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Calgary's Homeless

AJX

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I want to start some discussion about this subject. Curious about people's thoughts on Calgary's homeless population?

I had a couple of incidents in the last few days that got me thinking about it. First off, I was at 7-eleven and saw a guy out front panhandling. I thought he looked familiar but couldn't remember from where. After I left I remember it was a brother of an old friend. A few Facebook messages later and I find out he's not homeless, but instead lives in his parents basement, and only panhandles when he needs a few bucks!

Secondly I heard that in Kelowna they now have a bylaw where you can be fined if you give money to a panhandler. I'm on the fence about that one.
 

Meikkhaell

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Going all the way back to what my elementary school teacher told us, it's probably better to actually give them food or clothes or whatever, rather than straight up money.
I'm not saying everyone's going to bolt to the nearest bar or 7/11 to get alcohol or cigarettes the second you hand them actual money, but some do. And that's not what they need.

For the most part, I think all most of them really need is a job, but the poverty cycle can be pretty vicious and it's hard enough to find as job as it is.
That and, after getting things given to you for free for a while, some people might not want to actually have to work hard to get money. Again, not saying all, but some.

The way I see it, most of those folks are just down on their luck or having a rough time. Those people, if given the opportunity, would probably be the hardest working employees at whatever company hired them. If only more people did.
 

Just build it

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The problem with homelessness is that it’s so many problems and situations with one commonality - they’re all homeless.
I heard about the bylaw in Kelowna and was immediately shocked, but they had a guy on the radio who ran homeless shelters in Winnipeg and he was in favour of the bylaw. He compared it to people feeding bears in the park and that thisevoeopke were part of the problem not the solution. People giving homeless people money only enables them to stay away from the shelters, which is where they really need to be if they are to be helped.
 

JonnyCanuck

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I have noticed more panhandling outside of the inner city where there are no shelters around. I suspect that many of those people are not homeless.

Giving money to people on the street is a personal decision. I decided a long time ago that I would donate regularly to the shelters (Mustard Seed, Salvation Army) rather than give money to individuals.
 

Social Justice

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Going all the way back to what my elementary school teacher told us, it's probably better to actually give them food or clothes or whatever, rather than straight up money.
I'm not saying everyone's going to bolt to the nearest bar or 7/11 to get alcohol or cigarettes the second you hand them actual money, but some do. And that's not what they need.

For the most part, I think all most of them really need is a job, but the poverty cycle can be pretty vicious and it's hard enough to find as job as it is.
That and, after getting things given to you for free for a while, some people might not want to actually have to work hard to get money. Again, not saying all, but some.

The way I see it, most of those folks are just down on their luck or having a rough time. Those people, if given the opportunity, would probably be the hardest working employees at whatever company hired them. If only more people did.
In my humble estimation I'd say 80% of the homeless either have a mental disability or an addictions problem. I think many times they go hand in had.If we had a few more drug rehab clinics and insane asylums it could probably curb part of the homeless population.

I'd say the remaining 20% are bums. I find when I offer them food about 50% are very grateful and the other 50% get irritated/angry.

This is all anecdotal and hearsay. I have no stats for this.
 
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CBBarnett

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Anecdotal but might start an interesting discussion. I live in Victoria Park near 1st Street SW for the past few years and have noticed a trend each summer. My regular homeless neighbours who are part of the community and everyone chats with everyday seem to disappear or become much less visible in early May/June. Instead, the overall number of homeless seems to spike but the character changes too, more overdoses, more violence, more erratic behaviour/aggressiveness. By fall I expect things to quite down again and the regulars return as they did the last couple years.

I am no expert in the complexity of homelessness, mental health and addiction so thought someone on here might be able to offer a hypothesis. Apologies if I am using the wrong words/characterizations incorrectly as I know this can be a sensitive topic with a lot of nuance that often gets simplified and overlooked.
  • Is this entirely a weather-based phenomenon? Are these "new" people always around but stay mostly in shelters elsewhere during the colder months? This would make sense and completely correlates with the non-homeless population as well, who come to the Beltline in summer and cause a similar spike in drunkenness, loud behaviour, fighting etc.
  • Is there more of this "summer" behaviour than previous years? I haven't noticed this, but several neighbours my age are suggesting it's much worse than previous years and don't walk certain places (e.g. near Vic Park Station) anymore as a result.
  • Is this all in my head? Perhaps I am just getting older and crankier ;)
Any thoughts?
 
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Surrealplaces

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My wife works in a few different buildings around the Beltline and has noticed an increase in homeless activity. for a while there, it was on the decline, but has lately been increasing. One of the things that she has pointed out as an issue is the Chumir, now being used as a safe needle injection site. I could be giving the wrong info here, but from what I recall, the story is that the Chumir offers safe needles for injection, but homeless people aren't allowed to do the actual injection at the Chumir, so they go somewhere within a bloc or two radius and do it there.....leaving the needles around. At her building the maintenance people are constantly picking up used needles and one of the guys even poked his hand with one while doing some landscape work.

