Cathy Crowe

 

 

 

Newsletter No. 30 
Dec 06 / Jan 07 ~ Holiday Issue

 

I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 17 years. In the spring of 2004 I received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue, for up to three years, my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues.  In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.


Further information about subscribing to the newsletter is found below.  I want to hear from you - about the newsletter, about things that are happening in the homelessness sector (what a sad term!), and about good things which will provide inspiration for all of us.

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Giving and Taking:  ‘tis the Season 

Giving
The present participle of Give: from the Middle English, given, geven; from the Anglo Saxon, gifan, giefan, “to give”.

To bestow, confer ownership of, make a present of; deliver, impart; assign; yield, supply; make over, cause to have.

Taking
The present participle of Take: from the Middle English taken; from the late Anglo Saxon tacan; from the Old Norse taka.

To get by conquering; to capture; to seize.To trap or snare.

 

Giving is a good thing

Sadly, this is the season when the notion of giving becomes co-opted by the pressures of consumerism. Pressures to shop, spend and give are everywhere - loud Christmas music in stores and malls, new releases of products, advertisements, Salvation Army members at their kettle in busy malls, fundraising letters from charities.

The kind of giving that makes business page headlines has an edgy competitive tone to it - Bill Gates (richest man in the world), Warren Buffet (second-richest man in the world), Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, etc. Then there is the Hollywood star scene: Paul Newman (whose salad dressing funds numerous and varied issues), Matt Damon (One X One, children’s charity), Sandra Bullock (Asian Tsunami), Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (Global Action for Children and Doctors Without Borders).  These are all notably American examples.

In Canada , giving also makes headlines. This year real-estate developers Joseph and Wolf Lebovic donated $50 million to Mount Sinai Hospital (adding to an earlier $10 million donation).  This was the largest single donation ever bestowed on a Canadian Hospital. (The previous giving record went to Peter Munk - $37 million to Toronto General Hospital ).The Globe and Mail described this level of gift as a “mega gift”, now made easier due to the federal government’s spring budget which eliminated the capital gains tax of publicly traded securities on donations to charities.

Earlier this year Larry Tannenbaum gave $25 million to Mount Sinai Hospital to support biomedical research.  I recently visited the Siloam Mission, a ‘soup kitchen’ and drop-in in Winnipeg which just received a $1 million bequeathment from the family of Saul Sair, a Winnipeg pharmacist, to establish a clinic for people who are homeless.


Give a little love and kindness

Hannah Taylor has raised $1 million, primarily through ‘Big Boss Lunches’ – lunches with business leaders across the country. She is 10 years old and is the founder of the Ladybug Foundation.  She has proven that she can raise big bucks for the homeless, but she has a simpler message “You can share what you have and donate food, clothing and some of your money… but mostly what you can do is be nice to them.”

Hannah echoes the sentiment of singer Chantal Kreviazuk who recently produced and acts in a movie Pretty Broken, addressing how we view and treat people with deteriorating mental health. In a television interview on the subject she suggested we not pass judgement on people but instead think/act with this sentiment “you’re having a really tough time – can I be kind to you?” 


Small Change

There is lots and lots of giving in this country. Between the philanthropists, foundations and caring individuals, one can assume Canadians are generous.  Or are they?

Over the last 10 years I have done hundreds of talks and I’m still caught off guard when someone in the audience asks: “Cathy - should I give to panhandlers?”  I usually swallow, take a deep breath and try to think of how to respond.   Before I do, the person usually quickly adds one of the following questions:

“Should I give to the women instead of the men – would that be better?”

“Wouldn’t it be better if I went and bought them something to eat instead of giving them money?”

“But, aren’t a lot of them (panhandlers) not even homeless?”

“What if they use it to buy alcohol or drugs?”  

“Don’t some of them bring in $100 a day panhandling?”

Although these questions are about whether to give small change, I have to emphasize that the people asking these questions are seriously concerned about whether they should give to panhandlers. Many scenarios go through their head.  I don’t believe I have ever adequately answered the question and until I do I know they can’t move from that place of fear, anxiety, anger and frustration. I was asked the question last month – at the photo copier. I was asked the question the last time I went to get my hair cut. I was recently asked the question by a social work student. I’m definitely asked the question more often since some media and politicians declared war on panhandlers in Toronto this past summer.

