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poverty

Cam Broten: Focused on What Matters

Excellent short video by NDP leader Cam Broten

Broten is right on with these issues and I am going to suggest that the problem is even worse than what he says.  I am glad he is paying attention to them.

Saskatchewan Connected

I have to admit I was disappointed to see this announced.

A free wireless Internet service in Saskatchewan is being shut down six years after it was introduced.

SaskTel has announced that the “Saskatchewan! Connected” initiative is being terminated across the province due to lack of use.

The service was launched by the provincial government, providing a basic level of Internet service throughout the certain businesses districts and post-secondary campuses in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, and Prince Albert.

At the time government ministers insisted it would “build on Saskatchewan’s reputation for innovation and being in the forefront of technology advancement.”

It was used by a lot of homeless men and women at The Lighthouse who had wifi capable cell phones but could not afford the extremely high data rates to stay connected to others.  Since The Lighthouse had the worst network I have ever seen, I found myself having to use Saskatchewan Connected on more than one occasion but found it was unusable after mid-morning which suggested to me that it was being used a lot.

It’s a short sighted decision by the Saskatchewan Party that hurts those without internet access tremendously.

Ad Volarem Debate

This portion on the September 9th Saskatoon City Council debate on the flat tax is disturbing on so many levels. As you can see in the video clip above, the Mayor is talking about how he doesn’t see the City having a role in wealth redistribution and then goes on to mention affordable home ownership; which is a city run wealth distribution program as money is raised by the Land Bank selling lots at market value and then funnelled into affordable housing and attainable home ownership programs.

Then he launches into the city not using ad volarem for super pipes and doesn’t quite realize that it is only a $2 fee.  Recycling mean while is a fee for service (which is only $4.66 a month).  Finally he gets into the part when he says the people he care the most about are the seniors.  I know what he is saying but there are a lot of people on the west side of the city (that don’t vote for him) that have not benefitted from the economic expansion in Saskatoon and they would be badly hurt by a base tax as well.  So by somehow wanting to keep them in their homes, he plans on taxing them more.  

If you listen to the end, you will hear Coun. Darren Hill challenge the mayor on his suggestions that those who are in favour of Ad Volarem taxes are forcing seniors out of their homes (which is wrong on multiple levels, especially since most low income seniors would pay less taxes under Ad Volarem than under a base tax) and the Mayor denying and demanding an apology.

Here is how Gerry Klein saw the debate

Yet it seemed to have some council members unduly flummoxed, particularly Mayor Don Atchison whose convoluted argument in support of the base tax included insisting that it’s not up to the city to redistribute wealth and claiming that increasing the property tax threatens to throw widows out on the street.

The first part of that argument is clear: The city is responsible for providing services such as maintaining the streets. If charging a ratepayer whose property is assessed to be worth $50,000 the same $170 that is charged to someone whose property is assessed at $1.8 million, well, that’s just fair.

But the second argument appeared to be a non sequitur that contradicts the first. It strayed into wondering why more lowincome seniors haven’t taken advantage of a city program that would allow them to defer payment of tax increases and allow that money to eat into the value of their homes.

The mayor’s argument was so convoluted that it devolved into a painful-towatch war of words with Coun. Darren Hill, who insisted that his rejection of the proposed base tax wasn’t meant to deprive widows of their homes.

“That’s not what I said and I demand an apology,” Atchison replied.

Well, I apologize because, like Hill, that’s what I heard.

Attaching a flat tax that would require 85 per cent of civic ratepayers to pay more in relation to the value of their homes so the remaining 15 per cent – including commercial properties valued in the millions – won’t have to face increases clearly would have a detrimental impact not only on hardpressed seniors on fixed incomes but also on the vast majority of citizens.

In case you are wondering, I downloaded the MP4 of the entire council meeting (40 minutes), imported all four hours of video into iMovie (45 minutes), watched it (kill me now), and then edited some interesting clips and uploaded them to the OurYXE YouTube Channel.  I keep hearing from people who are interested in Council stuff but have no desire to watch hours of it.  Hopefully this will make some of the debates easier to get into.  Of course it almost makes it a lot easier to blog about.

