Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 4)

Walking into Carmichael Outreach for my job interview in May of 2013. I was a recent graduate from the University of Regina, and I thought I understood all of the challenges surrounding poverty and homelessness. I strutted in with confidence, looked around, and immediately realized I had never encountered or engaged an experience of poverty/homelessness like the experiences of the folks that have become my friends at Carmichael.

I didn’t understand. I still don’t.

I have travelled and volunteered extensively internationally, having spent time in Asia working with impoverished children trying to prevent human trafficking. It was a time where I originally thought that the experiences of poverty for the marginalized in those countries were barbaric and archaic. I remember being flabbergasted seeing starving children on the street, or babies lying face down in the dirt of Kolkata’s streets with no clothes on. There was a certain look of hopelessness that I didn’t know how to deal with or comprehend.

The first time I went in 2008, I soothed myself by thinking how much better those experiencing poverty had it in Canada. The second time I went in 2014, I realized there were, and are, far too many similarities between those afflicted with the experiences of poverty around the world. Women and children disproportionately affected. Minorities disproportionately represented, and the most vulnerable populations exploited, de-humanized, and blamed for their position. In India, mental illness and addiction in their most visible forms were often challenges for those living on the street, and it is the same here.

One of our local advocates in Regina often speaks of the geography of opportunity for folks experiencing homelessness/extreme poverty. It’s the idea that most live their lives finding the things they need to survive within a 10 block radius. Think about the experience of homelessness for a moment – there’s nowhere to store food, clothes, medicine, or toiletries. There’s no mode of transportation unless you have access to public transportation. It shrinks the area that a person functions in their community when they must maximize their time accessing various things for survival.

As an organization, we had an awakening to our part in that narrative. Most of our friends that regularly attend Carmichael Outreach have life experiences that are largely restricted to the downtown/heritage area. They sleep in shelter, detox, or emergency, access needed services during the day, and Soul’s Harbour for supper. Then, they find their way to where they will sleep again and repeat the cycle. Constantly thinking about survival robs someone of his or her inability to plan long-term. Temporal decisions are the only ones available. Where will I find food when I have none? Where will I find a shower? Where will I sleep tonight? Until those basic needs are addressed, there can be no consideration of weeks, months, or years down the road. It is the simple psychology of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to take care of survival first, and it is one that has kept homelessness hidden due to the location of community resources. We are proud of the services we provide, but we cannot simply be another holding space for our city’s homeless populations that separates them from the rest of our community.

We have realized community is more than a set of geographical boundaries. It is not a sign that welcomes you to “the friendly city”, “the bridge city”, or “the queen city”. It is the individuals, experiences, and personalities that occupy those spaces. The more that we refuse to allow division to separate us through misunderstanding and fear, the less power these perceptions have to create social classes. The break down of individual and community social support is the number one factor that leads to homelessness. Our inability to understand homelessness as more than a label limits our ability to empathize with the experiences of those facing homelessness.

Our goal is to have community that shares experiences with each other. These are the reasons we offer art classes, hockey days, guitar lessons, and many other similar services. It is not simply for the novelty of opportunity for the less fortunate, it is so we all have an opportunity to eliminate the invisible barriers that separate us as community.

On day four, we offer the following solution – Community Engagement. We do our best to engage the community, and we are hopeful that as we share our experiences and thoughts that the community wants to engage us. Imagine a community engaged in supporting one another when and where it was needed. It does not breed dependency, but rather results in successful achievement of independence far more frequently than through current policies that ostracize and marginalize already oppressed populations. Come to Carmichael when we have events. Paint with each other, volunteer with us or another CBO.

We are so grateful for the community partnerships we have. We are able to provide services to those in need and we cannot say thank you enough to those who faithfully support us, bring food, donate items, and volunteer. We want to grow that part of our movement. It is our perspective that as we grow the number of people with knowledge of community issues and relationship with those affected, we will see a decrease in the number of people needing to access our food services. We dream of serving 17,000 less meals in a year instead of 17,000 more, or providing housing support and harm reduction services to less people because of improving outcomes. These types of outcomes are possible. Join us in changing the conversation. Let’s become communities rooted in respect and dignity for each other.

** Part 4 in our series of blogs shares the experiences of one of our employees, Tyler who works in the capacity of Communications, Advocacy, and Projects at Carmichael Outreach. 


Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 3)

As part of last week’s Five Days for the Homeless fundraiser, held by the Business Students Society at the University of Regina, we thought it might be a good idea to supplement fundraising efforts with some conversations about how we as a community can contribute to ending homelessness in our community.

Despite our best efforts to finish on time, our blog-writer Tyler came down with the flu and was not able to finish the series during last week’s timeframe. As a result, we will finish the series this week. We’ve previously talked about the the principles that govern Carmichael Outreach and the lack of long-term financial strategy in addressing homelessness through government programs. Today, we wanted to talk about another key piece of the conversation around homelessness – addictions and mental illness.

Addiction is often associated with the experience of homelessness, but more often as a cause of, rather than a potential symptom. The implied conotation is often that it is the addiction that causes homelessness rather than the addiction as a result of homelessness. There are certainly circumstances where the former is true, but according to research, the latter is far more prevalant. An example of this can be found in a research report produced by where studies found that in 67% of shelter users in studied locales reported a “diagnosed lifetime mental illness.” In the same report, shelter users in major urban centres in Canada reported a lifetime diagnosed substance abuse problem (68%), and in another locale nearly 50% reported having used an illicit substance in the past month. While there is no guarantee that these conditions are always present simultaneously, “almost all shelter users” reported a concurrent or dual diagnosis (addictions and mental illness). In short, for the members of our communities that experience homelessness, mental illness and addictions often go hand in hand.

The above mentioned study also found that homeless individuals experiencing these conditions were likely to remain homeless for longer periods of time. There are several explanations offered, but aside from obvious reasons of difficulty personally maintaining housing (tenancy skills, fiscal management, etc.) a lack of support was noted as a substantial difference in the coping resources individuals had when they experienced mental difficulties. In short, many homeless folks are self-medicating through available means in an effort to experience relief from the concurrent problems of mental illness and addictions. A lack of available social supports contributes to an on-going cycle that causes continued separation and stigmatization from broader community and significantly reduces the likelihood of acquiring and maintaining housing.

Housing First, as discussed in (Part 2) of this blog offers an answer to this by supporting individuals facing these chalelnges. The report can be found on our webpage, but research into Canadian programs indicates that within 3 months of having housing, 17% of individuals in the same studied locales had quit drinking and 31% had quit using drugs – all within three months of receiving housing and necessary social supports. Additionally, usage of high cost services had drastically decreased and individuals reported less stress, and a better outlook on life. These results continue to build upon our case for respect, dignity, and effective long-term supports in Parts 1 & 2 of our blog.

In our day-to-day operations, our support for those fighting addictions and experiencing mental illness has several layers. First, we offer a Needle Exchange Program that is designed to prevent dirty needles from remaining on the street in order to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, and to provide a friendly, trusted face to those experiencing addiction. The program is rooted in the principles of harm reduction and is closely connected to Detox programs and services and is staffed by Public Health Nurses. Additionally, we offer a Healing Circle on Monday Mornings, a Narcotics Anonymous group on Friday mornings, and referrals to mental health and addictions services.

For Part 3 of Five Days, Five Solutions, we advocate for greater investment in addictions programs and services that do not exacerbate the cycle of addictions and mental illness, but for programs rooted in the principles of harm reduction such as our needle exchange programs in Regina, or InSite in Vancouver through the Pacific Coastal Health Region, and services that respect the humanity of the individuals they serve. The results speak for themselves – nearly 90% of folks are able to maintain housing with necessary social supports. Once housing stability is achieved, communities see significant reductions in high-cost services. Additionally, services rooted in harm reduction and offered through avenues such as housing first report nearly twice the success rate of treatment first models in helping individuals maintain housing.

As we have stated in both previous posts, we must destigmatize the experiences of individuals facing homelessness and its various challenges in our communities. It is quite likely that further stigmatization will lead to continued and chronic cycles of substance abuse, mental illness and housing instability. We can do better, we must do better.

Research mentioned in this post can be found at:


Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 2)

Students have spent two days and two nights on the concrete at the University of Regina in an effort to draw attention to the experiences of members of our community who face the challenges of homelessness and extreme poverty on a daily basis. As noted yesterday, we recognize two things about this fundraiser. First, it cannot possibly recreate/represent all of the complexities associated with homelessness. Participants do not experience racism, systemic oppression, wondering if they will eat period, or even have experiences with homelessness for an amount of time that causes them to forget how to use a phone, forget what their own private bedroom feels like, and many more. Equally important to note is that there is tremendous value in this event because of the unique opportunity and profile it provides us to engage students, future and current community leaders, and the community at large in conversations about how we can implement social policy and investments (programs, grants) that will allow for us to end extreme poverty and homelessness, both achievable goals.

