I was finally linked to by National Newswatch.
As SaskTel winds down CDMA coverage in Saskatchewan, I need to upgrade Mark’s cell phone (a LG Rumor 2) that he loves. He is on a cheap pre-paid plan with Virgin that I don’t want to upgrade or add data so I will keep with a feature phone, probably a LG Rumor Plus or a Samsung Gravity 3. It’s talk, text, and email which is really all Mark needs right now.
I have been thinking about what I need ever since RIM’s network when down last summer. This is how I am thinking. I had a Blackberry Curve 8530 and like a lot of smartphone users, I have everything flowing through that phone.
- Two email accounts
- Blackberry Messenger
- Flickr (which never worked on the phone)
- Dropbox so I could send and receive files
- The Score Mobile App (I have a problem okay)
- MySask411 which replaced my phone book
I got a fair amount of work done and even wrote a couple of columns with it. It worked really well for me until that outage. When Blackberry went down, so did my phone. I couldn’t get calls, I couldn’t even connect to a Wifi network. My phone was essentially a brick that I carried around and hoped would return. While it wasn’t the reason I switched a Samsung Galaxy Ace over Christmas (the cost of the new Curve’s were high on Koodo and didn’t seem to offer a lot more capability as well as my general lack of faith in the Blackberry platform) I essentially swapped out RIM for being totally dependent on Google and this week I had an uncomfortable realization about how totally dependent I am on Google.
I was one of the first bunch of Gmail users way back in 2004, back in the days where invites were limited to five per person and where actually being sold for money. I got one, used my five invites on Wendy and some friends. Gmail was so new and fresh it had that new email smell to it. It served me well until this year when I got a notice that my email had been accessed by someone using an IP address from Serbia. It was really unsettling because as I had a decent password and changed it periodically. Having not travelled to Serbia recently (or ever) the idea that I had been hacked was a horrible one.
As for my ID, you have your drivers license, your passport, your Saskatchewan Health Card, your Social Insurance Number but my email is just as big of a part of my ID as anything. I have used it to sign up for Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, PayPal, even my bank and credit card uses it to communicate with me. While I am careful, having everything exposed was not that pleasant and it resulted in new credit cards being issues, new passwords, and really all new everything.
Shortly after that I had a huge problem with email. Emails were missing and there was about a 1500 email hole from about a year before that I discovered. I wasn’t the only one that has had this happen to me. The Gmail help forums are full of users that have lost thousands of emails and no one really knows why.
Since then there is someone that I will email periodically at The StarPhoenix that occasionally doesn’t acknowledge the email. I am the same way so I never thought of it until Friday when I got a call from my editor to see why I never filed my column except I did on Wednesday. I resent the column and it appeared. It’s the second time it happened but I have long had these sneaking suspicions that it was a problem with the @thestarphoenix.com domain. I checked the Gmail help forum and it tells me that I need to check with the domain name that wasn’t getting my email as they are of course faultless. Of course the email was never received.
This isn’t the first time this happened. A friend used to work at USA Today. An email I sent him took a full year one time to show up. I was working somewhere else and using their email (which was served up on Dreamhost) was the only server they ever had a problem with and then only sometimes. It has happened to me before from SaskTel where an email just hung out for month before being delivered. It happens but how do you know it happens. I never got a bounce message in any of those situations so I assumed (incorrectly) that it had gone through. Maybe we need to downgrade to Eudora 3 and start sending read receipts again.
So on Friday, my email was down, my cell phone was acting erratic (I think the problem was Koodo) and I realize that when things go down, they really go down. What can you do about it?
Leaving Gmail is really hard because I think we underestimate how much spam and email that we get and I really don’t want that to make it to my phone. I know SaskTel has web access but so many friends of mine have had their email account become totally full after a couple of days that it is pointless if you are a heavy email user. I can set up a 500mb account for myself on Dreamhost but I get thousands of spam a day and Gmail handles it better than anyone else. I am in the process of putting coop AT jordoncooper.com to rest which will cut back on some of the spam but it’s a big problem when you are have old email accounts. There are a lot of things that still use it, including some that I am sure I don’t remember but will need someday.
As Wired Magazine published yesterday, Gmail has a pretty big security hole in it.
But since Gmail added OAuth support in March 2010, an increasing number of startups are asking for a perpetual, silent window into your inbox.
I’m concerned OAuth, while hugely convenient for both developers and users, may be paving the way for an inevitable privacy meltdown.
For most of the last decade, alpha geeks railed against “the password anti-pattern,” the common practice for web apps to prompt for your password to a third-party, usually to scrape your e-mail address book to find friends on a social network. It was insecure and dangerous, effectively training users how to be phished.
The solution was OAuth, an open standard that lets you grant permission for one service to connect to another without ever exposing your username or password. Instead of passwords getting passed around, services are issued a token they can use to connect on your behalf.
If you’ve ever granted permission for a service to use your Twitter, Facebook, or Google account, you’ve used OAuth.
This was a radical improvement. It’s easier for users, taking a couple of clicks to authorize accounts, and passwords are never sent insecurely or stored by services who shouldn’t have them. And developers never have to worry about storing or transmitting private passwords.
But this convenience creates a new risk. It’s training people not to care.
It’s so simple and pervasive that even savvy users have no issue letting dozens of new services access their various accounts.
I’m as guilty as anyone, with 49 apps connected to my Google account, 80 to Twitter, and over 120 connected to Facebook. Others are more extreme. Samuel Cole, a developer at Kickstarter, authorized 148 apps to use his Twitter account. NYC entrepreneur Anil Dash counted 88 apps using his Google account, with nine granted access to Gmail.
This is where it gets nerve wracking.
You may trust Google to keep your email safe, but do you trust a three-month-old Y Combinator-funded startup created by three college kids? Or a side project from an engineer working in his 20 percent time? How about a disgruntled or curious employee of one of these third-party services?
Any of these services becomes the weakest link to access the e-mail for thousands of users. If one’s hacked or the list of tokens leaked, everyone who ever used that service risks exposing his complete Gmail archive.
The scariest thing? If the third-party service doesn’t discover the hack or chooses not to invalidate its tokens, you may never know you’re exposed.
