three thoughts arising from a focus on the housing crisis

Today I attended a working meeting that included almost all the service providers in the region. These service providers were brought together by the Mount Waddington Health Network to build a coalition that will deal with the housing crisis.

I was there mainly to stay informed and to network, and to keep the library visible -- and because so many groups that I will work with were also there.

Three thoughts.

* * * *

These organizations are doing amazing work by working together rather than in silos -- more efficient (no duplication of effort), more strategic (not competing for the same funds), and stronger (speaking in one voice). This process -- a multi-year plan -- has seen real results in several places, and I expect it will in the North Island, too.

The people are great -- sharp, committed, experienced, inclusive, taking a holistic view. I was so impressed.

But. But I can't help thinking, all this would be unnecessary if housing were a human right in our society, and if this most basic of all human needs were not subject to the so-called free market.

* * * *

There was a presentation on Ambrose Place, a managed alcohol residency program in Edmonton, Alberta. This is a form of harm reduction, similar to needle exchange, that saves both lives and tax dollars. But this program is based in an Indigenous worldview. It employs natural medicines, ceremonies, rituals, and other Indigenous ways of knowing to restore mind, body, and spirit.

It meets people where they are, with compassion and love and a minimum of rules, because change, in this worldview, is only meaningful if it is chosen. A certain number of places are reserved for people with disabilities, and a certain number for palliative care.

For those who care only about their tax dollars, the numbers are staggering: over a period of two years, costs plummeted. Emergency room visits, EMS calls, inpatient visits, inpatient mental health -- all markedly down. Inpatient mental health and addiction costs went from $2,715,000 to $171,400! Other numbers were similarly impressive.

The non-monetary gains can hardly be counted -- the lives restored, the violence prevented, the relationships healed.

There is a world beyond "just say no" and surrendering to a higher power.

I want to see this happen in our region.

* * * *

The presenter was a social worker with the Salvation Army.

I have read and seen much about the Salvation Army, about both homophobia and Christian proselytizing. I've also read that those incidents were localized (individual rather than institutional) and in the past. I don't know what's true of the organization as a whole. But in Port Hardy and the north Vancouver Island, the Salvation Army does amazing -- and inclusive -- work.

The organization's role in the area is similar to the United Way's role in southern Ontario. They are an umbrella provider of social services -- women's shelters, group homes for street-involved youth, rehab, mental health, and more. In addition, they work with Indigenous communities in the respectful and inclusive way that is expected here. And they celebrate Pride.

Maybe they've learned something? Maybe they're different here? I have no idea. But I know I don't have to avoid them, and I can work with them as community partners with a clear conscience.

* * * *

A final word about the Mount Waddington Health Network. When it comes to health, they take the broadest view. They talk about the social determinants of health. Imagine a health network that wants to work with the library on digital literacy for seniors! More about this as it happens.

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