House Resized

Even one, is too many…

“He was one of the smartest people I knew. He knew four languages.”

“His life was filled with love.”

“I called every day for my baby to come home.”

“I miss him a lot. We were brothers.”

“I loved my dad. I was such a daddy’s girl. He could always make me laugh.”

As I stood at last week’s memorial for those who have lost their lives due to experiences of homelessness, these memories of the many funerals I have attended in the past four years flooded my mind…

It was -30 with the windchill, I was wearing long underwear, a warm parka, a toque, mitts, winter socks – and I was trying to imagine how someone would survive in these temperatures. It is a reality for many people that I see each day. One of the speakers mentioned that we were experiencing a little taste of homelessness, and while well intentioned, it’s simply not true. We were cold, but we all knew the end of our cold coincided with the end of our event. For many people we see at Carmichael Outreach each day (*232 of our community members to be exact) there is no end in sight.

Another speaker, one of our friends who has received housing and supports that have helped him leave homelessness behind, described homelessness as “a hard life… I’ve seen many of my friends die.”

The loss of our many friends and members of our Carmichael family has been to our community’s detriment. We have lost carriers of language, carriers of culture, carriers of community, and carriers of love.

We now know that homelessness is a treatable and preventable issue. Other communities, to our shame, have shown the initiative and leadership to maintain **functional zero homelessness. We know that Housing First works, we know it improves quality of life, we know it saves money, and we know it’s what is best for our community.

So, what are we missing? Collaborative commitment and leadership from our governments. Regina currently receives funding exclusively from the Government of Canada. While Alberta provided and provides $30 million to fully support the implementation of Housing First, the Government of Saskatchewan has provided $0. There are reasons to hope. We see a looming municipal strategy to end homelessness on the horizon, but it will not get off the ground without engagement from all government stakeholders.

Our closing thoughts at the memorial remain true – we cannot gather once each year to soothe our guilty conscience for another year of inaction. We must act now – people’s lives dependent on it.

TG

*From the Regina PIT Count final report – Final Report

**Functional zero homelessness refers to a community where there are no on-going experiences of homelessness while recognizing that unpreventable crises can lead to temporary experiences of homelessness.

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2016 AGM

Thanks to everyone who attended our Annual General Meeting last night, and a huge thank you to all of our donors, volunteers, board, and staff who make each year possible. We wanted to say thank you, and a fond farewell, to one of our longest tenured board members, Michael Brown.

Thank you Michael for all of the work put in to helping us become the organization we are today. We have expanded our capacity to meet community needs and are well positioned to take advantage of some great opportunities. These are outcomes that are in no small way connected to Michael’s efforts as Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer and member of our Board.

We would also like to welcome our newly elected board members, Mitch Gallant and Lisa Watson. We also are grateful to have Kevin Miller returning for another term. Each of these newly elected members will serve three year terms and be up for election at our 2019 AGM.

Stay tuned for our Annual Report!

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Budget Day Musings

Over the past three years, we have spent a substantial amount of time and effort learning about Housing First and how it could impact our community. We have held meetings with various government ministers, and visited various municipalities across our country, learning from both successes and challenges to make sure we are equipped to end homelessness in Regina.

In many cases, the conversations boil down to a clear point. Do we invest in ending homelessness when we have a budgetary surplus? Or do we follow the evidence and invest in ending homelessness because of a combination of human compassion and the established cost savings it produces?

We have done some significant work with individuals who access health services 2-3 times each day, interact with law enforcement once every 3-4 days, and spend time in cells or corrections each year. These are significant costs, and they add up to far more than the investment required to not only eliminate these expenditures, but to free up law enforcement and health resources from being our community responses to homelessness.

As a group of service providers, we often talk about a number of about $7 million being a key annual figure to achieve what is known as “functional zero” homelessness – no people experiencing chronic homelessness and resources in place to respond to future experiences of homelessness. Currently, we have $1 million from the federal government invested in our community, and no additional provincial or municipal investment.

While there is no proactive engagement from the province in providing funds for services aimed at ending homelessness, the costs to the province are high. We cannot access all data for a variety of privacy and confidentiality issues, but an ambulance ride is $245, an ER triage $323 and a daily cost for people admitted to the hospital is $1,400. Recently, one of our employees attended First Aid/CPR training where the trainer outlined that the top 17 users of ambulatory care cost over $1 million each year alone. The truth is, continued inaction in ending homelessness costs far more than a proactive investment in ending homelessness.

