Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Homelessness, a silent scream!

Excerpt from 2006 paper from Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, in Toronto Star, August 9, 2010
...Homeless people are more often victims of crime than housed people.
Numerous studies have established that homeless individuals have experienced high levels of violence and victimization both before and after becoming homeless. In 1992, the Toronto Street Health Report included the results of a survey of homeless single adults that asked about their experiences of victimization during the previous year. Among the sample of 106 women and 352 men, 46% of the women and 39% of the men said they had been physically assaulted. One-tenth of the respondents reported that they had been assaulted by police, some more than once. Sexual assault and violence were common experiences for women — 43% of women and 14% of men said they had been sexually harassed, usually multiple times. Even more disturbing, 21% of the women said they had been raped. The survey respondents described instances of being assaulted by security guards in shopping centres, beaten with nightsticks by police officers, and sexually harassed on public sidewalks. It is unclear how many of these assaults caused injury, but one-tenth of the respondents said they had gone to a hospital emergency room for assault-related injuries, and about half of them were admitted to hospital for treatment.
The paper was prepared by four researchers:
Sylvia Novac is an independent research consultant specializing in housing, gender, and equity

issues and a Research Associate at the Centre for Urban and Community Studies.
Joe Hermer is a Professor in Criminology at the University of Toronto.
Emily Paradis is a doctoral candidate in at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of
Toronto. Her research focuses on the experiences of women who are homeless and marginalized.
Amber Kellen is Supervisor of Advocacy/Community Programs at the John Howard Society of
CUCS Research Bulletins are available at http://www.urbancentre.utoronto.ca/

What is this? The kick-the-Dog syndrome, or it is more like "these are people on whom I can inflict pain and not have to take responsibility, because they have no power, and no resources to fight back?"
Homelessness, a condition of thousands in North America, is often the cumulative result of many external circumstanaces, but it is certainly a condition for living that results, in part, from an individual's inability to seek and to grasp different options. Some have been "on the street" for decades, because, as some have told me directly, they prefer to live on the street than to sleep in official shelters where they are not as safe, and their few belongings are not as secure as they might be on the street. Some are simply unable to function because they cannot read, they cannot compute, they cannot find work because they have no address and no phone and no support system. Some cannot even speak the language of the street. I have witnessed one incident that I cannot forget in which a middle-aged man was struck by a vehicle while crossing a downtown Toronto street, and he crawled into a "cave" at the base of a turret on an adjacent church, behind a ballustrade, like a wounded animal, only to be rescued by those then operating "Street Health" a health care facility providing third world care, through the donation of redundant hospital materials, to those living on the street. Animals in a zoo would be treated better than we treat the homeless in this country.
One can visit most major cities in North America and find people, yes real people, sleeping on subway grates, taking advantage of the heat that emerges from the underground, on cold winter nights. And their condition is one for which the society, and that includes each of us, collectively, through our elected representatives, has to take responsibility to amend, and to change permanently.
Homelessness is not a condition that a healthy society can tolerate.
Never mind the police costs, and the health care costs, and the face that homeless people cast upon the reputation of the city, province or country. It is the simple fact of its existence, and the full knowledge that it can be easily, reasonably and ethically eliminated if we had the political will to provide housing for all.
And in a culture of greed, and profit-gouging, and affluence especially for the very rich, it is time for the political leaders of all stripes, to find common ground to provide both the shelter and the life skills for individuals to be able to begin to find different options for their lives.
Begging by the homeless and tossing a few coins into a hat, while passing a homeless person, is nothing if not the highest form of tokenism; it placates guilt, shame and even sometimes fear. It patronizes those who have nothing left to lose by those of us who have nothing really to give, because our hearts have become numb and hardened to such "deplorable" examples of what our society can and will tolerate, in order to continue to ignore, deny and avoid its compassion for the "least" among us.
And it is by our treatment of those with the least, not the "least," per se, that we can evaluate our own maturity, health and well-being.
While studies, papers and both formal and informal research are important, because they cast light into the shadows of our streets, under our bridges and overpasses, into the cardboard boxes, into the railway station benches, behind shopping malls, stores and offices, the real action can and will only come when it becomes acceptable to admit, to acknowledge responsibility for, and to take action to eliminate homelessness from our cities. And that will take all three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal. And that will mean that those who support those govenments, including those who fund their campaigns for election, will have been sufficiently educated, reformed and transformed in their attitudes, into an open admission, and acknowledgement of the need for radical change.
It is long past time!

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