The reliability isn’t just a Gmail issue but most of us switched to Gmail because it was run by Google and we never thought that we would have these issues.
The other issue with Google is that even though they post an Apps Dashboard to let you know how things are going, this is a multi-billion dollar company with no way to contact them unless you are a large customer. I have had Gmail down and nothing shows up on the Dashboard so it has to be a big outage to report it. That’s fine if you are affected with others but if you are not part of a giant collective of frustrated Gmail users losing control on Twitter, what recourse do you have. Google tells you to that they look at help forums but there are thousands of unresolved issues, some that go on for a long time. This isn’t unique to Google, a friend had a nightmare in getting locked out of his Twitter account because of a Twitter database error. It look a couple of months to resolve and that was even after it’s CEO got involved. At least you can contact Dick Costello, who do you contact anymore at Google?
I download and backup periodically my contacts for a couple of reasons, I need to keep them sync’d across my two accounts (one for work, the other one is personal). They are also sync’d on my iPod Touch, iPad, and Android phone. Of course I just read on Kottke this week that stealing your address book among iPhone developers is quite common.
It’s not really a secret, per se, but there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database. Obviously, there are lots of awesome things apps can do with this data to vastly improve user experience. But it is also a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.
I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records. One company’s database has Mark Zuckerberg’s cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number. This data is not meant to be public, and people have an expectation of privacy with respect to their contacts.
So while I am giving all of my contact information to Google intentionally, I (and so are most of you) am un-intentionally giving up your contact information to developers (sorry about that) which is one of the reasons why there is so much spam in this world. Thanks Apple. So even if Google is protecting our private information, as soon as we sync it with our iPhone or iPad, it is compromised.
This brings up my next issue, which phone vendor can we trust? Apple allows people to download your most private of personal information, Google controls and ties it all together in an Android phone, with Blackberry you just have a crappy phone experience and does anyone expect Windows 7 Phone to be any better. RIM has better security but isn’t able to deliver on their phones.
I was talking to a businessman who has been tied to his phone since AGT came out with the Aurora (such old technology, Google doesn’t even know about it) and he said to me the other day that he was willing to ditch his smart phone and go back to a flip phone (or a feature phone so he could text his kids). His company email server was down and he couldn’t do “anything” and was frustrated in the same way we all get frustrated. He said with a regular cell phone, when it went down, all it did was affect his phone calls. Now when his smartphone isn’t working, it affects everything. He was actually in the process of heading to Midtown Mall and purchase a cheap phone so as he put it, at “least I can call someone”. In some ways as I looked at a Nokia C1 by Fido today I wondered if this may be what I really want, an update to the Nokia 1100 which is still the world’s most popular phone.
Koodo’s cellular service is okay here in Saskatoon. They use Telus’ network and do a not bad job of staying active. I find that when SaskTel is having problems, so is Telus/Koodo which makes me feel somewhat better but not a lot. In other words when I get no service at my house, neither does anyone else using SaskTel, Telus, or Virgin. When Koodo’s network is acting up, I can tell by looking at my phone when something is wrong. My Foursquare check-in options revolve around Carlton University’s campus, my network says Telus or even SaskTel instead of Koodo, and my calls drop more than they should. Wireless is defined by it’s Ready, Shoot, Aim background and we shouldn’t be surprised with it’s technical difficulties considering the rate that technology is changing but more and more I keep wondering if a step back may be order and evaluate if I want all of my personal information being in a platform that is so easily exploited.
Even if you can trust them now, can you trust them in the future. Google’s recent privacy changes spooked millions and may have launched a competitor in Duck, Duck, Go. These aren’t new concerns as I remember AKMA struggling with how much he should trust Flickr years ago.
I could come off the cloud but that is a lot easier said than done. I could use Thunderbird for email and contacts and Lightning as a calendar. I could use Dreamhost’s IMAP server, keep my email off my phone, and ditch my iPad, or at least not sync up information with it. It can be done but it is a very different 1998 era web that I don’t think I want to go back to either.
When you think of the information you have in your Gmail account, address book, calendar, and other apps (think of Mint and your bank app on your phone), why aren’t we either demanding more security or at least taking steps to protect ourselves. I know RIM’s the most secure but their phones are terrible right now. I wonder if the next thing in wireless will not just be the cool apps but the cool apps that protect your data because right now my data isn’t feeling all that safe.
In the column, Political moves on Saskatoon council (SP, Jan. 27) John Gormley suggested an NDP takeover of Saskatoon city council.
In addition to the "Gang of Five," he saw additional threats in Sean Shaw, Pat Atkinson and Frank Quennell as contenders in an organized attempt by the NDP to take over the city. In the coming "Leftaggeddon" there could be as many as seven left-of-centre councillors and a New Democratic mayor haunting Gormley’s dreams, with the apparent intention of tormenting the Saskatchewan Party from their stronghold in council.
As fun as it is to imagine a vast left-wing conspiracy, it’s not why Saskatoon’s city council is the way it is.
After last fall’s provincial election campaign, I am not confident that Saskatchewan’s NDP is able to organize a slo-pitch team, let alone a takeover of city council. Even if there was a nefarious effort to elect leftwing councillors in some wards, some did run against a well-financed and organized effort from the right. There are NDP supporters who run and campaign in civic elections, but the battle goes both ways, with Saskatchewan Party supporters getting involved, as well.
It’s been a part of civic politics in Saskatoon for many years. Even then most civic campaigns are still won and lost by a small team of people working hard for a friend or candidate in whom they believe.
With limited budgets and no city-wide campaigns for councillors, it often comes down to who gets out door knocking the earliest and stays out the latest.
While Gormley is likely to disagree, the left-right comparison doesn’t work in civic politics as it does at other levels of government. There isn’t a lot of room for political ideology when councillors are discussing and voting on a karate studio in Westview, or the lack of access to dog parks.
During the couple of town hall meetings I sat in on this fall, there weren’t a lot of wedge issues brought up. Even on bigger topics, such as what to do with the Traffic Bridge, or voting on the south bridge, the "Gang of Four" was replaced many times by the Gang of 11 as council voted together.
Watching council you notice that differences exist, but not as much on a rightleft divide but on questions of how one builds a city and what kind of city one wants.
