Honey, I’m home! #homelessnessbeatenthroughprevention

by dkwia1 on April 25, 2014 - 10:01pm

I am constructing a change report for Mission Old Brewery in Montreal, Quebec.  Mission Old Brewery which began as a soup kitchen in 1889, has evolved and developed over the years into an organization that provides various relief services to the homeless population in Montreal.  I chose this organization because I believe homelessness is an often overlooked social issue in society, and their website was very attractive, informative, and well designed.  Something to consider regarding homelessness is that it can affect any one of us for a variety of reasons.  Many of those very reasons involve issues associated with everyday living, and can impact us tremendously.

Mission Old Brewery defines their identity and mission through the following series of statements.  They aim to fulfill homeless individual’s needs by finding practical and sustainable solutions.  They operate under the belief of dignity and worth of all people leading to improved standards of living.  Mission Old Brewery believes homeless people deserve respect as they find their way through the process of improvement.  Lastly, they depend on the principles of commitment, integrity, respect, good stewardship, accountability, and transparency as they utilize the funds bestowed upon the organization to aid in their theory of change.  (2014). Retrieved from http://www.oldbrewerymission.ca/index_en.htm.  Much of Mission Old Brewery’s claims and guidelines are dictated around those principles of fairness, respect, and honor.  They want to ensure that the homeless individual is granted the equality that others in society are allotted.  Before I dissect the organization’s actions I will surmise that many of them will revolve around these base principles.  That very action is centralized around four main services that the organization provides for their homeless clients.  They first and foremost offer emergency services that provide individuals with temporary housing, a meal, a shower, and a change of clothes.  Transition services are provided as way to tackle the deeper social problems that may be causing their state of homelessness.  Counselors work with individuals to provide support and the creation of an action plan to help them improve their lives.  Housing services are geared towards helping the individual find more permanent housing throughout the city.  Mission Old Brewery even owns their own apartment housing for those in need.  Lastly, they provide specific services geared towards the needs of women only.  They claim women are usually homeless for different reasons than men, and need specialized services to care for their needs.  It is through these key points of service that Mission Old Brewery aims to address the problem of chronic homelessness.  As stated in their 2012-2013 annual report, they seek to resolve homelessness by finding sustainable solutions to the social problems that are trapping people in this chronic state of instability.  It is here that we find their true definition of social change.

For the year 2012-2013, Mission Old Brewery was able to raise $11.6 million from individuals, corporations, self-generated revenues, earned revenues, and government assistance.  The organization leans on individuals and donors alike to assist them by helping at the Supper Experience, volunteering, or organizing a fundraiser.  Some of the real impact provided by this large sum of money was seen in in the handing out of 269, 191 nutritious meals, and 33,593 articles of clothing.  They were able to provide 118,153 emergency overnight stays in their shelters and transition units.  89 individuals were set up in subsidized housing units.  The one statistic of note that most reflects their current theory of change is that 636 individuals were able to transition out of homelessness altogether.  This number represents the resolve they speak of in their annual report for that year. 

Mission Old Brewery has spawned three new programs out of their core four services designed to vigorously attack chronic homelessness.  The first one, Café Mission, is a coffeehouse for homeless people that provides free coffee, free internet access, and access to counselors from the mission to tackle their problems.  It is designed to provide individuals with an informal setting to work on their problems.  Secondly, The Annex, is a form of emergency sheltering service for first time homeless men.  They are put up with a place to sleep, meals, internet access, and hardcore counseling for three weeks.  The belief is that this beginning and immediate intervention can stave off the chronic homelessness.  The results have been promising as 70% of the homeless men that come through are able to transition into some form of stable housing.  Lastly, Les Voisines, is a program designed to help women who are transitioning back into stable housing.  Its aim is to teach and practice everyday life skills to women who have been homeless for a fair amount of time.  The design of the program is a form of social reintegration. 

