Written By: Tim Gorman.
Over the years the DI has been criticized for many things. The irony is in being criticized for the very problems we are responding to. It's one of those which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg things. We built a large homeless shelter some years ago in response to a need we saw coming. Other systems were failing. People were falling through the cracks. A storm was brewing. And as it turns out, we were right. Our large homeless shelter is now full. Overfull, actually. We're the largest one in Canada. But somehow, through all of this, and after responding to so many problems, many people have come to believe that we've actually created the problems. There's a prevalent attitude out there that believes that because we built a large homeless shelter, more people became homeless. The thinking is archaic. Many years ago, because they didn't know any better, people believed that rats were spontaneously created by leaving piles of rags in barns. They were wrong then, too.
Homelessness is a symptom of a problem, not the actual problem. The myriad of problems that cause people to become homeless are vast.
If people were rain it might look something like this: As they fall – and we all fall – most are caught in the caring hands of family. Some are caught by friends. Others continue to fall. It's a lot of rain. For many, their fall is broken by safety nets – buckets, if you will – created by social systems. There's a lot of buckets out there. The welfare bucket. The justice bucket. The health care bucket. Faith communities. Treatment centres. Group homes. Shelters. And so on. And so most of the rain is caught before it drains down the gutter. It's not always the best, but it does work for most.
There are, however, a lot of gaps between buckets. More buckets would help, to be sure, but there's so much rain! These gaps in the system – the cracks – are often created by rules and criteria that limit admission to the buckets. You need to be between 24 and 30 years of age for this one. This other one is only for women. No addictions in this one. This one is for immigrants only. No criminal convictions. Only for seniors. No mental health issues. Sober only. No hygiene problems. Only for youth. And so on...
The DI's philosophy of care arose out of this. Because it's not rain. It's people. And we were sick of watching them fall through the cracks.
So, what do you do?
Well, first off, you need a really big bucket. You hold your bucket above the gutter to catch whoever falls through the cracks. You try to catch as many as you can because you know that no one else will. You loosen your policies to allow people with chronic addictions to stay. You allow people with extreme behavioral problems because no one else will. You allow people with raging schizophrenia because if you don't, you know they will die outside in the storm. You flex and you bend and you do the best you can because it's a bad storm and you can't bear to watch any more people go down the drain.
Of course, like everyone else, we have rules and criteria, but our philosophy is that our people are more important than our rules. It may not sound like much, but it's a big deal. It means that to the best of our ability, no one falls through the cracks. We do our best to accommodate whoever comes our way. Mind you, our big bucket, overflowing as it is, has become very heavy. Often it's all we can do just to hold it up. We don't always have the resources to give people the help they truly need. We try so hard, but we do fall short. It was a big storm.
And so we get criticized. That's okay. Holding up this heavy bucket all these years has given us broad shoulders. We get criticized for enabling people. Sure, that happens with us as it does elsewhere. We get criticized for caring for people that no one else will. The police don't want them. The hospitals don't want them. The other shelters don't want them. The 10 Year Plan doesn't even want them. But we do. And if you believe that all people are of value and that suffering from things like mental illness and addictions should not be a death sentence, then you should understand why we do what we do. Imagine if we didn't. More than twelve-thousand different people stayed at the DI last year.
Granted, it's not the best situation. We know that. The fact that we take all comers creates all kinds of challenges. We wish things were different and that we didn't need to do what we do. We wish more rain would be caught by the buckets that precede us. But until people stop falling through the cracks, we'll keep catching them.
And you know what? It's really not so bad. We like these people.
Written By Tim G. Building Supervisor