Homelessness Here

Think about this: how would life change if you or your partner were injured or became ill and could no longer work? What would you do if the depression you were diagnosed with became unmanageable and you no longer had a doctor?  What would your life look like if you were a senior with no family and were experiencing dementia? Although the outcomes of such scenarios are unique to each of us, one thing is certain: aspects of our personal well-being will be challenged.

Our wellness encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Keeping well means looking after each of these at the same time. Sometimes, life throws curve balls that knock us off our feet and we find ourselves relying on other supports to help us through.

Not having resources to support our basic needs can lead to poverty and homelessness for short or a long periods of time. Declining or a sudden loss of wages, inefficient health care, increases in rent, and domestic violence are all contributing causes. Because of the  countless factors and scenarios that can lead to homelessness, it cannot be ‘fixed’ with one fell swoop.

So what is ‘homelessness’? The Canadian Homeless Research Network defines it as:

“[…] the situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful and distressing.”

Between 2002 and 2008, the unsheltered homeless population increased by nearly 120% in New Westminster. (“Sheltered” homeless are considered people who sleep at emergency and temporary shelters, or are staying with friends: “couch-surfing”. “Unsheltered” refers to people who sleep on the streets.) Starting in 2005, the City undertook a number of actions, including developing a Needs Assessment and Strategy, establishing the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition Society (NWHCS), hiring a Social Planner and partnering with BC Housing to develop 28 emergency shelter beds and 84 longer-term transitional and supported housing units, that were eventually occupied in 2009/10. Based on the homeless count in 2014, it would appear that the efforts of the City, BC Housing, and the NWHCS is making a difference. Between 2008 and 2011, there was a 43% reduction in unsheltered homelessness and by 2014, a further reduction of 17%.

The NWHCS is a collaborative effort. It brings together representatives of service providers, community-based organizations, and residents who want to support initiatives to fight homelessness in this city. The Coalition has created subcommittees to oversee initiatives such as Homelessness Action Week (HAW) events, and a community street-cleaning social initiative called, I’s On the Street.

A case manager at Union Gospel Mission notes; “I think there are various distances from couch surfing to the street. I believe the term ‘homeless’ can be used in a literal way and there is also a more broad way of using the term that covers various aspects of the experience of being homeless. Not having a fixed address can be quite a headache day in and day out. In a scenario where an individual has work and is working full time, he/she needs to drag every piece of belonging he/she owns to the place of employment. That is obviously going to raise some questions with employers, but the difficult thing is that there are not a lot of storage resources in areas that have a higher population of people who are homeless. Then there are issues like mail, communication, and other logistics that most people take for granted. I have not even brought up the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of not having a home to return to each night.”

homeless-11“From different accounts,” the case manager continues, “I often hear there is the feeling of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and powerlessness. It is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and difficult experiences anyone can go through in their lifetime.”

The case manager stresses that each individual and situation is unique. Each person must have their needs assessed individually and with respect.

“We should take the time out to walk alongside each person and his or her situation.”

In addition to the emergency shelters (two for men and two for women and children), New Westminster’s service providers focus on a wide spectrum of needs. Carole Neilson, a Deacon at Holy Trinity Cathedral and coordinator for their weekly community breakfast club shares; “I am impressed with the many services and programs available to the homeless and at-risk persons in New Westminster. The city, the community, and churches are working together to assist those in need.” Just a few of these services include:

  • Fraser Mental Health offers counselling and addiction programs
  • Canadian Mental Health Association supports youth and adults experiencing mental illness with various levels of housing
  • Family Services of Greater Vancouver has a range of counselling services, and works closely with the New West Police Domestic Violence Response Team and offers programs for newcomers and their families
  • The Purpose Society‘s Stride with Purpose team cares for those living with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C (including youth) through outreach and case-management, health workshops, clinics, and distributing harm-reduction supplies
  • UGM New Westminster Resource Centre serves community meals, offers client services (including free hearing tests, haircuts, and income tax assistance), programs, and resources
  • Along with their shelter, the Salvation Army has programs for children, adults and seniors, and provides community meals and distributes produce
  • Quest Food Exchange makes it possible for people struggling to access healthy, quality food  
  • The Seniors Services Society focuses on programming and housing for seniors  
  • The Lookout Emergency Aid Society aims at providing emergency and transitional housing
  • FraserWorks BC prepares and connects people to employment
  • Elizabeth Fry works with women in the judicial system and their families
  • The Westcoast Genesis Society offers transitional housing and programs for adult male federal offenders on conditional release  
  • The Spirit of The Children Society serves the Aboriginal community

