“We don’t tell anyone you are in a shelter” – said by a family member.
“Dude! Don’t tell the manager you are in a shelter!” – said by a resident letting me know of an opening at his place of work.
“There’s no need to mention the shelter.” – said by an absolutely amazing staffer at the House Of Friendship who is helping me with my job search.
If I had to count the number of times people told me never to mention that I am in a shelter, I’d need to borrow someone else’s fingers.
The number of times isn’t what astounds me, however. It’s being told I shouldn’t disclose that in the first place.
Why shouldn’t I? Since when was it a crime to be homeless? Since when was it taboo to bring it up?
Wait a minute. Hold that thought.
There was a time not long ago where no one talked about domestic assault. Don’t bring up the fact your husband hits you, a battered woman is told. Don’t call the police for something that is nothing more than marital disagreement. Don’t embarrass your husband by making a scene when he starts to berate you in public. You were being put in your place. A good wife listens no matter what.
Same thing with child abuse. You are not being abused, you deserved it. If you weren’t such a bad seed, you wouldn’t have the strap taken to you. If you tell anyone about what Daddy or Mommy did to you, you’ll bring shame to the entire family. Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister? I wish I never had you.
It was taboo to talk about those issues and nothing was done about them until we actually started to talk. Domestic assault is no longer simply a marital strife, it’s a crime and punishable by jail time. Same with child abuse. You can’t beat your kid and call it discipline. You try it today, you lose your kid and go to jail.
Now we have the same thing being said about homelessness. If I’m homeless, it must be my fault. There must be something wrong with me: I don’t want to work. Why can’t I be like other people and just get a job? I mean, jobs are lying all over the place. All I have to do is get off my lazy butt and get a job because they are just…everywhere.
Don’t tell people you are homeless. You don’t want people to know you’re a maladjusted person.
Okay then, so if there is something wrong with me, wouldn’t anyone want to see me get better? If so, how will I get help in order to get better? I’m being told I’m not allowed to bring up the fact there’s something wrong with me. How exactly does this get fixed it we keep it a secret?
You know you are in deep trouble when you reach a point in your life you never thought you’d reach.
In my case, it’s a list of points:
Unable To Work.
Unable To Walk.
At least I lived a crime-free life and am still well enough to walk.
The unemployment point was something I was able to get my head around for two reasons: it was not my fault for not finding work and at least I found some gigs to keep me going.
The homeless point? You have no place to stay. No one wants you to stay with them. That’s something you can’t make sense of. Ever.
Homelessness brings one of three outcomes: you either bounce back and return to self-reliance, you bounce back but later relapse, or you never bounce back.
I’m paying close attention to the latter two. Very close attention. According to an article in the Toronto Star in 2016, homeless people in Toronto are dying at a rate of more than two per week on average. In reports linked by the Homeless Hub, “people experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty die at increased rates compared to housed people and suffer from illnesses at a higher rate, experience different illnesses (such as TB) and die at a younger age. There is also an increased chance of death through violent means.”
This is not melodramatics. You’ve read my previous post on how things can potentially become dangerous while living in a shelter. That example won’t be the last time, either.
I have never been closer to an early death in my life than I am right now. I’m not talking about my plans to request MAID if I end up out on the streets permanently and cannot handle the hardship that would bring. I’m talking about dying from being in a state of vulnerability brought by homelessness and chronic unemployment.
With this realization fresh in my mind, I felt it was time to mend damaged relationships and make peace with those who were hurt by my situation. I asked those people to talk with me. I also accepted offers from those who made the first move.
I wasn’t trying to make things the way it used to be. That’s foolish thinking. Life is not a TV or movie where a happy ending always happens. Some things take time to heal.
It’s also possible some things can’t be healed. That doesn’t mean a civil relationship can’t be reached.
When the meetings did happen — whether over dinner, coffee, or a Skype connection — the past events that caused the divergence of relations were never brought up. We instead caught up on what’s been going on and talked about things happening in the news. We let the familiarity of talking carry things the way a river carries a canoe.
Each of these meetings would then end with a hug, a handshake, a promise to keep in touch, or a wish that things will work out for me.
It’s important that I do this. I want a conclusion to these relationships that didn’t end with things left unsaid.
Not everyone has met with me, however. I still have one friend I asked through FaceBook and Email to contact me. So far she has not. I hope one day she will so we can talk.
Since I’ve announced on my blog that I was in the House of Friendship men’s shelter, I’ve been asked in a private message a few times what it’s like to live in a shelter.
