I was asked to share a few words this morning on what my thoughts were on the Homeless issues in our valley. Having a place to call home—Is it a right? Or is it a privilege? For years there have been many different groups in our community working towards having affordable housing in our valley. Thousands of dollars in government funding and grants go into the research into bringing affordable housing into our community and yet we still have many people living in our valley without a place to call home. This past year a new group was formed which is bringing representatives for all the local groups together and their focus or goal is “Housing First”. At the meetings I attended in the spring we all agreed that our first step was to bring a positive message to the community, to share the stories of those who are living on the street so that there is an understanding and compassion for these people. Each person out there, like all of us in here, has a story. It is that story that has made us who we are today. People are not homeless because they want to be but because life has not always be best for them. Something I read on Facebook “Homeless people are not the problem – they are the result of the problem.” It’s so true.
During the spring we had a “tent city” set up in our downtown park. It caused many disagreements within our community. Some supported some were against it—it brought out the worst in folks. Their statement of “Housing is a Right” had some hard working people saying—no it isn’t you have to earn it, but in reality how can we say that to those who are unable to work because of physical or mental illnesses and disabilities – don’t they too deserve to have a home as much as the rest of us. Sadly, I feel the Tent City brought out negativity instead of compassion for these people.
The leader of the group who was not homeless herself, was able to move back into her home leaving our homeless people, who usually are wonderful respectful people, with this negative reputation. It did the opposite of what the “Housing First” team hopes to do but thankfully the group continues to move forward and bring the stories of the homeless to the community through films and other means .
Many struggle in our world with addictions, mental health, PTSD or some form of disability that doesn’t allow them to be employed full time in our fast paced world. As much as they may desire to be part of the working society, something in life has them journeying down a different pathway. Just getting up and out of bed each day for some people is a successful day. Sadly self medicating for both mental and physical pain has become an addictive habit for many and even when they seek help, it is very limited when you don’t have the funds for a private center. The wait lists to get into a treatment center can be long and we can’t expect someone to go to a rehabilitation center for six weeks, come out clean and remain clean if they have no place to live or any support.
Thankfully we have our Food Bank which feeds hundreds of people every week and we have Warmland shelter which helps many stay off the street. If they can meet the criteria there are small apartments on the top floor where for a low rental fee they can live up to one year. The problem is – where do they go when their year is up.
Their government disability income is so low, – rents are too high in most places and many places won’t rent to people without references and most of them still require some support. If they do find a place to rent quite often their disability cheque doesn’t give them enough to pay both the rent and their ever increasing hydro bills. Once back out on the street their struggles begin all over again and many will return to their addictions to cope with life and relieve their worries.
In our wealthy country I feel everyone deserves to have a place to call home and that our governments need to step up and bring programs to our communities that will enable people to be housed and stay housed. For most on the street, that housing would need to be “supportive housing”. Housing that offers support to those who live there, whatever type of support that may be, – preparing a budget, help with child care or finding some employment and helping them find support for their addiction.
In 2009 the city of Medicine Hat made “housing first” their focus and yes it worked! It is the first city in Canada to end homelessness. They have funded housing so that everyone has a roof over their head and are no longer on the street, the longest anyone stays at the shelter is ten days and then housing is found for them. Was it a good move financially – you bet. They say it costs 20,000 dollars a year to house a person and a 100,000 to care for someone living on the street. Hospital visits and medical costs are down, policing costs are lower etc. Knowing you have a safe place to call home takes away so much stress in a person’s life. People are then able to focus on dealing with their drug addictions or mental health issues. They don’t have to worry about where they will sleep that night or where their next meal will come from they can work towards getting healthy and staying healthy.
I pray that someday our city and province will follow their lead and offer housing to all. Our homeless people are no different from us. They’re just people like us who need to be loved and valued and cared for and to have a place to call home.
In our bible story this morning Jesus shares the parable of the mustard seed. How can such a tiny seed grow into such a huge tree. Jesus shows us that in life size doesn’t matter. Even the tiniest of creatures or the tiniest deed can do huge things in our world.
Here at Duncan United we do so much for so many. When we look at the state the world is in it may seem overwhelming and we may feel that what we are doing is as small as the mustard seed but we know that those tiny seeds when planted will grow into something huge. Welcoming people here with a smile, offering them a coffee or a meal can help them to feel cared for, it’s planting seeds. People come here looking for some form of support or help. When they receive that help they are so very thankful and feel a sense of being cared for and over time a sense of belonging. Our doors are open every day – literally in the hot summer and many folks wander in. Our bathroom facilities are helpful to all, our hallway phone allows people to connect with others for appointments or work and some folks even feel comfortable enough to nap in the hallway recliner. It may all seem like small stuff but to those who come through our doors it isn’t small stuff at all. They are struggling in one way or another and appreciate any help we can offer them even if it is just having someone sit and listen to their story at Third Place Cafe. When we show our care for them it helps them to feel valued and gives them a sense of self worth and in return it also gives us a feeling of being needed and valued. It is a win win situation for us all.
No matter who people are or where they are on their journey we all just people who need to feel valued. I believe having a place to call home can give us a sense of self worth and of being valued. We have a place to take care of, we are able to take a house and turn it into a home. It can help a person begin to feel worthy and give them something to be proud of. It doesn’t matter whether a person has a high paying job that pays for their house or if a person is living in supportive housing – it is a place that is theirs. It is the place where they can stay warm, feel safe, share a cup coffee with a friend and not have to wonder where they will be the next day – it also gives them a mailing address, something that most of us take for granted.
Our world is so far from being the peace filled world God had planned for us. So many wars, so many hungry people, so many without family or homes, so much illness and sadness. There are times when I am sure we all feel we need to be doing more, we need to give more or help more, there must be something more I can do to make a difference. This morning I just want to say to all of you here “thank you” – you do so much already, you are already making a difference through your care for others. It’s important that we help others, that we give them a sense of value but we mustn’t forget about ourselves. Before we can care for others we have to remember to take care of ourselves, to value and love ourselves for who we are. In valuing ourselves , we can value others and show them the compassion and understanding that we all need and deserve to have. We have to remember to stop and breathe once in awhile, to take a walk through the quiet forests, to sit on that rock and watch the waves come in gently along the shore line, to pick up the book that we are reading and take the time to listen to the music which brings us joy and peace. In practicing self care we are not only taking care of ourselves but of those that we help as well. We should never feel bad or guilty about taking that time for ourselves. Even Jesus took time away from his friends and ministry to just be, to reflect and pray. It’s valuing yourself for the person you are.
I’m sure most of you have seen the movie or read the book “The Help” It is a story of the black women who took care of the rich southern folks homes and children. At one point in the movie the “help” gets fired and she has to say goodbye to the little girl she has been raising for the last three years, leaving the child with her angry critical mother…her parting words to the child, words she said to the little girl every day are “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” Such inspiring words for our children and for all people to hear and to take deeply into their hearts. Today I would like to say three things to you that I hope you take into your hearts, words that I wish all people could hear every day because no matter our situation in life, no matter our colour or faith, or whether we have a place to call home or not, we are all just people –
“You are cared for, you are valued, you are loved”