So, I’m going to enlist some help from people far more articulate than myself, to help me once and for all try to answer the question:  

Should I give to panhandlers?

Elizabeth May, national leader of the Green Party writes:

"I am not able to pass someone asking for change without giving
something. I try to strike up a conversation.  It is the slow process
of becoming invisible and people averting their eyes from suffering
that divides society as surely as the caste system. Canada cannot
afford to allow anyone to become invisible.

A friend of mine from church had the best response to people who say,
'what if it is a scam artist?' and she replies 'I am afraid I just cannot take that chance'."

Charles Pascal, Executive Director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation writes that he uses one of his favorite principles:

"Best to do fewer things better rather than all things less well.  I don't always manage to put this in practice but with panhandlers, I have found it more rewarding to give a twenty to one person a week and try to ‘make their day’, than hand out loose change to everyone I meet.”

Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians writes:

"There but for the Grace of God go I, people say.  But do they really mean it?  Do they really understand that it could be any of us or our children standing on that corner, cold, hungry and needing some human connection?  Do they (we) all understand, really understand, that life is a lotto that some have won at birth and others have to strive for because of race, socio-economic status, or just bad luck?  Do they (we) really understand that the constant social service cut-backs at the federal and provincial levels have had a devastating impact on the unemployed, disabled, poor, and working families?  And that with the loss of health or a job, it could be any of us?

So let this be our lesson this holiday.  No-one should have to beg for food or shelter; but until we build a just society in which no-one has to beg, please don't pass a panhandler without stopping, talking and sharing what you have.  The person you help is yourself in a mirror.”

Laurel Rothman, Director of Social Reform and the National Coordinator for Campaign 2000 says:

“Yes, we need to give to panhandlers. I usually try to keep spare change in my pocket so that I am prepared. In the Jewish tradition, “tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for what we call “charity” in English. While charity suggests a magnanimous act by the wealthy for the benefit of the poor, tzedakah means righteousness, justice or fairness. According to Jewish law, people are required to give one-tenth of their income to the poor, both Jews and non-Jews. Often families keep tzedakah boxes and contribute to them each week in preparation for the Sabbath. So, when I give money to panhandlers who have asked, I view it as an act of tzedakah. That helps to minimize the awkward and sad feelings and makes me feel that I am performing an act of social justice.”


John Rook, who works with the Salvation Army in
Calgary writes:

“The question for me is not ‘Should I give to panhandlers,’ but rather ‘What should I give to panhandlers?’  I believe in the innate worth of all people, without exception, and that everyone is made in the image of God and is a child of God. The Salvation Army uses the phrase, ‘A hand up, not a handout. ’While I might phrase it differently, it does seem to capture the sense that a panhandler does have needs beyond those of the moment, even if those needs are not clear to her/him. So, while it is absolutely critical that I serve humankind through offering what I have to those in extreme need, it is just as critical that I work with colleagues and friends, those who journey with me, to understand that the social crisis in which the panhandler is trapped is my responsibility too. We must find ways to blame and attack (solve) the social problem and not blame and attack the person.”


John Andras, past president Rotary Club and founder Project Warmth and
Toronto Disaster Relief Committee:

"To question how someone is spending money, whether received from wages, welfare or panhandling, reflects an internal predudice. There is a pre-determination that someone who appears to be homeless is either a drunk, drug addict or scam artist.  Pan-handling, for many, is an essential source of income due to the inadequacy of the social support system."

 Beric German, long-time anti-poverty activist notes:

“I think that anyone should be allowed to ask another for help. Of course, the other person may not be able to respond with appropriate or enough help. This is of course the limitations of the charitable model.”

Clearly, the contributions of the charitable sector to homelessness are significant and invaluable for the basic survival of those who are in need. But charitable individuals and groups cannot, nor should they be expected to, formulate and implement a national strategy for dealing with homeless individuals, nor are they able to develop a comprehensive national housing policy. This is the role of government and our elected representatives. As we all know, our precious Medicare program could never have come about piecemeal, based on charitable donations and fundraising.  

Lately however, when it comes to our federal government, the word taking rather than giving is the word that comes to mind.

