With Tyler’s final day having come to a close, we are sad to see him go. He has offered so much to Carmichael Outreach over his four years here, and we wish him all the best on his future endeavors. Now that Tyler has started his new journey, we are excited to welcome Rochelle Berenyi into the role of Communications, Advocacy, and Projects Officer. Here is what she has to say…
While I am undoubtedly nervous, I am also very excited to be a part of the amazing organization that is Carmichael Outreach. I have watched from afar as Carmichael has worked hard to make a difference in our community, and I am excited to have the opportunity to learn from everyone involved in Carmichael – from the employees, to the volunteers, to the Carmichael family, and all of the many community supporters. I look forward to getting to know everyone who has had, and continues to have, an impact on Carmichael, and our community as a whole. If I’ve learned anything from my first few days of Carmichael, it’s that nothing would be possible without all of the collaboration and support from everyone involved.
I hope that I can help to play a part in supporting Carmichael in the coming years, especially in the current period of transition. It’s going to take some getting used to, and I have some big shoes to fill, but I really look forward to learning and growing along with Carmichael!
It’s Tyler’s last day at Carmichael Outreach, and after four years, he decided that he wanted to share some parting words. They are below…
My life and community were altered 4 years ago when I walked through the doors of Carmichael Outreach for my first day and started as a Housing Support Coordinator. I have met some of the most amazing people in our community
I want to thank my friend Rodney who passed away during my time working here. Rodney taught me more about generosity and caring than anyone I have ever met. My understanding of what it meant to truly care for and love others was fundamentally shaped by observing the way he treated each person that walked through the doors at Carmichael. Rodney took every opportunity to care for others, and it is a legacy I intend to carry forward for the rest of my life. Miss you brother.
Thanks to Rocky – who has functioned as the gift-giving, protective mother bear at Carmichael throughout my time here. We have shared a lot of laughter, and she is an amazing writer and contributor to the free press. I will miss her.
Thanks to Noel, aka Ken Dryden, who always made hockey day incredibly fun. I will miss hearing his laugh and getting to experience his humour and sarcasm.
Sidenote: I have learned more about what it means to live with strength and resiliency from the people I see at Carmichael each day than I ever thought possible. I have learned to take advantage of each day of my life, regardless of what my circumstances look like. The Carmichael family is what I will miss most about this place. It is an amazing group of people who care for each other, look after one another, and protect one another.
Thanks to our friends at Strategy Lab – These guys have helped us learn how to more effectively communicate who we are, be bold in our vision, and what it means to hustle. Much of what I’ve been able to communicate to our community, I owe to their encouragement, skill, and challenging. Brandon, Jeph, Eddy, Conrad and crew – we are so grateful for you.
Thank you to Synergy Electric Corporation – Dale, Aaron, and team provided us with a brand new set of computers and a network hardware install that moved us from old technology to functional technology. I am amazed at how this community supports our work, and this was one example where good people helped us become more effective at what we do.
Thanks to our friends at KSP Technology – Kevin and Melanie were a god-send to our organization. We lived in the dark ages before they became our IT provider. They have generously provided their services as a donation, and we would be lost without their on-going support.
Thanks to the George Lee Grade 8’s from 2016. This group of kids was my favourite community project of all time. An entire school came together to donate $280 of art supplies and almost 3,000 clothing and house hold items to Carmichael Outreach. If that is our future, we are in good hands.
Thanks to the Hill Business Students’ Society. What a group of inspiring young people that have helped to raise over $130,000 in the past 4 years for Carmichael. They have taught me to be creative, visionary, and inspiring. They taught me that a combination of passion and vision are irresistibly engaging.
Thanks to Bill Neher – a man who started as a potential project partner that became a friend, that morphed into a mentor. Bill has been the brains behind our new building project and his contributions to Carmichael will impact the organization for the next 30 years. I am so grateful to have been able to work alongside of him.
Thanks to my good friend Nic Olson – Nic taught me what it meant to authentically put 100% into working at Carmichael, and through the 3+ years that we worked together, he inspired and carried forward a lot of vision and innovation. My time with Nic taught me that right is right, no matter how difficult, and that there is always a way forward if we look for it.
Finally, thanks to each staff member, volunteer, donor, community member, and media member who has told our story, or joined our work. Carmichael cannot be what it is without the strong support of the community. Each of you has amazed me, and I have been inspired when I see and dream of what we can accomplish together.
Thank you for letting me be a part of this journey for 4 years,
“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.
*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.
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!
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.
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
**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:
- 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.
- 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 –
** 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
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.
Written by Tyler Gray – Communications, Advocacy, and Projects Coordinator at Carmichael Outreach