This is not a complete list! There is an excellent interactive map called the Community Service Asset Map developed by the City of New Westminster that provides a very comprehensive list of low-cost and free community services and supports: www.newwestassetmap.ca

In addition to these social services, churches have stepped up by tirelessly preparing community meals. Other low cost and free community meals are available, too. In addition to meals, there are a few places where people can access free groceries—the Food Bank that operates from Shiloh Church on Wednesdays is one of them.  Breakfast and lunch is available on various days. 


Day Breakfast Lunch
Sunday The Redeemed Christian Church of God (third Sunday only) Salvation Army Church
Wednesday Queens Avenue United
Thursday Holy Trinity Cathedral St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Saturday Salvation Army Church

Bill Wong, who has managed the UGM New Westminster Resource Centre for 18 years, says; “There are many good things all of us can do to help the homeless including the most obvious that is to give to proven charities that focus on helping the less fortunate. People can also give toward immediate relief resources such as food, clothing and hygiene products.”

homeless-10Neilson believes giving financial support to organizations that help those in need is crucial to every outreach program; “it is my hope that the citizens of New Westminster will support outreach services in this city by learning about them. In this way, both the volunteer pool and financial aid will increase.”

So how can we help? Organizations are always looking for volunteers. Perhaps you have specific skills you want to use. Are you a professional hairdresser, an accountant, an attorney, a cook, a driver, or a retired teacher? There is a strong likelihood that your expertise can be used to help others. Buy tickets to fundraisers that support these initiatives. Donate, if you can.

The one thing, however, that makes the greatest impact is giving those around us—the woman who walks up and down the street talking to herself and the man who pushes a cart full of empty bottles—their personhood. We dehumanize and marginalize these people by making them feel they are a burden. By seeing past a person’s exterior, we can help them reclaim something that was taken. We are all so much more than a label. Steve (not his real name), said to me recently; “I know I look shabby on the outside, but I wish people could just see through to my heart and realize I am a good person and I’m fighting every day to go forward. It feels good when people look me straight in the eyes and call me by my name. It might seem like a small thing but it’s everything.”


Homelessness Action Week in New Westminster: October 10 – 14, 2016

Union Gospel Mission’s Community Thanksgiving Meal October 10th 12pm and 2pm at UGM New Westminster Resource Centre, 658 Clarkson Street

Connect Day at Holy Trinity Cathedral October 11th Free community breakfast, service providers “one stop shop”, and free clothing. Plus! A delicious meal prepared by the Sikh community. 541 Carnarvon St.

9th Annual Fundraiser Dinner and Silent Auction on October 13th Hosted by the NWHCS at the Columbia Theatre located at 530 Columbia St. Tickets: $75. For general enquiries and information about tickets, donating items for the silent auction, please contact Martha at 778-847-4468, admin@nwhomeless.ca


Recovery Capital of Canada

Only three percent of persons with addiction show up on skid row. The others walk among us. Addiction is often seen as a problem to be tabled, something to be put away, a behaviour to change, or even as rebellious disobedience with a touch of social disregard thrown in for good measure. My son is an avid cyclist, my friends ride bikes. Both will tell you that when the wheels of a bike get into a rut on a mud road and you struggle for control, balancing the bike is almost impossible, and falling becomes the norm. However, if the rider sees the rutted road as a path leading to the right destination, looks ahead, and sets his mind on the way, the rut becomes a groove and a steady sense of direction and a pathway to destination can be found. It’s time to get out of our rut of thinking about addictions, and begin to see the groove of recovery. The results are life-changing and treatment isn’t reduced to a housing issue.

