Ep.12 Michael Braithwaite – Compassion in Homelessness

Tune in to hear Michael Braithwaite discuss the importance of compassion in homelessness as well as redefine how we look at individuals experiencing homelessness.


Gissele: Welcome to another episode of the Love and  Compassion podcast with Gissele. If you’re listening to us on audio, don’t forget to write a review. And if you’re watching us on YouTube, don’t forget to like, and subscribe to our channel for more exciting content.

Our guest today has been working for the not-for-profit sector for over 27 years. For the last 10 years has been working with organizations dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness. Currently he’s a CEO for the blue door support services, a charity in York region, working to rapidly rehouse men, families in youth, as well as provide them with access to health and employment.

Michael’s past roles include a long-term stint at the YMCA CEO, of three 60 kids. And most recently raising the roof. He is a Brock university and Georgian college graduate and is very proud of his board work with family day GTA and with innovative and amazing away home  Canada team. Lastly, he’s also the producer and lead interviewer for the incredible podcast Out of the Blue.

Please join me in welcoming Michael Braithwaite. Hi Michael, how are you?

Michael: [00:01:09] I’m good. I’m good Gissele. How are you doing?

Gissele: [00:01:11] Great. Thank you very much for being here today. It’s a real pleasure to have you here chatting with us. Um, I’ve been following your work for a little while and I feel that all the work that you do is really focused on compassion for people facing homelessness and maintaining the dignity of people and so I was interested in chatting with you, because I think you guys have a lot of you’ve done great work and have a lot of insights. First I wanted to know what got you interested in working with homelessness?

Michael: [00:01:39] Well, it’s kind of the, there’s a, there’s a few different things that were at play. I think like many people in life I’ve always sought and, and craved a purpose. Right. And I worked in social services for a long time, uh, with a Y YMCA, my last stint with a Y YMCA from 2006 to 2010. It was interesting because I worked at the Flamborough-Y and it’s kind of, it’s a beautiful facility, but it’s in suburbia and, you know,  it, it serves a great purpose, keeps people healthy.

And then, uh, my boss at the time, uh, Hamilton that downtown Hamilton wise really gritty, tough place. Um, and he said, he said, would anyone be interested in coming to manage here? And he was joking because it’s rough. And I jumped at the opportunities that put me in. I said, I love that. I miss that. I want purpose.

I actually want to be in a place where this is so needed. Um, so I jumped at the chance that coincidentally, uh, that was the only Y in the area or one of the only Y’s Canada that’s still has a residence. So they have a men’s residence, 174 beds, but here’s kind of the strange thing. What the, Y, the reason the, Y had residents is back in the day, it was, you know, if you’re traveling and it was a cheap way to get a room for a night stay and for students and what has happened since, uh, The late eighties, early nineties, when homelessness really started to ramp up, his became the cheapest independent living in the city.

So if you’re on, assistance on Ontario Works, you could afford it. It was $375 a month and you can afford it, but it’s just a room with a desk, a bed, a dresser shared washrooms, no kitchen. But what happened there is because it’s independent living. You had 174 men, uh, Many older men, but with, uh, many with addictions or mental health challenges or physical health challenges that weren’t served, there’s no services.

So it was a bit of a disaster. Like it was a tough, tough place. And I saw firsthand what happens when you have housing without supports. Um, and actually it’s funny, I followed my, um, my wife into the work. She was doing the work already with Fred Victor, and I saw the purpose she had. So when an opportunity came to work, I’d worked with at risk youth in the past and loved the work.

And when an opportunity came up with 360 kids in, in New York region, around homelessness and, and helping them escape homelessness. I jumped at the opportunity was very fortunate that someone took a chance on me and that was 10 years ago. And you know what I mean? I just, the purpose of it, understanding it like most Canadians, I think before I started my, my vision of homelessness was, um, the guy on the street corner, downtown Toronto.

Right. And, and it’s funny when you ask younger kids who will actually, they don’t have a filter and they’ll describe what homelessness looks like. Usually they describe me. Older white guy with a beard. Um, so, um, but, but that’s what we think, right? And it’s not because Canadians are bad people or it’s just what we know what we grew up with.

So we think that’s, you know, it’s a Toronto problem. And then when you learn more about it, and the reason we do a lot of this work on podcasts or social media, et cetera, is really creating that awareness. I think once people know really. A lot more about, homelessness they’re, they’re set to take action.

And so that really, you know, as I learned more and more, and I’m always learning and talking to people with a lived experience that we call live to experts and what the needs really are and what the challenge is an issue is it’s to me become just a passion project in life.

Gissele: [00:05:07] Wow. Um, what do you think led to the increase in homelessness between the eighties and nineties?

Michael: [00:05:13] Since it was policy change and it’s, it’s direct, uh, directly linked to policy around stopping building that the government said, Hey, we’re not going to build any more social housing, affordable housing anymore. And he just saw the numbers in the States. And in Canada, what was, this was always there, but not to the level of, and it just skyrocketed.

So now, you know, we’re 30 years behind trying to catch up, right. It’s an ongoing, um, type of thing. And also, uh, You know, with policy changes too, around who, uh, who’s paying for what and in different services. Right? So around defunding mental health services. Um, and it’s interesting. We were talking with, uh, uh, a nun sister, Mary Scullion in, uh, in Philadelphia.

