231. Some observations on working at a homeless shelter.

Id like to take a moment to write about some observations from working within the shelter. Something that I have noticed is that the way this particular institution is set up and run is defiantly ineffective and convoluted, I mean it is basically just a holding tank for people to be shuffled around in. I hear that the other shelters in this city are similar if not worse. Those with good behavior can hope to land a room on the main floor and those with a particular situation can even gain a low income rental housing upstairs. Now none of this actually address’s the fundamental issues of why these people are in this situation, there are all kinds really, those coming from a background of drugs, from crime, from mental disorders, job loss, unforeseen circumstances. So it can act as a safety net to some for sure and some require it, but along with that there is definitely some that have placed themselves there and have refused to leave or believe that they are owed. And to some degree they are correct we as society own it to ourselves to make sure there is no one that is left wanting for a dignified life. There is a feedback loop that I can clearly see within this social service here in Canada, where some policies are made according and in response to particular behavior that is observed, and I am assuming that this particular model is the result of years on years of this particular reactive type modeling. But there seems to be a fundamental breakdown between some of the shelter staff and the people using the service, some of the staff themselves have come from a place of addictions, and some do not, so there is a range of predispositions about who, which, and what the homeless mean to them. and although on both ends of the equation there seems to be beings that really have no place being there, ultimately the system is what is dictating the entire reaction of having shelters at all. The way things are set up within society and economics make the only resources available, the equivalence of falling into poverty basically a trap, housing is hard to find when the landlords will not rent to those on welfare or disability. And a job is hard to get when you have no fixed address. And if you manage to get a job you are penalize on your welfare so the incentive to even work is lessened for some. I have seen how many just live in lives of hopelessness and frustration. And this frustration leads to careless choices, sometimes it gets them kicked out of the shelter, because they pushed that line of tested policy restrictions. So the support really isn’t there, the shelter is labeled as a “harm reduction” model which means that they do not have to stop using drugs to stay there and they are not kicked out if they are high/drunk in the shelter, only if you are seen using or selling drugs. The rules are very relaxed in general and there is a running joke with the staff that this is the Hilton of shelters. Overall though there is little consequence or incentive for people to change at this shelter. Mainly what I have noticed is that the focus is placed on providing beds, and food, and not really much in the way of real support and the options to better oneself and break out of the cycle is minimal, perhaps I am generalizing, and a better way to say it would be that the environment makes it extremely difficult to make progress since it is a very individually based platform for success, where one person can be totally fine and doing well, staying sober on the road to recovery, and one incident with another being in the shelter or the staff, sets them off and before you know it they are spiraling out of control. Tensions can run high. Now not to say that some are not able to make it out of the trap, there are success stories, but from my observation this is really like a moderate minority at best. The main thing that I have noticed is that while the staff working there are in general cool people with some compassion and in most cases are genuinely looking to provide support for the people they serve, some are ill equipped, others are held in behind restrictive policies, and some are coming from a place of unintended enabling. The main point within the whole picture is that it is run like a business, for profit to a few. This may be speculation, but I was told by the staff that the particular branch of shelters that I work within was started by a being that that was initially homeless and drug addicted, she just retired a millionaire. That’s well and good, and perhaps they earned it by setting this all up and fair trade for effort in this system currently, but what I am getting at in this point is how the system of “support” is really lying over a fundamentally for profit systemic institution. In a documentary about homelessness in Vancouver the figure was mentioned that it costs around $74,000 to the city per homeless person per year, this includes medical costs and policing costs. That’s more then double what I make working full time at the shelter, so obviously it is big business for some and it would be in their interest to design the system with as many breaks and flaws as possible while still maintaining the air of support for the people in the most vulnerable position in society, making it seem like like it may work but really placing blocks in the way to keep people on the streets. The industry of poverty.
I am not implying that those staying in the shelter are exempt from responsibility, we all make choices in life and are responsible for those choices, and while for some staying in the shelter it really is a safety net, they hit a string of unfortunate events and are left homeless, but these people usually are not there for long and do not show up again, they utilize the resource and move on. Then there are those that do not seem to be able or want to take the initiative to move themselves out of the homeless life. So yes there is responsibility for the individual to stand up within oneself and move oneself to a better position. But in this we as a society can be doing a whole lot more to assist and support this particular sector of society. Currently the largest contributing factor within this problem as I can see is simply a lack of money. The amount of money provided for someone on the welfare system is just not enough to be able to support someone in living a decent dignified life. And psychologically the ramifications of this can be easily imagined, despair, hopelessness, anger, fear, a sense of confinement and boredom with the lack of being able to do something. I have had many people come and volunteer in the kitchen simply out of boredom, there is nothing to do at the shelter other then watch the TV in the lounge, smoke, or do drugs and drink. As far as I can tell the amount of social programs that are offered are extremely limited. So the beings lash out often, and the natural response to this is to kick out the being due to policy infringement, which I assume is the grounds for more intensive policy development. So it is simply a tightening noose type scenario that is a by product of our current economic model.
So for one the issue of money really needs to be looked at within our current system where a basic income for all would defiantly go a long way in reducing the way people experience themselves within the homeless and poverty sector of society. I can clearly see now how much rides on just that one point. It just makes sense as well, its just flat out cheaper to just give these people a decent life, instead of labeling everyone off the bat as being lazy because the do not want to work for their money. I can say for certain that if I were to get a basic income I would not stop working, although I know that I do not want to work as much, I would prefer to have time to pursue, expand, and contribute myself in many other areas and would not have to spend most of my time slaving away for 40 hours a week just to pay bills and such. So in a progressively shrinking job market where the sheer amount of jobs is shrinking due to technological automation this paradigm that people should stop being lazy and get a job its really a outdated viewpoint, this is just where things are going. I would rather automate all the jobs that are not required to be done by humans and instead focus our efforts on doing and creating things that are of real value to the planet, the animals, and us, establishing the role of stewards of the Earth. So if everyone had a basic income were there was enough to live on there would not be this great pressure for myself as well as everyone else to work away or lives we could work less and more of us could work because the hours would open up for other people. As well as allowing other beings the opportunity to develop new and innovative arenas of business further expanding the jobs market, we essentially are current working our way into stagnation, working our way to the global grave.
Bringing me to the second point where this change really can happen and take place if each one of us stand up beginning with myself first where I can break down my own ego and tendencies to regard others as separate from myself, and actually stand beside all the others in my world regardless of where they are and what they are struggling with. I can work on myself to the extent where I can support another being with a common sense approach as well as providing solutions that have worked for myself. So sharing my experiences is a cool experience and one that I can see that the current system of institutions could really use. Instead of shoving all these people into a can and expecting them to behave or else, there could be a more holistic approach to the process of being in a shelter, where the focus is on activities that are done together, like a community gardening program, and regular discussion circles to find out what it is the beings could come up with to find solutions for there problems, maybe even a weekly jam. Most people I can see want to better themselves and their lives, but there has been a breakdown of the sense of brother and sisterhood within this particular group of people where the judgment is always the other guy is lazy. So fundamentally there could be a platform to reestablish the ability for beings moving through the homeless system to find actual support rather then the just bare basics of a bed and a meal. I cannot see it changing anytime soon since this ideology of us and them is strongly ingrained in the minds of both sides, but it working here has really shown me a lot about the current state of this particular section of society and my relationship to it, so it is something for me to work on within myself as well, as seeing the potential for change in this institution.

Thanks for reading.


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