Monday, March 9, 2009

Crime Pays & It Comes with All the Bells & Whistles

Bang bang bang. The shots are ringing out around Metro Vancouver as the little boyz take each out and the pie pieces get bigger. People wonder why, wonder how do people end up in this life. I've known people from many walks of life and different paths. The reasons aren't really too hard to understand.

Money. Fast life. All the best toys. Good dope. And bling. And hot chicks who like dangerous men.
It's easier & way more fun than flippin' burgers. You think you are your own boss.
You don't do so hot in school, little support to help you stay there. What's a high school dropout to do? Oh yeah, start moving things around. Become the man in the middle. Then the man, but rarely THE MAN.
Maybe had a relative in the biz, hey, it's easy money.
Get VIP-ed, go to the best clubs and drink the finest drinks and smoke the smoothest smoke while the hottest girls dance.
Feeling Alive. Livin' Large & in Charge.
People better Fear You, You have the power to Destroy them.
It's great until your bro's start dying. And the fear follows you every day. And depression.
Wondering when your time is up, but push those thoughts away, time to hit the club and party forever.

I found it incredibly ironic when a man behind bars, who grew up in the life, told me that these young ones were different. He told me they could have a$1 million and they'd still pull an armed robbery, for the fun of it. They can't ever have enough. No rules.

Former gang member attracted to power, adrenaline of gang life
CBC News.

Excerpt:

"You wanted to fit in with the people and the gang, and you drew off their energy," she said. "Drugs and alcohol pumped us up, and you just did what you were told to do, and sometimes, you wanted to show the other gang members that you could be that tough."

The appeal was only magnified, said Jenn, by the cash she accumulated and the ability she had to pay for anything she wanted, including fancy cars and jewelry.

So far, there have been 32 confirmed shootings in Metro Vancouver this year.

VIDEO: A LM woman talks to Ian Hanomansing about quitting gang lifestyle (Runs: 21:30)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Aha: Knew there had to be More to Coleman Homeless Czar Announcement

Fast Fact: Homelessness in BC has increased 364% over the last eight years.

Auditor general: Province lacks plan on homelessness

Victoria Times Colonist. March 06, 2009.

B.C.'s homelessness problem is getting worse and government has no clear plan for fixing it, Auditor General John Doyle said in a report released yesterday.

Doyle said the provincial government doesn't even have a grip on the size of the homeless population, which the auditor believes is still on the rise.

Coleman said homelessness is actually on the decline in B.C., though he was unable to offer any statistics to back up his claim. [You can fool some of the people...]

Auditor General says BC failing homeless, no clear plan ahead

March 05, 2009

How the system works

February 08, 2009

***************
You know, it's too bad that a pending election and the rapidly approaching Olympics are the impetus for some real investment and action on decreasing the impacts of government public policy over the last eight years, or longer in Beautiful BC.

Over the years I've worked with many people who've found themselves homeless through no fault but circumstances and a social safety net that became so frayed it's now got gaping holes in it where help used to be. This iss equally true of children as young as 13, or 14, who often "vote with their feet" when it comes to staying in foster homes, or group homes. "Running the streets" when you're young can feel liberating and is fun in many ways, no rules, no adults telling you what to do, doing what you want, when you want. But, that's why the age of majority in BC is 19, young people most often do not have the capacity to make informed decisions about things sometimes. That also stands for people with serious mental and psychiatric illness, substance abuse issues and a combination of same, and those with invisible disabilities, such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, to name only a couple.

Those of us who've worked with the homeless know that the younger you're on the street, the harder you will fall, the harder it will be to get back up and rehabilitate. When you're forced, everyday, to fight for your survival, to find the basic necessities of life, you enter a new "zone" or socialization. When you become part of the street culture, with it's daily perils and dangers, you enter into a world that works very differently. When you're on the street, you're often faced with a predatory world, personal safety is fragile 24/7, this can lead to a tremendous de-socialization that it is very difficult to come back from.

I've really be racking my brain trying to figure out how things have changed so fast that our very values of Canada have diminished (or been diminished) that we are no longer a model of care, compassion and dignity for our citizens. I know that may be somewhat naive, there have always been significant gaps in our social and public policies and supports to people, and this is exponentially so when considering the continuing shame of our maltreatment of Aboriginal peoples, but am I alone in feeling ashamed of how many people are being left behind, handed lives of suffering, to survive, barely, in the most undignified and appalling conditions?