Will it be a neighbourhood-centric city such as New York, or an endless sprawling suburb such as Mississauga in Ontario? Do we want a car-driven infrastructure like Los Angeles, or a public transit-driven one like San Francisco?
Do we lay out rigorous architectural standards like Chicago or even Winnipeg, or toothless standards that lead to bland architecture, as we now have in Saskatoon?
The kind of council we have reflects the kind of city we have. Parts of Saskatoon have done far better than others during the economic boom, and will have much different perspectives on what the next steps should be and what priorities we should have. The average income in the city in 2006 was $65,487, with 5.9 per cent of households living below $15,000 a year.
In Saskatoon’s five core neighbourhoods, the average income is $35,003, with a staggering 13.3 per cent of families living on less than $15,000 a year. Eleven per cent of Saskatoon needs day-care help, but the number is double in the core. Only six per cent of Saskatoon adults have less than a Grade 9 education, but when you look at the core, that number more than doubles to 13 per cent.
How many areas of Saskatoon have their own economic development corporation? None. We have city councillors that see the world differently from each other because we have a very divided city, and see the challenges and opportunities in different ways.
A council that reflects our city’s perspectives is what we want. We need market friendly councillors as well as those who can advocate for other aspects of city life. Saskatoon has suffered through councils that were both too business-driven and anti-business.
A diverse council is good for the city. We benefit from both the right and left because, as a city, that is who we are. As long as councillors keep doing that, I am pretty happy.
Grandstanding over an international trade deal when the city doesn’t even have a local procurement policy? Let’s leave those stunts up to other levels of government and go back to micromanaging the transit department. It’s at least something both sides can agree upon.
A well-known drug addict went to four doctors last summer and got four prescriptions for morphine on the same day. He had the prescriptions filled at different pharmacies, which gave him more than enough morphine to abuse, sell or trade.
That’s exactly the kind of abuse that the province tried to prevent in 1995 when it introduced the Pharmaceutical Information Program (PIP). It’s a computer network designed to help doctors and pharmacists keep on top of what is being prescribed, to make sure there are not any drug incompatibilities and, as PIP’s goals state: "Provide information needed to minimize drug abuse, diversion and misuse."
That didn’t happen in this case.
Usually the system works well. I am a Type 2 diabetic who keeps it under control by taking two medications – Metformin and Glyburide. I get my prescription from my doctor, who gives me some refills. When the refills are done, I need to return to see him. After talking and checking me over, he enters a new prescription into the computer which I can then take to the pharmacy.
This is for two drugs that have absolutely no street value and aren’t narcotics, but they are still tracked by PIP. It’s the same for most of us prescribed medicine, if the doctor is doing his or her job.
However, for some a prescription is a gateway to other drugs. Ritalin is a good example. One woman I know sells her Ritalin so that she can buy another guy’s morphine to shoot up. Obviously her ADHD was under control enough that she could complete a drug deal and still be focused enough to get high.
In a couple of weeks she’ll get her refill and the cycle will continue, probably until a dirty needle ends it for her.
How common is this? A 2007 report by the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse notes there is "minimum" research in the area of prescription medication abuse. The few studies that do exist state that about 10 per cent of patients at rehab centres are getting help for prescription drug abuse.
A study of seven Canadian urban centres showed that about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of drug users are abusing at least one prescription narcotic, with drugs such as Percodan being the favourites. A 2006 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that morphine and OxyContin are replacing heroin as the drug of choice for many Canadians.
How do they get these drugs? Double-doctoring is a big part of the problem. You get a prescription from one doctor, and you go to another and present the same symptoms. If the first (second, third or fourth) prescription doesn’t get entered into PIP, you get your drug supply.
PIP does try to take care of privacy concerns and allows people to "opt out," which I have been told by addicts makes it easier to get their prescription. While many doctors won’t prescribe narcotics if someone has opted out of the program, some others do.
More disturbingly, some doctors will prescribe what you ask for. Someone I knew proved that three years ago by walking into a doctor’s office and saying his back was sore.
He came out with a prescription (and refill) for morphine. This doctor had a reputation for "giving you what you wanted," which, as you can guess, often is narcotics.
Why is it a big deal? There’s the moral aspect, but there’s an economic side, as well. You and I pay for these drugs prescribed to people on the provincial supplementary health program.
Depending on how you look at it, the provincial government is either the biggest drug dealer in Saskatchewan or the biggest enabler, with our backing.
You can’t tell me it’s impossible to stop or curtail this problem. Saskatchewan has centralized drug purchasing, centralized medical billing, and the centralized PIP in place, and yet the abuse continues. I know that physicians are independent contractors, but if a doctor writes an abnormal amount of prescriptions for OxyContin, morphine or other narcotics over an extended period, why isn’t that investigated? Why aren’t red flags raised at pharmacies when multiple prescriptions for the same drug are being filled? Finally, why isn’t the Health Ministry getting involved when these cases slip through?
I know that our society puts doctors on a pedestal. Believe me, when I am sick, I want to be treated by a good one. However, if because of profit, incompetence or laziness, doctors are hurting the people they took an oath to help, we need to get them out of the system. Saskatchewan won’t ever need doctors that badly.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
Over the years I have received a lot of phone calls about a couple of people who are well-known on the streets of Saskatoon.
Others see them on the streets during the winter months and want "someone" to help them – that someone always being emergency shelter providers. The problem is that while these individuals want a place to live, they both are slaves to their addictions.
If you ask either one what they want to do, it’s to drink. Nothing else. There is no life separate from their next drink. Their desire for alcohol overwhelms even the ability to maintain personal hygiene or go to the washroom.
In the summer, my compassion for either one isn’t that high. A poor lifestyle decision means sometimes sleeping along the riverbank, but as the weather cools, that decision can lead to death. I have made many emergency calls over the years because of their alcohol or drug use. The cost of ambulance rides alone is significant, not to mention the repeated health-care costs.
But these two aren’t unique. Countless people with whom I have talked needed help, but would rather live on the streets than give up alcohol or drugs. The addiction has a bigger hold on them than their need for survival.
Life becomes a day-to-day existence.