She was saying too,  what was wonderful years ago is they went away from institutionalizing people with mental illness. However, when they did that, which was wonderful and the right thing to do, they didn’t do that with the right backing of housing. So yes, it’s great because they don’t belong in institutions.

They belong in homes like everyone else, but you have to have the homes and services to support that. So that contributed, uh, as well. And if you look at to social assistance rates in Ontario, Uh, the Harris years were slashed or cut down and they’ve never responded back up. So if someone’s income through whatever reason it is, Ontario works is $600 a month.

And the GTA, you can’t get a room, a room for $600 a month. So you’re living in, in whatever accommodations you can find. Sometimes that’s the streets. Sometimes that’s sharing a room. Sometimes that’s renting someone’s couch. Believe it or not. That happens on Kijiji. So, so well, Rentals and housing costs have gone way up, um, income supports have remained steady or declined.

Gissele: [00:07:02] Mmhmm. Yeah. And I often wonder about these policies in terms of whether the people creating the policies understand the impact of said policies because you know, one of my pet peeves is that. It tends to be privileged people that make policies right. And they don’t have the lived experience of living the policies.

Michael: [00:07:21] Yeah. And I understand, I mean, I think sometimes working in government is, is, uh, Thankless job. There’s only so much money to go to so many places, where do you invest? Um, and you’re not going to make everyone happy, but housing is that one of those core things. Right. And it’s a right.

It’s a human right now. We’ve established that. Um, and if you, you call it a human, right, you all still have to put the resources behind it to make sure you can, bring that to life too. Right. So good policy matters and it’s hard to roll back. You’re right. And now we’re seeing that too. There’s a saying that nothing for us without us.

And that goes for indigenous people that goes for marginalized communities, but let’s have those voices at the table to make those decisions that will directly affect them.

Gissele: [00:08:08] For sure. Absolutely. Agreed. Do you think that some of the reasons for the policy changes. Have to do with the myths of homelessness in terms of what people believe about homeless people.

Michael: [00:08:21] Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting you say that, I mean the stigma around it. Right. Um, and geese, I’m trying to think of who famously said, you know, uh, they should just get a job, you know, just get jobs and then all will be well. Right. Um, and you look at that statement now. So I just read in the Toronto star this morning, you know, personal support workers right now who are absolute heroes during a pandemic.

Uh, they have to work a minimum of 50 hours a week to survive in the GTA, to live in the GTA. So we have people living in poverty, supporting people in poverty, which is just a darn shame. Uh, and you talk about compassion. Um, I have. Not only do I have compassion for people experiencing homelessness, a huge part.

And, for the people that I work with who are on the front lines to do much more important, in direct impact for work than I do, um, I’m, I’m driven to always make sure that they’re making a living wage. Cause it’s, it’s, it’s disgusting when they don’t. You know, I, I can’t sleep well at night.

Gissele: [00:09:24] Sorry. I totally agree with what you’re saying. I mean, I was just thinking about the fact that COVID has highlighted  the issue of homelessness, and some people don’t have a home to go to, to, you know, to get away from COVID. I think it shifted our perspective in terms of how we define heroes.

And like you said, the PSW is every day that are going around, helping people that are trying to do the best they can as well as make a living. So I think it’s given us some perspective. I would like to think. Um, I’m just wondering what you thought might be some of the other impacts of COVID around, homelessness.

Michael: [00:09:59] Well, I can’t quote the stats. Exactly. Some good information came out a couple of days ago, just talking about, um, the likelihood of someone experiencing homelessness. And you’ll notice, I always say experience. So a person experiencing homelessness, because we don’t want to label the person. Right.

Once they start to believe that’s who they are. That’s dangerous too. Right. So it’s the experience they’re having. And I say that because 80% of people that come into emergency, Housing it’s one, one in time they come in, they get some supports they’re out. We never see them again. There’s 20% that have much higher needs that are a little more challenging, but 80%.

Right. So it’s an experience and we hope to cut down on those experiences, but, you know, they’re, they’re far more likely. Because of the, the situation they’re in there, they’re far more likely to be riding public transit and having to go to work because they don’t have sick benefits if they’re working.

Right. So they have no choice if they want to keep, whatever little they have, they have to go to work and take that risk. They’re in precarious. Uh, they might not have the PPE, they, um, and in general, you know, or when you’re living on the streets, it takes a toll on your health. We talked with, uh, Dr.

Sandy Bachman. Who’s the head of the Canadian medical association about the links of health and homelessness. And he was talking about, he said, I could tell someone’s health by their postal code. Isn’t that crazy? He said, if you give me your postal code, I could tell you generally how healthy you’ll be.

And that just means that that healthcare is not equal. Uh, across, right. So where you’re living, how you’re living, um, the average lifespan of someone living on the streets is 47. So I’m 48 years old. Right? So that, that, that hits hits home, right. It really does take its toll. You present much older, so you’re.

You know, your precarious health already. And, and so you’re at risk. And so with COVID-19 now having said that in York region where I work, because we’ve worked, the team is so amazing, not just that Blue Door, but at all our partners across the region, the region itself United Way, um, our paramedics, um, our public health system, we worked so diligently at um, following all the rules, being safe, that we’ve, we haven’t had major outbreaks, you know, knock on wood and so we’re very, very proud of that. And we’ve got isolation site that blue door runs and it hasn’t been overflowing with people and that’s a good thing.

