The Treatment of Homeless People is Much Better in Canada

By Ramona Turnbull

In Vancouver, British Columbia, there is a unique approach to homelessness that recognizes the “dignity and hope” of every person.  It is clear that here in the United States this is not the case.  How do you feel about homelessness?  Especially, in light of the fact that many people who were once middle class are now homeless due to the recent foreclosure crisis. 

A local charity in Vancouver, RainCity Housing, has created a campaign that uses five city bus benches referred to as a “transit bench” that transform into a temporary shelter.  In the daytime, it reads “This is a bench” and at night printed with UV and glow in the dark ink this same bench illuminates the words “This is a bedroom.”  Do you think this is a realistic way to address or accommodate homelessness or does it just encourage homelessness?

In the Cleveland area, there is one women’s shelter that is very overcrowded and to make matters worse transgender women are also placed in the same facility. This can be quite confusing and alarming to a lot of women, especially in a facility without regular enforcement of rules.  This is a new concept to many of the older women in the shelter who have never had any contact with people changing their sexual identity.  No one talked to the residents about the incorporation of trans women into the shelter.  The women share bathrooms and the doors and shower curtains are often broken.   They share bedrooms with 4 to 14 women sharing the same space.  There is very little privacy in the one women’s shelter in Cleveland. 

There are better much services for men and more “transitional housing “available for men in Cleveland and to the point homeless women’s needs seem to be ignored.  In Vancouver, there is a 10 story building called the Budzey (named after Lorna Budzey), that has 147 units; 106 for women which also include housing for transgender individuals and 41 units for “women led families.”  However this building uses gender and diversity as a learning tool.

There is also a Vancouver housing and support program for lesbian, gay, or bisexual youths (18-24).  They can choose between a 4 bed communal houses or live in neighborhoods where they feel safe.  And then, there is the Triage Shelter, which provides housing for people with challenges such as mental health and substance abuse.  There, the average length of stay is 3 days to 6 weeks.  This shelter is staffed 24 hours a day.  They each get a private room.  There are 28 shelter rooms each with its own bed, lamp, night stand, easy chair, and secure wardrobe.  Some of these same clients have often been turned away from other shelters and housing organizations.

My favorite of the Vancouver programs is the Vivian Transitional Housing Program.  This facility was specifically designed for women with mental illness and other challenges and was “developed” in response to the unique needs of women and is a women-only shelter which includes both residents and staff.  It is a program that is flexible, non-judgmental, and responsive to the, again, unique challenges faced by homeless women.  I wish that we had some of this level of care for homeless people in Cleveland.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016 Cleveland, Ohio