Monday, August 13, 2007

A Personal Perspective -- and a really good question

Written and submitted by Jennifer S, -- Counsellor, Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre

After I disclose to people what I do for a living I am often asked, “What is the major cause of homelessness?” I believe that homelessness is not an individual issues, it is a societal matter that needs to be addressed accordingly. People become homeless when all of the theoretical safety nets that are in place have failed. People end up residing in a homeless shelter or on the streets with no physical shelter because all other agencies, government bodies, institutions, and personal connections have failed.

Homelessness is so much more than just not having a place to reside. Our clientele have many obstacles and barriers to overcome such as poverty, mental health, childhood trauma, abuse, domestic violence, addictions, physical disabilities, isolation, neglect, disease, and issues associated with aging (to name a few). Not only do the client population which we serve need to attend to some of the before mentioned underlying issues; they also have to contend with the societal biases that have been placed due to being labeled “homeless.”

There are so many exceptional stories that I could submit regarding the client population at the Drop-In. I am well aware that although I have the title of a Counsellor within the agency, I am in no way singular from the other staff members that clients entrust to share there incredible stories with. However, I have decided to focus this particular entry in light of the recent publicity our clientele, location and agency is receiving. As everyone is aware there has been an increase in reported acts of violence in and around our centre. A number of these incidents have had the end result of death.

I would like to address a headline I read last week in the Calgary Sun, it is as follows: “Drug addict assaulted, killed”

What does that bring to mind I ask? Both personally and professionally I am enraged. How long are we going to idly stand by as a society and watch these vulnerable people not only be marginalized but also murdered? I am appalled and disgusted with the human race in that on a continual basis we perpetuate human biases at every given opportunity. Not only in life but also in death our clients are judged on the fact that they live outside of what society deems as “normal.”

We have heard that prostitution is the oldest profession; moreover, it is viewed as being immoral and some type of character flaw for both the men and woman that work within this high-risk profession. If it is such a well know fact that the sex trade is a dangerous, undesirable profession, then why is it that we are doing nothing to protect the individuals engaged in this subculture? Oh my mistake, we take away the Johns cars and send them to John school. Yes, the Johns that are exploiting our children and abusing the sex trade workers should be arrested.
But what about the sex trade workers?

Have they ever been given a voice or an opportunity to speak to the larger community? Has anyone asked them what they want and how they feel?


They are a statistic.

They are ostracized by society.

The majority of men and women involved in the sex trade are there to survive. Some do not have the skills or experience to work in a minimum wage job. Some are trying to put food on their children’s plate. Some are running away from the childhood abuse and trauma they have suffered by the people that were supposed to protect them. Many are supporting an addiction that takes precedence over all else. I believe that the apprehension of the “Johns” vehicles is society’s way to clean up the sex trade workers and put them a little closer to danger. The police force seizes a John’s vehicle and then auctions them off to private citizens. Where is the money being distributed that is made through these seizers and auctions? Is it being allocated to set up programs that are going to help the individuals involved in the sex trade?

We all know the answer.

By no means is this going to stop the sex trade workers from going to the stroll, nor is it going to stop the pimps from living off the avails or johns from picking up the workers.

The men and women involved in the sex trade just won't be turning tricks in cars anymore.

They will be forced to turn tricks in back alleys and private dwellings which in turn will increase their risk of being raped, beaten or killed.

Will their screams be heard?

Will anyone care?

Will anyone come to his or her aid?

I think we know the answer.

Sorry if I come off sounding facetious; however, I am disgusted with all of these band- aid solutions. What is it going to take until we, as human beings, are able to display empathy to individuals that are not the cookie cut image that society indoctrinates us to believe?

Disclaimer: The views posted on this blog are the personal views and commentary of the individual writers.

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