How Poverty Takes Over the Mind

How does poverty affect your mind?

Suppose you got no sleep last night and you have to take an intelligence test today. If you’re like most people, you’re not going to do so well on that test. Now suppose you are struggling with poverty and you have to take the same intelligence test. How, if at all, will your test score be affected?

Harvard University economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton University psychologist Eldar Shafir offer a clear answer: You will probably do pretty badly. In a series of studies, they found that being poor, and having to manage serious financial problems, can be a lot like going through life with no sleep. The reason is that if you are poor, you are likely to be preoccupied with your economic situation, and your mind has less room for other endeavors. This claim has important implications for how we think about poverty and for how we select policies designed to help poor people.

In one experiment, Mullainathan and Shafir went to a large shopping mall and paid numerous people, with a diverse range of incomes, to participate in a little test. They began by asking participants how they would solve a financial problem (for example, they might need to spend a certain sum of money to fix their car).

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two versions of the problem. In the “hard” version, the cost involved was pretty high (it might cost $1,500 to fix the car). In the “easy” version, the cost was low ($150). After explaining how they would solve the problem, people were subjected to intelligence tests.

Here’s the remarkable result: When rich people and poor people were assigned to the easy version of the financial problem, they performed about the same on the intelligence tests. But when they were assigned to the hard version, with its larger financial stakes, poor people did a lot worse on the intelligence tests, and rich people looked much smarter.

Was this a result of some kind of “math anxiety” on the part of the poor? Evidently not. Mullainathan and Shafir conducted a second experiment in which they began not with a financial problem but with arithmetic questions, using the same sets of numbers as in the first experiment. In this version of the experiment, greater difficulty in the initial question didn’t produce differences between rich and poor on subsequent intelligence tests.

What’s going on here? Mullainathan and Shafir have a straightforward answer. If you are poor and you are trying to manage a hard financial situation, your mental resources will be strained, and you are less likely to perform well on other tasks.

This is what a homeless family looks and sounds like

My friend Mark Horvath just uploaded this heartbreaking story of homelessness in St. Louis.  It’s not a typical story in Saskatoon (thank goodness) but it does happen even here.

The World’s Tallest Slum

Welcome to the world’s tallest slum: poverty-ridden Venezuela’s Tower of David. Squatters took over this very unfinished 45-story skyscraper in the early 1990s, and they’ve been there ever since.

Interview with Gerald Bauman of 650 CKOM on poverty in Saskatoon

I sat down with Gerald Bauman on the Brent Loucks Show and we talked about 2nd Avenue and 22nd Street, poverty, and crime in Saskatoon

Listen here.

Saskatoon needs downtown drop-in centre

My column in The StarPhoenix

Saskatoon has been in an uproar over the suggestion the city spend $40,000 to remove the benches in the vicinity of the McDonald’s restaurant on Second Avenue and 22nd Street because people are loitering there all day.

Police officers and business owners with whom I have spoken have real concerns about the street corner. I have seen a couple of drug deals take place there, and there have been reports of violence and harassment of passersby.

Both the police and the Community Support Officers have done some good work to try to manage the problem. Over many lunch hours I have seen a police officer standing there. When the McDonald’s on Second Avenue becomes a police beat, it may be time to do something.

The problem with removing the benches is that it doesn’t accomplish what it is intended to do. I have gone into that McDonald’s over many lunches (Don’t tell my wife. She sent me to work with a salad). The staff is courteous and polite, and McDonald’s provides free coffee refills and sells a lot of soda for $1.

The combination of a friendly staff, free coffee, cheap soda and a centralized location where people can come to meet their friends have turned the restaurant into a downtown drop-in centre. I know people who come from miles away to meet their friends there daily. I am pretty sure that is not the business plan McDonald’s intended.

When you toss in the low fence in the neighbouring parking lot, the location lends itself to loitering. The solution isn’t to remove the benches, or to legislate behaviour. Other cities have learned it doesn’t work. Toronto has given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to the poor and homeless. Numerous American cities have banned people from sitting on the sidewalks. Denver has made it illegal to be homeless by banning urban camping.

