A new project spearheaded by the Edmonton Police Service will target the top 50 heavy users of the city’s police, medical and inner-city services. The project is aimed at better co-ordinating efforts among the agencies that work the most with the city’s chronically homeless.
“Without looking at specifics here, we’re finding we’re all talking about the same people,” police Chief Rod Knecht told the Journal this week. “The same people we’re arresting 50 times a year are the same people that are being transported by the ambulance 50 times a year, same people in the emergency ward, same people the shelters are dealing with.”
The key, Knecht says, is to focus on these so-called frequent flyers who place such a heavy burden on resources and fill the gaps in service.
“We think there’s a better way to keep them out of the system. It’s costing a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort,” he said.
A chronically homeless person costs the system about $100,000 per year, according to a presentation at Thursday’s police commission meeting by Jay Freeman, the executive director of the Edmonton Homeless Commission. By comparison, a person helped off the street and given the necessary support to stay housed costs taxpayers about $35,000 per year, Freeman said in his presentation.
Each year, police receive around 35,000 calls for service related to the city’s homeless, mentally ill and addicted populations, Knecht said. Each one of those calls takes an average of 104 minutes to complete.
“I think, if we do this properly, we’ll actually save money,” Knecht said. “And I don’t think little money — I think big money.”
But, he says, that’s not the project’s motivation.
“The big thing is, you’re going to be taking care of the most vulnerable people in the community. That’s a lofty goal (and) I think that’s a commendable goal for a city, a community, to be involved in,” Knecht said.
Saskatoon’s numbers are about the same. It costs $100,000 for a chronically homeless here as well. It’s way cheaper to find housing.
My intention was to get into work early on Friday and so I could get out in lots of time to go to the gym. I also wanted to get into my office before the plumbers came in (no heat at all in my office this week) and get some work done in some peace and quiet. The good news is that the plumbers are gone and I have a brand new cutting edge radiator. The bad news is that I still have no heat. If there is some good news is that Chris’s office has heat (according to some) but it was still colder than mine which has no heat. Then again I think we call that a lose, lose situation.
We did rearrange our office. Both Jeff and I have our office set up so we are less approachable and harder to talk to according to experts. That didn’t work out so well as we still had a plethora of staff coming in to chat. We may need to install a moat. One idea we did have was to install a Les Nessman type wall in our office. The only staff that got the WKRP reference put on up and now we have a green tape line going down the middle of my office. The bad news is that my fridge is on Jeff’s part of the office now.
As I was about to leave our two complex needs support staff wandered in as they host a coffee house on Friday nights for our clients. Since they don’t actually report to me, the conversation is always pretty stress free. Our conversation moved over the other side of the building where I decided to stay for coffee house. After we were done serving I took an hour to sit down and talk with some residents who were all loitering around. I had helped all of them over the last couple of weeks and all had made some really significant process towards housing (they all had found jobs and were working). Over the next hour we just talked about hunting, cars, guns, rural life, how to cook wild game (I am told that you cook it in bacon), and life at The Lighthouse. I was also criticized for not liking the coffee at The Lighthouse. I criticized them back for liking the coffee at The Lighthouse.
I forget sometimes how much I enjoy this part of the job. There is paperwork, reports, and plans to make but they don’t really give anything back to you. Sitting down and chilling out with some residents and listening to them is what gives back. It’s not always like this, many times there are crisis’ and problems but on a night where I just sat back and listened to some people working hard and making progress, it reminds me that we are making a difference.
As an idealist, I would like to believe that the social safety net in this province worked a lot a better than it does and on nights like tonight, no one would be left outside where they could possibly freeze. Most nights the system works but there are some nights people that are outside and as we have seen, some freeze to death.
The reason they are outside is that:
- They don’t qualify for Social Services emergency funding because
- The are receiving what is called Transitional Employment Assistance and don’t qualify for emergency assistance (which makes no sense to me)
- Their worker decided that when it is 30 below, it is a good time to decide to make teach them personal responsibility.
- Other emergency services won’t fund them
- They have a fear of using social agencies.
- They are banned from all facilities.
In full disclosure I have banned people before and will do it again. The reason we ban people because they are too dangerous to other people (arsonist, violent, drug dealer) or are a danger to staff (predatorily sex offender, violence against staff in the past), or are a dangerous to themselves (they do something where like 20 people want to beat them up… it happens). We have to balance the safety of the facility, clients, and staff vs. the needs of the individual. While its easy to say that we need to give people another and another chance, when I have done it in the past, people have gotten seriously hurt.