Historically, we have simply waited for such people to hit rock bottom. The problem is, when life is so bad to begin with, there isn’t a big gap between doing great and reaching rock bottom. For many, the best life has been is time spent in prison or in a halfway house.
While to you and me the idea of spending the night outside might seem horrendous, for them it’s been such a part of their lives that it doesn’t even register as unusual.
Toronto has taken a different approach to dealing with such people. Seaton House, one of Canada’s largest homeless shelters, opened a "wet shelter" in 1997 where alcohol could be managed. In the past, shelters such as Seaton House forced people to be dry and sober before they came in.
While some did sober up, others found their addiction was too strong and went off in all sorts of weather to get their next fix. A relapse wasn’t just one beer but many, and often they would use a variety of substances such as mouth wash, rubbing alcohol, glue, gas, or even cleaners.
The chemical dependency makes it impossible for hard-core alcoholics to dry out, so the idea is to try to take them off it slowly. At Seaton House a drink is given every 90 minutes (five ounces of wine or three oz. of sherry) until the person can’t go on, or until he falls asleep. They are weaned off the alcohol over time. When the physical dependence is broken, more traditional approaches to treating the addiction can be undertaken.
A 2006 study reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that a managed alcohol program reduces consumption.
Participants went to having eight drinks a day from 48 drinks. Police and hospital usage dropped, as well. The study figures it saved the system about $450 a month for each person.
While such numbers are difficult to quantify, it is important because it means more police available to fight crime and more hospital beds available for other patients. When you factor in the extremes of Saskatchewan weather, the savings could be potentially more.
Drug and alcohol abuse is not rational. No one wakes up hoping to drink a dangerous amount of moonshine or cleaner, yet it happens too often. They end up in emergency rooms or the police cells night after night.
On nights where there isn’t anyone around or something goes wrong, we hear about it the next morning and wait to see if the family releases the name.
Managed alcohol programs, such as Seaton House’s, provide a safe way to deal with chronic alcoholism and start the process toward allowing residents to finally deal with the issues that have dominated their lives. But critics have called similar programs "bunks for drunks" and see them as enabling alcoholism.
However, alcohol doesn’t need an enabler. When you are at the point where your desire for alcohol overwhelms your ability even to take basic care of yourself, a different approach is needed. It may not be one that we are comfortable with, but it’s better than having someone freeze to death.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
Most of us know someone who conquered an addiction. Many of us know someone who has lost the battle with drugs and alcohol, and the addiction rules that person’s life.
Employment becomes a struggle, and many end up needing help from Social Services to stay alive. For those who cannot function on social assistance and who continually blow their portion needed for rent, there are is another option: Their money can be held in trust.
In this situation, a third party agency steps in, and social assistance funding for the person is sent to a trustee who pays rent and distributes the money in a way that is agreed upon.
It isn’t a perfect system. No one wants their money to be taken away from them. People do lose some self-determination, but their rent and utilities are paid. While the remaining money may be used for drugs or alcohol, the person still has a place to call home. It keeps them off the streets and provides a measure of stability.
The system works well until a person hits 65 years of age or until that person receives a disability pension, Canada Pension, or Old Age Security. This is when everything falls apart for many substance abusers.
Once the money starts to flow from the federal government, the province moves out of the picture. The person goes from having a small personal allowance to having around $1,200 from Ottawa, with no restrictions on how to spend it. They go from not being able to manage their money in December to having total access to their money in January.
It rarely ends well. Most of the money gets spent on booze (drug addicts don’t often live to 65) until it’s all gone. Then there is nothing. The social safety net that used to be there in the form of Social Services no longer is there, because they now have another source of funding.
Social workers will often tell people to "see if you can work out a deal" with a shelter, which off-loads the problem further. The same thing happens the next month and the month after that. When shelters finally can’t keep carrying them, the burden goes to churches or other non-profit agencies. Shelters are caught between sending a senior citizen with addictions issues out in the cold to die, or enabling self-destructive behaviour.
The federal government sends a cheque. It doesn’t provide emergency support and doesn’t support trustee programs. If there is an emergency, the addicted senior is often out of luck.
While most of us have supportive families, the alcohol breeds a dysfunction for some that leads to families preying on their elders. Some take rent money and evict them days later; others commit fraud; sometimes it has been as simple as a beating and robbery on the day the cheque arrives.
It’s a mess and there is very little done about it.
For those with addictions, right up until they were 65, the system took care of them and did so for a reason. Whether they were unwilling to trust the supports around them or they didn’t have any at all, the system stepped in and made sure they were OK. The day they turned 65, those supports are taken away and, in many cases, it sets them up for failure.
For subsequent months non-profits are left to fill the gap the federal government refuses to fill.
This isn’t a massive problem. There are only a few hundred people using trustee services across Saskatoon and the province pays very little to outside agencies per person (some do it for free). While the supports are relatively inexpensive, the cost of not providing them are huge. Instead of having an apartment to head home to, a bed at a shelter, a mat in a detox centre, or a hospital bed in an emergency room becomes the substitute.
So, yes, the federal government saves some money, and the two other levels of government get to pay for the consequences.
Premier Brad Wall recently told reporters the story of a man who made 150 emergency room visits in a year, at a tremendous cost to Saskatchewan Health. As he said, the guy needed help, but not from hospital emergency rooms.
There are some problems that are easier to solve than manage and the solution for this program is to continue to provide supports that can keep housed those seniors who struggle with addictions and money issues.
The province has done its part. It’s up to the federal government to step up and take some responsibility to provide some supports to help seniors who can’t help themselves. The current system isn’t helping anyone.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
When business writer and consultant Jim Collins wrote the book, Built to Last, he introduced the term BHAG into the lexicon.
The Big Hairy Audacious Goals are organizational changing objectives that change how businesses operates.
One of the best examples was General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch declaring that all GE business units need to be first or second in their field and, if they are not, they were to be fixed or sold. His decision shaped GE for a decade and made it into one of America’s most profitable businesses.
BHAGs are not just about making money. They are used to bring about societal change as well.
By their very nature, most social problems are overwhelming. From 1994 to 2006, Calgary had the fastest growing homeless population in Canada. Families with full-time employment were living in shelters because they couldn’t find places to rent. Where does one start when there are thousands of people with nowhere to call home?