The solutions never have been complicated and I am damn sick and tired of people saying they are. These are the most basic solutions that would see a significant decrease in public disorder, increase in safety in communities and assistance to those who need it most:

- Income assistance - increased accessbility, decreased barriers to accessing it in a timely way.
- Food security - food banks should not have become institutionalized. Individuals and families require adequate, nutritional food.
- A continuum of affordable housing - from housing to individuals, hard to house, addicts, families,
youth, foster care, seniors, mentally ill - independent, semi-independent, supportive communities
- Increased Targeted services - outreach to hard to reach and serve groups - mentally ill, youth, families, vulnerable seniors
- Expanded and improved Mental health, addictions & concurrent disorders assessment and treatment. A lot of people are receiving very little in the way of actual psycho-therapeutic intervention because systems are not designed to offer that, or are overburdened with workloads.
- Increased accessibility to high quality child care - this enables parents to work outside of the home, and offers children developmental opportunities they might not have otherwise, thus preparing them for entry into school.

I believe it is time for Canadians to get back to basics, to care for our most vulnerable citizens, not to construct and create lives of pain, desperation, impoverishment and marginalization. We are all a train wreck away from devastation in our own lives, most of us have no idea of our own vulnerability and the lack of support and resources until we, or someone we care about, are in that situation.

It's time for us to put our votes and voices to the test. We still live in a participatory democracy, while the choices may not always be palatable, we still have a right and obligation to vote and let our voices be heard at the ballot box. We need to send politicians and leaders in government very clear and loud messages that we won't stand for our province and country and our citizens to be treated with a lack of dignity, a lack of human rights, a lack of compassion and care anymore.

We are Canadian, let's make our governments and elected officials remember what that means.
Vote strategically and with knowledge of who has been part of the problem, or solution in BC.

On May 12 2009, vote with your conscience and hope for what BC can offer all of us for the future.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gee Boss, We Better Clean up that Homelessness quick, 2010 is almost here

Methinks somebodies are getting a little freaked out at how fast the Olympics are upon us and what it's all going to look like to the international media.

Housing minister puts homelessness issue under 1 roof
CBC News

The B.C. government is handing the difficult job of tackling homelessness to one minister who says he will measure success by finding homes for the homeless.

[Ed. comment: Well, that's a novel approach, geeze, it just might work, wonder why no-one thought of that before??? It's like shooting fish in a barrel, eh?] ;-}

"If you went and talked to the social service agencies, whether they be in Kelowna or the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, they'll tell you things have gotten a lot better in the last few years. But we really felt there needed to be one more level of integration."

[Hmmm, I'm thinking the rapidly growing HOMELESS population might beg to differ with this spin. Just because you say it over and over doesn't make it true.]

************
Single ministry to integrate services for homeless
Rob Shaw, Times Colonist
. March 3, 2009.

Finding solutions to homelessness in B.C. communities will now fall under a single government ministry to coordinate health, housing and social services, the provincial government announced today.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman will lead the Homelessness Intervention Project, to push the various arms of government, along with non-profit groups, together in an “integrated” plan, he said.

For a person on the street, Coleman said it will make for “more seamless movement” between the numerous programs that provide such things as income help, a place to live, addictions services and health care.

“It was decided to basically give the role to one minister to integrate all of this across government, to actually be the person in charge that says all of you report into our system now,” said Coleman.

We will actually measure the outcomes and if we have programs who aren’t working for financial reasons... we have the ability to move those resources to get the results we want.”

Integrated teams will target around 2,000 people in five communities — Kelowna, Victoria, Surrey, Prince George and Vancouver — to get them immediate access to housing and care, government said in a news release.

Victoria already has integrated teams, called ACT, which work with police to get housing, addiction services, health care and income support for people in need.

Government wants to benchmark the success of such teams and, if necessary, change or merge them with other programs, said Coleman.

He singled out Victoria as being particularly helpful in finding useable land for housing under former mayor Alan Lowe and current mayor, Dean Fortin.