The end result is that they have nowhere to go or no one wants to help them.
What we have done this year is open an Out of the Cold shelter at The Lighthouse. Technically it isn’t it’s own shelter but a series of protocols that staff follow to make sure that people are housed. It is a low threshold shelter where the primary importance is to make sure people are warm and safe no matter what the mood is of the system.
It sounds nice but it really isn’t. Like anything that is a result of a failure of the system, it enables the system to behave badly. In other cities it allows social worker to not help because there is another safety net that is there and it doesn’t reflect on anyone’s caseload. It also moves a role that the government is supposed to take a roll in and moves to CBOs which isn’t cool. If it was a perfect world, it wouldn’t be needed but it isn’t and so we do it.
Of course when we take them in, it becomes our problem. Some people have fallen through the cracks and just need a break. Those are a pleasure to deal with. Others are entitled who believe that the system (which is now The Lighthouse) has to take care of them. They are not so much fun.
As for the people who need it, it’s been good for them and for the most part good for the staff. The staff have quite a bit of latitude to book someone in and like we say, “it’s easier to explain to [me] why you did it than explain your actions about why you did not to a coroner”. In two cases where we have used it, within a day or two the men had found employment and housing really quick. In other cases there are some mental health or addiction issues that made it harder but that’s part of it as well. The only negative encounter was that someone started to yell and scream at the staff around 5:30 a.m. but they had stayed the night, were safe, warm, but just a little cranky. We’ll take that as a win.
As for those that are banned. Those are the calls that wake Chris Powell and I up in the night (hopefully Chris more than me). We have worked with staff to give them more latitude but to overturn a ban, they are to call us and we make the final decision. It’s a hard decision to make. It’s hard to get banned from The Lighthouse and it means that they are dangerous to others. We are working on some protocols that will make that happen more but I’ll be honest, it’s the hardest thing to deal with and like I said, when I have overturned bans in the past, people have gotten hurt. What we are doing is re-assessing things and relying on some good community partners assessments. If that is a go, we will house them. Sadly not all community partners can assess someone. Police officers are good for a lot of things, assessing the behaviour of someone in a shelter is not one of those skills but we also have staff there and most times the cops are quite good about it. Emergency room staff on the other hand are a lost cause. They can’t be counted on to give an honest assessment.
The last category is there are some that are afraid of using social services and that is a post all by itself. Basically something happened in their past that they associate with social services and for whatever reason, they won’t go back, even though they need help. Staff house them and we help them in the morning.
The other weird thing has been that people are coming in because they hear that they can get a shower and cleaned up. They all tell the frontline staff that it is myself that told them that they can come in (which is weird as I never have). It’s not part of the program but the front desk staff has been accommodating those requests as well. It’s a hassle with the way our facility is designed but allows people to come out of the cold, warm up, get clean and hopefully feel better about themselves. We don’t mind offering that service as well and if nothing else, we are making Saskatoon a better smelling place to live in. That has to be worth something.
The goal is that when we are done our renovations is that we will offer a full urban rest stop type of service. Cold/hot drinks, washer/dryer, showers, and computers. We have all the pieces but we will work hard over the next couple of months to integrate them together a little better. It’s a process but I think we are getting somewhere.
Every Christmas individual, organizations, and businesses ask shelters what they can do to help those that are homeless. It’s part of the holiday season. Long before people fought the crowds looking for Boxing Day sales, it used to be the day where people used to box up their food scraps and give them to the poor. While food scraps aren’t needed these days, there are many in Saskatoon with real needs this Christmas. Here are some ideas on how you can help.
In putting together a list of things that people want, you need to realize that many people have lost everything except for the clothes on their back when they end up in the shelters and often have been in this state for a long time. On top of that, many shelters are busier over the holidays as people come inside over the holidays or find that they can’t bear to stay where they are over. Toss in things like season affective disorder (the depression that many have over the holidays), separation from families and frustration over their state of housing, it’s a busy and difficult time for shelter providers and any help that people can provide is appreciated.