It’s the wrong approach. When you have nothing, what is the deterrent effect of a fine? Toronto’s inability to collect any of those fines shows that its policy is a huge failure.

The solution is to deal with the real issue. There are people in Saskatoon who are so far below the poverty line that to them, simple poverty looks like a welcome step up. Many are getting less in social assistance for rent than what their rent costs. Part of their rent has to come out of their living allowance – money that is supposed to be for food.

When people have very little, they at least want to be around their friends. These groups self-organize and find a place to meet. In this case it has become the downtown restaurant. Getting rid of the benches or even the entire McDonald’s won’t change that. They will organize and find somewhere else to meet.

Do we get rid of the benches on 21st Street or shut down the food court at the Midtown Plaza next?

Other growing cities have adopted drop-in centres. It’s not a new concept, as we have had them for youth and teens for decades. This needs to happen downtown for adults. An agency needs to step up and work with the city and downtown neighbours to create a space where people want to come, and at the same time works for neighbouring businesses. It isn’t easy, but as I have seen in visiting great drop-ins from coast to coast, it is possible to find that balance.

It takes a place where people can be warm on cold days, cool on hot days, and have something to drink, a bite to eat, and even some Internet access. From what we have learned in Saskatoon, cheap pop, coffee and hamburgers seem to be the formula people want. Just make sure they have a chance to meet their friends there.

Saskatoon has a downtown full of energy. People want to work, socialize and play there. We all want to be where the action is, regardless of our income. Other cities have learned that drop-in services need to be downtown, because that is where the people are going to congregate.

While this is a local problem, it’s also a reflection of provincial policies. Social Services needs to move beyond merely writing cheques and realize that it has a role to play in issues like this in cities and towns across Saskatchewan.

It was encouraging to see city council’s planning and operations committee look beyond the easy solution and realize there are much more complicated factors at play. Let’s see if council and the provincial government have the political will to address them.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Fed up with non-profits, Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes And Google Are Giving Cash Directly To The Poor

Having seen mismanagement and corruption in some non-profits, I agree with their approach

Paul Niehaus, an assistant professor of economics at UC San Diego and a board member of GiveDirect, came up with the idea of transferring money to poor people’s cell phones back in 2008. He was working with the Indian government to limit corruption and saw how the government there transferred money to people’s phones. “I realized I could do that myself,” Niehaus told me. He told the gathering in San Francisco that most of the money that’s donated to help poor people goes to international development organizations, not poor people directly. GiveDirectly’s giving has had “big impacts on nutrition, education, land and livestock” and “hasn’t been shown to increase how much people drink,” Niehaus emphasized. “A typical poor person is poor not because he is irresponsible, but because he was born in Africa.”

GiveDirectly finds poor households – typically people who live in mud huts with thatched roofs – and uses a system called M-Pesa, run by Vodafone , to transfer money to their cell phones. Transaction fees eat up a mere 3 cents per donated dollar. Niehaus says plenty of recipients use the money to upgrade their homes by adding a metal roof.

Which is why I like to give money through Kiva.

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias says much the same thing in Slate

Poverty is, fundamentally, a lack of money. So doesn’t it make sense that simply delivering cash to poor people can be an effective strategy for alleviating it?

Transferring money to poor Americans has been a much bigger success than most of us realize. When it comes to the global poor—the hundreds of millions of slum-dwellers and subsistence farmers who still populate the world—one might be more skeptical. Perhaps the problems facing these unfortunates are simply too profound and too complex to be addressed by anything other than complicated development schemes. Well, perhaps.

But there’s striking new evidence that helping the truly poor really is as simple as handing them money. Money with no strings attached not only directly raises the living standards of those who receive it, but it also increases hours worked and labor productivity, seemingly laying the groundwork for growth to come.

Throughout history, dire poverty has been a basic condition of the mass of mankind

We can eradicate it by 2030 according to the Economist

IN SEPTEMBER 2000 the heads of 147 governments pledged that they would halve the proportion of people on the Earth living in the direst poverty by 2015, using the poverty rate in 1990 as a baseline. It was the first of a litany of worthy aims enshrined in the United Nations “millennium development goals” (MDGs). Many of these aims—such as cutting maternal mortality by three quarters and child mortality by two thirds—have not been met. But the goal of halving poverty has been. Indeed, it was achieved five years early.