In Calgary, a bunch of business leaders, driven by their own convictions and a love for their city, started a process that created the 10 Year Plan to Eliminate Homelessness. They formed the Calgary Homelessness Foundation and pushed the provincial government to get behind the vision.
Their "housing first" approach has been so effective that the federal Conservative government is spending $110 million over five years to help homeless people with mental health issues in five cities. Halfway through, it’s been a tremendous success, both in housing some of the country’s hardest to house people and in keeping them housed.
In Saskatoon, we tend to think of big goals in terms of staging events such as the Brier or the World Junior Hockey Championships.
However, a quick walk through Royal University Hospital shows the Siemens Transport ER Consultation Room and the PotashCorp MRI Centre; across the river at City Hospital is SaskTel’s MRI Suite.
Those represent big donations. Every year there are millions of dollars in smaller donations to the hospital foundations across Saskatchewan by individuals like you and me, who have decided to take on cancer, improve emergency rooms or help with some other form of care. We wouldn’t donate if we didn’t see the need and if we didn’t think it would make a difference.
It doesn’t stop with the hospitals. Cameco was a big part of the recent expansion campaigns of the Saskatoon Friendship Inn, which provides an important part of Saskatoon’s social safety net. Meanwhile, the Friendship Inn and the Saskatoon Food Bank rely on thousands of individuals and small businesses for support that helps the two agencies serve thousands of clients each and every week.
What we have in common is the belief that we can make a difference and improve the lives of people in our city.
Despite the generosity of a lot of people in Saskatoon who donate time and money, there is still much to be done. Some neighbourhood community associations are nonexistent or barely functional; many minor sports teams need coaches; those who’ve fallen between the cracks of social safety nets are living in substandard conditions or are spending nights on the streets.
While the current warmer weather makes for pleasant afternoons, I wouldn’t want to be spending the night outdoors. Recent visits to the food bank and the Friendship Inn showed that hunger is still a major problem for single people as wells as entire families.
Where does the solution start? For decades in Saskatchewan we waited for the government to act. History shows that we’ve become impatient and are increasingly taking matters into our own hands. While we may look back fondly at an era when Big Government took care of us, the combination of leaner governments, more complex problems, a more conservative culture and changing expectations means those days are done.
We will have to solve our own problems. Whether those are large in scale, such as homelessness, or tackling inner city computer literacy issues, as a local charity called Repurposed Labs is doing, it’s increasingly clear that it will be up to citizens to tackle more and more problems.
It can be done, but it’s going to take a lot of BHAGs, time, and money. We all make resolutions for ourselves in the new year, but what we really need is a commitment from more people to dream big goals for our city. It’s a resolution worth keeping.
When I moved to Saskatoon in 1984, it was a sleepy and tired city. The landmark that endures in my mind was the unfinished foundation that dominated Five Corners on Broadway and sat uncompleted for years.
Moving here from a struggling Calgary, Saskatoon’s plight seemed worse. It seemed to be accompanied by a spirit of mediocrity. There were moments of hope, such as when the Saskatoon Blues seemed to be a possibility, but the dominant story was one of survival, instead of optimism for prosperity.
Things eventually changed. The Grant Devine era deficit was eventually slayed, government had more money to reinvest, and the world around us changed.
At one point you couldn’t give away our wheat and potash, but eventually prices skyrocketed for most of our commodities. Saskatchewan went from having a job shortage to having a labour shortage. Saskatchewan politicians travelled the country singing our praises. People not only listened but believed enough to move here.
As great as a story has been our recent past, it’s the next chapter that I was most curious about. So I walked down to city hall and spent some time talking to Mayor Don Atchison about what’s next in the story of Saskatoon.
You can’t talk to the mayor without being excited and hopeful about Saskatoon’s present and future. As much as I wanted to talk about the future, he said you can’t ignore what is happening now. Atchison called it the four Fs: "Fuel, fertilizer, food and fantastic people."
The economic evidence backs him up, as Atchison rattled off tens of billions of dollars of potash development underway. And it isn’t only potash. He pointed out that companies are coming to Saskatoon for rare earth minerals, magnesium and diamonds. As the mayor reminded me, "Every mining company in the world wants a presence in Saskatoon."
The expansion of potash has meant a lot of spinoff economic activity. While Saskatoon has never been a traditional manufacturing city, Atchison noted that it has emerged as one of the largest steel fabrication centres east of Toronto.
While the last "F" he mentioned seems like a bit of political spin, the fantastic people are an increased factor in our prosperity. Whether it’s the University of Saskatchewan grads who used to leave for Calgary but are now remaining in Saskatoon, or it’s the new talent this city is attracting, the nature of our population is changing. Saskatoon is both highly educated and more ethnically diverse – two qualities that world class cities have in common.
But attracting and retaining people is a problem with our soaring housing prices. The mayor repeatedly used the phrase "attainable housing" and pointed out that Saskatoon spends more money on affordable housing than does any other city in Canada. And in terms of real dollars, Saskatoon spends more than Calgary.
Looking forward, Atchison talked of an extended economic expansion that looks as if it could go on for a couple of decades. What we are going through is not a blip, he suggested, but the new normal.
To deal with the expected era of economic growth, city hall recently approved developing 10,000 new housing lots, which could mean anywhere from an additional 30,000 to 50,000 people moving to Saskatoon in the next several years. The plan is to balance this growth on the west and the east sides of the city.
The mayor talked of the redevelopment of Saskatoon’s historical neighbourhoods. The key to revitalization of 20th Street, he said, is the city investing in facade improvement, establishing the Riversdale Business Improvement District, and giving residents a large say in the future of the neighbourhood through the Local Area Plan process.
These improvements lead to an environment where both businesses and homeowners wanted to invest in Riversdale’s present as well as its future. Atchison showed me a photograph taken before the changes, when a row of houses was selling for less than $20,000 each back in 2004. Some of the same houses are worth almost 10 times that today. Ongoing investment in River Landing has started the reintegration of Riversdale to the downtown core – ties that will get stronger in the future with developments on both sides of Idylwyld Drive.