In his September 2006 budget announcement federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in the same breath, announced a record $13 billion surplus and with that, $1 billion in federal program cuts.

 

Taking sometimes really hurts

Sadly, in this season of giving, we are witnessing a federal taking that is unprecedented. As economist Ellen Russell from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes,  

“Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took power, he has been rapidly emptying the treasury. How is Harper burning through a mountain of surplus cash?  Tax cuts.  The Conservatives' election platform had a ton of them.  In his first budget, he promised almost $9.9 billion in tax cuts in 2006/07 alone.  More than half of that went to the GST cut. In addition, this year he is spending another $4.4 billion — mostly on defence and his pseudo-childcare program — and he committed to $3 billion in debt repayment.  Add it all up and his own budget indicates that he needs more than $17 billion to pay for his agenda in this current fiscal year alone.  Paying for Harper's agenda will virtually empty the treasury this year — and for some years to come.”  

There is a lot of hurt from the recent federal government’s taking, which was inflicted despite their 13-billion dollar surplus. This taking includes:

·       $5.6 million cut that eliminated the Court Challenges Program.       

·       $4.2 million cut that eliminated the Law Commission of Canada.

·       $4 million cut to medical marijuana research.

·       $5 million cut to Status of Women Canada, closing 12 of 16 regional
offices - 75% of the total.               

·       $5 million cut, scrapping the Kelowna Accord.

·       $18 million cut from adult literacy programs.

·       $55.4 million cut from youth employment programs.

·       $42 million in cuts to Industry Canada technology programs, eliminating the Community Access Programs which provide low-cost internet access.

·       $17.6 million cut to the Workplace Skills program.

Not all the taking came in the 2006 September bloodbath.  The government had already asphyxiated the EnerGuide program, which helped Canadians insulate their houses, reduce their fuel bills and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.  As the Coalition of Canadian Non-profit Agencies noted, “they also slashed programs for the homeless – no great surprise, given that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty once proposed that homeless people simply be jailed.”

The Tories plan to issue $100 a month to parents with children under the age of six makes the search for child-care spots even more difficult, according to the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC):

"This government doesn't understand the benefits of early learning and child care or how to develop it," said CCAAC co-chair Debra Mayer.  "An allowance to parents is not an early learning program for children. "In canceling the child care agreements with the provinces, the Harper government took $3.6-billion away from Canadian communities.”

“The federal government's previous agreement with the provinces would have expanded early learning and child care options for over 100,000 families; improved access, particularly for low income and rural families and for children with special needs; and enhance intervention services for children at-risk”

The CCAAC said it was particularly vicious of the government to single out aboriginal children for a $25-million cut.

From the CBC:

"In all, 66 programs were cut or trimmed back in a series of cuts announced September 2006 that hit across many departments and agencies… it's just the beginning, as Baird says he will look for another $1 billion in savings."

Full list of Sept 06 cuts:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/parliament39/budgetcuts-list.html

The Canadian Union of Public Employees notes:

"Stephen Harper has cut or eliminated a number of government programs
that, despite years of neglect at the hands of the Liberals have helped
women, poor people, aboriginal people, lesbians and gays, and people with
reading difficulties."

Jack Layton, national leader of the New Democratic Party states:

"This government has a $13-billion surplus, and they cut funding for
literacy.  Two billion dollars for fighter jets in Afghanistan , and they
cut funding for women's programs.  Over a billion dollars going to their
friends in the big oil and gas companies, and what do they do?  They cut
funding for aboriginals and young people.  Total arrogance.  No
consultation.  No debate."

Will they keep taking?

My biggest fear is that, to feed their tax cuts, the federal government plans on continuing the taking from our most vulnerable, people who are homeless. The Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (SCPI), the federal relief funding for homeless programs is due to ‘sunset’ (i.e. end) in March 2007.Will the federal government be taking this too? We have to say “NO!” to this taking. Please, contact your Member of Parliament over this holiday season. It’s still not too late.

When you think of giving this holiday season,  please think of the important work of those grassroots advocacy organizations that receive no government funding, like the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC – www.tdrc.net) and the Ontario CoalitionAgainst Poverty (OCAP – www.ocap.ca) and other organizations that are fighting for social justice.  

 
Cathy

 

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