The earliest signs of addiction can be mood swings; those subtle changes in behaviour that seem irrational, from short and snappy to pout and sputter. They are gradual and often missed by the closer observers. They are also easily discounted as, “she was having a bad day.” The next sign is usually financial unmanageability often presenting as a request for cash advances, cheques cashed at yellow banks, requests for overtime, repossessed vehicles, and uninsured vehicles.

Addiction by prescription looks like the proverbial medicine cabinet comes to the office. People are taking an upper to get started, a downer to manage a mood, a psychedelic at the bar and seeing three different doctors for the same medication with different symptoms presented in each case. Prescription addiction is difficult in that normal conditions have been amplified by drug-seeking behaviour and the constant seeking for designer and psychotropic drugs.

We need to open the doors to helping people who suffer. In the last 30 years, New Westminster has become a national destination for recovery services, with two internationally-renowned treatment centres, some of the largest 12-step fellowship meetings (such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous) in North America, and a disproportionately large number of young people living clean and sober in New West. Those are each solid foundations for life in recovery.

Sometimes, recovery starts with a coffee and a conversation. The coffeeshops at Sixth and Sixth in Uptown New West have become a stage for people in recovery to meet, mingle and talk recovery before a 12-step meeting. When you chat with someone over coffee and talk about what’s really going on… talk about and with others who have found the solution… This location makes it the ideal stage for the 5th Annual Recovery Day BC. The Festival moved to Uptown New Westminster this past September 10th, featuring Health and Wellness Booths, a Main Stage with headliner Bif Naked, a Kids’ Zone, and a Memorial Tent for those lost.

One of the most practical things about recovery in New Westminster is that people recover in community, with peers. Recovery in an urban setting allows for client health and recovery development in a supportive community because, very simply, that is their reality when they return home. People are afforded every communal opportunity to develop skills in recovery that promote participation, encourage active social and recreational life, and interact with their family, colleagues, and friends in a normalized way as their recovery progresses.

Addiction Support and Recovery Programs in New Westminster include: Last Door, Westminster House, Fraserside, Fraser Works, Lookout Shelter, Purpose, Sigma, Last Door Youth Program, as well as over one hundred 12-step meetings every week.

The mathematics of recovery is that any addict seeking recovery can stop using and find an abstinent way to live and that way saves money in the medical, criminal justice, and social care. The creation of the Recovery Capital in New Westminster has created supportive, crime-free housing, supportive 12-step fellowships, medical and mental health supports, and treatment centres all delivering an integrated, seamless approach to recovery that is enduring for persons seeking recovery, endearing for their families and hopeful for communities.


Healthy People Live in Healthy Places


From ParticipACTION to the latest in the endless parade of fad diets, a healthy lifestyle is typically framed as an individual choice. But there’s more than willpower (or lack thereof) behind the size of your waistline, the strength of your heart, and the pinkness of your lungs.

A growing body of research suggests the best indicator of health is whether the community you live in is designed to make healthy choices easy. The small, unconscious actions of our daily lives add up, and can ultimately have a bigger impact on your overall health than whether you join a gym or eat healthier.

“Where you work, where you live, where you play—that’s what keeps you healthy,” insists New Westminster community health specialist Deanna Tan. “That’s really where ‘health’ happens, at home in your community.”

Tan works for Fraser Health, which, like most public health agencies, has long focused on preventative health care through activities like providing vaccines, promoting hand-washing, ensuring restaurants comply with health regulations, and distributing condoms and clean needles. But increasingly, regional health authorities are starting to take a holistic look at the impacts of the physical design of communities on chronic disease.

healthy-places-14According the BC Provincial Health Services Authority, people with chronic health conditions represent about 34% of the population in BC but make up about two-thirds of healthcare costs. Rather than continuing to allocate resources to acute care services, public health is starting to look more carefully at prevention and promotion strategies, says Tan, one of which is creating healthier communities.