At Carmichael Outreach, we see the effects of Regina’s ongoing housing crunch on a daily basis. In 2011, we commenced the Carmichael Outreach Housing Support Program, and in the last six months of that calendar year, we provided support (advocacy, house hunting, budgeting, relationship building, tenancy skills) to 32 members of our community. In 2012, that number grew to 112. In 2013, we saw 267 unique individuals and families request and receive our programs supports. This past year, the program exploded, and between two coordinators, we saw 692 intakes. That means for nearly each day of the year, 2 individuals/families in our community walked in the door unable to maintain their housing because of budgetary restrictions, poor quality housing, landlord/tenant issues, racism, unethical evictions, and many other circumstances. In short, there is a growing number of folks in our city that simply cannot make housing work any longer for a variety of reasons.

We work with a wide range of people. Some people need limited support and are able to acquire the right housing quite easily. Some require some advocacy and support in their corner to get a second chance, and some are chronically homeless members of our community who have faced housing instability for as long as 18 years. Many of these folks face the additional barrier of concurrent diagnosis (a diagnosed mental illness and on-going addiction). It is in this area of housing support that we spend most of our time.

As a province, we spend exorbitant amounts of money perpetuating the instability that is a major contributing factor to the most inhumane of outcomes. The vast majority of those in our province on social assistance are termed unemployable. This designation can be an inability to work for several different reasons, but each of these individuals receives a base level of $459/month for housing. If they are able to acquire housing that meets certain quality requirements they are able to access the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement, which is from $180-220, depending on classification. Outside of the challenge of strict requirements that many rentals in our city do not meet, economically disadvantaged members of our community are forced to chase money to be able to obtain stable housing. It is our perspective that housing is a human right, and a necessary piece in the managing of mental illness and journey to sobriety. Research indicates that individuals in housing and with community supports are successful in maintaining housing over 2 years between 88-92% of the time, depending on the locale. Once an individual has maintained stable housing for 2 years, they are unlikely to ever experience homelessness again.

Rather than investing in programs that build capacity for these individuals and families, we spend around $2300/month for emergency services such as shelter, even more for beds in hospital emergency rooms, ambulatory services for individuals in crisis during cold weather, corrections costs, and beds at health region detox facilities. A simple top-up program available to individuals connected to community supports would not only reduce cost expenditures, but also improve the physical, social, emotional, and mental outcomes. Individuals having access to the dollars they need for rent ($850 average for a one bedroom apartment) is substantially cheaper than spending three times that amount on reactive services that do nothing to break the cycles associated with chronic homelessness.

On day 2 of our Five Days, Five Solutions series, we present the following solutions:

Strategic Investment in capacity building programs rooted in the principles of harm reduction such as Housing First. Individual dignity is upheld through provision of housing without requirement of sobriety or the bizarre concept of “earning” humane treatment. Individuals are afforded the geographical stability they need to journey towards their own health and stability in other key areas.

We also advocate for rental licensing, or a similar-type system that requires individuals who profit from property to maintain a standard of quality in their properties and that protects renters from certain rental increases that exploit the economically disadvantaged and further marginalizes their opportunities and physical experiences.

Housing is a human right and we must approach it as such. We are able to make strategic investments that will not only enable us to end homelessness and extreme poverty in our community, but also to build communities that are inclusive and look out for each other. Personal ownership is empowered through shared social responsibility and a community that is more than a set of geographical boundaries. Let’s leverage an event like Five Days for the Homeless into determination to end homelessness and extreme poverty in our community. Together, it is possible.


Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 1)

Yesterday, the 2015 version of 5 Days for the Homeless kicked off at the University of Regina. For five days, five students will sleep and live outside in an attempt to stimulate conversations about homelessness in our community and to raise valuable funds. At Carmichael, we have been the recipients of these funds since 5 Days for the Homeless began. We wanted to supplement the fundraising efforts at the University by offering a series of blogs titled, “Five Days, Five Solutions” in an effort to have a broader conversation about what the event is truly focused on.

