Thursday, August 14, 2014

Was Robin Williams Murdered?

 Was Robin Williams Murdered?

Everybody is talking about how Robin battled depression and substance use, but I know from my experiences in the helping field that suicidal thoughts do not come from nowhere.  Everybody I have talked to about suicide had some pretty awful stuff happen, or were struggling through the crap that we all deal with, and a system that doesn't serve people anymore.

Think about the characters that Robin played (and I think the roles he took were very indicative of his value system):

Remember how he played a doctor who cared in Patch Adams, and look at our health care today: even the wealthiest can't get five minutes with their over-taxed and over-priced docs.  Robin played a wise and brutally geniune psychologist mentor in Good Will Hunting, a similar person would cost you $200.00 per hour today(but it's doubtful you could find someone who cares that much even at that price). He played a radio DJ who challenged the US propaganda machine in Good Morning Vietnam-- have you looked at the state of US foreign policy and the BS that people swallow up these days?

Let's look at Hook and Aladdin, and remember that we have crushed childhood and the dreams that go along with it.  Let's talk about Dead Poets Society, and the way our education system falls so short.  Compare the current state of the family court system with the hope that Mrs. Doubtfire filled us with...

Maybe Robin Williams didn't kill himself.  Maybe we killed everything that he ever was.

We don't have to go down this road.  Whether the future is a utopia or a dystopia is within our control.  Let's remember Robin Williams as a human being, and use a human approach to solving these social problems.  We all know the little piece we need to contribute, let's not let things get worse.

Note: If you are feeling like hurting yourself, don't delay, get help now.  The world still needs you in it.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Social Inclusion and the Homeless -- Not for Vegans!

Social Inclusion and the Homeless -- Not for Vegans!

Ah, the elusive task of social inclusion.  I have been plugging away at my new job, trying to bring the voice of people who have experienced homelessness to the table in the discussion about ending homelessness.  It's rough sometimes, the goal is not always clear.  I realized that I needed to define exactly what social inclusion is, so I came up with an acronym that may not sit well with vegans:

Social Inclusion needs to be MEATIER:

Meaningful: The people on the street have been through so much, they simply don't have the time for tokenism.  If they think you are wasting their time with yet another survey, they will just not show up.  This requires some careful listening, and a good deal of thought about what "meaningful" means.

Early: When you have built the social housing project, staffed it, and projected the budget for the next ten years, it's NOT a good idea to consult the homeless at this point.  Heck, its not even helpful to consult them midway through, because their voices will be drowned out in the sea of egos that usually surrounds projects.  Go to them FIRST, not as an afterthought.  This is directly tied to "Meaningful," because the sooner you get involved in a project, the more influence you have.

Accessible: Somebody once told me the first thing you need to do when faced with an oppressed person is to ask what they need.  I follow that rule the best I can, and make meeting areas handy, provide bus tickets, food at the meetings(in case it overlaps with community meals), and I try to contact people in a way that they can access, be it email, phone call, or face to face chat.  Make it easy for the homeless to interact, and they are happy to participate.  Accessible also means accommodating their conversation style-- do they prefer one-on-one, or group discussion?  Every person needs different things, my job is to customize inclusion to each individual.

Tangible: There's little point in having a great conversation with a homeless person, only to walk away with nothing on paper.  Taking minutes, notes, and listing out themes helps create a tangible outcome from interactions.  This is the other side of meaningful-if it is meaningful, write it down!

Innovative: When it comes to homelessness, we have been doing the same thing each year, hoping for better results, but it can sometimes feel like we are going in circles.  Maybe we are doing it wrong.  Maybe it's time to shake things up, to do something different.  Are there unlikely allies that may be helpful?  A new place to have a meeting?  A new way to have a meeting?  How about a group bike ride? Life is too short to repeat yourself until you die, stretch those creative muscles!

Energizing: If it's not feeding you, then you are starving.  If you start a project, but there are sighs around the room, if the project just won't pick itself up and move forward, you may have to stop and take a look.  Perhaps this is a good time to ask if the discussion is meaningful and tangible.

Reciprocal: This is a good test to see if what you are doing is really inclusive.  When you plug into something, it plugs into you.  If we want to involve street-experienced people in our community discussions, what are WE hoping to learn from THEM?  If the answer is nothing, then it's probably not real inclusion.  Real inclusion must co-exist with the idea that there is a mutual benefit to all parties, or it will fall flat.  So what are YOU hoping to learn from the homeless?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Big change in my career!  I am honoured to accept the position of Social Inclusion Coordinator at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.  I am taking some time to meet the folks I will be working with for the next chapter of my life, and they are amazing! I feel very lucky to be living in a community that is pulling together to take action on homelessness, and my job will be to facilitate the efforts and the voices of those who are or have experienced homelessness. This move comes at a time when I have personally come to see social inclusion as a prerequisite for ending homelessness.  As I have said in many ways, people on the street are no different than anybody else, they just find themselves in circumstances beyond their control.  I would also add that most homeless people have social connections, they simply lack housing connections. 

This job is a big task, but I am up for it.  After spending about 8 years in the front line of service provision, I have a strong understanding of the view from the ground, and I hope to use my knowledge to foster inclusion.  We have a local Social Inclusion Advisory Committee made up of people who have experienced homelessness, and they are passionate, articulate, and self-empowering.  It's such an honour to work with them...