“The time in your doctor’s office, that’s treatment. There’s a little bit of prevention, but really that’s illness and sickness, not health,” says Tan.

Health authorities are increasingly focusing on the impacts of infrastructure and community planning on health based on research that links poor air quality to increases in childhood asthma; sedentary lifestyles and diet to diabetes and heart disease; and a lack of safe, affordable housing to paramedic and policing calls related to mental illness.

The idea is that planning and investment policies, such as zoning and investment rules, create a ripple effect that ultimately affects the health of the population as a whole. For example, people are more likely to walk to school or work, and do errands on foot when city blocks are short and there’s a diverse mix of businesses close to homes—factors determined by city land use and zoning policies.

Increasing walkability of neighbourhoods sounds like a ‘nice-to-have’ feature, but when viewed through a health lens it becomes a must-have for the economic health of our nation. Physical inactivity alone costs the Canadian health care system at least $2 billion annually in direct healthcare costs. While not the only factor in chronic illness, high obesity rates are linked with higher rates of type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and cancer. Public health specialists like Tan hope that by collaborating with city councils and other community partners, they can help decision-makers consider the public health impact of decisions involving housing, transportation, nutrition, access and inclusion, and the natural environment.

“The goal isn’t necessarily to do things differently,” says Tan, “but to view things differently.”

Not every community has been receptive to this ‘health lens,’ but in New Westminster, Tan and her colleagues have been invited to sit on several City committees, and to provide research, support, and expertise to staff as they draft an updated Official Community Plan (OCP).

The OCP is being revised in a process that began in 2014. Residents have been invited to attend numerous consultation opportunities and sit at the table. Recently, the City released the first draft of Land Use Map, which will be used to determine development in the city until 2041. It is based on the input of people who have attended meetings, written in, and voiced their opinions. The importance of getting this right can’t really be ignored as this document will define the city’s goals, policies, and vision for the future.

Councillor Patrick Johnstone, who has been an active participate on this process, says: “The OCP is ‘the big one’: it is the planning document that tells us the most about how our City will look in the decades ahead. Types of housing is a big part of it, but so is neighbourhood form, and how we will continue to support other work like our Master Transportation Plan and the Urban Forest Management Strategy as we experience regional growth.”

“A healthy community is one where you can walk or ride a bike safely, where services you need are nearby and accessible, where you are supported in raising your kids, and have comfortable options to age in place. However, in an urban area like New West, it also means protecting and enhancing our limed green space, assuring we have trees to moderate our local climate, people have an opportunity to plant a seed and grow some local food, and that neighbours can have meaningful social connections. We need to plan our community to facilitate these things, not limit them.”

“If you plan Cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places” – Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

Johnstone continues: “We know what makes people healthy, and what makes them unhealthy. A good OCP should build healthy choices right into the infrastructure, and should limit the resources we put into supporting unhealthy alternatives.”

For Tan, the OCP is more than just a planning document. “The OCP is a health document,” says Tan. “It is so connected. To us, it’s a no-brainer.”

How Community Planning Affects Health

(source: BC Provincial Health Services Authority)

healthy-places-18 healthy-places-17 healthy-places-16 healthy-places-15

Staying Well in a Sick System

An urban community with a population of 67,000 and rising, New Westminster has an abysmally low number of family doctors accepting new patients. Recently, I felt like I had won the lottery when I managed to find the “holy grail” of a GP: younger than 40, female, and accepting new patients. During the search for Dr. Grail, I’d asked friends for referrals to their doctors, and discovered there’s a growing number of people who are turning to alternative therapies to manage their personal wellness and care.

Ease of access seems to be one reason why people are considering alternative therapies. One friend said she can see her naturopathic doctor with little notice. Another mentioned he didn’t need an appointment to get acupuncture treatment on his wrist and simply walked in during clinic hours. A colleague swears by registered massage therapists: “I can call one of a dozen qualified people within walking distance and find someone right away, and a good number of them will come to me.”

