Sunday 27 January 2013

The Rambling Amblers and Paddlers

Last year I captained a team of hardy souls who braved a cold and stormy night to head out together on a 10 kilometer walk.

Wearing blue toques that said, "Coldest Night of the Year" on them.

Me in the CNOY Touque
Now while the planning and preparation for the walk took time, the actual walk itself seemed to go by remarkably quickly, and some might speculate that this had to do with the fact that it was not just our feet that rambled. Yes, we are talkers, some of us, and boy do the kilometers fly by when you are talking. Well, they fly by for the talkers anyway! Here is a photo of our group as we neared the end of that trek.

The Rambling Amblers and Paddlers
This year we are at it again, and I'm posting about it so all the paddlers and "lake-lovers" who have appreciated this blog over the years can have the opportunity to sponsor me, or our team, as we walk for those who need emergency and crisis housing in Nanaimo and Parksville.

If you are already pulling out your credit cards, here is my sponsorship page:

Maybe you would like to join our band of merry amblers? We would love to have you:

For those who need to know more, read on.

I moved with my wife to Nanaimo from Victoria in 1989 because of an opportunity to work in a community where the house prices were still reasonable. We loved Victoria, but for a lowly writer with a BA in Psychology (and a burgeoning anxiety disorder) the prospects of finding the kind of work that was necessary to afford even a modest house in Victoria just seemed vanishing slim.

Shortly after moving to Nanaimo I met a man who would become a lifelong friend and he invited me to sit on a Board with him for a non-profit organization that operated the only emergency shelter in the city at the time. That organization was Island Crisis Care Society. I agreed, because one of my secret fears has been to find myself unable to work and then end up penniless without a home. As unlikely as this scenario is, suffice it to say I can imagine what it would be like.

Over the years I went from volunteering for ICCS to working for them, and I have seen many amazing things as we have learned together about the causes of homelessness and how we can help those who find themselves there. 

One of our big successes came through a partnership with the Health Authority and the Ministry of Social Development to provide crisis stabilization programs for people with complex diagnoses. I learned that while not everyone who is on the street has a mental illness, almost everyone on the street faces one or more significant challenges. Deteriorating health, learning difficulties, physical or emotional pain, lack of resources and coping skills, the list is long. Sometimes it is a series of unfortunate events such as physical or sexual abuse, painful childhood experiences, grief and loss, or trauma and depression. Add to that ill-fated choices, strong emotions like fear and anger, and, well, it is a recipe for suffering. When faced with such a panoply of misery people often self-medicate, or seek diversions and quick fixes, and these things usually only make it worse. In fact in most cases, people's health gets worse and worse.

I have observed that when people loose everything, for whatever reason, they start to think differently about themselves and the world. They say that it all feels pretty hopeless. I see in the faces of many hard working Canadian that there is still a real stigma associated with homelessness. Most people don't really understand how complex homelessness is. But the most important thing to understand, at least in my opinion, is that it is really hard to maintain a sense of self worth when it looks like you have been rejected and shunned by all those around you.

ICCS was founded by Christians who believed that God has a special affection for those who are outcast and downtrodden. It wasn't the rich and successful who Jesus spent time with.

Those early society members had big hearts and didn't judge. They just met people were they were and loved them. That attitude has been one that those of us who followed have tried to maintain.

Our vision statement is, "To provide shelter and care for those in need, reflecting the love of God in loving one another." This is sometimes called the social gospel, but really it is just meeting people as Jesus did, straight up and full of compassion. Not naive of the factors that lead to poverty and homelessness, but also not numbed to the suffering of real people. Sure some of our clients have made poor choices. We all have to take responsibility for our actions and our decisions. But very very few people choose poverty, addiction, and homelessness on purpose. And when that is what you end up with, you appreciate simple human kindness, and you appreciate having options.

So here is what we do:

1. Take care of people's basic needs: food, warmth, shelter, clothing. Also first aid, hygiene, health care;
2. Give lots of emotional support;
3. Connect people to community services;
4. Offer different kinds of housing for where people are at;

This is, we recognize, only part of the solution. To do more we need more money. Plain and simple. With more money we will add to the above list:

5. Therapeutic communities where people can experience what it means to belong;
6. Prevention, early intervention, outreach workers;
7. Groups for education, relationship building, spiritual direction, recovery;
8. Affordable housing;

Why ICCS? Well, we have experience, infrastructure, great relationships with government and community groups, and a dedicated team.

I recently read an article on Canadian Charity Law called, "How Much Should A Canadian Charity Spend on Overhead such as Fundraising and Administration?" written by Mark Blumberg. It is worth reading because Mark points out that it is not just about the amount of money that is spent on administration. It is also about what the organization can do because of the systems it has in place, the staff who can be relied upon to do a top notch job, and all the behind the scene planning and accounting that make an organization strong. As Mark says, "If you want properly run organizations there are costs associated with that."

I am now the policy guy at ICCS. My main job is creating clear workable policies that will help guide us as we face a very complicated and demanding kind of work. We work with people in crisis, so privacy, accountability, safety, and conduct are big areas of attention. Specialization like this makes us strong and I love the fact that I get to exercise my talents in such a practical way. I feel I truly have "right livelihood." We are demonstrating the power that comes from the division of labour -- a basic tenant of western civilization.

So, sure, you have lots of choices on where to give your money. There are lot of great causes and great organizations out there. I happen to think we are one of them, and I hope you will consider supporting me as I walk and work for a better world.



Sponsorship page again:
Island Crisis Care Society Website