My most recent HOMELESS article(not proofed) to be published in a local Toronto magazine.
Author: Tommy Larocque (www.rogertatum.ca)
The project of Sleeping bags:
The topic of “homeless” has many corners, not just the obvious view from the top of the box. As people and citizens, we hover, swarm and surround this topic like bees watching their queen, but evidently, very little honey is made to complete the cycle. In this small dialogue, I will in my best, shed light on why one tiny part of a basic necessity is solvable.
We as society have to realize and understand that “we can’t force someone to be mentally healthy”. This last sentence encompasses many sub parts. Hopefully my summation as an individual will give the homeless a basic necessity called “warmth” that makes their lives easier.
Every aspect of government, including outside social agencies and religious groups have relentlessly over the years been debating or mulling over “the fix” for many homeless. The attempt to find solutions has been cumbersome to say the least and the temporary fixes are simply band-aids. Sadly the reality is; the wounds inflicted on this sector of society requires stitches, not repetitive coverings of the infliction with band-aids. Like any other problem, how can these people receive the necessitated help to get to the right place to receive the attention? If they received the proper attention, they would not be perpetually covered with the same layers of band-aids over and over again. Also, in my opinion, my other answer respectfully is “refraining from just forcing another band-aid on top of the last band-aid”.
In a matter of speech, the identification of the word “force” may be harsh, but since many of these people are at the mercy of help, they just accept this “action” as -normal daily life and routine.
Yes, this attention from all these agencies is really appreciated, but we haven’t really found a true solution. Figuratively speaking, I hope for quicker change and sadly the solution is not even close to being solved. I commend all that have tried, but it’s a dilemma I think that may never be solved if zero action is enacted. We just continue to talk about a solution over and over again. I do have hope, because in reality, hope is our only source of encouragement “if I may say so myself”. What we perceive as “the fix or the forced fix” might not be what these homeless require. These souls have their personal reasons for being homeless and this is what I will touch base on. We all think we have the answers, maybe my opinion is not the answer, but I think warmth might be an answer for one part of “their fight to exist without pain”. Maybe at minimum, solve one really important major health issue, which is “all of the homeless suffer from not enough warmth”.
Countless times, this is the cry that I hear when on the front lines visiting in the field.
The majority of these homeless (in my opinion) are lacking a chemical in their neurotransmitters. I am certainly not qualified as a psychologist or psychiatrist to access anyone by any means, but I am a front line witness knowing that “something is wrong when someone hasn’t bathed for years and babbles and answers their own questions”. I am not judging them, just giving my personal opinion. It could be a lack of SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) often used to treat depression. Just like any form of life, some are born with a DNA deficiency of SSRI in their brains and they were never properly diagnosed. (By the way, these anti depressants are being dispensed way to frequently in society as a whole- on a side note). Our laws restrict forcing a person to taking anything, unless they have breached the law. In many cases, these people are passive and submissive and don’t want trouble, thereto, never breaking any laws. When you tell them to get up and move, they just do. Hence, we can’t just force them to do what we say. Our psychologists and psychiatrists can’t just access a person as schizophrenic for the sake of “the best solution”, because fundamentally, if these assessments are wrong, we should be ashamed and so should the society who doctored their licenses. (Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to understand reality. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, hearing voices that others do not, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and a lack of motivation). We as society, do not morally or legally have the right to just say “your living outside, thereto take these drugs or else”. This may not be the proper prognosis and forcing an un-necessitated drug on someone, is just not right. This action would be a violation of their rights and secondly, who and why would we force this on them? They do have a right to -not own a home, be free from harm and walk around with their freedom – under the charter of rights.
Yes, we as ordinary citizens have a right to walk without stepping on people sitting on the sidewalks, as well, protecting our business rights to -not have them squat in front of our establishments. We shouldn’t have to have tourists view this social characterization of “to many homeless” which hurts tourism and impacts the economy. I get it, but they “the homeless” couldn’t care less. In my opinion, it’s because “their brains do not have the capacity to understand their sickness”. My best observations are “their only care is- food and feeding their other needs”.