It is important for us to note that we do not believe that this event represents a picture of homelessness. One cannot replicate the experiences faced by those who weather a night at -40 in a parkade, or face the vitriol and scorn that comes with stigmatization of “street life”. We are reminded daily, through the experiences of our many friends at Carmichael, that homelessness is more than a five day issue, and that the complexities rooted in social policy, social inclusion, our province’s history, addictions, mental illness, and the effects of extreme poverty cannot all be addressed in one neat, five day window. We are also aware that most of us working at Carmichael come from a place of privilege where we can’t possibly understand the emotional, psychological, and physical experiences of wondering where our next meal will come from, or where we will sleep at night. For us, and the group of students who organize this event, it is not about the five students sleeping outside. It is about using their visual presence to invite our city to come together and end homelessness in our community.

At Carmichael Outreach, our work is two-fold. We work within our community to facilitate services that the community expresses they need, and we work with policy makers of various levels to generate effective social policy. We are guided by two key principles – respect and dignity. They are the map and the framework for everything that we do on a day-to-day basis. We are adamant that those asking for our service do not need to prove their poverty, and personal information (identification, financial information) remains in the control of those accessing our service. We believe that we overcome community and individual challenges together as a community, and having relationships of trust with the many members of our community that we serve is perhaps our most important value.

Two areas of our center that exemplify this value are our Food Security and Nutrition Program, and our free clothing boutique. Last year, we served 53,689 meals to members of our community in need, and an additional 30 individuals participated in our nutrition program. These programs are dedicated to providing food to those who cannot otherwise afford it at a time where they cannot get a hot meal elsewhere. Additionally, we seek to provide healthy, fresh ways to prepare food within the constraints of a tight budget. In both elements of programming, we work to make sure that each person in our community is able to have food in their belly and options for preparing food within their budget. It’s not perfect and we certainly cannot meet everyone’s needs, but we work to the best of our ability and the limits of our budget.

Our free clothing boutique offers much more than clothing. Imagine moving into a new home after living in shelter, couch surfing, or living on the street. You have no clothes to call your own, no shower curtain, no dishes for eating or preparing food, or really anything else we easily take for granted – this is where our clothing boutique comes in. We receive donations from the community, organize those donations and make sure they are in good condition. Donations are then placed in the boutique where people acquiring housing, needing new clothes or shoes, or looking for kids toys or books are able to access those and many other items free of charge. These programs are accessed by newcomers to Canada, single parent families, young mothers and their babies, seniors on fixed income, and members of our community experiencing addictions and mental illness.

For day one, we offer solution number one to overcoming systemic poverty and homelessness in our community. We must treat members afflicted by these socio-economic circumstances with the same respect and dignity we want to be treated with. By providing necessary base-level services with no barriers and limited requirements, we recognize the empowerment and resiliency that many in our community have while hoping to provide small opportunities to reduce expenditures while still accessing basic necessities. We believe that this is necessary in order to de-stigmatize the experiences of homelessness and poverty within our community by acknowledging that different circumstances can lead to different outcomes. This de-stigmatization will enable us to implement collective solutions to ending poverty and homelessness and to remove barriers for the individuals in poverty who are looking to end poverty and homelessness for themselves.


2014 Christmas Appeal Numerical Reveal


That’s how much you have helped us raise with our Christmas Appeal for 2014. Thank you to all the individuals, businesses, and community groups that gave so generously. We saw significant increases in usage for all of our services this year, so this is great news for us.

Thanks again Regina,

The Carmichael Outreach Team


George Palmer – Notice of Passing

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of George Palmer, the original Executive Director and founder of Carmichael Outreach Inc.

George was one of Regina’s best, and a man who embodied the values of the organization that he spent 20 years of time and effort on. George was a champion for individuals and families facing the challenges of extreme poverty and worked tirelessly and to his limit to meet the needs of the community to the best of his ability. George was generous and faithful, persevering through the difficult early years of a fledgling organization, often working without pay to ensure that the members of his own community would be able to access vital services each day.

In June 2013, when we celebrated our 25th anniversary, we were able to see George at Carmichael Outreach one more time. He remained the same man we remember fondly today – generous and faithful, never ignoring the challenges and inequalities faced by the members of his own community living in extreme poverty. It was a bright, sunny day as George spoke with fondness of his many memories of Carmichael Outreach, and is fitting that today we remember him as a man who spent his life bringing some light to dark and hidden injustices in our own community. It is fitting that as he spoke that day of a lifetime of memories about Carmichael Outreach that Carmichael Outreach owes George a lifetime of gratitude for his efforts, and for sharing who he was with us.