The province said BC Housing has immediately made available 250 units of housing, 40 of which are in Victoria. However, it was not known if those units had been previously announced by government.

Coleman trumpeted B.C.’s accomplishments on homelessness, saying agencies have told him “things have gotten a lot better in the last few years.” [What agencies might those be?]

Government will measure success by how many homeless people are housed and stay housed a year later, said Coleman. In the last two years, 4,600 people were connected with support from outreach teams and 80 per cent are still housed today, said Coleman. The province has also purchased 45 properties and renovated them into usable low-income housing, as well as building 1,500 units of which 200 or 300 are becoming available in the next few months, he said.

A lead government employee will report directly to a deputy government minister who reports quarterly to Coleman.

NDP critic Jenny Kwan called it “rich” that the Liberal government is trying to fix homelessness problems it created by cutting programs.

“I think the government’s just going to be talking a song and dance in trying to fix a problem they created,” she said.

The provincial budget will reduce housing funding by $80 million, said Kwan. Government would be better served by investing in the societies on the ground that are doing the real work, she said.

“What we need in addressing the homelessness crisis is not that complicated. We actually need to build housing. And without the budget, without the money, the units are not going to be built and people will remain homeless in the streets.”

rfshaw@tc.canwest.co,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Creating Poverty is a Public Policy Choice

The Poor Will Not Always Be With Us

Despite the biblical injunction that the poor will always be with us, there is nothing inevitable about poverty. It is a social choice. For years the official response to poverty has been that a strong economy will cure it. But we have had years of strong economic growth and record unemployment and yet poverty is not going away. It is increasing.

British Columbia has the highest average wealth in Canada. It also has the highest rate of poverty, 13% of our population. The average poor person in BC is earning $7,700 below the minimum needed for food, clothing and shelter. Many of these poor are not on welfare; they are working full time at minimum wage jobs that cannot support them. 546,000 British Columbians live below the poverty line and a quarter of them are children. While child poverty across Canada has decreased in recent years, it has been increasing in BC and now stands at 21.9%. Gandhi called child poverty the worst form of violence and given that, we are doing an immense amount of violence to our children. British Columbia has had the highest rate of child poverty in the country for five years running and the government has no plans for reducing this number.

This is not because it can’t be done. Five other provinces either have plans in place, and are achieving some success, or are considering their own plans. We need our own plan in this province, a plan that is detailed and on which the government can be held to account. British Columbians want such a plan. Over 90% believe that we too can reduce poverty in our province and 87% would like to see both the federal and provincial government set targets and timelines to do it.

Helping the poor is not charity; it is a sound social investment, the cost of which is not outside our reach. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates the price tag of bringing all of BC’s poor up to the poverty line at $2.4 billion a year, less than our provincial government’s budget surplus in every year since 2004. But this is not necessarily a public expense. Much of it could be covered by employers paying a living wage. While we will be going into deficit for the next few years, the numbers show that a provincial poverty-reduction plan is still within the realm of affordable possibility. This is especially so because these social expenditures will reduce costs in others. We are already paying higher health costs because of poverty. Over 78,000 British Columbians used food banks on a monthly basis last year. More than a third were children. The cognitive development of children suffers when they are hungry and creates school failure and early dropout. Lack of legitimate opportunity leads to increased crime and the social costs associated with that. Through it all, the unremitting stress of poverty continues to extract the price of fractured families. We all pay those social costs.

Housing shortages add to the problem. There are over 13,000 British Columbians on the waiting list for public housing. A Simon Fraser University study revealed that 11,750 people with severe addictions and/or mental illnesses were “absolutely homeless” and that this group cost the government $644 million in health, social and correctional services each year. It would have been cheaper to house them. A study by the Ontario Association of Food Banks made a similar connection. It found that the cost of poverty to the government was between 10 and 13 billion dollars and the cost to Ontario as a whole was up to $38 billion. Poverty is too expensive to keep around. We need to get rid of it.