That’s not an easy answer to give. It depends on what shelter you are in, since all shelters are NOT created equal. Some shelters are nothing more than a gymnasium or distribution centre size room where everyone sleeps in their own bed with a tote box nearby. On the other hand, The House of Friendship has rooms that hold between 4 and 6 men to sleep in, gives breakfast and dinner, and provides excellent services for obtaining affordable housing and strategy planning to help men get out of the shelter and (where necessary) off the booze and drugs.
Each of the men at the shelter have their own story of how they ended up here.
Some are like myself: they are well-behaved members of society who through no fault of their own lost the ability to keep paying the rent or mortgage. Since they have no place to go they end up homeless. We have one young man with a lovely wife and daughter in the Philippines and is a real go getter and a hard worker with a lot of confidence. On paper this guy should NOT be here, yet here he is. Like me.
Next we have those who are battling drug or alcohol addictions, served time, suffer from a mental illness, have serious anger management issues, or are vexed by something else that prevents them from holding down a job and having a roof over their heads. I don’t judge them: they are human beings like me who are in need of help and deserve just as much help as I do.
Having said this, this does not mean everyone is safe to be around.
Those who suffer mental illness or have anger management problems can become a danger to the wonderful staff at the House of Friendship. It can also introduce a potentially unsafe environment for the residents here.
It did for me two days ago as of this date of writing this blog post.
We had a resident (I’ll call him Rex) arrive to share the room I was in with the other guys. The first moment I saw him I knew there was something VERY off about him. He looked like he was running on autopilot most of the time, and for those few times Rex was “there” he looked at you with the face of a bulldog. Every night he would stand almost immobile for 10 minutes by the side of his bed before climbing into it.
Before I continue, I learned a few things about living in a shelter. One was to never maintain eye contact with anyone for more than a second lest you set that person off. Another was to never escalate an argument with another resident even if the resident started it. As one staffer said, “Just ignore it and walk away”.
That’s easier said than done. As I said, Rex shared a room with me, so it is hard not firing back a retort or walk away when he cusses at me me and two of the other guys sharing my room.
Or when he calls us, “three fucking faggots”.
Or when he accuses us of having a circle-jerk session in the middle of the night.
Yeah. That brutal, yet I still ignored it. It was tough ignoring him but it was not worth getting into fist-fights over, or reporting to the staff.
A few days later and after coming downstairs from my room, I saw Rex yelling at a staff member about something . She was trying to calm him down, warning him to restrain himself. He stopped berating the staffer, looked at me, then yelled, “WHY DON’T YOU ASK HIM!?”. He then followed up with a “WHY DON’T YOU ASK THIS GUY!?” after seeing one of the three roommates I mentioned before turn the corner.
I politely asked what this was about and he threatened to punch my teeth in and that it was worth going to jail to get rid of me.
You know, as in killing me.
Fortunately the staffer heard all that and told him to take a walk to cool off. He screamed that he was raped as a child by his father — a pretty public disclosure to make — then stormed off.
I was pretty shaken. I swear I saw skulls in his eyes. His face was contorted in a way that told me he was pretty serious about his threat. I told the staffer that I wanted him out of my room.
After I helped clean up after dinner, another staffer and a really great guy told me a meeting will be held about Rex’s behaviour. From this meeting, a decision will be made whether or not he will remain at the shelter. I was asked if I felt unsafe with Rex in the shelter. I was very clear in my answer: I not only felt unsafe I was scared.
Rex was out the door the same night. Things settled down in my room for the moment but it does bring up a point I want to talk a bit about.
I take mental illness very seriously. I think anyone suffering from mental illness deserves fully funded care to help get a handle on it and become contributing members of society again.
Having said this, I don’t think a shelter is a place for the mentally ill. The staff, bless them for being there, are not trained to be asylum staff. The caseworkers each of us are assigned to are not professional psychologists or psychotherapists. This is not their job.
In Canada, every individual has the right to refuse treatment for mental illness unless he or she is seen to be a danger to him- or herself or to others, or at risk of serious physical impairment due to a mental health problem. This is an important right that protects us from misdiagnosis that could savagely curtail our freedoms. Still, everything has a place, and the mentally ill have no business being in a shelter.
They should instead be in a hospital getting the medical care they deserve, so the homeless can get the social assistance they deserve without interruption.
This is one of the best example I’ve found of how job descriptions change through task compression and downsizing in this Age Of Austerity.