In 1990, 43% of the population of developing countries lived in extreme poverty (then defined as subsisting on $1 a day); the absolute number was 1.9 billion people. By 2000 the proportion was down to a third. By 2010 it was 21% (or 1.2 billion; the poverty line was then $1.25, the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines in 2005 prices, adjusted for differences in purchasing power). The global poverty rate had been cut in half in 20 years.

That raised an obvious question. If extreme poverty could be halved in the past two decades, why should the other half not be got rid of in the next two? If 21% was possible in 2010, why not 1% in 2030?

Why not indeed? In April at a press conference during the spring meeting of the international financial institutions in Washington, DC, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, scrawled the figure “2030” on a sheet of paper, held it up and announced, “This is it. This is the global target to end poverty.” He was echoing Barack Obama who, in February, promised that “the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades.”

This week, that target takes its first step towards formal endorsement as an aim of policy round the world. The leaders of Britain, Indonesia and Liberia are due to recommend to the UN a list of post-2015 MDGs. It will be headed by a promise to end extreme poverty by 2030.

There is a lot of debate about what exactly counts as poverty and how best to measure it. But by any measure, the eradication of $1.25-a-day poverty would be an astonishing achievement. Throughout history, dire poverty has been a basic condition of the mass of mankind. Thomas Malthus, a British clergyman who founded the science of demography, wrote in 1798 that it was impossible for people to “feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and [their] families” and that “no possible form of society could prevent the almost constant action of misery upon a great part of mankind.” For most countries, poverty was not even a problem; it was a plain, unchangeable fact.

You know what I would like to see?  Stephen Harper and the premiers making the same pledge to radically improve conditions on Canadian reserves.  It’s not any of their faults that it has gotten this bad but it would be interesting to work with First Nations leaders and come up with a baseline that by 2030 (or 2020) that all First Nations would be at.  

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to navigate the different groups but can it be any harder than cutting extreme poverty around the world in half?

Housing homeless tackled

Excellent op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press by Sam Tsemberis and Vicky Stergiopoulos

In Canada, we conducted the largest randomized controlled trial of its kind in the world on homelessness by comparing housing-first to services as usual (the At Home/Chez Soi study) involving 2,255 participants who were homeless across five Canadian cities (Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver). The one-year results, recently reported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, indicate HF is significantly more effective than services as usual in providing stable housing for people who had been homeless for years and who have complex clinical needs.

Also compelling was the finding that for every two government dollars invested in the HF program, $1 was saved. Savings were even greater for those who used services the most, with $3 saved for every $2 spent.

It’s no wonder the federal government supports housing-first: It is highly effective and can save money.

So Canada is on the right track. We have both funds and evidence-based policy for moving forward on homelessness. However, we still face two major hurdles in order to successfully meet a housing-first model.

First, the majority of programs currently funded across the country can be described as providing services for people who are homeless. Shelters, drop-in centres, and especially transitional or short-term housing programs must be helped to shift resources to programs that end homelessness instead. We will need to invest in providing training and consultation services to communities so they will obtain the guidance and support, timelines, and performance indicators necessary to move the system toward this new, much-needed direction.

The second hurdle concerns implementing housing-first programs so they are consistent with the basic principles of the model that achieved the outstanding outcomes in the At Home/Chez Soi study. Housing-first moves people rapidly from shelters or the streets into stable housing and provides evidence-based clinical and social supports to address social, mental-health, health, addiction, educational, employment issues and others. By providing services using a team approach and co-ordinating housing, clinical and social supports, this model reduces problems associated with fragmentation of services and improves inter-sectoral collaboration that usually plagues individuals and families seeking treatment.

In other words, housing-first, if implemented properly will transform public services across the country as we know them, and to do this effectively, teams will need adequate support and guidance to do so.