George is a man we will not soon forget. His fingerprints are all over what Carmichael Outreach has become today, so we say thank you to George and celebrate his life.

Our deepest sympathies are extended to Dorothy, to his daughters and his son, and to his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Thank you for sharing your husband, father, grandpa, and great grandpa with us. It was our privilege to know him, and we will remember him by carrying on the work he started.

Together in Community, Together as Community,

The Carmichael Outreach Team


Our New Year’s Resolution

It’s New Years Day, 2015, and as we reflect on the past year and look forward, there are many thoughts going through our brains at Carmichael Outreach.

This year, it felt like we had a long conversation about poverty, it’s effects, and the experiences of the individuals and families who find themselves at Carmichael Outreach. Each day, our community members come to access food, or clothing, or help maintaining housing because they are unable to overcome the challenges and barriers they face for a variety of different reasons. On one hand, it was exciting that there seemed to be discussion about these outcomes when things had been ignored for far too long. On the other hand, we found ourselves answering questions about what homeless people needed during cold months, whether we found it easy to get donations, and quickly realized the discussion was focused on ways to make sure people were comfortable in their poverty, rather than to give them the resources they needed to overcome the challenges they face.

For 26 years, we have functioned to provide basic necessities to folks who may not have access to them otherwise. It’s not a role that we celebrate, but rather, is one we wish didn’t exist. What we realized this year is that for too long we’ve become another holding space for the folks who are the manifestation of conversations we try to avoid. Too often, we’ve had individuals show up, seemingly discarded from other areas of our community to Carmichael Outreach with the expectation that we will make the inconvenience of their situations disappear for a portion of each day. Many of our city’s extreme poor live in a 3 block radius, bouncing between emergency services, addictions and mental health supports, shelter, and us.

From 9:00-4:30 our community members step into our building, where we try to create a safe, welcoming environment that upholds the highest virtues of community – trust, acceptance, value, empathy, and love. It is in these spaces that we find our greatest fulfillment. It was earlier this year in one of these moments that one of our new friends said, “For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m part of a community.” It was a powerful statement, and it was clear that the sense of belonging and relationship had the ability to bring about major change.

As we look forward, it seems that making New Year’s Resolutions is the traditional thing to do, and make no mistake – as we head into this year at Carmichael Outreach, we are more resolved than we have ever been before.

– We have resolved that we will no longer allow ourselves to only be a space where people sit, still separated from their community.

– We are resolved to ensure that the conversation about extreme poverty shifts from how individuals and families survive brutal prairie winters to how we as a community can end poverty and homelessness.

– We are resolved to see barriers that stop individuals and families from being able to access the resources they need eliminated.

– We resolve to advocate tirelessly for strategic investment of our currently available resources in programs and services that recognize the dignity of the individuals and families using them, and for systems that stop oppressing individuals and families who already face many other challenges.

– Finally, we are resolved to welcome every member of our community into Carmichael Outreach so that we are no longer simply together in a geographical space known as a community, but that each individual and family in our city can truly say that we are together with one another as a community.

We have so many partners and friends who have already joined us on this journey, whether as volunteers, contributors, or regular day-to-day members, and we are truly grateful for the privilege to share life with each one.

It’s our resolution and our invitation. Come join us.

As a community, we can and must do better. As a community, we can end poverty.

This year let’s be,

Together in Community, Together as Community,

The Carmichael Outreach Team

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Dear Mouse

** This blog post contains the thoughts of our outgoing Food Recovery Coordinator Nic Olson’s personal blog and is used with his permission **

Dear Mouse,

Dear Mouse, You probably don’t remember me, and I don’t blame you. We likely never had a full conversation, except that time on Christmas Day that I picked you and Leon up at the bus stop and drove you to turkey dinner at the Marian Centre. But even then I didn’t know what you said when I asked you your name. I thought you said Leonard. Although I didn’t know you as well as I would’ve liked, I can say that I think of you often. I hung your name on my bedroom wall.

