Let me tell you a story about a little non-profit agency that had very big goals.It was a very small non- profit agency that specialized in finding low-cost, safe market accomodation for anyone who walked through the door – rich, poor, homeless, addicted,mentally ill or an ex-con, all were seen and treated equally. Operated out of a run-down building on an older street, there was no money for fancy furnishings, or networking lunches , or anything that wasnt essential. Even paper was recycled to print over on the back pages!
For over 35 years, they plugged away, scraping by on a little funding here, a little funding there, the only goal to get as many people off the street as they could. And they did. They didnt ask for ID, they didnt ask for money – it was free, and many homeless dont have identification, you see. The agency had carefully created relationships with landlords and land owners all over the lower mainland, who would house the kind of clients most people dont want to. It was perfect system for housing people – no subsidies, no fees for the landlords to advertise, no fees to the homeless to access listings. And, you could come back as many times as you needed to.
Then , one year, it started to change. The government withdrew essential funding for the mental health training program, where mentally ill clients could volunteer in office, learn job skills, and get a job. Where did the clients go? No one knows.
Funding became harder and harder to get. The government only gave enough funds to make it 3/4 of they way through the year, and suggested we find funding elsewhere. We applied to the city of New Westminster, Burnaby, Vancouver, and the answer was no- no -no. We were told by the city to go in under the umbrella of another agency, which would have taken away the ability of autonomy of policy. Other agencies only wanted our landlord list, not us or our program. No one wanted to be the sole funder.
It got to the point where one day I came in to work , knowing there was no paycheque for me, but knowing there were going to be clients depending on us to find them housing. I couldn’t let them down, and so, I begged the city of New Westminster again, ended up before council, where we were granted an emergency grant.
The short version is in the end we were denied funding everywhere else, and without “core” funding, the government didnt want to give us what we had been counting on for so long. The reasons were many: we werent big enough, we werent fancy enough, we didnt have other funders, we didnt ask for ID. etc etc. We didnt have time to be kissing government ass like many others do, because with only two people on staff,we were too busy getting people off the street and into homes.
The society was closed 2 years ago, and hundreds of clients were left in the lurch.
I guess it wasnt close enough to the Olympics to get THAT housing funding.
Lets talk numbers. There were two employees, myself and the executive director. The rest were volunteers. I made 12$ an hour. I wasnt in it to get rich, as you can see. She had a nominal salary. Our rent was under 600$ a month, and expenses were minimal, as we sought out donations of supplies and equipment, so $ 80,000 would have been an extremely generous grant for us, and would have given us the chance to buy some computers from the current century…lol.
$80,000 is nothing to the government, but we couldnt get it. And so, am I cynical when I see Gordo’s government throwing money out left right and centre?
Of course I am, it makes me furious. Its not really about housing people- its about hiding them. Lets get them off the street before the world comes to visit in 2010! Let’s give the world an impression the Liberals really care, when anyone whos worked the front lines of poverty knows they dont.
If the government really cared about housing those in need, they would have given us the measly amount of funding it required to keep us open for a year, and thanked us for doing the job we were doing for the last 35 years. There weren’t and aren’t ,many non-profits that survive 35 years. WE did our job well, and occasionally I will run into a client on the streets who remembers me as “the housing lady”, and thanks me for whatever help I gave them. I know I made a difference, and those moments mean more than money ever could.
It’s funny how priorities change, and politicians do the “right thing”, when it serves them -not the people. Mayor Wayne Wright of New Westminster was quoted recentlyin a column by Derek Moscato, that they are working on trying to house the homeless and get new shelters etc to improve their cities problems. Yes Wayne, I bet you miss us now, don’t you? There were a lot less homeless roaming around New West when we were in town. Too bad you didn’t think that through when you told me you thought it should be the provinces job to pick up the slack.
I would love to see the agency open again, because it is needed now, more than ever. The test will be how long the funding remains in place after the Olympics are gone, and the government goes back to being indifferent and not caring. Perhaps the next study they do on homelessness should involve living in a box and eating from a bin, so the get the real feeling of what these people need.
I’m Laila Yuile, and this is how I see it.