What does the next decade look like? Realistically you could see Saskatoon growing to more than 300,000 people from 230,000. In real terms that is a lot of new homes, schools, roads and, we can hope, a busier transit service.
It will mean a city where we are constantly trying to catch up to growth, which will be difficult at times. It also means Saskatoon will be a city of opportunity for people who no longer will have to leave the province for a better life. Of all of the things that have changed in Saskatoon, that’s likely the most important.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
While the winter has been mild so far, it still is winter. That means dressing in layers, being cold and not being able to enjoy so much of what makes Saskatoon great – mainly spring, summer and fall.
Even though winter is our dominant season, we don’t do a great job of enjoying it, despite our best efforts.
We have the PotashCorp Wintershines, Icecycle and, of course, the Meewasin Skating Rink by the Bessborough. Many of you join me in the middle of winter at the Conservatory at the Mendel, as we soak up both humidity and colours that are not brown or grey.
Thousands of us head out to Credit Union Centre to watch the Blades win a game before their inevitable second-round playoff collapse. Of course, we have to make sure to pack the booster cables to help out anyone whose car has frozen up because the game went into overtime.
So despite our best efforts, it’s several months of bundling up, being cold and freezing an ear occasionally. For those who don’t have a car and rely on public transportation, this can be a long season. Yet, as other cities can tell us, it doesn’t have to be quite so bad.
We could learn something from our neighbour to the east; Winnipeg. I was cruelly sent there twice last February and it was -40 C both times. Winnipeggers have pretty much given up and admitted they can’t survive the elements. So they have created miles of enclosed skywalks that go through the downtown.
The covered walkways connect and dissect malls, office towers and even the MTS Centre. They create two levels of the city, with higher end stores being connected to the walkways and a lower class system of stores at street level that is somewhat unsettling.
While the walkways were interesting, what really got my attention were the heated bus shelters interspersed in key areas in downtown Winnipeg.
These shelters are actually enclosed, with doors that shut. Despite the frigid temperatures, I was able to walk in, take off my tuque and gloves and unzip my jacket and remain comfortable as I sent a couple of emails on my Blackberry.
The bus signs with real time updates outside the shelter provided information on when the next bus would arrive, which allowed me to zip over and grab a coffee and still get back in time knowing I wouldn’t miss the bus. If that isn’t enough, there are web apps, mobile websites, Twitter and SMS updates to track your bus and provide warnings of service interruptions.
Unlike Saskatoon’s bus shelters, these are architecturally complementary to the environment, incorporating the same design elements as neighbouring buildings. The cost of these heated shelters means they are not all over Winnipeg, but are in 71 strategic locations throughout the city.
Not only does Winnipeg do a good job in making sure you are comfortable getting downtown, but once you are there it makes it easier for you to enjoy the area. It has held an international design competition for the past couple of years for warming huts at The Forks. In addition to doing fun stuff like flooding 1.2 kilometres of the pathways for skating, the warming huts make it easier for people to stay out there longer. This year’s competition was for five warming huts (there are seven from previous years). The 2011 huts were designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and others from as far away as Norway and the Czech Republic.
Such a venue is something that the downtown Saskatoon part of the river valley practically begs to be used for. For the first century of Saskatoon, we grew in a culture of scarcity.
Winter was something to be endured and complained about, because we lacked the resources and the vision to do anything about it – except for a ski jump that used to propel daredevils over the South Saskatchewan River.
Not everyone has the means or the desire to flee Saskatchewan’s cold in the winter. For those of us who stay, the more ways we have to embrace winter life in the city, the better.
Winnipeg’s bus shelters were packed with people and the purchases they made downtown. You can believe that an outing to The Forks for skating and curling also included stops at restaurants and shops.
A vibrant winter culture means a growing winter economy, something that means more jobs, more tax revenue and more thriving business downtown.
Saskatoon is becoming a world-class city in the summer; we just need the vision to keep it going 12 months of the year.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
A Saskatchewan Party government decision to change the date January social assistance cheques are released to after Christmas from before has come under fire from the NDP Opposition.
As of 2011, Social Services changed the date cheques were issued and direct deposits paid to Dec. 29 from Dec. 23.
“Our goal is to make sure people have money for not only Christmas, but for January as well,” Social Services Minister June Draude told reporters. “We want to make sure that there’s consistency and that people are able to budget.”
As the money is intended for food, shelter and other bills, recipients should look to other options for holiday celebrations, Draude said.
“We really count on places like the (community-based organizations) that work really hard with the ministry to ensure the extras for Christmas are available to our recipients,” Draude said.
I am not sure what I think about this decision. The NDP are right that people need the freedom to spend Social Assistance money like they choose but after years of seeing how busy agencies like the Salvation Army, the Saskatoon Food Bank, and The Friendship Inn are in January because the January check was spent on Christmas cheer (in whatever form it came in), I understand what the Saskatchewan Party is getting at. Of course the other thing I wrestle with is are CBO’s are the ones that need to be counted on to provide Christmas cheer because the government of Saskatchewan doesn’t want to mail our checks earlier.
I know this would get no political traction at all but why not give those deemed unemployable a $50 or $100 Christmas bonus check? You could even do as New York City has done and link it to performance markers like their annual review, maintaining housing, or making sure children get inoculations and shots.
It’s a tough season for those living under the poverty line, making it harder on those that have no other options doesn’t seem right at all. In a province showing gains all over the economic spectrum, there is no need for government to have a heart three sizes too small.
City hall was concerned enough by reports of panhandling and street activity that it commissioned a report this year to study the problem.
The comprehensive Street Activity Baseline Study was completed and sent to council in November. One issue that arose from the study is that people don’t feel comfortable in areas where there is street activity such as panhandling.
While panhandlers don’t bother me, a couple of weeks ago I noticed a large clown who was singing Eminem songs in front of Midtown Plaza, and that made me think twice before heading in to grab a coffee.
So, whether it is panhandlers asking for handouts or clowns trying to break into hip hop who are causing problems, councillors felt the need to act.
Our downtown is quite safe and getting safer, but perception is a powerful thing. If people don’t feel safe in an area, they won’t go there.