I can also say, however, that there was a time that I forgot you. I forgot your name and your face and how you talked. I forgot how you died and I forgot what reserve you were from. I forgot who your family was. I forgot your real name. Linden. All I remembered was this faint vision of a man I knew that had died last winter, and that was about it. When your name, ‘Mouse’ finally surfaced in my brain I wrote it on a sticky note and have kept it since. A pathetic monument, to be sure, but better than the alternative of me permanently forgetting.

That is what was supposed to happen. You were to die and your case file was to close and the $459 that the ministry gave you would be swallowed back into general funds and used to finance interest free/tax free rental developments and that was that. Your home at Detox would fill your bed in a matter of hours and after a week they’d neglect to mention your name ever again. All levels of government would continue to stage press conferences with scummy developers to show their commitment to you, although they deny your existence outright, even aloud to the media. Community organizations would trod along in their busy, busted down buildings and wait for the next death to sombre things up. You’d be forgotten by the world except by the family who would feed you while you’re on the other side.

There are campaigns for your sisters and aunts and grandmothers and daughters who have gone missing or were murdered, and the spirit of these rallies and vigils also reaches to you. Because although you’re a male, and although we know where and how you died, you’ve been brushed aside and purposely forgotten by a brutal system of murder and assimilation.

We’re all eventually forgotten, Mouse, that much is certain. In 100 years no one will know my name or remember that I can’t make a decision to save my goddamn life. But I’ll be forgotten simply because time has passed. They won’t remember you and how you said, ‘Softly,’ with a grin when you put out your closed hand for a fist pump. But you’d be forgotten because multi-million dollar government policy was designed for your culture to be destroyed and your life to be ripped apart. What I can try to do, in some way, even as simple and degrading as a sticky note on my bedroom wall, is to ensure that in 100 years, you’ll still have family on this earth that will at least have the chance to remember you and their other ancestors.

The government’s denial of your existence isn’t a slip of the tongue, it is long-standing, ingrained belief. Because to acknowledge your existence is to acknowledge that you deserve to be remembered. I won’t forget you and I’ll do my best make sure no one else does either. Because once we forget you, the system is winning and the people are losing. Eventually, the people always win. And we’ll win remembering your life. It was a pleasure, my friend.


Nic from Carmichael


Statement on the collapse of the Hawkstone Affordable Housing Development

Today, I set a precedent. I attended a press conference to celebrate affordable housing in Regina outraged, rather than excited. The provincial and federal governments, along with Deveraux Developments, all trumpeted the completion of 30 affordable housing units in a 160 unit building. This development should be celebrated. Mixed income housing in desirable neighbourhoods is key to sustainable, affordable housing development and prevents ghettoization of the poor, but this announcement stunk.

Is it coincidence that this event featured the same two parties who walked away from an affordable housing development in Hawkstone eliminating 48 new affordable housing units from the market? Is it coincidence that we celebrated a separate 30 affordable spaces one day after questions about the loss of those 48 units, which were funded by selling 40 other Saskatchewan Housing properties? The direct result is that we now wait 3 more years for these 48 spaces while wondering what the effects of a 40 unit reduction in affordable stock will be.

The reality of Regina’s rental market is evident. One tenant informs me of break-ins at “secure” unit, another that they haven’t had water for 3 months, and another that their basement is still full of mould, mud, and water from June’s flooding. This, is private market, affordable housing. Wait times, despite Minister Harpauer’s claims, are not shrinking for those seeking quality, affordable housing. This past year, the third full year of the Carmichael Outreach Housing Support Program, our two Coordinators performed 342 intakes, meaning we worked with 342 individuals or families struggling to find housing. Of those 342, 27 were helped on multiple occasions to find housing for a variety of reasons listed above; as our list of those in need grows, so do the number of properties unwilling to rent to individuals/families receiving government assistance.

Affordable, private market housing is synonymous with unsafe, low quality housing. There are exceptions to the rule, but they are rare. So, members of our community wait for affordable housing providers to ensure they have a safe and healthy home. The Hawkstone project, according to Deveraux’s COO, gave a government option to choose between basements and crawl spaces. Basements were chosen and costs increased $400,000. Rather than share the $400,000 cost, or require Deveraux to honour their proposal for these 40 spaces, the Government of Saskatchewan delayed these units by another 3 years and reduced available stock by 40 spaces simultaneously; a difficult accomplishment to be sure, but one that should be recognized. Amazingly, the Government of Saskatchewan declares wait times have shrunk 50% while affordable housing partners tell us that individuals are waiting an average of 3 years for affordable housing, and up to 6 years in some cases.