For many being in a shelter allows them get a hot shower and cleaned up. Because of the numbers of people needing the services, shelters tend to buy in bulk and in individual packages for ease of distribution. Some simple luxuries like a bottle of body wash, shampoo, or conditioner have always been warmly appreciated as we have given them out. People tend to feel better about themselves when they feel and smell clean.
In shelters, the razors that are given out are of such low quality that I refuse to accept thanks when I give them out. Single blade, double blade, it doesn’t matter as they are all horrible. Most men and women have to get two of them just to shave. There are good disposable razors on the market but what I suggest are the store brands sold by the department stores and pharmacies. They are higher quality and the replacement blades a lot cheaper. If you are inclined, toss in some shaving cream. It builds self-esteem and is another thing that help them as they take the steps towards finding employment, an apartment or just reintegrating back into society.
When the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban bought the team, he went out and bought the best towels that money could buy as he felt that a nice towel was a wonderful luxury. Visiting NBA players agreed as they took the towels from the Mavericks locker room and kept them despite their salaries. For most of the men and women that I work with in the shelters, none of them have a towel which means that on top of it being a constant need, it gives them something that they will need both in the shelter and when they move out on their own.
Many of the men that are in shelters are trying to work to get back out on their own. Which in the winter means a lot of work outside. While many don’t have a lot of job skills, they head down to an temporary labour place which means a lot of jobs which are out of the cold. Work brings in money but also allows a lot of them to prove themselves. Things like winter gloves, toques, warm socks, insoles, hard warmers, or a fleece to layer are critical in working that first winter job and keeps them going until they get that first paycheck. I am always surprised to look back and see for many men, their pathway to housing started with a donation of winter work gear at Christmas.
Along side of the winter work gear, I include an insulated travel mug and a thermos. It’s hard to spend a day working in Saskatchewan winters and when men have been given these in the past, they talk about what a difference it makes on the job site.
You also have the essentials which are often underwear and socks. While Saskatoon is generous with it’s donations to shelters with clothes, few donate underwear and socks because we tend to wear them out and toss them out. For 90% of the people that come into the facility I work at, they need socks or underwear, especially in winter.
Being homeless is hard anytime of the year but even harder over the holidays. In all of your giving this year, consider those that have nothing. It could be the start of something big. Just remember that before you go out and buy, call the shelter you want to give to, they will give you more refined list of ways you can help.
Last month, the Canadian Homelessness Research Network (CHRN) released a compilation report on the costs of caring for Canadians on the street. While homeless advocates usually make appeals to compassion and morality when championing policy reforms to help the most impoverished of this country’s citizens, the report attempts to illustrate empirically the financial impact of homelessness.
What author Stephen Gaetz makes clear is that calculating the cost of homelessness must not only account for shelters or soup kitchens, but also peripheral services, such as health care and the justice system, that homeless people come into contact with more frequently than society at large. As they are often poorly nourished, unable to engage in adequate sanitation practices, and live in settings where exposure to communicable disease is high, for instance, homeless Canadians experience a serious deterioration of their physical health. In addition, 40 per cent of this population suffers from mental health issues. As a result, they are hospitalized five times more often than the general public during any given year, usually for longer periods.
According to a 2007 Wellesley Institute report cited by the CHRN, the average monthly expense of housing a homeless person in a Toronto hospital is $10,900. To provide them with a shelter bed costs $1,932. But here is where the data may surprise you: Putting a roof over that same person’s head, either with rent supplements or social housing, would require just $701 or $199.92, respectively. In fact, a similar study conducted in British Columbia discovered that province’s homeless population currently costs the public system $55,000 per person per year, but if every homeless person were instead provided with adequate housing and supports, they would require just $37,000 — saving the province $211 million annually.
When it comes to social policy, Canadians are often told there must be a balance between compassion and affordability. As it turns out, in this case, the right thing to do is also the least expensive. This should perhaps come as no surprise, as in life generally a proactive strategy is almost always more efficient than a reactive one. Still, there is now hard data to show funding emergency services, shelters, and day programs is just not as cost-effective as providing homeless citizens with a place to live and the social supports to help them stay there
The spec promo commercial centers on a homeless man who is looking to better himself, raising money every which way he can in order to pay for training as a boxer at a local gym. We get glimpses of his life on the streets, his makeshift sleeping accommodations near train tracks, and the various means he uses to make a living-or in this case to graduate to some semblance of a livelihood in the boxing ring.