We have a well-established model that NGOs, government ministries/services, and police are in support of. We have a country full of program data that proves that Housing First and other investments work. We have national and local experts engaged in implementing these systems here in Regina, and we have 492 intakes worth of people that show we aren’t doing nearly enough.

So what’s missing? Government leadership. Our budget is $14.28 billion, and we need $7 million each year to ensure that no one in our community spends their life without a home. That percentage, in case you’re wondering, is .0005% of our annual budget.

Imagine… a city without homelessness. We do, and it’s closer than you might think.

 

See the CHANGE – Be the CHANGE!

Originally posted on Champagne Avenue.

I love passionate people. Fewer men have a deeper heart than Tyler Gray. Fueled by a deep desire to give voice to the mute, Tyler strives to make visible those who would often be ignored. Responsible for Communications, Advocacy, and Projects at Carmichael Outreach a poverty advocacy organization in Regina, SK. Mr. Gray has made personal sacrifices to work daily with people the general community would prefer to ignore. I asked Tyler what is it that drives him, here is what he had to say:

Awareness is a phenomenon unlike any other; it’s one minute that changes everything you thought you knew. What once caused fear becomes familiar, what was once normal becomes abnormal, and what was formerly unknown demands action. Awareness is a moment of crystallization, like seeing a sunrise arc across the sky, breaking darkness and ending what once was.

I remember trekking in Nepal, and as I stood at the top of Poon Hill, I watched a sunrise break over the top of the Annapurna Range. It was the first time I had ever seen sunlight appear as actual arcs, breaking the blindness of night in my surroundings. We stood and drank tea for one glorious hour, but I often find myself returning to the photos aware of how that experience changed my perception of the sunrise.

Some call these moments an awakening, and similar to awakening, awareness happens in stages. As I reflect on my photos from Nepal, I find new elements that further inform my experience, and I have seen this principle many times in my work of ending homelessness.

First, the haunting.

For me, the first stage of awareness is often haunting. In 2008, I found myself in Kolkata, India staring into the eyes of a starving family with one child no older than 18 months laying face down and naked in the dust. The distant look of desperation and hopelessness shattered what I thought I knew about the world. I knew nothing would be the same, and for months when I arrived back in Canada, I would close my eyes and see this image. I still can, and I’m haunted by what I perceived as my inability to change anything for this family, and the accompanying guilt at my privilege to observe, but not experience these conditions.

The look of desperation is one that I’ve seen many times since on the faces of my friends sitting in the entrance of a mall, or a bus shelter, trying not to freeze to death. It’s in the face of my friend’s who face the choice of a sleeping bag in -35, or committing a crime that provides shelter for 6 months, but the most recent memory that haunts me was the death of my friend Rodney at Carmichael. Like many of the people I know experiencing homelessness, Rodney’s death speaks to the violent experiences people face when homeless or in extreme poverty. What haunts me is how easy it is for me to view his experiences and circumstances as normal, and in turn miss my last opportunity to show him how much he meant to me.

One of the warmest men I have ever met, my relationship with Rodney mattered. He was a family man who loved his daughter, could make anyone he was speaking with feel like they were only person in the room, and I miss him dearly. His death was simultaneously unexpected and unsurprising, and while I do not hold myself accountable for his death, I am accountable for the opportunities I had to share love and value with I man I respected tremendously.

Then, the beauty

I recognize my privilege on many levels, including my ability to reflect on his passing while he no longer lives. However, on its most important level, my privilege is found in each moment I shared with Rodney and my many other friends experiencing homelessness. It is my absolute privilege to know people, and their stories. The amount of strength and resiliency exhibited by people surviving homelessness each day is humbling and inspiring.

My awareness of the people in my own community is far different now than it was in 2008. It’s nothing special that I’ve done, it’s the beauty of experiencing people’s dreams and heartaches, accompanied by the limited understanding I can have of their day-to-day experiences and hardships. I cannot begin to understand many of these experiences, but I have become aware of the legacy of their effects.

Awareness produces many responses – the haunting of death, the shock of suffering and oppression, the fury at injustice, or the beautiful experience of knowing someone and further knowing, with absolute conviction, who and what truly matters. It’s not programs, services, funds, or donations that matter, these are merely the vehicles that deliver our awareness or ignorance. Instead, awareness is the vehicle of information that we need to truly end homelessness and poverty in our communities.

Misinformation and ideologism (right or left) consistently leverage themselves against the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community. The result is ineffective programming and services that cost far too much money and perpetuate destructive cycles of exploitation and suffering. It is our responsibility and privilege to establish communities enshrined on the values of caring, respect, dignity, and relationship, and we must use that privilege to expand the scope of empowerment for my friends who, for far too long, have faced barrier upon barrier rooted in ignorance and arrogance.