Let’s suggest that these 48 units were used to house the individuals I help each day. These individuals, despite Minister Harpauer’s claim are largely homeless, and largely desperate, and most know our community members who froze to death last winter due to their homelessness. Rather than investing $200,000 for 10 years of affordable housing, this government subsidizes emergency shelter at a cost of $2000 per month, which for 48 individuals is roughly $200,000 over two months. There is no more clear indication of a lack of strategy and comprehensive planning to provide housing to those in need than to subsidize two months of emergency funding, and not 10 years of affordable housing.

Minister Harpauer is right, the Government of Saskatchewan’s decision would have been precedent setting, but the only precedent it would have set was this government caring about the people of this province over money.

Tyler Gray

Housing Support Coordinator

Carmichael Outreach


Why we participate in 5 Days for the Homeless

Written by: Tyler – HIV Strategy Housing Support Coordinator at Carmichael Outreach

As a recent graduate of the University of Regina, I recall all of the discussions that would come up around the time 5 Days 4 the Homeless each year. Generally, narratives began with, they’re just playing homelessness, or they’re just sensationalizing homelessness. These narratives then followed with critiques of where the dollars went, asking questions like, why not just give the $25,000 to homeless individuals?, and why give money to organizations that don’t provide service with respect for individual’s dignity? Each of these questions or possible critiques is absolutely worth consideration, and yet, having now worked in human services outside of the sterilized environment of a university classroom, I have a few thoughts to share that may answer some of these concerns.

First, 5 Days 4 the Homeless only sensationalizes, or plays homelessness if the greater dialogue about homelessness and the social issue of poverty do not become a part of the discussion during the 5D4H event. As the participant organization, our comments and interviews during this time focus on the inability of a 5 day event to replicate homelessness, and the need to continue these conversations in the media, classrooms, and board rooms year-round. Each participant this year had several conversations with members of the Carmichael Outreach team, conversations about homelessness and our experience as staff. They even met some of our clients, who were able to share lived experience and educate them about what homelessness really looks like. None of this was done to make it a viable event, but because the participants actually cared about understanding homelessness in its context. It becomes paramount then, to push for coverage that doesn’t merely celebrate the nobility of participants, but instead highlights the social immorality of enabling homelessness and poverty to perpetuate in a social construct of moral and ethical choice instead of trauma, opportunity and humanization. This is a constant struggle of any discussion around poverty and community engagement of the privileged, and one not limited to 5 Days for the Homeless. This is also the desire of the organizers as documented in the University of Regina newspaper. Intention isn’t everything, but it’s clear the breakdown is not in the creation of this event.

A second critique that I heard last week was that organizations restrict service provision and don’t respect the inherent dignity of clients. I can confidently say that this is not descriptive of Carmichael Outreach. We provide services within a harm reduction framework; a framework centred in the inherent worth of a human being their humanity, not their ability to socially and economically commoditize their life for some type of profit. In fact, all of our services are provided free of charge, and outside of a milk program and food bank orders, require no identification to participate. It is safe to say that service provision is not restrictive, and is in fact focused on meeting the needs of individuals without pre-condition or expectation of “personal improvement”. Any critique of our organization as restrictive, or lacking respect, is spoken by someone who has never entered our doors or participated in what we do. That is not to say that we are perfect, because we most certainly are not, but we are in regular interaction with our clients, discussing how our service delivery can improve in meeting their needs and respecting them as individuals. We work with them, support them, do whatever we can for them when they communicate what they need, and on top of our service delivery, we are advocating for the very social change that critics say gets missed by 5D4H.

Lastly, I feel the need to highlight one specific critique that I read last week during this year’s week-long event. It questioned why the $25,000 dollars raised didn’t just go directly to homeless individuals. A valid question, but it is again reflective of critical thought being employed without context, understanding of welfare policy and systems, or even the circumstances that surround an individual experiencing homelessness. Homelessness, largely, is connected to past trauma, the breakdown of support in an individual’s life, and an economically disadvantaged position among other circumstances and barriers. Many homeless individuals are experiencing stigma and discrimination because of their position, and are using coping mechanisms that do not enable them to move to the position that they want to. These are very real concerns that should force open the doors to greater conversations about addiction and mental illness as health issues instead of as career choices that are easily taken up and easily put down. Should we homeless individuals receiving assistance with $25,000, they will immediately be cut off of assistance (depending on how much money they are provided).