Gissele: [00:12:22] Yeah, wow. Thank you so much. You said so much there.

Um, one of the things that you said that really stood out to me, is the piece around people that are facing homelessness versus the traditional. Word that people use, which is homeless people. And I think that’s really, really important in helping, not only the people experiencing homelessness understand that this is not a personal trait, but rather than this is an experience and also helping other people too. Um, I would say kind of re humanize homeless people. Cause I think that my understanding when I’ve had conversations with people who’ve experienced homelessness is that they face a lot of stigma. They faced a lot of, um, shame and demeaning behavior. Some of them have actually been beat up or continuously get beat up when they’re.

Homeless and, um, their experiences from what I’ve heard was that, you know, people are kind and then they will give stuff in the beginning and then, but then they expect them to do something different. And then if they don’t, then they kind of withdraw that affection because they’re not meeting the expectations of that person to help themselves and, you know, I’m sorry to use the quotations.

Michael: [00:13:27] well, listen, quite often. You know, everyone’s curious, what does homelessness look like with the face of homelessness? Right. And I, I mentioned that before, if you ask kids that are much more honest, filters are removed and they talk about what they see on the streets of downtown Toronto, 80% of youth experiencing homelessness is due to family breakdown.

Right? So the face of homelessness is you me, any one of us, there is no face, right? You, you can’t tell. By looking at someone in extreme cases. Sometimes you can say this person is going through a hard time. Um, but especially with youth youth, or if you say you’re a homeless youth to someone who’s actually living on the street that they’re re defensive.

No, I’m not. Because they don’t want that stigma either. Right. They just want to be like their friends. And so they’ll go to great lengths to hide that their friends have no idea that they walked around all night. They’re sleeping in class now because they’re lazy because they’re exhausted and they were scared.

Right. Um, But yeah, that stigma of they’re just lazy. Get a job. I mean, think about family breakdown. 50% of all marriages end in divorce and divorce could be crippling to the kids, mentally the trauma, plus the financial burden. Then you can want stable family can find themselves without a safe place to call home kids just simply, Hey, I’m going through school, I’m getting great marks.

I have friends and I have the courage to come out to my parents and they’re saying, Hey, you know, here’s the choice. Don’t be gay. Yeah. Or, or, you know, you can’t live here. That’s not a choice, so they don’t live there and they’re now on the streets. Right. And, and, uh, that I, I tell you, I’ve done, we’ve done, um, these events where we get adults in the middle of winter to spend one night out on the streets and youth write their scenarios.

Here’s what I went through. Here’s what you should do. And it’s one night. These experiences, I’ve done it. A number of times it’s brutal. You know, I’ve done it alone. We usually put people on partners for safety, but I’ve done it alone. It’s cold, it’s lonely.

It’s isolating, you know, you’re, uh, I could see how youth would be terrified. Um, and, and the next day, when you don’t sleep, Sleep your mental health, how it falls apart. And that’s one night. I mean, imagine doing that every night, right? So the, the stigma really around it, and it’s not just people who are living rough on the streets, there’s people in precarious housing.

If you went in you like no one should live in this basement, that’s full of mold with six other people with, with, you know, uh, facilities that aren’t working. Well, um, that kind of thing too, right? I mean, it’s a. I think when people understand what it really is. When you usually you talk about youth homelessness too, you were saying, have you ever had one of your kid’s friends stay over for a couple of weeks?

Well, yeah, there’s homelessness, right? Like that’s someone experienced it, but you wouldn’t see that because they’re just a friend of your kids you helped out. Um, so it’s uh, yeah, and I think we have a lot of systems too, that when you stigma, it’s not laziness, it’s a system that’s broken. And I’ll say for instance, child welfare system that I think over 70% of kids who experienced homelessness. Um, had one time or another been in the child welfare system that system’s broken right at the age of 19, your birthday gift is good luck. You know, you’re, you’re done you’re that any safety security you had is now over the services provided and you know, the realizing that, and they’re changing that, but we have broken systems.

We have broken, you know, a kid makes a mistake at 17, 18, um, does some time, uh, and then forever on cannot get a safe place to call home. Um, The school system, when you, you. Kids drop out or get kicked out because of their situation. Um, so we we’ve, we’ve been a society for the longest time to that’s all we’ve done is react to homelessness, but now we’ve started to realize that we’ve got to think a little forward and upstream and think what are the things we can do?

How do we fix systems? How do we do things? So we prevent new people from coming into it, prevent evictions. So many people too, and sorry to ramble, but is headed. Uh, they’re handed eviction notice. And they go, okay. And they leave, but you can fight it. You can do a payment plan. Maybe it’s an illegal eviction you could, but they don’t know that they just accept it.

Right. Or. Their literacy isn’t there, so they can’t read the lease. They don’t know. Um, and so, you know, there’s so many, if you just had a little, it was just a little awareness education around that. How many more people can we prevent from falling into it? And if Canadians understood like 250,000 Canadians each year experience homelessness, and unfortunately that number is growing, it probably will grow more in this pandemic.