We have the answers we need; it is now a matter of application. Ending homelessness is possible, and I will not rest until we become aware of that new reality. What once haunted me has become beautiful, and what once drove me to despair now fuels my passion. 

So good!  I’m all to familiar with the “haunting”, but am absolutely blessed to know the beauty. Thanks so much Tyler! If you’ve read this far there is likely something stirring inside you. You now have a choice to make, ignore it or embrace it. I beg you, don’t ignore it let it move you, the beauty that awaits impacting life beyond yourself is a reward you will never regret.

Finally, Carmichael Outreach is a not for profit organization in Regina, SK if you would like to show support for the awesome work they do in their community you can do so here

 

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Getting your PhD

**We envision the end of homelessness and poverty in our community. Our hope is that by sharing our experiences you might understand why we are passionate about that vision, and join us in changing the DNA of how our community treats homelessness and poverty**

Earlier this year, we had a group of university students participating in a fundraising and awareness campaign called 5 Days for the Homeless. Each group that volunteers with us gets a chance to connect with people in our organization experiencing homelessness, and many of our friends want to assist in the fundraising efforts.

During the week, as I sat talking with one of our friends who has been homeless off and on for 18 years, she informed me that, “[she] was going to get these kids their PhD… their pan-handling degree.” She went on to explain the tips she would give them, which included:

  • Don’t shower, even if you want to. People have more sympathy for you when you’re dirty.
  • Even if your hands and ears are freezing, no toque or mitts. People are more likely to pass by you if they don’t think you’re suffering

There were many other tips, that included ruining your clothes so that people would pity you, and I had a realization in that moment – Our responses as a community to poverty and homelessness have created a system where people have to prostitute themselves to survive. The act may not be sexual, but the idea is the same. Someone must compromise their appearance, their physical condition, truly, their very well-being to be able to access the help and support that they need to survive. While I recognize these concepts and see them in the various systems of support that exist in our community, I am often shocked when they are so explicitly stated by the people I know and care about that experience homelessness and extreme poverty each day.

It leads me to question whether the stereotypical appearance of poverty reflects that people who are suffering don’t care about themselves, or that the only way we will care is if they sell their suffering in a way that motivates us to action. I can’t speak to the experience of pan-handling… that’s part of my privilege, but, quite often, it is the experiences of the most vulnerable members of our community that teach us the most about where we need to grow as a community. In this case, there are two responses:

  1. We must recognize our tendency to evaluate people’s experiences based on the surface of what we see. Experiences of trauma, colonialism, and racism inform our work every day. We must move from a place of shame to a place of responsiveness. Each day, we see life and death experiences that cannot wait for us to feel motivated to act. We are responsible for what happens in our community, and based on social organization, we are responsible for each other. We must move from action motivated by shame to responsiveness motivated by connectivity and shared knowing.
  2. We must become proactive in our responses to addressing homelessness and poverty. We cannot simply wait until someone’s experiences are so abject in nature that we cannot stomach their suffering on our conscience. Housing First, harm reduction, transitional income supports, and livable wages are all viable opportunities to not simply reduce the suffering of people experiencing poverty and homelessness, but to reduce the total number of people suffering these experiences. Medicine Hat, AB is trumpeted for ending homelessness – we can too.

Ending homelessness ins’t a pipe dream. Medicine Hat has successfully achieved what is known as functional zero homelessness. Suffering will still occur, but it is our responsiveness and support as a community that either entrenches its cyclical nature or ensures that chronic homelessness and poverty become things of the past. We are driven by that, and we believe our city is too.

– T –

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Joanne’s Life Story

 

** This post originally appeared in Volume 10 of the Carmichael Free Press. If you want to tell your story  on  the Free Press, please ask!

This is Joanne Wanda Bigsky. I was born on Feb 7, 1966 in a little town called Picture Butte Alberta and my mother’s name is Beatrice Bigsky and my father’s name is James Isadore Bigsky. But they are both gone.

I had 6 sisters and they are all gone too. So I’m the lonely girl left and I have 4 living brothers. As for myself I have 3 boys and 3 girls which I do love very much.

My children’s names are Arlen Bigsky, Kenneth Wolfe, Vernon Bigsky. But I didn’t raise them. They all got taken from me when they were babies, which I regret that I wasn’t there to hold them when they were crying. But they never held it against me, I’m glad they forgave me for not being there for them.