By supporting a comprehensive poverty reduction program we can help people get off welfare faster, earn enough to stay above the poverty line if they are working full time and not encounter all the health, social and criminal justice system costs we are paying for now because we are not paying attention to their root cause; poverty. But the plan has to be comprehensive and coordinated. Here are some of the basics:

1. Let the working poor support their families by giving them a living wage. Increase the minimum wage to $10.60 and hour, higher in the high-cost cities, and index it. Also increase the number of Employment Standards officers to make sure employees are fairly treated.
2. Ensure that the poorest British Columbians are living at the poverty line and not way below it by increasing income assistance rates by 50%.
3. Start building at least 2,000 new units of social housing.
4. Support parents’ ability to work by building a comprehensive system of quality, publicly-funded child care.
5. Increase the number of grants to allow low-income students to finish post secondary training. Let people on income assistance go to school without losing benefits.

Most of all, government should set themselves targets and a timetable to achieve them. It is estimated that we could reduce poverty by 75% over the next decade. If we gave reducing poverty the same attention we are giving to raising the Olympic banner, we could do it, and the legacy would be far more lasting. There has been much talk of working our way out of recession by rebuilding our public infrastructure. Why not start with our human infrastructure?

Robert Hart, RSW is a social worker
Chair of the Advocacy Committee
BC Association of Social Workers

Advocacy Action on Poverty - read here

Resources
: This will link you to a list of websites containing access to research studies, policy papers, political opinion and social action.

Advocacy Tools: Link to some useful government email addresses and letter writing tips

"The End of Poverty" read the article by Robert Hart

"A National Plan to End Poverty" read about the plan, along with a model letter to government.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Child Welfare: Spin & Reality

Lots of media this week on a leaked MCFD report called "Child in Care Cost Driver Analysis. " The most pertinent quote in the whole thing is:

"Overall costs of children-in-care expenditures are increasing at rates beyond inflation and beyond the ministry's capacity to continue to fund within existing budgets."

What are the real issues:
-The impacts of previous cuts when the current government came into power. Everything has unfolded from those cuts and the ensuing and neverending "re-organization".
-Underfunding - a government that doesn't listen to its' own people, or outside stakeholders and advocates about how the initial cuts would play out, where the holes were and where the dam was starting to burst. Treasury Board's bean counters run MCFD, just like every other Ministry.
-An ideology of the current public administration that wants to devolve, privatize, de-centralize and position itself itself at arm's length from the messy world of child protection and child welfare in general.
- Too many of those in senior positions in MCFD who have never actually worked in the BC child welfare system (or in any CW system), and the idea that managerial skills and expertise are generic and will work the same in child welfare and social services as they do elsewhere.

Other issues -
- Demographics - aging populations making it difficult to recruit and retain foster parents. -
- Younger generations of individuals who are less interested in the difficult, 24/7 low pay work of fostering children.
- Offloading costs of care onto foster parents and exceeding MCFD guidelines for numbers of children in homes.
- More complex special needs of children coming into care because they've been living in poverty and not received protection and support until problems becomes much more significant.
- Applicants for fostering being turned down by MCFD and being accepted by contract resources. - Transfer of foster homes to Aboriginal delegated agencies. Is the funding being transferred as well?

Some questions we might want to be asking are who sat on the working group, how were they selected, what stakeholders were selected for consultation, when was the report actually completed? Was it submitted in draft form and then edited to suit the needs of the administration? Who edited and approved the final copy?

Cuts to MCFD Staff

As to the planned cuts to positions within MCFD, which has been a difficult number to actually nail down definitively, the organization has set out clearly it is not looking at cutting frontline social workers. It's Service plan and Resource summary (page 19) state that the cuts will occur in Provincial Services, Executive and Support Services. Anyone who knows this government knows that there is room for cuts in those areas. How cuts to senior bureacrats is going to translate into even more children at-risk is pure speculation at this point. Until there are actual cuts to frontline social workers, positions and administrative support positions I think the most prudent position is a "wait and see" one.

It's time to stop polarizing, attacking and painting grim stories of what "might" happen. What can be seen in the exercise of the iternal Cost Driver Analysis report is that MCFD is trying to analyze issues, make projections of emerging issues and needs based on consultation and analysis. That's a BIG step forward in a Ministry that, under several different administrations, has simply thrown money at things and hoped something works and they can stay out of the public eye and not be attacked by the media and angry stakeholders.