My remarks are in red.
Client Service Administrator HearingLife Canada – Kitchener, ON
HearingLife Canada, which includes ListenUP! Canada, and National Affiliated Providers, is the largest provider of hearing healthcare service in Canada. Working in unison with the National Campaign for Better Hearing’s awareness campaign (campaignforbetterhearing.org), our core philosophy is to “do what is best for the client” while increasing awareness of the effects of hearing loss and the benefits of hearing devices.
Reports to: Regional Manager
Role: The Client Service Administrator (CSA) is the first point of contact for most of our clients and is responsible for providing superior client care. The CSA is also responsible for providing administrative support to Hearing Professionals (HPs) within the clinic and to head office.
Customer Service(This used to be the job of a secretary) – first point of contact for our clients and to provide them with the best customer service in the industry:
Answering the telephone
Answering client queries
Appointments(This used to be the job of a clinic support administrator) – manage our client appointments and schedule the HP’s appointments:
Maintaining clinician’s schedules
Triaging all appointments
Changing appointments to accommodate client and clinic needs
Using telephone pathway to book initial client appointments
Clinic Appearance(This used to be the job of a custodian) – responsible for the general maintenance of our clinics so that they are a first class hearing healthcare centre:
Daily light cleaning and tidying as needed
Tidying and organizing Assistive Listening Device (ALD) displays and client waiting area
Maintaining and ordering office and clinic supplies
Hearing Professional and Administrative Support (this appears to be a mashup of warehouse worker, client services administrator (pre-Great Recession era), and technical support for the hearing aids!) –provide administrative support for the HPs in their respective clinic(s) as well as act as an office administrator for the Hearing Healthcare Centre (HHC):
Opening and closing the HHC
Registering all new clients
Maintaining all paper files including creating, organizing, filing and destroying
Shipping and receiving
Tracking all orders through administration system and shipping log
Preparing orders for fittings
Assisting with local events as needed
Understanding and applying all promotions
Understanding and selling all ALDs
Providing basic hearing aid maintenance including cleaning/checks and tubing changes
Accounting and Third Party Insurance Support(This used to be the job of an accounts receivable clerk) – responsible for processing all sales and tracking all outstanding balances and receivables and third party insurance payments which includes each of the following:
Assisting with client estimates
Counting and reporting opening and closing cash float
Processing all payments; cash, cheque, post-dated cheques, credit card and debit card
Completing daily bank deposit slip completing physical deposit
Completing daily sales reconciliation on time and accurately
Completing monthly inventory and accounting controls
Understanding Debits and Credits
Having working to expert knowledge of all third-party insurance programs
Completing and submitting all third-party insurance forms
Following up on all outstanding third party claims
The question begs to be asked: will this candidate be paid the equivalent salary sum of the listed jobs, or be paid the salary of a Client Services Administrator?
“You know, if you weren’t so hostile towards employment assistance centers, you would be working right now. Instead, you are crying about your unemployment and homelessness on your blog”
-from troll (who won’t be named) after watching a video of mine on YouTube.
Comments like the above just goes to show how much some individuals understand the purpose of employment assistance centres and the causes of unemployment. To correct the above individual, employment centres do not find you a job. They help you find a job. There’s a difference: I have my social network (most of which is in Toronto and very large) helping me find a job, but it does not mean they will get me a job. I discuss what does determine success in getting a job in a previous post.
In addition, criticizing how badly our government serves us does not (and should not) cause unemployment. In fact, speaking one’s mind is a fundamental right in Canada. To think one has to give up that right in order to find work would be appalling.
Believe me, there is plenty to criticize about government services, and it is no wonder some people who have to deal with the agents of government get pissed off.
I’m at the House of Friendship (a men’s shelter) at the moment and my caseworker and I are trying to get me a place through community housing. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare. In addition to a lengthy waiting list, here’s a list of some of the things I must provide in addition to my filled out application which was 13 pages long:
If your eyes are glazing over just from reading this document, that’s fine. My mind nearly shut down trying to read through this list.
It gets worse. Take a look at the Employment Related Income and Self-Employment Income sections. Community Housing will only accept income sources that generate the following documents above. This means any Craigslist and Kijiji ad jobs that I have done cannot be submitted as valid income. They don’t generate a pay stub. They don’t require a Statement of Business form. They do not require a Employment Verification Form.
I have income that has to be declared….yet does not count.