When I lost my children I moved to Regina and started my messy life. As for starters I lived under the Albert St Bridge for one year then I woke up one morning and came to Carmichael for coffee and started meeting new people. I seen what they had and I wanted what they had. But I was to scared to ask for their help.

Then I went upstairs to detox. Got out but I only turned back to my old ways of knowing. Then I kept on going to Carmichaels and I liked what they had so I asked Doreen for help and she gave me. So I went to Cree Nation. I liked it there but once again I turned to my old messy ways. Then I met Nic. So he helped me get into Calder in Saskatoon.

Without all the help the people at Carmichael I don’t think I’d be 7 months sober. All I can say is thank you all of you. Thank you for being there when I need you.

Written by Joanne Bigsky

Typed by Carmichael Free Press

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Margaret’s Retirement

How do you say good-bye?

It’s a question that I often neglect to ask myself. In fact, many times I find myself taking for granted that the people who are in my life today will always be there. There’s safety found in the familiar, and too many times I find myself realizing that what I’ve known is coming to an end without any clue how to come to terms with it.

If you’ve set foot in Carmichael Outreach over the last 18 years, chances are you’ve met Margaret. You might have heard one of our friends call her Margarito, but more than likely if you’ve spent any time around the building, you’ve heard her called “mom” – the strand that holds Carmichael together. After 18 years of life, passion, determination, community, or whatever else you can call what happens at Carmichael Outreach, the one constant has been Margaret. After 18 years of mamma Margaret spending her retirement from her work with the City of Regina behind the front desk at Carmichael there’s so much that can be said, and so little that can accurately describe what she has meant each one of us who saw her every day.

I remember as a child, attempting to drive through a blizzard with my dad and brother in the middle of the most intense blizzard I have ever experienced. The snow was blinding, the wind howling, and everything inside of me knew that we were in a dangerous situation. As we made our way home, I remember looking for anything familiar that would let me know that we were “home”. The feeling of relief that flooded over me as we turned up our driveway after seeing one tiny landmark is one that has stayed with me through the years.

In truth, Margaret was that feeling that you were home and you were safe. Perhaps it was why so many called her mom. No one has better exemplified the passion and vision of our founder and original Executive Director, George Palmer. In the early years, it was just Margaret and George. For those of us who came to Carmichael towards the end of George’s life, Margaret was our connection to what made, and makes this place special. In everything she did, she treated people with respect and dignity, and like any good mamma bear, she protected those she cared for.

As she retires, I’m forced to reflect on what made her so special, and I have realized it’s not so complex. She cared about relationships more than programs and showed that ending homelessness in our community starts and ends there. She cared about understanding each person she saw each day – her desk was littered with trinkets that were always in the way of my mail folder, but were precious gifts to her from people she loved. Her attention to what mattered – relationships, honesty, integrity, and consistency are what left us all wondering at the end of her retirement party yesterday, “what are we supposed to do now?

I found myself walking into work today looking for the sign that I was home, and it felt empty without her at her desk. I know for many of us around here, it felt the same. In time, if we follow in her footsteps, we will find ourselves becoming that safe place for each other.

I used to hope that when I left Carmichael, that people would see the work I did and be proud of it, that people would say, “he was part of ending homelessness in our community.” Now, I hope that when I leave, people will remember me like they remember Margaret – a safe place, a welcoming place, part of the family.

So, I might know how to say good-bye, but I know how to say thank-you. So, thanks “mom”, for 18 years of gentle reminders about what really matters. We’ll miss you.

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Written by Tyler Gray – Communications, Advocacy, and Projects Coordinator at Carmichael Outreach

 

 

2015 AGM and Board Elections

We held our Annual General Meeting on October 21st, 2015. It was a time to celebrate another great year made possible through the generosity of our community and the hard work of our staff and volunteers. This past year, we served 56,529 meals, helped 149 individuals and families find a new home, and had over 5,000 volunteer hours. It was a year with many challenges, but we are proud of what we were able to accomplish this year. We still dream of seeing the number of meals served, and the number of people in need of housing decrease to zero, and we will continue to work towards that end. Come join us!

We also held our annual board elections, and welcomed 3 new board members. With that, we wanted to say a thank-you and good-bye to our three outgoing board members – Alexis Losie, Jacqueline Hatherly, and Riva Farrell-Racette. Each of these board members served multiple terms and came to Carmichael Outreach at a time of financial instability. Their hard work along with their colleagues has left us in a much stronger financial position and we are grateful for their services over these key years.