It could be your neighbor. It could be you, um, you know, We all have yes, government plays a part, but it’s on all of us to be compassionate, to be kind without expectations. As you said

Gissele: [00:18:14] Yeah. Wow. It’s so spot on. I mean, you’re right. The systems that we have designed, and I use the word we, because we’re all responsible for it.

Our level of consciousness is one where we don’t see each other as brothers and sisters. We think some people are deserving and other people aren’t deserving. And it’s so true. Like all of these systems that we’ve created are about.

Punishment are about, um, you know, like you have to pull up yourself by your bootstraps and it’s not, they’re not based on caring for the each other as if we were one family. It’s not based on understanding that we’re all interconnected and that my wellness depends on your wellness and your wellness depends on mine.

And I think until we start to see things differently, I don’t know what’s going to change and I would also go back to the point you had made about services until mental health addictions and all those pieces are essential services. They’re deemed essential.

We’re going to continue to have these other catch-all systems such as the child welfare system and all these other different systems. One of the things that I really appreciate most about your organization is that you not only focus on re-homing, but you also offer supports for little people and also counseling and wellness.

Um, why is it so important to provide kind of a holistic approach to ending homelessness?

Michael: [00:19:34] Yeah, that’s a great question, too. Right. And mostly we’ve, we’ve discovered this through doing it wrong through mistakes. Um, for the longest time it was, Hey, let’s get this person clean, let’s get them a job. Let’s make sure they’re all this stuff.

And then we’ll get them housing and, and he, all that stuff is almost impossible to do. If they don’t have a safe place to call home. So when we fail, right. So in, in the nineties and, and there’s this, uh, Sam, uh, Sam Harris, who came up with this idea, he’s the father of housing first. And it was a simple concept of, Hey, if we just get people in housing first and then wrap all those things around them, you’ll be amazed at what happens, right?

When you have an address, when you that anxieties, that you don’t have to look for a place to sleep, that you’ll be safe. And he did, the experiments were done with it. Would work with some people that were, uh, some of the most chronically homeless people. And, and that were, you know, and the key is not only is there a human cost to this where you’re saving human lives, but it’s saving a ton of money when you do housing first, right?

A shelter beds, emergency shelter are really, really expensive. Not to mention all the stays in hospital. Someone who’s chronically homeless will go to the ER, five times more than someone who’s housed. Right. Um, so there’s all these costs. But so we we’ve finally got it. Right. And then we started putting people in housing, but you also have to have supports that match to the individuals.

So supports that youth need are different than a senior are different than, um, you know, uh, as a family. So, so you wrap those supports around them and without. And what happens too. Sometimes as we can put people in housing, if they don’t have a link to that community, if there’s not a sense of community, if they don’t have links to healthcare, um, sometimes they sabotage that housing and ended up back in emergency housing.

And I see, you know, you’ll notice too, I say emergency housing, not shelter. That’s another stigma too. Shelter is such a tough stigma to it. So we call it housing, emergency housing for the time. Yeah. But yeah, it’s, that’s the other thing too, is that we don’t realize you need to have those aftercare supports that, you know, so let’s say I’m in emergency housing at Porter place at Blue Door.

So I’m a senior man. I’m 55 years old. I go in there. I’ve now got, you know, 29 new buddies who are in the same situation who get it on there for maybe a month. I have friends, I have staff that care that I’m there, that I’m healthy, that whatever. So I have almost got like, I’ve got this family it’s makeshift family, and then you put me in housing and no one cares when I come home.

No one cares if I’m fed, no, one’s checking in on me. And so that sense of community and connecting them to people, and maybe they’re better off living with a couple other friends from that, you know, it’s so important. Otherwise that housing falls apart, right? So those supports around it, the healthcare piece too, if you’re not healthy, you don’t have links.

And we’re constantly working on that, um, that we saw actually during COVID, um, when we’re running the isolation site, we attached a nurse to the isolation site and having that direct immediate healthcare, you sit down and say, okay, let’s go through. Let’s make sure your meds are what a difference. Right.

So if we did that for everyone who came in, not just isolation site, what a difference that would be. So we’re working with people like Dr. Andrew Bond in Toronto and others to listen. I I’m. Okay with it not being by original ideas, it’s not about me. There’s great ideas all over the world that we can borrow and duplicate.

We do that a lot and people are so gracious in social services. So yeah, take it. I don’t need credit to just make it happen. It’s so I, I, you know, um, so health is there and then employment plays a part too. I mean, but it’s meaningful employment, uh, Gissele we, we, for years, again, not that it’s wrong, but we did things in a sense that it was like, Well, there’s homelessness where employment, where people say it’s good enough.

And that when you talk about dignity, why is good enough? Good enough. So, whether it’s, Hey, let’s build a better tent. That’s not, we need to do this is housing now. They don’t need a better tent. And we see this, here’s a great sleeping bag where people can survive outdoors. I don’t want them to survive, able to thrive and live right need housing.

And it’s well-intended. So I don’t want to say same thing with him employment for the longest time, we’d take a youth and say, Hey. Awesome. I got you a job at a Tim Horton’s, you’re going to work horrible hours. You’re not going to make enough to live. You’re not going to have a great purpose. And then we wonder why they fall apart.

