movement.  It’s a very humbling, unifying and enlightening experience, quite the opposite from being in an urban environment.

It’s weird, I spend a lot of time in Vancouver and wherever I am downtown I know that no one around me really cares much who I am or what I am doing there.  Everyone is just running about, doing their thing, not at all interested in me particularly; and this experience has been the much the same for me in almost every other major city I’ve visited.  It’s funny, people in cities, despite the fact that they live in such close proximity to one another, are very much disconnected from one another and care very little about the business of others around them.  But in the poorer neighbourhoods of cities I have been to I find it’s the exact opposite.

In these places, people appear to have more time to sit and watch.  They also appear to be more involved with their neighbours and much more interested in the people passing by them.  Especially when those people aren’t from around there!

It’s a strange form of community but it is a community, and despite the fact that on Friday it was a bit unnerving given the context, it is nice to see that this kind of camaraderie is still alive and thriving in our city and in our societies!

It does force us to re-think our strategy a bit though; especially in terms of the areas we want to engage.  I am beginning to see that when it comes to working with people on the street, the DTES is not the only, or even the best place to start (more on that in an up-coming blog about what we learned while preparing StreetMeals on Saturday morning)  This brings me to another insight I gained after thinking about what happened this weekend:  you really do have to choose your battles carefully.

This experience in the DTES on Friday helped us realize that the purpose of this project isn’t to necessarily address or to solve the problem of homelessness and privation in the DTES and greater Vancouver; the purpose of StreetMeals is to show how fun and rewarding it can be to get out there in your community, leveraging your resources purposefully to affect positive change for those in need around you; and to hopefully begin to learn something about the issues and people around us.  We’re learning that there are a lot of people in the downtown core, especially around Dino’s apartment on Albernie street, that need support and a smile from the people that pass them by on the street corner everyday.  It’s about visibility for the people on the street and a meaningful exchange with people in their local area.

To be honest, as much as I would like to address and/or ameliorate the social issues in the DTES, I feel, at least for now, it is best to leave that area to the professionals and to the organizations that have already spent years securing in-roads and building trust with the people that live there.  As young, independent individuals, who really have no connection to the area, I believe it’s best if we to stick to our mission and apply ourselves efficiently in order to ensure that this project is effective for the long-term.

Andrew G

Crazy Cool Idea! This is your life…

Hi,

Here’s a crazy cool idea I ran across this afternoon–had to share it, super inspiring!

 

Andrew G

We’re heading out again this weekend: filming and feedings in Vancouver and DTES

Hi Everyone,

Andrew here:

Looks like an awesome weekend is ahead of us! 

Great weather is (supposed to be) on the horizon and the StreetMeals production team will be in full swing with lots of filming, interviews and feedings planned for tonight, tomorrow morning and Sunday.  We’ll be mostly in the downtown core of Vancouver and the DTES this weekend; here’s a map and some bullet points from the production plan so you can get a better sense of where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing:

  • Friday Night: Shooting sites for B-roll in the downtown core (Albernie, Bute and Thurlow area)
  • Friday Night: Interviews and B-roll in the DTES (East Hastings and Dunlevy Ave. area)
  • Saturday: Cooking and Interview with Mark (our new street friend) in the morning at Bute and Albernie.
  • Sunday: More interviews and B-roll in the DTES (all along East Hastings, from Cambie down to Heatley Ave.) and we will also be bringing our cooking gear with us in case a good opportunity presents itself.

I gotta say, I’m really enjoying this aspect of the project.  The production stage is definitely the most fun so far and I look forward to sharing some of our footage and pics with you all next week.

Stay tuned!

Andrew G