This generates new/greater costs, including:

  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities
  • Food

These hypothetical costs are limited and assume that they are able to access the food bank for some of their food costs, have furniture available to them through a furniture donation program, are able to find housing, don’t have any medical issues, and that they access quality housing that does not force them into sub-standard living. Housing costs roughly $850 per month for a 1 bedroom apartment, meaning to get an apartment and be in it for one month is an up-front cost of $1,700 with an ongoing cost of $850 per month. Transportation (buss pass) costs $62 monthly, and I can safely say as a home owner that utility costs, generally power and telecommunications are not covered in rental, would be between $100-$175 for basic telephone service and water. Food costs, having seen the little amount of food that the food bank tries to stretch between all of its clients are based on someone’s inability to access food programming due to insufficient transportation and the requirement of working a low-wage labour position now that they do not have access to assistance. That cost can be assumed, on the absolute, bare, subsistence level to be about $50 extra per week on top of food bank food. So our monthly costs are up to about $1,100 dollars per month, with no additional costs or emergency expenditures. What this means is that we would help a maximum of 25 individuals for one month and then effectively harm them because $25,000 does not solve homelessness. Even if the money was distributed amongst many in need, we would effectively be throwing a cup of water on a forest fire.

On top of the financial issues stated above, this post does not, nor can it even begin to address how addiction and mental illness may wreak havoc with an idealized “working poor” plan. Sub-note: A valid conversation would discuss why assistance forces those in need into even greater poverty to get service, pays nearly $2100 per month for an individual to live in shelter, but pays $459 in rental allowance to the same person seeking private housing. Or perhaps, a discussion around food security and the rising cost of living that drives an individual to have to use the food bank would be beneficial. These systemic critiques and questions are valid and must be addressed as a society.

What is missed in the critique of these events is this: Criticism is laid at the feet of those who participated by those who did not and who criticize the campaign from a distance without clarified knowledge of its goals, effects, contributors, and benefactors. If engagement is limited to critique of other’s engagement, how is that any more beneficial to pushing for the social change we all recognize needs to happen?

Yes, we must push for social change. Yes, poverty is perpetuated by a breakdown in community. Yes, social assistance imprisons individuals rather than supporting them. Yes, those fighting addiction mental illness are often treated as lacking moral capability to meet the social constructs of citizenry and the rights it entails.

These issues are major, systemic issues rooted in racism, stereotyping, economic discrimination, and pre-conceived notions of the “proper” community member. As an organization, we experience and fight against these constructs daily. We demand dignity for community members and figuratively (and sometimes literally) fight for their lives. This is both in immediate action, and our struggle for long-term, positive social change. Our participation in 5D4H does not contradict these goals, but in fact delivers $25,000 into our hands to help move these goals and services forward. We do not function as a paternal entity, but a lifeline to clients who are looking for the support and empowerment they need to make the changes they desire.

We owe it to homeless, marginalized, oppressed individuals to demand change in how events like these are covered, the conversations that surround these events, and the social constructs that lead to the creation of charity and all its’ hypocrisies and contradictions. However, this isn’t the fault of five students, an organizing committee, or Carmichael Outreach and other Carmichael-like agencies fighting for their lives. We enter into this event with our eyes wide open to the struggles our community faces, and we fight for them.

It is my opinion that we live in a world where media coverage is dictated by the interest a citizen has in a particular story. Short stories that are unable to provide proper context dominate the framework in which we receive our news, along with advertisement revenue. Conversations with volunteers, organizers, department heads highlight that 5 Days for the Homelessness is not and never has been an attempt to replicate homelessness. It’s an opportunity to push for more awareness about the incredibly problematic social narratives that enable and perpetuate homelessness while raising vital funds for us to help sustain individuals’ survival and empower them to make the changes they desire. I’m able to view this critically and recognize problems that should be addressed regarding this yearly event, and I aim not to further harm those who have already faced so much oppression.

I invite critics into participation in this event and constructive input for the purpose of eliminating both oppression and opportunities for sensationalized representation. It is only when we build community together with respect and understanding of our common humanity that we will overcome issues far greater than a 5 days fundraising event.