And it’s like, yeah, see you later. I’m done. Right. But then we start to think like,  we developed this program again, we copied it from somewhere else. It’s a social enterprise called construct. And so there’s a massive need for people in the trades. Um, and we run them through a program where they get linked to the trades and then they make.

Uh, they actually come out of that program into jobs where they have great purpose. They can point at a building. I was part of that. I did that. I have purpose, uh, you know, I complete something each day and they’re well paying jobs, meaningful, well paying, and I can truly escape poverty. So you, you do that when they’re ready.

Right? So it’s, you know, all these things are linked and at different stages, you cannot have a housing is health. You can’t, as you said, when the, when the mandate is, um, stay safe, stay at home, stay healthy, stay at home. If you don’t have that home as the core piece, you can’t do any of those things.

Gissele: [00:24:58] For sure.

In some people home, isn’t a safe space to be at. Um, I love that your organization, focuses on empowering people. It’s yes, the purpose is the end homelessness, but it’s also to empower those individuals to understand that this is a chapter of their life, but also you’re giving back the people’s dignity respect and for, to help them remember their own power.

And I think that’s the problem with a number of the systems we have. They’re dis-empowering they’re based on pity, which is a very low. Vibration. Whereas I think you’re seeing these people as human beings, human beings just need opportunities to be their best selves, to live their dreams and to do these things.

And I think any policy that is has that at its core is going to be meaningful. Um, So I, I’ve kind of, I’ve been kind of following the literature on, basic income and basic like basic minimal housing. And the research is there that shows it does give people dignity and it has great outcomes.And yet there’s still hesitation for us to move forward. I was just wondering what your thoughts on that were?

Michael: [00:26:06] Yeah, actually as recent as we’re trying to bring it to Ontario, um, Claire we’ve had, uh, on Claire, Claire, Elizabeth Williams, who we had on the Potter or out of the blue podcasts. She did this experiment with UBC out in Vancouver, where they took 200 people and randomly a hundred of those people.

Now these are people who didn’t have heavy addictions or mental health challenges, but they’re experiencing homelessness in some form. They gave a hundred of them, $7,500 a year. And then they followed in a hundred. Didn’t get those. And just the differences, insane, like the positive benefits of being housed, being safe, getting work.

Some of them still had money, uh, and believe it or not with more money, the actual use of drugs and alcohol dropped. Right. And that’s probably a direct link to how they mentally, how they feel physically, mentally. Right. So it’s, it’s there. You’ve seen people doing surf that are like, you know, I can breathe.

I knew I had that and I didn’t have that, that weight and I can move forward and my mental health, my, um, you know, and it also, I even point to, when everyone did the wage subsidies at first, you had people who were saying, wow, like for once I felt it. My paycheck. Maybe I can put a little aside. I can move forward.

I could do things. For a lot of people, it’s simply just an income piece. It really is. That pushes them. They need that little bit, and you’ll never see them again. Right. And you know, I think people sometimes get scared of it bottom line figure, or won’t it be want to encourage them to be lazy and not work now?

No, you know, like people want to have a purpose. I’m sure there’s some people who, who might not. And then there’s other things that, um, you know, There’s other issues there, but I think for the most part, people have issues. And when you know that your housing is taken care of that you’re not gonna, uh, have to look around for your next meal that you have a little bit of, um, security.

I think then you’ve started to say, Hey, maybe I’ll go back to school. Maybe I’ll what other job can I, how do I make a difference where you go from thrive, you start to thrive instead of just surviving. And looking for that, um, next bit. So I, I, I’m a huge supporter of basic income because it, it works. I mean, the countries that have that in play, you know, the, the Denmark’s and, and Finland and others who have, who’ve done some of that work.

You see the difference. Those are the countries that are way closer to ending homelessness. You know, that those a hundred people right away, and we’re going to bring that, um, data has power and you have to keep showing people, we, we know. The answer, but you need something to lean back on and bring back to the taxpayers, say, Hey, we did this because this is what the data shows.

Right. But there, there still will always be that kind of thought of Ooh, free money. If we don’t, you know, what are we going to, but this is how we support each other. This is compassion, right? We’re a very wealthy country in Canada. Why do we have 250,000 people experiencing homelessness? Why do we, you know, and think about.

The money you save in emergency shelters and, in hospitals and emergency rooms where they’re keeping people longer because they have nowhere to go. The mental health strain, the addictions, all those different things that, that income and a security, uh, could bring a relief too.

Gissele: [00:29:25] Yeah, absolutely. You know, what you said is so spot on around the kind of the myths that really hold back. Oh people are going to take advantage of the system.

And some people do take advantage, but it’s a, it’s a small group and those people probably need additional help. And I think we tend to make policies to punish the few. But it impacts everyone in so and it negatively impacts everyone. And so if you really want to address a few, then address the few, but we don’t, we make kind of these blanket policies.

For the exception management, but they end up being kind of really dehumanizing, which is really kind of unfortunate.

Michael: [00:30:05] Oh, it’s funny where, I mean, we’re a society. I think that right right now in politics and votes are one on sound bites. Right? So you can make simple statements like that and people don’t do the research that they, they, they, it becomes fact, right.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen that, you know, South of us for, for the last four years, and fortunately that’s coming to an end. But even in Ontario, you know, we, the sound bites of this is what end. You actually get many marginalized people believing that too, and turning on each other. So we’re not supporting each other.