The Weeklies

In the Denver suburbs, as in much of the U.S., the Great Recession turned formerly stable families into the new homeless—and left many living in budget hotels.

At any given time, roughly 20 to 40 guests are staying long term. Since they pay by the week, they call themselves “weeklies.” To score the cheap rates, $210 for individuals and slightly more for families, they must pay in advance. Residents sign a form that lists the activities that could get them kicked out (mostly involving drugs) and warns that they won’t get reimbursed if they leave early, no exceptions. Some families stay only for a few weeks, some for months, giving the hotel the feeling of a dormitory. A rotating cast of front-desk clerks sells candy and rations towels and washcloths. Though some of the clerks are kind and helpful, the guests think of them as enforcers, and the clerks tend to treat the weeklies less as customers than as undergraduates stealing toilet paper and sneaking in hot plates.

With its 121 rooms, cleaning service, and keycards, the place is not a fleabag. But it is also not the kind of hotel where the coffee pots and hair dryers reliably work or the comforters match the drapes. A traveler stopping here to avoid bad weather might notice the difference: a clerk who takes a little too long to offer grudging help, an absence of name tags for the staff, an empty spot on the placard that is supposed to provide the manager’s name, a stained lobby carpet, a guest or two with a slightly illicit aura.

Hotels have always served people who need an off-the-record place to live—sex workers, drug dealers—and the Ramada has its share of people who are hiding out. (Bounty hunters come to the hotel so often that the weeklies know their names and say hi.) But in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the Ramada’s clientele shifted away from such regulars to include suburban families who had been used to staying in hotels only on vacations. Many of the families still had incomes. Some had long been struggling members of the working class, fighting to stay better than broke; others had fallen suddenly out of the middle class.

Across the country, suburban poverty rose by more than half in the first decade of the new century. Families now find themselves navigating landscapes that were built around wealth: single-family houses that are sold, not rented; too few apartment buildings; and government agencies hidden at the far edge of the suburban ring, more responsive to trash-pickup complaints than rising hunger rates.

I think this article actually made me experience and emotion and cry.  Read the entire story and it will break your heart.

A better way to say goodbye

I was 12 when I first attended my first funeral.  We had a friend at a nursing home and Mr. Crawford lived next door.  We would go and visit our family friend and see him each time where he was quite nice to all of us, often giving me some money for candy and to get a coffee for my mom.

When he died, we went to the funeral chapel where his family went on at length about how horrible of human being he was and what a bad father he had been.  We just listened but I was shocked when the minister started his eulogy with, “He was a very bad man”.  

When I became a pastor, I did a lot of funerals.  Some of them were celebrations of life, others were horrible to perform and yes, I buried some really bad men over the years.  Each time I tried my best to respect the person and life that I was burying while keeping some sense of reality of the life they lived.

In the work I do now, our clients die very young.  The drugs, violence, lifestyle and alcohol takes it toll on your body.  Toss in HIV/Aids/Hep-C or cancer from the smoking and you have a really low life expectancy.  I have helped more than one mother clean out a locker in a shelter where the only thing she has left of her son was a pair of jeans, a jacket, and really nothing else.  I have always found myself hoping that there be something of value in there, a watch or a something of value for the parent to hold on to but there never is.  Many tears have been shed by family members during those times. 

In most situations I find myself boxing stuff up and realizing that for the most part, no one was going to come get it.  Months later my janitor asks me what I want him to do with the sealed box.  No one has come to get it.

Every couple of months I hear that a client that I had worked with has died.  In each and every case I fire up my computer and Google their name.  I search The StarPhoenix’s obituary website and I scour the internet to find out if it is true.  I rarely find anything.  Over the next couple of days I generally run into a member of the Saskatoon Health Region or the Saskatoon City Police and ask them. In every case I get the same reply that they have died.

They often die alone.  There is no media coverage, no obituary, no will, no assets, and to be honest, almost no one cared.  Many colleagues just block it out like it doesn’t exist.  The file is closed and they are done. Death has never bothered me, neither does the grieving process but in these cases I find myself not sure what to do.  The idea that someone has lived their entire life and there is no trace of it left seems wrong to me.

