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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.

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