The Broken System
So now you have a mass amount of people who are helpless to some degree. There is built-in help in many ways and we haven’t failed them completely. There are many places to stay free and the Seton House in Toronto is one of many. The governing standard hours and rules are somewhat strict and with zero tolerance for poor behavior. The governing rules for obtaining money from government are; generally speaking, the citizen must have an address to get a cheque. Obtaining assistance without an address is not easy. The rules say; to get into a shelter, you have to be there before a certain time as the beds are limited, so the earlier, the better. Once the capacity of the shelter is reached, the security enforces the rules and the door is shut. If you leave after a certain hour or anytime during the night, re-entry is not permitted, from what I have heard. This makes life hard and can become irritating and confusing. There are also churches that open their doors when it’s very cold, but again, the women don’t like it. These people are not mentally stable on many levels and other problems restrict their desire to be inside. Some are barred from the past for various reasons. Some are afraid to be taken advantage of and restricts them from leaving their belonging anywhere on the grounds. Pilferage is a major occurrence, the word is, and so holding onto your belonging very tightly makes sense on many levels. You can’t bring you bags inside the shower, they will just get wet. There are an infinite number of reasons we will never understand.
During the countless conversations I had with many of these victims, here is the general consensus of why they would rather live outside. I asked at minimum 20 women why they prefer to be on the street. The most common answer seemed to be surrounded by this type of answer. (1) “I was sleeping and a man just conveniently fell on top of me” or “they were drunk and he groped me” (2) “Some of the people are not hygienically clean and have bugs, which jump from bed to bed” (3) “People continuously talk out loud and scream” (4) “Most are taking some form of drugs and I witnessed weird people who became scary” (5) “The woman’s shelters are the same and burdened with groups who steal and rummage thru your bags against your will”. (6) “There isn’t as many women’s shelters as men, so space is limited” (7) “Why should I be locked indoors for 12 hours? “et cetra, et cetra.
Outside perks and downfall:
On countless runs I have talked with 1000’s of homeless and also witnessed the various agencies who donate the food and sleeping bags. Most of the homeless cope with the hurdles of outdoor living very well. The problem gets technical when it becomes very cold and freezing. Most of the sleeping bags from the agencies are just made for indoor use and can’t sustain constant wear and tear or bare the outdoor elements. The standard sleeping bags they receive are not weather proofed and get wet, which now becomes a burden. These agencies come around often and give them new sleeping bags, only to repeat the process over and over. Generally, the repetitive process is because the wet bags are water drenched from the elements or events from season to season. I have witnessed the moisture laden bags just being discarded on the street corners. The homeless are broke to begin with and can’t afford to go spend money on putting the wet sleeping bags in a dryer, not do they have a desire. Second of all, there isn’t many wash-and- drys laundromats downtown. Back to square one, wet and cold.
Here is my solution. If the homeless choose to sleep outside, how do they continue to remain warm? My mandate is to manufacture a custom sleeping bag made of waterproof material that will let the person hide inside when its 30 below zero or when the elements require such protection. This newly designed sleeping bag will be waterproofed, thereto, not to be discarded and exchanged as often. How do you track a bag that cost $100.00-$175.00? Attach a GPS inside a corner and follow the bags and replace them. Exchange and bring the replaced dirty bags back to a central place and exchange the waterproofed ones as they get dirty. Wash the old ones and keep replacing. The manufacturing of this concept of this bag already has a design. It’s not rocket science. The process of enacting the design and manufacturing has already been created as I write.
Obtain a waterproof shell for both layers inside and outside. Line the stuffing inside with good downfill, sew the downfill into quadrants of 4” x 4” squares. The process should also involve consideration of the threading and must be commercial grade, as well as, very durable. Make the material black in color to weather the elements and dirt. Use a heavy duty plastic zipper (like hockey bags) so the repetitive process of opening and closing doesn’t wear out from overuse. Have the sponsor’s name embroider in a bright yellow color to highlight their corporate logo. Divide and devise quadrants of the bag made with the logos to display their corporate responsibility values. Have a headliner like DRAKE endorse the concept to make it marketable and get positive advertising recognized. Mark my words.
DRAKE, get ready to take my call. This is your calling if your last song is “GODS PLAN’ . Gods plan will now be in TORONTO if I can make it happen.
Funding can be achieved by getting sponsors to have their logo on the bags and it will show their corporate social responsibility care side and obtain free advertising while be corporately proficient. After all, a majority of the homeless and sleeping bags are downtown which makes good advertising. Thereto, in the essence of proper governance sheds light on being benevolent and philanthropic.