The report suggested the city build a coalition between different levels of government and social agencies to tackle some of the core issues of panhandling and street activity. It sounds good, but it takes time. To get things started, Saskatoon is taking a page from Calgary’s playbook and proposing a detachment of uniformed bylaw enforcement officers. Instead of using a weapon, they are directed to connect people to support agencies and, it is hoped, move them off the streets.
Calgary (indeed much of Alberta) has been dealing with significant homeless issues and has built up considerable capacity in its social agencies to solve the problem. Saskatoon does not have Calgary’s network of drop-in centres, outreach workers and support services for those on the street, because until recently our numbers haven’t required it.
Calgary approaches homelessness much differently, with a housing-first philosophy. People on the streets there are identified, assessed and housed as quickly as possible. Once they are housed, they are supported by caseworkers who deal with problematic behaviour.
It’s a philosophy and practice that’s in use in more than 300 jurisdictions across North America and has proven to drastically reduce problematic street activity. In many ways, street activity is as much about a lack of appropriate housing as anything else.
Saskatchewan’s service delivery model tends to encourage street activity.
Some shelters are closed during the day. Those who receive emergency social services benefits only get food and shelter, with no provision made for other needs. While a comfort allowance is provided, it comes only after intake. The mandate of Social Services here is much different than in other centres.
Funding comes from the federal government when you turn 65, which adds another level of complexity to the problem. There is even less support for seniors who have their pension checks mailed to them. The money is spent however the person sees fit.
Many are responsible and do a good job of surviving on very limited resources, but those without excellent budgeting skills find themselves quickly in need of money. The street provides a familiar way to get it.
Complicating many situations often are mental health issues. Concurrent disorders – mental health and substance abuse – make the problem much more complex. While the decision was right to close many mental health facilities in the late 1980s and let people live in the community, delivering the healthcare services they need became exponentially more complex.
Anyone who has tried to access mental health services knows how hard it can be, and how long the wait can be for non-emergency care. For someone without supports, the system is even harder to navigate. Even if an appointment is secured, getting someone from the street or with mental-health issues to help can be even more difficult than getting that appointment.
I had reservations about the approach the city is taking. The need isn’t for more uniformed bylaw officers but for more supports, a different service delivery, and probably a lot more money for mental-health care. But those areas are outside the city’s jurisdiction.
So, as much as I don’t like this approach, the city is correct to take a big step in trying to make Saskatoon streets safer and more comfortable. We’ll see if it works.
With the uniformed officers, the city is providing a tool to help people off the streets, even if there might not be a lot of places for them to go.
But for the officers to have a chance at success, they need partners.
In a culture of blaming other levels of government, it’s encouraging to see the city taking the lead.
In case you missed it, public health in the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat has deteriorated as families are living in shantytown conditions and are without running water, electricity, sewage or heat. A month ago its chief declared a state of emergency, which was ignored until she held a news conference in Toronto. Finally, the media – and then the politicians – started to pay attention.
It isn’t just Attawapiskat that has serious problems.
More than 150 First Nations across Canada are under boil-water advisories.
Former auditor general Sheila Fraser has repeatedly brought up aboriginal water safety over the last decade and has found her recommendations were either ignored or little progress has been made.
Fraser has called for radical action in fixing funding formulas and rethinking how services are delivered.
She sees it as a big problem, but until two weeks ago, few seemed to pay attention.
Fraser is correct to highlight the safety and governance issues on many of the reserves, but the bigger problem is their isolation.
The Indian Act was implemented and regional treaties were signed starting in 1876. When the treaties were signed, there was no way to imagine the kind of world that the reserves would find themselves in today, yet those 125yearold documents still provide much of the governance and rules for how bands and reserves are run.
The economic landscape has changed the country many times over. Booms come and go, but for decades, reserves in the south have found themselves with more valuable land and surrounded by more economic activity, two things that contribute to a higher standard of living for their residents. Locally, Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and the City of Saskatoon set up the first commercial urban reserve in 1988. In 2004, the city published a paper showing there were 37 businesses on the land. The model worked well enough that there are 28 urban reserves in Saskatchewan.
The reserves work because of most of the bands’ proximity to an urban environment. The same is true with the economic activity on Whitecap Dakota First Nation with Dakota Dunes and the casino. Proximity matters.
Many northern reserves, including Attawapiskat, have little economic activity and job prospects outside of the band office. High transportation and infrastructure costs make the problem worse and, without natural resources to exploit, most are at the whim of what the government will give them. The biggest problem they face is their isolation, which keeps them from ever being economically viable.
The government of Canada needs to do a better job of helping these northern communities.
The opposition is right to be clamouring for more spending on safe water, education and shelter, but the need goes beyond that. The Conservatives need to start the dialogue with Native leaders and those communities and figure out if they have a future in their current state.
There are communities that are going to be economically viable. With global warming, an openedup Arctic, and the growing demand for resources, some bands will be lucky and benefit from the investment it will bring. Others, because of limited natural resources and unlucky location, have no more future than what they have presently. Their future will be one of high unemployment, poor education, substance abuse and all of the problems that define many of those communities now.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and aboriginal leaders must take this opportunity to tackle the big problems, not just offer Band-Aid solutions. The Assembly of First Nations estimates there is a shortage of 80,000 homes on reserves. With infrastructure costs, you could be looking at a $7to $10-billion price tag and that is just housing. Unemployment in some communities approaches almost 90 per cent with no chance of growth. These problems call for a rethinking of what the treaties were intended to do and how they can be applied in today’s Canada.
Twenty-three years ago, no one had thought of a commercial urban reserve until the Chief Whitecap Reserve and Saskatoon partnered together to create one. The same kind of outside-the-box thinking is needed today. Let’s hope both aboriginal leaders and the Harper government have the courage to take the path. Too many generations have been left behind already.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
A couple of Fridays ago I met over the noon hour with Jason Moore and Don Windell of Lighthouse Supported Living, and they were talking about a problem we have all confronted over the years in Saskatoon: How do we help sex trade workers to get off the streets?
While the issue may not be that big, it’s really complicated. As I have written previously, many of the women working the streets struggle with mental health problems, acquired brain injuries, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, and with psychological issues that come from unwillingly engaging in sex acts. Many are victims of regular violence from their pimps, and they live in fear of the gangs.
