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  • Esty Rosenfeld

TAV’s homeless initiative grows

How one teacher’s vision became reality

Image source: Canva

Throughout the pandemic, the news reports surrounding the homeless community were quite jarring. CTV news reported that services had shut down or decreased their capacities, places of shelter like stores or libraries became inaccessible, police were ticketing homeless people hefty fines for gathering, for breaking curfew and for not wearing masks.

Globally, the World Bank estimated that 88- 115 million people became extremely impoverished with less than 1.90$ to spend per day. The NCBI reported that countries experienced an uptick of up to 36% in domestic violence incidents. According to the CDC, cases of mental health conditions have dramatically increased. 40% of adults in the USA are experiencing depression, substance abuse and/or suicidal ideation.

In Montreal alone, CTV noted that it’s estimated that the number of homeless people nearly doubled during the pandemic.

In Montreal alone, CTV noted that it’s estimated that the number of homeless people nearly doubled during the pandemic.

From Inspiration to Actualization

Noémie Giguère, the sexual violence resource counselor at TAV, was reading a Tonny Robbin’s book after going through a difficult time in her life and feeling pretty despondent. Inspired by the way he helped a homeless person and the impact it had made, she felt compelled to do something. On a subsequent trip to Mexico, Noémie decided to put together some care bags and give them out to the homeless there.

“When I came back home,” said Noémie in an interview, “I decided I wanted to do this program in my class. We did it the first year and got really good feedback from the students. I realized that this is not only touching the hearts of the homeless people but of the students as well.”

Ever Growing

The initiative has experienced tremendous growth. Starting out 8 years ago with a group of 15 people, there are now a whopping 100 students who joined in on the project this year. Noémie feels that the project “is becoming bigger than us. It has evolved and I’m really happy about that.”

Originally, her students would put together a list of items which she’d go and buy from the dollar store which would then be packaged and distributed. This year, however, the college partnered with We Care Project and received 150 bags from them.

“This is not only to provide tangible support but to also interact with and create a connection with them,” says Noémie. “It depends on how receptive or what state the person is in but I want them to take the time to smile, say hi to them and ask them their name.”

We care project bags which the students distributed. Image source: Esty Rosenfeld

Small Changes Go a Long Way

In the first class of the course called foundations of adaptation problems, Noémie has her students express their honest thoughts about the homeless community. She receives a wide variety of responses based on the students personal experiences or their country of origin.

After completing the semester, some students' views on homelessness completely change.

Beyond the Individual

There are many gaps in the system which contribute to the reason why the homeless community keeps growing. What happens when people get released from the psychiatric hospital, form jail or juvenile detention centers? “70-80% of them can’t or won't go back to their families,” Noémie says. “If you don’t have a support system at home, how are you going to go to get your medications, who’s going to follow up with you? So these people end up on the streets.”

But it’s not only personal factors which are causing people to end up on the streets. The wait lists to get seen by a mental health specialist and the shortage of professionals are determinants to consider.

A paper written by the Canadian Mental Health Association estimated that in 2012, “1.6 million people had an unmet mental health-care need.” The study notes that the Canada Health Act of 1984 does not cover much needed services like psychotherapies, counselling or peer support leaving 80% of Canadians to rely on their family doctors to treat their mental health problems. Not only are the services offered by their GP highly limited but, oftentimes, the physicians cannot provide the necessary support needed and are not adequately equipped or trained to fully treat mental health illnesses. The issue is only exacerbated by the fact that an approximate 4.5 million Canadians do not even have a primary health care provider.

“We also need affordable housing because prices are going up like crazy,” Noémie stated. “It would be a good idea to have supervised housing with counselors or some type of social program.” Something which other cities and countries around the world have successfully achieved.

Take Finland, for example. According to the Y-Foundation, one of the key developers of the country’s Housing First principle, homelessness has gone down from 20 000 in the 80’s to about 4000 today. The country provides unconditional housing with tailored support and access to the proper services. They also work to prevent people who have lost their jobs or fallen ill from losing their current housing through government aid.

In the USA, Community Solutions Built For Zero initiative reported that one homeless person can end up costing 35 000$ because they are more likely to use emergency health services and become caught within criminal justice systems. They work to collaborate with all the existing infrastructures, services, nonprofits, leaders and communities to help create changes. Made up of more than 90 cities and countries, the movement has managed to get 14 cities to reach a functional zero for at least one of the homeless populations. Similar to the Finn’s module, they work to prevent more people from becoming homeless, build response systems to end homelessness and provide affordable housing to close the housing gap.

Taking Action

Noémie feels that “as citizens, we need to raise awareness. Just say hi and smile. Don’t ignore them. Recognize that they are people first. You can create your own bag and keep it in your car or in your bag. [...] Inform yourselves and learn about this to help break stereotypes.”

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