Fundamentally, the problem is the same as it always has been - is BC's child welfare system being adequately funded? Are those in senior leadership positions experienced and knowledgeable enough about BC's child welfare system and what is needed?
Is the funding that is being provided being administered and utilized in the best possible ways? Are there ways to create a more cost efficient and effective child welfare system that meets its' mandate better? Is the child welfare system placing children's needs as paramount?

Child welfare system 'in crisis'
Lindsay Kines and Rob Shaw, Times Colonist. February 25, 2009.

Failing children, failing the public

Editorial. Times Colonist. February 26, 2009.

The issue is not that the government is stumbling in its efforts to look after children in its care. Challenges in such a complex, demanding area are inevitable.

The real questions are raised by its failure to acknowledge the problems or demonstrate that it is dealing with them effectively.

The NDP questioned Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen this week over an internal ministry report that found significant problems in residential care for the most vulnerable children -- families whose families are unable to care for them.

Costs have been increasing rapidly, without a corresponding improvement in outcomes for the children. The number of foster parents had fallen by eight per cent over the previous two years, the report found. On Vancouver Island, the drop was 14 per cent.

One result was that one in eight foster homes on the Island were forced to take in more children than the ministry's policies prescribed. Children with serious behavioural or emotional problems were in unsuitable placements. More children were forced into group homes or other special settings because there was no alternative, even though the option was worse for the children and far more expensive.

As a result, problems increased through the system. Foster homes needed more support, which social workers didn't have time to provide. That led more caregivers to quit in frustration. Overburdened front-line social workers couldn't do their jobs. More than 70 per cent of children in care did not have the required plans in place for their futures, for example.

The report identified some of the causes. A larger percentage of the more than 9,000 children in care have high needs. Foster parents are aging. Pay has lagged behind comparable positions.

Group home workers dealing with potentially dangerous children are paid $12 an hour and can earn more working in retail in many communities.

And factors outside the ministry played a role. Schools, for whatever reason, were increasingly dealing with problem students -- even very young ones -- by suspending them, forcing their daytime care onto the ministry. (Which adds urgency to this week's recommendation from the representative for children and youth that each school name a staff member responsible for working on the progress of children in care who attend.)

All this meant the ministry budgets were inadequate to provide needed care.

It is a useful report, the kind of self-examination the ministry, or any organization, needs to be doing.

But Christensen's response was discouraging. He did not deal directly with questions about the report, or the ministry's actions as a result of its findings. He simply repeated claims that the ministry's spending is going up.

But the child and family development budget -- which includes children in care -- is to be increased by less than one-quarter of one per cent next year. Over three years, the total increase is 1.1 per cent. The number of workers is to be cut from 3,350 to 3,150.

All at a time when the ministry's own review found children's lives and futures are being damaged by inadequate funding.

The government, on our behalf, has stepped in to take on the very difficult task of acting as family for these children. Few families would make children suffer unnecessarily.

Child care "system in crisis" starved in budget

Paul Willcocks, February 27, 2009. Paying Attention.

Balancing the budget at the expense of kids in care

Paul Willcocks, February 27, 2009. Paying Attention.

The budget for child and family services is effectively frozen in the budget, with token increases averaging less than one-half per cent per year.

Yet a ministry working group reported last year that children are already being hurt - and social workers swamped - because of inadequate residential care for many of the more than 9,000 children in care. A Times Colonist editorial looks at the betrayal.

***

Advocate: Job cuts at children's ministry pose threat to vulnerable kids

LINDSAY KINES, Times Colonist. February 19, 2009.

Excerpt:

The ministry's $1.4-billion budget will increase by just one per cent this year, and government documents show a loss of 200 positions over the next three years.

Children's Minister Tom Christensen said in an interview yesterday that the jobs will be lost in the "back-room" or administrative side of the ministry.

"We're going to focus very much on ensuring that we continue to recruit for our front-line positions," he said.

The ministry currently has about 160 vacancies, and nearly 300 people are eligible for retirement over the next three years. "So the reality here is we're not intending to lay people off," Christensen said.

******************
From Hansard - Debates: Tuesday, February 24, 2009
BUDGET PROVISIONS FOR CHILDREN AT RISK

Carole James: My question is to the Premier. Why did he break his promise to the most vulnerable children of British Columbia? Why, once again, has he failed children in B.C.?