I guess as a blogger and a writer, I find myself in a situation where I write to process.  After a sleepless night last night thinking of a couple of people that I had known well that had died, I came in early to work to write something, anything about their lives as I saw them.  Of course I never know what do next.  I tweeted this morning that I was struggling with his and it resonated with people but I don’t know what to do next.  

Is the best way to mark one’s life to have a service provider eulogize them?  My first encounter with one gentleman was when he assaulted Wendy with a bottle of Listerine she wouldn’t sell him in about 1998.  Of course the other part of that story is that he would beat her at cribbage all of the time when she helped out at a drop-in centre.  Do you tell the stories of abuse, residential schools, the people that they hurt.

One of the people that recently deceased was a women that I wrote about two years ago in The StarPhoenix.  She had AIDS at the time, was pimped out by her boyfriend and was high for every single interaction that I had with her over seven years.  At the same time I appreciated every single strung out conversation we ever had and I was saddened and sickened when I would see her beaten and bruised.  It’s weird but I miss her.

They had a legacy with me and we have a bunch of stories that shaped me that are too bizarre to write here (somethings are only funny if you know the person)

The world doesn’t stop for death.  When you die, people come together, tell some stories, each some sandwiches, sing some hymns, and drink some coffee.  I am not asking the world to stop, I just think they should have some form of legacy.

In Toronto, they have a homeless memorial.  In Saskatoon we have a walk to remember those lost in the sex trade but at the end of the day they were individuals that lived and died in our city, it would be great if they are remembered as such.  The question for me to figure out, what is the best way to do that.

Tech entrepreneur is converting retired city buses into showers for the San Francisco homeless

I don’t know if I find this encouraging or depressing.

San Francisco is teeming with tech entrepreneurs who want to save the world but who’ll pass by the homeless person on the street without a second glance.

Doniece Sandoval, a Bay Area tech entrepreneur, is not one of them. Her latest trick? Turning retired city buses into mobile showers for the homeless. The initiative, known as Lava Mae, is a response to a desperate need in the city. According to the most recent count, more than 6,500 homeless people sleep on the street or in shelters in San Francisco, and there are only eight shower facilities specifically available to the homeless, and most of these have just one or two stalls and aren’t open every day.

I love the idea but I find the homeless number of 6,500 people more than a little depressing.  The idea of showers and facilities for the homeless has also been done quite well in Seattle at Urban Rest Stops.

The Urban Rest Stop (URS) is a hygiene center providing free restrooms, showers and laundry facilities to homeless men, women and children within a clean, safe and dignified environment. The URS has five private shower rooms, 9 washer and 14 dryer units, and large men’s and women’s restrooms. Patrons receive free toiletries including toothbrushes, toothpaste, disposable razors, shaving cream, shampoo and soap. Patrons may borrow overalls while they wash their clothes. 

New York City Report Shows a Growing Number Are Near Poverty

Interesting report in the New York Times

The rise in New York City’s poverty rate as a result of the recession has apparently eased, but not before pushing nearly half of the city’s population into the ranks of the poor or near-poor in 2011, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg administration.

That year, according to the city’s measure, about 46 percent of New Yorkers were making less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold, a benchmark used to describe people who are not officially poor but who still struggle to get by. That represents a rise of more than three percentage points since 2009, when the nation’s recession officially ended.

By the city’s definition, a family with two adults and two children could earn $46,416 a year and still fall within 150 percent of the city’s poverty level. Unlike the official but rigid federal poverty level, the city’s measure balances the added value of tax credits, food stamps, rent subsidies and other benefits against expenses like health and day care, housing and commuting that reflect New York’s higher living costs. The city says a two-adult, two-child family is poor if it earns less than $30,949 a year. The federal government sets the level at $22,811.

Those are really low numbers considering the crazy cost of living in New York City.  Then when you consider that about 46% of it’s population is living close to those numbers…. wow.  What’s really interesting is that it is in the best political interests of the city to avoid talking about these numbers but here is the Bloomberg administration not only being open about it but it was them who dug up the numbers in the first place.  I would love to see leadership like this out of more governments, including those closer to home.