And that’s, that’s a shame rather than the facts I want to, you know, it’s even, you know, your, your podcasts, you talk about compassion and thinking differently, and I wanted to mention to ending and preventing homelessness. And I had a reality check with us too. Right? It’s sometimes people it’s changing your expectations.

So if you see someone on the street and you give them something, don’t, you know, where people, that’s the number, one of the number one questions, what do I do? Right. Give or not. Am I enabling them to do drugs or whatever and say, well, listen, it’s very personal. A decision to make. And you know, you do it without an expectation that the $3 you gave that person isn’t going to change their life.

But that little bit of kindness and compassion you to show them might or may not. Right. Cause they’re thinking about the next three, what am I going to get? Right. And I say that, um, because you know, I, I was outside of the gas station once and this guy ran up to me. He said, give me a sandwich, not please that, you know, my ego.

Oh, geez. So rude something like really talking to him so rude, this guy is trying to survive. So I went inside and bought him sandwich and you know, he didn’t say, thank you. Oh no, you know, I get in my wounded ego. Um, and he was like, get me another one. And I said, Hey man. You know, uh, okay. And then I thought, he’s not worried about how my feelings are.

He’s. He’s trying to survive. He’s like, all right, I got a sandwich, but what about tomorrow? What about, you know, so when you put all that aside and say, I’m not going to, you know, I’m going to put my feelings aside and being polite manners and, and understand where this guy is coming from. And I’d be in that exact same spot if I were him.

Right. And wasn’t getting the support that I needed. And I think our expectations always, these are not after school specials. I mean, addiction and mental health and trauma. Trauma plays a huge part in homelessness. Aside from that, you know, all the stuff that happens to us that puts a certain place. And we were talking to a traumologist once he said, you know, I’ll give you, for example, he says, someone could be kind of humming along.

You got them in housing. There, there are along the right path and there they’re doing great. And they talk to you. Mike and, and your beard reminds them, someone abused them who had a beard and bam, they snap in that trauma again, you know, so, so dealing with trauma as well. And, and, um, they’re not after so many times.

People can, uh, escape homelessness. And sometimes it repeats, right? Because addictions  and those demons come back. Right. And, or we didn’t do it right. We didn’t give them the right supports or the supports were limited to two months. And that’s not how it works. Right. So, so, but you savor the small victories, you know, you show that person a little kindness.

Michael: [00:33:20] When you pass someone on the street and you know, if they’re agitated or, you know, don’t don’t approach, you know, if it’s not safe, never put your personal safety at risk, but even in your heart, if you look at them with compassion and kindness and, and for many people, especially street homelessness just make eye contact.

If you can, if it’s safe, be kind it’s tougher now, too. Right? I don’t carry cash. A lot of people don’t carry cash, but if you look at someone and say, you know, sorry, I don’t have any cash or can I buy a coffee or whatever it is you’re going to feel okay for that. And don’t expect that coffee you buy to change their life. Lower your expectations a little bit.

Um, but. Yeah, you’d be surprised that, you know, if they’ve had 50 people look at them with disdain and disgust and you show them that bit of kindness, how maybe that changes their day and puts them on a different path. Right. It’s not the money. It’s not what you got them is the fact that you recognize them as a human being.

Remember when you see that person on the street that’s someone’s brother. That’s someone’s dad, grandfather, sister. And they are humans. We are all humans. They are part of our society and a meaningful part. Don’t see them as a homeless person, see them as a person, um, and, and be kind.

Gissele: [00:34:37] Yeah, absolutely. Oh, that’s so spot on.

You mentioned that the issue of expectations, and I think that’s a true, and that’s what this gentleman was telling me when we were chatting about, um, you know, it’s people expect to, you know, like to change. So, so you’re giving people money. Is it for yourself or is it for them? And if it’s for yourself, you need to be honest about that, right?

Because if you’re giving them. What they’re asking you for with no expectations and you’re doing it just out of love and you know, how are they going to use it or whatever, that’s up to them. If you’re choosing to give that money because you want to give it. And I think that’s the piece about the expectations.

You know, people expect them to, well, you know, you should, shouldn’t still be here after so many years still collecting money. Why haven’t you helped yourself and so on? And I don’t think people understand, or there isn’t enough curiosity. There’s not enough curiosity about what led, instead of what’s wrong with you, like what happened to you?

Right. And that’s the difference about you were talking about the trauma informed practice, and that is what I love about your podcast. I think one of the things you are able to do is to share the lived experience and have people who are the lived experts come and talk about their stories. And so I think in that way, your podcast out of the blue is really helping bring that awareness about the trauma, bring that awareness about people’s stories that the  people who experienced homelessness are not one dimensional.

They’re not just these bad people who are making bad choices. I was wondering if you could share what some of the things you’ve learned about those with lived experience.

Michael: [00:36:15] Yeah. Listen, every experiences is a little different, right and I think that. You know, with lived experts too. We, uh, here’s the other thing too, is that a lot of time we are asking, lived experts to come to the table, share their stories, do that, and that’s work too.