“People want to get to the root of their health concerns, as opposed to being given more medication and Band-Aid solutions,” says Dr. Allana Polo, Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and owner of Polo Health + Longevity in downtown New Westminster.

staying-well-in-a-sick-system-01Doreen Hill, a registered acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner in Uptown, agrees. “I recognize that western medicine has limitations,” she says. “For me it’s all about helping people overcome their issues and regain their health and lifestyles.”

As the traditional healthcare system becomes backlogged, scarce, and frustrating to navigate, New Westers are taking charge of their own wellness. “I was tired of never feeling like I had any say in my own health, that I was never in control, and that I just had to live with whatever answers I got in the few minutes I was permitted at the walk-in clinic,” says one convert to naturopathic healthcare. “That’s no way to enjoy life. I finally feel well again.”

New Westminster is not only rife with naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, registered massage therapists, practitioners of TCM and other alternate therapies, but it is also home to training facilities, including the West Coast College of Massage Therapy and the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine.

Peyvand Fralic, who works at the Boucher Institute for Naturopathic Medicine, says: “Some students enroll because at some point in their life either they or a family member have been helped by naturopathic medicine when conventional medicine could not help them.”

“Witnessing lasting lifestyle changes is extremely rewarding and motivating,” says Dr. Polo. Her clinic offers a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to preventative health care. Its practitioners (which include naturopathic doctors, medical doctors, nutritionists, and counsellors) work to “discover the root of illness and to treat the underlying cause of symptoms, and to empower patients to make lasting changes that support prevention.”

“We serve as primary health practitioners for many people. We can write prescriptions, send for lab work, and do PAP exams,” she continues.

There is no need for a referral from a medical doctor. Right now, patients who want to try alternative therapies can simply look up a practitioner online or find one through recommendations or reviews, book an appointment, and—boom!—they’re in. Often, alternative healthcare providers do not work alongside or share information with a patient’s GP (if they have one). This can result in an incomplete picture of a patient’s health and treatment, where care is fragmented between practitioners.

This interdisciplinary team-based care approach is one that Judy Darcy, New Westminster’s MLA and Opposition Spokesperson for Health, has said is lacking in our traditional healthcare system. She points out that a collaborative approach has been introduced in Ontario with good results, but acknowledges it would be a huge shift in how healthcare is structured in BC. Darcy recognizes there would be significant up-front costs to implement a new approach, but believes it would be a good long-term investment and especially beneficial to people who have complex healthcare needs such as elders or those with mental health issues.

Finally, cost to patients is an important part of the discussion. Alternative health practitioners are considered private clinics and generally operate on a fee-for-service model. The cost of the treatments is generally on the client to pay. For higher income patients, this is a fairly easy decision to make. For those with a lower income there are a few options. Extended health plans will generally cover some of all of the treatments and MSP will cover some services, such as acupuncture, for people who qualify for their low income plan.

Some practitioners operate on sliding scales which can vastly improve the affordability of alternative healthcare. Fiona Lampman, an acupuncturist who owns Gathered Roots in downtown New Westminster says, “The main idea behind offering a sliding scale is to make health services more affordable to more people, not just those who have extended health insurance. MSP with only pay a small amount per treatment; about a third to a quarter of the going rate most acupuncturists charge in the Greater Vancouver area. Even with a small subsidy, it is difficult for many to afford treatment. The hope is that those who have extended health will pay the mid to higher range while those with lower incomes can pay on the lower side of the sliding scale. All the while the acupuncturist is providing quality care and able to make a living doing what she is passionate about.”

While some practitioners are incorporating cost into their personal philosophies of treatment, it does come down to a need to pay for the services. Extended health benefits from an employer usually covers only a certain amount of treatments or a maximum dollar amount per visit. The low-income plan that MSP offers does require some hoop-jumping to qualify for, such as providing proof of income.

People in jobs without or with limited health benefits and who do not qualify as low-income are on the hook for fees. This bubble of patients in the middle means that many patients who may benefit from or are interested in trying alternative health therapies are out of luck. Alternative healthcare is not always an alternative option within everyone’s financial grasp. At least in New Westminster, there are lots of choices to investigate.