We would like to welcome three new board members:

– Bill Neher (elected to a three year term)

– Eldon Janzen (elected to a three year term)

– Tino Radutu (elected to a three year term)

We would also like to welcome one returning board member:

– Adam Levine (elected to a three year term)

Congratulations to our new and returning board members, and thank-you to our outgoing board members who have served us well.

 

 

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The Carmichael Free Press

Noel, Rocky, Mike and others sat in the coffee room on a Thursday afternoon and asked what was going on for programming that afternoon. “Art Class!” I (Nic) proclaimed on my way downstairs. I brought up the box of scrapbooking supplies that former gourmet chef and art mastermind Mike Wysminity paid for with money he raised himself by selling tomato plants at the Farmers Market in pots hand-painted by Carmichael art participants.

I tossed markers, fancy-edged scissors, stickers, moon-shaped hole punches on the table and people started creating. Noel wrote an inspirational quote and drew a cartoon. Mike wrote a poem. Lisa wrote a note to her son under a picture of him taken from a previous Carmichael Hockey Day. Brian wrote a story. Then staff members cut them out, organized them, and pasted them on the template, made copies, and printed them for the masses.

The Carmichael Free Press is a grassroots publication on it’s fourth edition so far—a zine style scrapbooking newspaper that anyone can contribute to. Not topical, always different, the Free Press is a creative home for real, not-pretentious, unknown writers, artists, painters, comics, mothers, children, and more, not only to produce something they are interested in—they are proud of, that makes them laugh—but to have it shared with their group of friends, the Carmichael staff, and the greater community.

The first ever headline of the Carmichael Free Press was borrowed from a photograph from a previous Carmichael photography class partnered with the Heritage Community Association and Sask Arts Board.

“Here you go!” he said, as he passed his page to me with the inevitable nervous feeling of sharing something you just created. The headline read, “The Princess Royal Walk – Her Royal Highness Visiting Heritage Centre in Regina Sask…..” with an up-close picture of a loyal volunteer. Everyone in the room laughed at the joke. Real news be damned, street news is what matters. The experiences of people in your neighbourhood who you have never met are what truly matter, not the business interests of private national media. Hailed by its creators as “The most important newspaper in Saskatchewan,” the Free Press begins its climb to the top.

Thursday afternoon Art Class at Carmichael has evolved as necessary from painting to drawing to scrapbooking to newspaper-making to who-knows-what-next, depending on interest, on funding, and on person skills of the facilitator. The informality and drop-in style of the Art Class is what makes it a success. Peter walked into the coffee room, saw his friend sitting at the table, saw markers, scissors, empty pages of the Carmichael Free Press, and sat down for ten minutes, drew a remarkable drawing of a pipe with the smoke forming a buffalo, eagle, bear. He thanked us for the time and headed on his way.

Every person has the right to have their voice heard, published, and distributed. People in your city are depressed, pissed off, a little bit high, lonely, in love, tired, dope-sick, or extremely happy, and they are entitled to these feelings. The power that is gained in sharing these feelings, putting them in some creative form, is invaluable. Outside of the online world of status updates and cartoon smiley faces, people need to have a forum to express themselves, and since Facebook and other online media aren’t accessible to those without internet access and aren’t really collective, the Free Press fills the void.

Authors and artists work years to get things published or get their art hanging in a coffee shop in the over-marketed world of writing and art, but that doesn’t make the voice of the amateur any less important. If anything it makes it more significant; not being sold as a commodity or graded like a high school paper.

The Carmichael Free Press is the perfect example of Carmichael programming—drop-in-styled, no cost, inclusive to all, hilarious, frustrating, and motivating. Sober or not, published or not, practiced or not, community members can use the Carmichael Free Press as a home for personal expression, a place for injustices to be made public, love to be shared.

The sign-off of our first edition reminds readers what the Free Press is trying to proclaim each and every edition—the importance of listening to and helping out people you have never met, and encouraging you to get to know them one way or another, possibly by participating in your local Free Press!

“Sisters and Brothers, we are all on the same page. So don’t flip me!”

** Check out the First Edition of the Carmichael Free Press **

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Steak Night Fundraiser

Steak night

We are honored to have the team at Regina Realty Experts holding a Steak Night this upcoming Tuesday on our behalf at the PressBox in Regina. Head on over between 5-9PM, enjoy a steak, watch some exciting Blue Jays baseball, and help us raise some money for Carmichael Outreach.

The community of Regina consistently blows us away with their generosity, and this is another surprise and major blessing to us.

Thank you all,

The Carmichael Outreach Team