And that should be paid work. Right. So we’ve made a better effort to say, if we’re going to ask you to speak at an event and do that, if I ask someone else, usually they expect to be paid. Why is it different person where lived expert, who’s having to relive that trauma and be careful that they are ready. That you’re not re-traumatizing them by asking them they go through that.

It’s a tough, uh, in Toronto and in York region, there’s a lot of what we call peer support workers. So they’re hired because they have that in their, their peer support workers. But it’s very tricky because when they see someone using all the, you know, it can really, um, re-traumatize people way through, so forth.

It’s and don’t see, I mean, they’re, they’re lived experts, but, um, you know, they’re people first and what are their, you know, their credentials they’re they have stories to tell, I think, you know, as, so. So often sometimes people would criticize and say, you’re, you’re extorting or you’re, you’re kind of people with, with, uh, with these stories, they’re telling them, or you’re putting them out there.

As I said, listen, they have stories to tell and you don’t. So we had recently, uh, an older gentlemen, John joined me on city, uh, city TV, and we were talking and the staff said he was. Walking with his head high. He had someone actually cares what I have to say. I’m just John who’s, you know, for many years, I’ve accepted myself as “homeless John”, you know, as this guy who no one respects, no one, but when you give people a platform where their voice, um, you know, I remember. We we had, uh, it was it’s interesting. We, hockey helps the homeless had this big thing and they were supporting 360 kids and we had this, a young man Eugene, and he said, yeah, I’ll talk.

And I don’t think he really thought much about it. Yeah. I’ll share my experience. And we got there and there’s 500 people. And I remember he walked in and I could see the look of terror on his face and be like, Oh man. And he said, Hey, he, Mike, I’m going to go to the bathroom. And he disappeared for about 40 minutes, I thought, Oh.

And so we went to look and he didn’t go to the bathroom. I thought he was in and I thought he ran and I found him and I said, Hey, bud, what’s going on? And I said, you want to run? You want to bail? That’s okay. You want to bail this? Cool. Like, you don’t have to do this. He’s like, Oh no, I’ll do it all to it.

But he, he said, I thought of it. I was half way, I was on my way out. But when he got up there, wasn’t a Polish speaker and he’s not a professional speaker. Like, and, but, and all night, Uh, everyone had been making noise and whoever it was up there, it was like, uh, you know, they weren’t, you know, they were having fun, but when he spoke and you can hear a pin drop and the respect, and, and then he, you know, he finishes and 500 people are on their feet clapping and I’m thinking maybe never again, will he have this level of respect?

And so people are coming up to him and saying, great, you were awesome. It was great. Thank you so much for having the courage and he’s, you know, you can just see. Oh, it’s like, wow, man. I actually, people want to hear what I have to say. So, so it is that you talked about it before that empowerment of, I have a story that can change lives.

I can help others. I can help others maybe by telling my story. So people step up to support. So I’m helping hundreds of others, you know, you’re empowering them to do that. They have powerful stories to tell and share, and it’s way more impactful than me standing up there and talking about him.

Gissele: [00:39:45] I think we all want to be seen and heard. I think that’s just a basic human need, right? Like that voice and participation and be seen as an individual and so that’s why I appreciate the platform and to be able to do that, and learn from their experiences.

Michael: [00:40:00] It’s funny you say that everyone wants to matter, right?

At, uh, 360 kids. We, we had to come up with, uh, you know, what was our kind of our line that we were going to put with, the logo and it was a Roland spanner. Like every kid matters, like we want to make you matter. Everyone matters. So let’s make that happen.

Gissele: [00:40:18] Mmhmm. Yeah. I had a colleague of mine, um, who knew somebody who had a sign on their desk that said “You Matter”.

And so it was face outward. So whoever he was sitting across and talking to them, basically read that like, which I thought was so, so powerful. Um, a lot of the funds you raise, and I don’t know if this is accurate, are via fundraising and donation. Is that right?

Michael: [00:40:42] Well, we’re supported. I mean, we’re, we’re, we have some core support through government, so about, um, I’d say about 90% comes through government in a way that we raise about 10%.

Now we’d love to change that model because as governments change and mandates change is there’s a risk, right? Um, Uh, covenant house has the reverse of that because they’ve been at this for years and they’re brilliant. And so that’s great. Cause you can, you have more flexibility in what you do, how you do it.

Um, and so that’s where you want to be, but fundraising plays a huge part in giving you flexibility to meet needs and, and be agile where government funding doesn’t always have that flex.

Gissele: [00:41:21] That’s very true. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the raising the roof tuques and how that supports and ending homelessness.

Michael: [00:41:29] Yeah. I mean, interestingly, that two campaigns been around for over 20 years and, and they, they continue on with it. I mean, this year’s a tough year, but I think it was, you know, like anything, a small group of volunteers that wanted to make big change happen happening 20 some odd years ago, they said, what can we sell or give us a token.

Um, to people to, to really think about homelessness and in Canada, I mean, what’s more iconic than the tuque, right? And the same, warm your head, warm your heart, do your part. Um, and that’s what you’re doing. You know, everyone needs a tuque, um, and that’s very Canadian and it’s keeping you warm. And in buying that too, not only every time you put that in your head and there’s some warmth there, maybe you’re thinking about you’re a part of the solution, you know?