Let’s Go!

We’re all busy, that’s a given. There are simply not enough hours in the day. This is especially true when it comes to our physical health, which often sits at the bottom of our to-do lists. Let’s review our priorities and make sure our physical health is right at the top—there is nothing more important than taking care of yourself.

Physical health will reclaim a scarce commodity in our lives: time. Chronic diseases and conditions also are associated with a significant loss in health adjusted life expectancy, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. So let’s take back time!

Most people are under the impression that fitness is only found in a gym, yoga studio, or community centre. Many feel that physical health is a huge, costly commitment. Have you ever priced out the cost of being sick?

Being physically active has many benefits, and doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s look at walking. Until recently, a “daily constitutional” was part of life. While it has different connotations, the one most applicable meant a daily walk to invigorate and regenerate the mind and body. Your grandparents were on to something!

Walking has positive health benefits. It strengthens your heart and can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 27% (Heart and Stroke Foundation). It can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 60% and you’re 20% less likely to develop colon, breast, or uterine cancers. A brisk walk will burn about 100 calories in 30 minutes.

Ok, so the physical side sounds pretty good so far, but what about our mental health?

Walking may delay or help prevent dementia, with older adults who walk eight kilometres or more per week more likely to avoid brain shrinkage and preserve memory as the years pass. Walking feels good. It can not only improve your mood, but may also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Convinced yet? Let’s bring back the daily constitutional—the kind that references being active. Thirty minutes a day is a great start, and hits Health Canada’s exercise guidelines.

You just need a good pair of shoes to get going. You can start easy and walk along the Quayside boardwalk from the submarine playground park and walk all the way to the end of the Pier Park. Continue on to Sapperton Landing—this entire stretch is totally flat. When you’re ready to add more of a challenge to your walk, consider trekking from Downtown to Uptown and see if you can spot all the tiled mosaics along the way. Don’t forget, it’s downhill all the way back.  


Monthly Theme: Wellness

Does anyone else feel like a switch has been flipped and we are firmly in autumn mode almost suddenly? I sure do. Leaves are turning colours and falling, my furnace got a dusting and a new filter before being woken up, and I’m wearing socks for the first time in months. I went hunting for a favourite pair of gloves the other day, and had a moment out with a friend last night where I yearned for the jacket I’d ignored as I walked out the door. Yup, it’s definitely not summer anymore.

beeAt our house, we’re back at the school-kid grind. I’m always amazed at the ease of which the school seems to fall into routine, like a bee hive where all members have a job to do to ensure success. Teachers to shepherd young minds, admin and staff to set a tone and keep the building running as well as it can, and students to fill their minds up with everything they’re learning – academic and social. Some kids transition pretty seamlessly into school, some need a bit of support to feel they’re in the right place. But, here, as we enter October, it seems to be a fairly well-oiled machine and needs are being met as best they can.

I’m bracing for the onslaught of colds and maybe even *shudder* lice that inevitably comes with a swell of school kids with their heads together and *knock wood* so far we haven’t succumbed to either. We’re still trying to grasp the last of the summer and spend time putting the garden to bed before the first frosts hit. Tomorrow, we’re heading to the New West Apple Press Fest to really make autumn feel welcome.

If I can make one request, readers? Please keep the storm drains in your neighbourhoods as clear as possible. When the rains hit (and it’s a given, here on the wet coast), clear storm drains make the streets less flooded and more safe.

This month, our theme on Tenth is Wellness. Our print issue is out at distributors starting today, featuring a beautiful cover illustration by my co-publisher, Johanna Bartels. Articles from the print magazine will be out on the website soon and we’ll be sharing and promoting them throughout the month.

We want to share stories this month that show off how well our community is and what parts need improvement. I’m hoping some of you will feel compelled to write about traffic, transportation, transit, housing, health, taxes, city services, community organizations… you name it.  Come to us with your ideas, and let’s share it on Tenth. Talking to one another in the community is one way to keep it well and a community mindful of wellness is a place I like living in.