It's definitely a problem. My wife has a background in social work and has worked in shelters before, so she's very familiar with the issues, and she has said that the Beltline has been getting noticeably worse. Also as a side note, she is of the same mentality of not giving money to panhandlers or homeless, for the reasons mentioned by Just Build it and Jonnycanuck. I used to give money to homeless people on the street, but she told me I was part of the problem not the solution.

Anecdotal but might start an interesting discussion. I live in Victoria Park near 1st Street SW for the past few years and have noticed a trend each summer. My regular homeless neighbours who are part of the community and everyone chats with everyday seem to disappear or become much less visible in early May/June. Instead, the overall number of homeless seems to spike but the character changes too, more overdoses, more violence, more erratic behaviour/aggressiveness. By fall I expect things to quite down again and the regulars return as they did the last couple years and the regulars return.

I am no expert in the complexity of homelessness, mental health and addiction so thought someone on here might be able to offer a hypothesis. Apologies if I am using the wrong words/characterizations incorrectly as I know this can be a sensitive topic with a lot of nuance that often gets simplified and overlooked.
  • Is this entirely a weather-based phenomenon? Are these "new" people always around but stay mostly in shelters elsewhere during the colder months? This would make sense and completely correlates with the non-homeless population as well, who come to the Beltline in summer and cause a similar spike in drunkenness, loud behaviour, fighting etc.
  • Is there more of this "summer" behaviour than previous years? I haven't noticed this, but several neighbours my age are suggesting it's much worse than previous years and don't walk certain places (e.g. near Vic Park Station) anymore as a result.
  • Is this all in my head? Perhaps I am just getting older and crankier ;)
Any thoughts?
 

Silence&Motion

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"Homeless" is a very broad term. It can refer to people who have severe mental health problems are have no reasonable way of holding a job or maintaining an apartment. It can also refer to single mothers and children who are fleeing abusive partners/fathers on whom they were financially dependent. It can refer to many other types of people and circumstances.

It is (rightly) illegal to lock people up in "insane asylums" simply because mainstream society finds their presence or behavior repugnant (and it certainly wouldn't reflect a commitment to "Social Justice"). There are very specific conditions under which someone can be involuntarily committed to a health care facility.

Calgary has currently adopted a "housing first" approach to homelessness, which is based on the idea that rehab, job training, mental health treatment, etc. all typically fail unless one has access to stable, independent housing. So permanent housing is provided as a precursor to other forms of support and treatments, prioritized to those people with the least ability to find housing independently (i.e. those who have been homeless for the longest, who have the most severe addictions and illnesses, who have been victimized by assault, etc.)

In my view, bylaws that ban panhandling and loitering are really the wrong way to go. Anti-loitering laws are notorious for being selectively enforced. No middle-aged white man in a suit has ever been ticketed for loitering no matter how long he spends yapping on his cellphone at the street corner. I think the answer really is tolerance. We live in a big, busy, diverse city. There are poor people who live here. There are people with physical and mental disabilities who look and behave differently and may initially disturb us. Cities can and do find ways to erase these people from public spaces so that middle- and upper-class people don't have to look at them, think about them, or - heaven forbid - interact with them. But those people don't actually disappear - their life just gets harder. So, when a panhandler asks you for change, my advice is to say "no, sorry", then go about your day and allow them to go about their's.
 

Social Justice

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Apologies if I am using the wrong words/characterizations incorrectly as I know this can be a sensitive topic with a lot of nuance that often gets simplified and overlooked.
Don't apologize. Speak freely, that's how we are able think. Everyone here knows you're not an asshole. What happens if you do inadvertently end up offending someone? Does the world end? Are they traumatized beyond repair? Or do they get upset for a little bit then they move on with their lives.
 
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Silence&Motion

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My wife works in a few different buildings around the Beltline and has noticed an increase in homeless activity. for a while there, it was on the decline, but has lately been increasing. One of the things that she has pointed out as an issue is the Chumir, now being used as a safe needle injection site. I could be giving the wrong info here, but from what I recall, the story is that the Chumir offers safe needles for injection, but homeless people aren't allowed to do the actual injection at the Chumir, so they go somewhere within a bloc or two radius and do it there.....leaving the needles around. At her building the maintenance people are constantly picking up used needles and one of the guys even poked his hand with one while doing some landscape work.
Just to clarify:
 

Social Justice

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"Homeless" is a very broad term. It can refer to people who have severe mental health problems are have no reasonable way of holding a job or maintaining an apartment. It can also refer to single mothers and children who are fleeing abusive partners/fathers on whom they were financially dependent. It can refer to many other types of people and circumstances.

It is (rightly) illegal to lock people up in "insane asylums" simply because mainstream society finds their presence or behavior repugnant (and it certainly wouldn't reflect a commitment to "Social Justice"). There are very specific conditions under which someone can be involuntarily committed to a health care facility.

Calgary has currently adopted a "housing first" approach to homelessness, which is based on the idea that rehab, job training, mental health treatment, etc. all typically fail unless one has access to stable, independent housing. So permanent housing is provided as a precursor to other forms of support and treatments, prioritized to those people with the least ability to find housing independently (i.e. those who have been homeless for the longest, who have the most severe addictions and illnesses, who have been victimized by assault, etc.)