Then you add the complexity of why they are doing it. Many are introduced to it from family or by someone who they think loves them. For others, the sex trade is something they do to survive or just to get the next hit of drugs.
Recovery from this isn’t quick. Dr. Gabor Mate has written about traumatic situations and upbringing actually rewiring the brain. It’s a physical response to being in survival mode for an extended period of time.
I don’t like the comparison, but my beloved dog died several years ago. Over the Christmas break, my wife Wendy dragged me along to the SPCA to look at puppies. Instead of a cute puppy, I got an out of control and badly abused Weimaraner/golden lab. The dog didn’t even understand stairs, and I don’t think had ever been inside.
Anytime any of us would pet her, she got all excited and ran out of the room because she didn’t know how to handle it. I had to be careful how I called her, because if she detected an edge to my voice she became immobilized by fear. Even grabbing a cup of coffee was an adventure because, if the dog saw an open hand, she would cry and expect to be beaten. It is what she was conditioned to expect.
It’s been six years since we brought Maggi home, and she is still the most eccentric dog I have ever owned. However, years of treating her gently and with love, she has changed. Years of negative interactions were replaced by six years of positive ones, and Maggi has become a big part of our family.
Many women working the street have had a lifetime of negative influences and experience that make it really hard, if not impossible, for them to adapt to normal life. They’ve experienced physical and sexual abuse at home and a culture of substance abuse. Many have physical and sexual health issues.
Very few of us can understand what it must be like live in such an environment.
To give a person a chance to change, you need to change their environment.
A 2001 study in Baltimore, Md., showed that teens who had been moved from high crime housing projects and violent neighbourhoods to the suburbs adopted to the values of their new surroundings, instead of committing crimes.
Having different peers, higher expectations and more opportunities all combined to change the norms for those teens.
Given time and opportunity, people can change. A change in environment is what some of the very wounded women require to heal, but how do you create that environment?
The visit to The Lighthouse was encouraging, because it has a plan to do just this.
As with all good ideas, it will take some time and resources. To get the seed money, they have entered into a funding competition from a large Canadian insurance company. To have a chance to succeed, The Lighthouse needs people to vote for its project.
I am not a big fan of such competitions, but I am not the one giving out any money. While I am sure the idea will keep being pushed forward, winning the funding will get the project going a lot quicker than it would if a fundraising campaign is needed.
Many of us pay to vote en masse for American Idol week after week, and all that has got us is fewer Aerosmith tour dates. Voting for this project helps women to leave the streets, benefits our neighbourhoods, and it doesn’t cost you a dime.
For all of us who have seen the problem of women being hurt and exploited on the streets and didn’t know what to do about it, here is your chance. Click on http: //j.mp/harbourofhope and help give a voice to the voiceless.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
The city announced a couple of years ago that it was exploring the idea of a tall wind turbine in Saskatoon. I loved the idea when it came out and have followed its progress off and on.
The city evaluated sites near the university, Diefenbaker Park and the landfill. Eventually the choice was narrowed down to the landfill site, where a variety of green energy options will be located.
The tall wind turbine that Saskatoon is proposing is one of the largest to be built in an urban centre. It is being partially funded by the Canada-Saskatchewan Provincial-Territorial Base Fund, which will cover slightly more than half of the $5-million capital cost.
The turbine is projected to start generating revenue of $410,000 beginning in 2013 and turn a profit nine years down the line. To qualify for the funding, the project needs to be completed by March 2013, which is why we have seen a flurry of activity as time is running short.
While city hall seems to love the project, residents of Montgomery are strongly against it – something I saw first-hand at the Ward 2 town hall meeting.
While the city has held some open houses, its communication with residents about the project has been lacking or simply ineffective. Civic officials at the meeting pointed out the city had released a variety of environmental impact reports, but had only posted them on the city’s website earlier that day.
I didn’t see any hard copies of the report, presentation on the wind turbine or any other tools that would have been useful in engaging the neighbourhood in a dialogue. As expected, people brought up a variety of concerns, most having to do with how close it would be to Montgomery, and how much noise would be generated.
Turbine locations are controversial everywhere. There are as many regional and national standards as there are reasons for why the Leafs keep missing the playoffs. The setbacks required range from 400 metres to more than two kilometres. There are court challenges and issues over property values in many jurisdictions.
It comes down to this: The farther away a turbine is, the less noise is heard.
While it would make sense to locate the turbine outside Saskatoon in the middle of nowhere, the city needs to keep it within its 1956 city limits so it can be operated under Saskatoon Light and Power.
The city also looked at locating the turbine in Diefenbaker Park, but rejected that idea because of the potential of future commercial and residential development going there.
It decided instead to put it right beside an existing residential neighbourhood. You can understand why the Montgomery residents are upset.
The turbine at the landfill would be more than 500 metres away from homes in Montgomery. At that range, says a report, the noise generated by the turbine in a light breeze will be approximately 40 decibels, which is only slightly more than a quiet whisper. This noise is on top of the noise that Montgomery has to put up with from trains rolling by and the shunting of railcars all day and night.
While the turbine wouldn’t add to the level of noise (the louder noise is the one heard), it adds a constant noise to the equation.
When I looked at the engineering report for how much sound would be created, it was based on the assumption of a light breeze. Not knowing how windy it gets out there, I checked out the Wind Assessment Final Report prepared by the Saskatchewan Research Council, which says: "The site, therefore, would be considered marginal for supporting wind power generation."
It’s not the worst classification, but it’s second worst. The good news is that it may be even quieter than what the noise report suggests, but the bad news is there’s an awful lot of angry people over what is being called a marginal project.
The global energy problem won’t be solved by a few more of us driving hybrid vehicles. It will take a commitment and investment in alternative energy generation, such as wind turbines.
I know the federal money is there, and $2.35 million is hard to walk way from, especially when the city already has spent $530,000 on the project. However, if we are going to spend the money, let’s spend it on something that makes the most impact, not just because we can get some federal dollars.
If we are going to ask a neighbourhood to make a sacrifice and support something, we should ensure that it’s more than a marginal project, even if it is green.