by Zaynab Azeem on March 26th, 2022
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Apart from the mission we continuously work towards at Blankets for Toronto, we also want to shed some light on our amazing community of General Members! Our Members work towards amplifying the message of BTO and get a chance to volunteer as well. Most of the content is written by our Executive Team; however, we wanted to know what our General Members think of our mission and the stigmas around homeless. The first question we asked our Members was regarding their definition of homeless. Here are some of our Members’ excellent responses:
Gabilan says: “Homelessness is when someone is out of a home and could be because of many possible reasons. Homelessness can happen to anyone and one person experiencing it can impact many others.”
Diane says: “I would define homelessness as the lack of safe and secure housing to support an individual or family. It can result from unaffordable housing but also unemployment and low income. They may also be experiencing poor health and inadequate nutrition. Multiple social determinants of health play a role. “
Cafoor says: “I would define homelessness as the inability to access the basic need of shelter. Shelter is vital to human survival and the absence of it renders an individual homeless. Homelessness is a huge problem in today's society due to an increase in world population and a reduction in government funding to combat that problem.
From the above responses, we can see our members sharing the general sentiment of homelessness being the lack of a home which is something that is essential as a home is what encapsulates both our physical and emotional needs. As another one of our members, Katherine, beautifully said: “Being homeless is not having somewhere warm and safe to retire to when the sun sets. It's not having a place to call your own, even though we all deserve food, water, and shelter.”
We followed up with a question regarding the negative stigmas around homeless and why they exist. Our Members brilliantly encapsulated the stereotypes persistent in society:
Katharine said: “The homeless are often looked down upon as "lazy" because they don't have the money to support themselves. Homelessness is not a choice, it is something some people struggle with when they are not given the same opportunities as others in society.”
Gabilan says: “In my opinion, there have been people who threatened and abused unhoused people with their thoughts and stereotypes. Phrases that I’ve heard focus the spotlight around how unhoused people have struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism. These concepts have been commonly put together in sentences, but without the acknowledgment of possible root problems to such. This common idea has also been placed against those who have been unhoused and haven't struggled with such habits.”
Qyunh Nhi says: “I think there is a social stigma placed on homelessness, as homeless individuals are regarded as being "lazy" and "unambitious" and these qualities have resulted in these individuals being homeless. This could not be further from the truth as in most situations people that are stuck in the cycle of poverty are helpless and there appears to be no way out for them. For instance, if someone is born into a poor family it is very difficult for them to obtain a good education and eventually land a good job, this renders them unable to afford a home or food in most cases.”
The next question we asked our members was to suggest their opinions on how homeless can be tackled in our society. We received a handful of insightful responses:
Katharine says: “In my opinion, homelessness should be tackled in a non-judgemental way. We should come together to help our friends who aren't being given the necessities for survival and share what we have with them to better their lives.”
Gabilan suggests: “A better shelter system in my opinion is needed, as some people may even avoid places offering shelter due to the problems that can arise from being in there. Offering consistent therapy and rehabilitation services in-shelter is much needed. Furthermore, a consistent platform (which has been seen) for youth experiencing homelessness is the best possible solution to continue to enforce.”
Diane says: “I think a root cause of homelessness is income. In one of my classes, I learned that Ontario conducted a Basic Income pilot project. Basic income is a payment given to people that ensures a minimum income level, regardless of employment status. It was a success! It promoted better health for people. These people also reported a more positive outlook on life. They were able to use the money toward their goals and aspirations, such as furthering their education. Overall, this project had a positive impact on people’s lives! “
Our Members touched on the crucial systematic measures that are needed when tackling homelessness: shelter systems and income. It is amazing to see how our members tried applying what they’ve learnt to come up with brilliant suggestions to combat homelessness!
Our last question to our Members was to recount an experience when they happened to encounter a homeless individual, and some were more than happy to delve into the details behind their experience. Our Members also suggested ways to get homeless individuals more involved in the community!
Diane recounted: “Growing up, my family would go to homeless shelters to provide meals. I would help serve food items. To me, the people at the shelters seemed like normal people with their own stories (some more friendly than others). I was young and could not quite understand why they were in this position. I remember being sad but motivated to give back to my community.“
Cafoor says: “I have encountered a homeless person and the experience taught me a lot. I saw a man sitting outside a cafe holding a sign that read " you can help change my life." In that particular moment it made me realize that any act of charity no matter how small can have a significant impact on someone. “
Maya says: “Since many are on their own, I believe the first step is to engage with them and have a conversion about their day, stories, etc. This might make them feel like someone actually cares rather than people constantly walking by them. If a person has the money and can afford buying a couple of groceries for them or taking them to get a haircut, this could go a long way. “
These responses truly show how much our Members reflected on their experiences. It also shows how homeless individuals can be in this situation due to systematic failures, as they are also just like us and share the same emotions. Our Members’ experiences also highlight the immense effect a helping gesture can make, and we at Blankets for Toronto are always more than willing to accept members who are willing to donate to our cause!