In my view, bylaws that ban panhandling and loitering are really the wrong way to go. Anti-loitering laws are notorious for being selectively enforced. No middle-aged white man in a suit has ever been ticketed for loitering no matter how long he spends yapping on his cellphone at the street corner. I think the answer really is tolerance. We live in a big, busy, diverse city. There are poor people who live here. There are people with physical and mental disabilities who look and behave differently and may initially disturb us. Cities can and do find ways to erase these people from public spaces so that middle- and upper-class people don't have to look at them, think about them, or - heaven forbid - interact with them. But those people don't actually disappear - their life just gets harder. So, when a panhandler asks you for change, my advice is to say "no, sorry", then go about your day and allow them to go about their's.
I heard that during the 1980's Ronald Reagan de-funded a bunch 'mental health institutions' and that increased the homeless population across american cities. Although, I'm sure the living conditions of a 'loony bin' probably weren't all that great.

I agree with your position on anti-panhandling and loitering bylaws. I also, agree with your basic premise. However, can you elaborate on what you mean by 'tolerance'? The word always seems like a vague platitude to me. At what line should we not tolerate certain behavior?

I don't want public areas to start resembling a 3rd world slum and pose a public health risk like in San fransisco. I heard San Fransico even has a poop map: http://mochimachine.org/wasteland/#

https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/SF-tourist-industry-struggles-to-explain-street-12534954.php


https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101865055/sf-tourisms-joe-dalessandro-comes-clean-about-dirty-streets-homeless-crisis


Obviously these are extreme examples. I'm not saying Calgary is approaching this level of crisis. There's probably always going to be homeless people. I'm just saying...maybe shouldn't be tolerant to the point where we treat the homeless like cows in India.
 
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Surrealplaces

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Thanks. I'll have to ask her in more detail. The gist I got was that ever since the safe injection site opened, more needles have been showing up around the area. It's been noticeable enough that the building managers in the area had a meeting about it, and have complained to the Chumir.

How or if it ties into the safe injection site I'm not sure.

 

darwink

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In Canada, the change happened around the same period was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 7, 'all people have the right to life, liberty and security of the person' was used to advance the current understanding of the rights of people with mental capacity to refuse to consent to treatment. Section 9, protects people against being detained or imprisoned arbitrarily, or with no good reason.

My knowledge, second or third hand and in no great detail, is that the Charter combined with the government cutting back all sorts of services and income supports in the 90s led to many people being transitioned from institutional care to a system of supports which hasn't enabled them to become self sufficient in maintaining housing even when housing and income support is provided. Housing First has helped over the last decade for sure, but there are problems with the scale needed, and that some people are very difficult to house due to their health issues (even with a housing first apartment and support they will become homeless again).
 

Cowtown

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I don't have an issue with the bylaw giving tickets to people who give money to pan-handlers. I don't think we need a by law for the panhandlers themselves, and giving them tickets is a waste of everyone's time. Panhandlers don't have the money to pay the tickets, and we don't need police wasting time handing them out.
By actually ticketing the people who give panhandlers money, it's helping set a course of action. The analogy of people feeding the animals at the national park comes across harsh, but it's a real life analogy. I know myself it it's logical not to give them money, but when I see the person, my human side kicks in and I often give them money, even though logically, I'm not actually helping them, and instead may actually be doing more damage than good.

In my view, bylaws that ban panhandling and loitering are really the wrong way to go. Anti-loitering laws are notorious for being selectively enforced. No middle-aged white man in a suit has ever been ticketed for loitering no matter how long he spends yapping on his cellphone at the street corner. I think the answer really is tolerance. We live in a big, busy, diverse city. There are poor people who live here. There are people with physical and mental disabilities who look and behave differently and may initially disturb us. Cities can and do find ways to erase these people from public spaces so that middle- and upper-class people don't have to look at them, think about them, or - heaven forbid - interact with them. But those people don't actually disappear - their life just gets harder. So, when a panhandler asks you for change, my advice is to say "no, sorry", then go about your day and allow them to go about their's.
 

Silence&Motion

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I agree with your position on anti-panhandling and loitering bylaws. I also, agree with your basic premise. However, can you elaborate on what you mean by 'tolerance'? The word always seems like a vague platitude to me. At what line should we not tolerate certain behavior?

I don't want public areas to start resembling a 3rd world slum and pose a public health risk like in San fransisco. I heard San Fransico even has a poop map: http://mochimachine.org/wasteland/#
By tolerance, I mean that we shouldn't take the mere presence of poor and/or mentally ill people on the streets as a problem in and of itself. The people who hang out in front of the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre (should) have just as much right to be there as the yuppies who hang out in front of the Simmons building one block down. If there is a public safety or public health risk, that's another issue. But my sense is that when the average person says "homelessness is becoming a problem", they don't mean that rents are too high or that our health care facilities are inadequate; they mean that they don't want to be in the presence of homeless people.
 

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