I tried to find a compromise with my contact at the Region of Waterloo Community Centre and she was pretty point blank in her Email reply.
“Since rent for Community Housing is based on your household’s income, you will not be offered housing until you can prove you have a source of income as stated in the ‘Guide to Applying for Community Housing’.”
In other words, if I can’t prove the income, I’m really not working. If I am not working, I am not eligible for housing assistance, even though I am in need of housing assistance because
(a) I am in a shelter (because I cannot afford a place to stay) and
(b) my shelter caseworker has elevated my need for housing to emergency status.
This also means I can’t transition from the shelter without community housing. This is REALLY bad: shelters only house people temporarily. I could be told to go after a set period of time without a place to go to.
The maddening thing about all of this is the inconsistency across government services. I pay taxes on any income I generate through Kijiji and Craigslist jobs by simply printing off the Emails that contain both the amount and the name of the person I worked for and give them to my tax preparer. I can’t do the same thing for community housing. Why? Why is it allowed for one aspect of government but not another?
Could it be because when it comes to taking tax revenues from me, it’s not a problem, but when I ask for assistance that takes tax revenue from the government, it’s a different story?
All right then, how about this: if only income sources that come from “real jobs” (my quotes) are allowed, why not include in the mechanics of obtaining community housing the needed income that does generate these documents?
In other words, let’s stop with the BS that is employment assistance and get on with the “real job” (pun most definitely intended) of employment placement for the homeless.
“Marvelous technology is at our disposal, and instead of reaching up to new heights, we’re gonna see how far down we can go! How deep into the muck we can immerse ourselves! What do you wanna talk about, hm? Baseball scores? Your pet? Orgasms? You’re pathetic. I despise each and every one of you. You’ve got nothing, absolutely nothing. No brains, no power, no future, no hope, no God.”
Quote from the movie “Talk Radio” (1988)
Being a resident at the House of Friendship — a shelter for men for those of you new to my blog and also who are not familiar with the Region of Waterloo — has at times invoked moments of philosophical reflection.
I was never a philosophical thinker. I pride myself in being a man of logic and fact. I had faith that technology was a tool for solving the world’s problems and paving a golden path to a brighter better future for all.
Recently, I’ve found that faith has been shaken.
I’m writing this while sitting on my bed in a shared room with three other guys. I am unable to post this until I get access to a WiFi connection that is only available to me through libraries, coffee shops and bus terminals because I cannot find work and afford my own Internet connection, let alone pay my own rent.
This same marvelous technology has helped us understand the intricacies of the human brain from both a physiological and psychological perspective, yet I see no help en route for the men I sit with at dinner time who suffer from either anger management issues, addiction or dementia.
It has increased the standard of living, yet that increase is not uniform. Some of us here might never improve our situation, not from lack of trying but from lack of opportunity.
It provides the means for increased productivity in the workplace, yet it destroys the worklife balance of every employee, some of whom might burn out and end up here.
It allows for the design of houses that are bigger, warmer, faster to construct, safer to build…yet not affordable for everyone. I find it astonishing that we price a basic need — shelter from the elements — like a luxury item.
It grants us the power to reach across political boundaries to communicate what should be important issues — poverty, homelessness, unemployment — yet what’s trending on social media as of this writing is the death of Tom Petty, President Trump tweeting, the Equifax security breach, quarterback Derek Carr’s transverse back fracture, and Prince Harry sneaking off to kiss actress Meghan Markle in private.
I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of being overly cynical when I say that humanity has become a shallow selfish species. The proof is in the pudding, however.
People have become so fixated on their Internet-capable devices that they have forgotten there is a world around them, a world full of pain, disparity, and hardship. Dating and romance has been completely lost, replaced by stalking that special someone on FaceBook or replacing relationships with cybersex. No one wants to explore the world as much as we used to. Why would we when Google Earth can bring it all to you in stunning hi-def resolution?
The Internet was supposed to make the world smaller and more neighbourly. It has instead become a battleground for “us” and “them”, with lines drawn based on political leaning, identity politics, and class status.
Instead of creating art and music that inspires us to reach new heights and move forward, we instead publish things that shock, horrify and incite hatred toward those who do not deserve that kind of attention, like the homeless,the poor, or those who look different or speak a different language.
We have become self-centred and narcissistic souls. Instead of reaching out to help other people through our technology, attention is instead turned inward. Selfies are posted to show how great each of us think we are, but in fact we really aren’t.
Technology may be surging forward, but we are leaving ourselves behind in it’s wake.