And so it’s a really cool and affordable way to raise funds and what they do is, I mean, so raising the roof works with organizations all over Canada, so it becomes a fundraiser for them. So they sell the tuques, they get a certain percentage of the tuque sales and it becomes a fundraiser. It’s a good way to engage volunteers across the country.

And it’s great to create awareness to, when you see someone else with that little “Raise the Roof” symbol on the tuque. And you’re like, ah, you know, you bought one too. You care too, right? 

Gissele: [00:42:51] yeah. Thank you. You guys also have housing projects where volunteers come together to build homes. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about that.

Michael: [00:42:59] Well, you don’t. We do. I mean, there’s a lot of, a lot of, um, when you are  thinking about ending and preventing homelessness. You had to be innovative. And so here and there, there there’s thousands of vacant homes scattered throughout Canada. And so you look for them and you say, all right, look, you know, if we can raise the capital.

To re-purpose this home. Then we can have 20, 30 years of housing, affordable housing. And so at blue door, we’ve done that with parks, Canada, with a house where parks Canada has 44 vacant homes on land that they, uh, that they have in Rouge Valley. And this housing is not really what their mandate is. And so we said, hey, you know, can we have.

Can you work with us? You, they still own the house parks, Canada, still owns the asset, but we’ve got 20 years of basic rent-free that we can then rent to someone affordably and support. Um, and not only do you get that house? Yes, there’s well, there’s volunteer opportunities for people to come and support and do the landscaping and do that.

But it also those social enterprises, I talked about that construction, social enterprises, they go into the work. So in giving them work. You’re actually lifting them out of poverty as well, as well as the people living there. So it’s a massive win for everyone involved. You re-purpose the existing, uh, assets, sometimes their heritage homes too.

You know, you put people to the work you’ve given them purpose and they feel great about the type of housing they’re building. And then you’re creating housing thousands of nights off the street for a family, a senior, uh, someone fleeing violence, et cetera.

Gissele: [00:44:28] Wow. It’s very powerful work. I was wondering if you could share what else you’re working on?

Like what would you want the listeners to know about what’s coming up at Blue Door?

Michael: [00:44:38] Yeah. You know what? We will not rest until everyone has a safe place to call home. So we’re always, looking at innovative and different ways to prevent and, end homelessness. Currently right now, it’s when we, we, it took us a while, but we were.

Or if you identify as a youth from the LGBTQ 2 S community in York region, there’s certain needs that you’ll have supports that you’ll have, you want to feel safe in your community and that’s this there’s been recent research by Seneca college, which was awesome. And by the Canadian mental, uh, CAMH, um, that supports when they went out and talked to youth from the community and they said, yeah, you know, everyone’s doing wonderful work.

I just don’t feel safe there and they’re not meeting my needs. So Blue Door actually is opening the first LGBTQ2S housing program in York Region cause currently, you would have to go to Toronto, leave your community. There’s nothing North of Toronto, right? So this will serve Simcoe, York, nine municipalities and Simcoe and Durham, and Peel.

Right. And so we’re, we’re starting that program because we saw a gap. We simply saw a gap and we’re filling it. We’ve got great support from the Odette Family Foundation. Lou Odette’s just an amazing, amazing person. So we’re working on that, uh, getting that and, and. So also our, our social enterprise construct.

And we say to people, Hey, if you’re doing now, obviously, you know, during the pandemic’s a little tougher, but if you’re doing work on your home renovations, et cetera, and we bring in professionals to do the work, but with those professionals, we bring eight trainees. You don’t pay for those trainees.

They’re just there. So why not get great work done, uh, for a fair price. By professionals, but also be part of the solution. Now the social enterprise and those dollars, any revenue we make, this is a social enterprise for generating revenue comes back is another dollar. We don’t have to look to the government to, but also that goes to Blue Door to build more programs and housing that’s there.

So, so everyone wins or we’re working on that. And I should say that, are you hearing it here first is that we’ve had success with our out of the blue podcast, but. We were approached by the Canadian Alliance to end homelessness a little while back. And they said, Hey, we’re going to do a podcast, Tim Richter in there, their group who do amazing work.

And, and Tim said, but why don’t we work together? Are you open to that? I said, of course, this isn’t about us. This isn’t about Blue Doors, but awareness and the reach that they have, so that will be launched ‘Out of the Blue’ will become ‘On the Way Home’ in a partnership with Tim Richter and the Alliance and homelessness to get that to a broader audience as well. So that’s,

Gissele: [00:47:12] That’s amazing. Congratulations. That’s exciting.

Michael: [00:47:16] It is. It is. It’s, uh, we we’ve enjoyed, enjoyed the podcast and I think we’ll, uh, we’re, we’re hoping our first guests, uh, will be, the Prime Minister.

Gissele: [00:47:26] Wow. I’m excited to see that coming out on your LinkedIn. Oh, that’s exciting. Um, and that a fabulous note.

I think I would just like to say, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. Please go out and check and donate to Blue Door organization and listen to the Out of the Blue podcast, which soon will have  a new name to hear some incredible stories around homelessness. And please come back to join us soon for another episode of the Love and Compassion podcast with  Gissele Taraba. See you soon.

(c) Music: Mission Ready by Ketsa, 2019. No changes made. https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Ketsa/Raising_Frequecy/Mission_Ready

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