                          The Mission Old Brewery is doing tremendous work with the homeless population through their numerous programs and services.  However, their theory of change is flawed in comparison to the work they do.  They claim that they aim to resolve homelessness by finding sustainable solutions to the social problems that entrap people in this chronic state of instability.  The programs they have developed are certainly sustainable and function against the by-product of being homeless, but do not aim to solve the social problems that are causing homelessness.  Mission Old Brewery is catching these individuals after they have suffered the event(s) that placed them in this state.  They provide a cushion to land on, and a hand to lift them back up.  To better serve these individuals they would be wise to focus a branch of their efforts on the actual social issues that send these people into their arms in the first place.  Financial woes, addictions, stress, brain injuries, and mental illness are just some of those hot button issues. 

            The precipitating events leading towards homelessness and the state of homelessness are best seen and understood through the eyes of a conflict theorist.  It is most likely due to inequality in society that these individuals are faced with job loss, minimal wealth, high stress, and rely on addictive vices to deal with the adversity.  After these individuals become homeless they still fall under intense scrutiny when trying to reintegrate into society.  Without true establishment in society they run into the obstacle of trying to find employment.  Those in power can continue to deny them in light of these conditions, therefore creating further conflict.  At this point, the homeless are unable to attain the upward mobility that would allow them to make concrete change in their lives.  Mission Old Brewery needs to focus their resources for change on attacking and revising policies in place that support the social stratification or our society.  Efforts focused on this type of change would fall more in line with their vision of resolving homelessness altogether.

            Mission Old Brewery can assume the role of an advocate on behalf of persons that are plagued with homelessness.  Advocating and promoting increased funding from governmental and financial institutions to provide mortgage and rent relief is a start.  Also, by encouraging discounts, tax relief, and low financing rates for affected individuals would allow them to stay in their housing longer while building their personal capital during times of economic hardship.  Other economic root causes that can be addressed are through continued support and funding of meal programs, welfare, and job creation.  People with limited time/days off from work end up losing employment because of such limitations.   Perhaps instituting policy change for more time off would allow these individuals to address their personal issues while maintaining secure employment.  Policy changes as I’ve suggested enact definitive social change that heads off homelessness before it can begin.  Many of the policies have been designed to restrict lower and disadvantaged social classes from rising up by the higher class group in society.  Besides policy change, life counseling services before a triggering event to homelessness are key in the fight.  These services can include mental, financial, and health related support depending on the needs.  What both of these approaches have in common is prevention.  Mission Old Brewery’s mission statement of change can best be enacted and fulfilled by employing a rigorous prevention service.  Social reform guided by this principle is best supported by a conflict theorist, such as Karl Marx.           

            Overall, Mission Old Brewery has been used as a safety valve mechanism as termed by Lewis Coser while discussing the function of social conflict.  The direct dealings and actions of the mission have focused on the type of methods that are best served to treat the symptoms of the problem rather than the actual sickness.  The mission provides temporary relief without ever truly attending to the needs of the actual sickness.  A rigorous identification of the root problems afflicting individuals plagued by homelessness is needed to fend off the resulting condition.  If it was not for the mission providing this safety valve then the issue could become more problematic.  Possibly riots, elevated levels of theft, homicide, and other crimes would result from a loss of an institution like Mission Old Brewery.  When these grievances accumulate it puts the homeless group most at risk.  Mission Old Brewery should either direct their mission statement to better reflect their role as a safety valve institution, or attack the root issues of homelessness to coincide with their current statement as I’ve discussed throughout.

Comments

To begin with, I want to say that your article was very interesting and well written. I've decided to volunteer at the Old Brewery Mission because it is one of the most renowned organizations to support homelessness in Montreal. However, it is true that the services they provide to itinerants do not necessarily lead them out of homelessness because their solutions do not aim the root causes of this social issue. It is interesting to view homelessness from a conflict theorist's perspective. In fact, as you explained, homelessness is a great example of how Karl Marx's conflict theory is present in today's society, which is something I had never thought about. I have read a e-book recently called "A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in 10 Years", which was written by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. They are pushing the idea that the most effective way to end homelessness is through "supportive and affordable housing" rather than offering emergency services to homeless people. With that idea in mind, I believe all organizations that support this social issue (which obviously includes the Old Brewery Mission) must invest on this if they truly want to find permanent solutions to homelessness.

Here is a link to the the book I am referring to: http://www.caeh.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/A-Plan-Not-a-Dream_Eng-FIN...