Help me help them!
June 12, 2012 8:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I help the homeless of Toronto?

A homeless man had a medical emergency this morning as I walked in to work. He had a friend there helping him, and she asked me to call an ambulance, which I (obviously) did. This has shaken me very profoundly -- if I hadn't been there (more accurately, if someone with a cell phone hadn't been there. I did nothing but facilitate an ambulance arrival) this man could have died (although his friend was extremely calm, confident and competent).

I don't really have that much money, and I have less time, but I'd like to try to make sure homeless people have access to everything they need or have the option to get off the streets if that's what they want. What's the best way to do this? Give money directly to people on the street? Pass out survival kits as per an older Ask? Give to a charity? Donate to Streets to Homes?

I really have no clue how to go about this. Any suggestions are welcome. And although I take issue with religious organizations if they're the best option I can live with that (I would like to point out that this emergency happened a block and a half from the Scott Mission. Don't know what to make of that).
posted by AmandaA to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to say one first step would be to look for a magazine in the likes of Big Issue, but it looks like Toronto's version is quite iffy (Toronto Street News). In any case, I found a list of magazines/newspapers aimed to help the homeless here, and it looks like there are some others in Canada. Maybe helping them come to Toronto would be a start?
posted by natalinha at 8:55 AM on June 12, 2012

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty has a mailing list that would be of interest; it is more the Toronto Coalition Etc, and anything is going down they are generally aware of it and loud about it. How effective they are is probably up for debate, but you will at least be informed of various actions taking place. My feeling is that your best route here is to simply agitate -- write letters to people in power spelling out that this is a priority for you and you will be voting accordingly, read up on social policy and pass along what you read in your letters. (Million-Dollar Murray is a good read if you are not about to find the time to check out a pile of library books)

If you are on Facebook and/or Twitter give your local non-governmental social service agencies a "like" and check out what they are posting; this will give you a good idea of what the Toronto-specific issues are and where/when urgent help is needed.

I have never been any sort of religious person, but there are religious groups out there doing a lot more good than government, and often serving it up sermon-free. (Here is one example I find outstanding.)
posted by kmennie at 9:13 AM on June 12, 2012

I think survival kits, used clothing, a list of shelters in the area, and portable food like sandwiches would be a great start to helping the homeless.
posted by livinglearning at 9:17 AM on June 12, 2012

One of the few positive things that ever came out of Facebook was this:

I noticed an acquaintance of mine regularly posted about how she helps a woman feed the homeless. I asked if I could tag along one day so on a freezing cold November night, I showed up in a parking lot surrounded by homeless shelters in Reno. I brought 100 bread rolls and a tub of fake butter. I heard the whispers roll through the line - "That lady brought BUTTER!" And I almost wanted to cry. So I stood in that freezing cold dark parking lot along with a handful of everyday people like you and me who just wanted to make a difference, and we filled the bellies of many, many hungry, cold people who didn't have a home, or maybe had a place to stay, but no kitchen to cook anything.

That experience touched me so deeply that I posted this AskMe and was inspired to gather a bunch of my friends and their friends, and once a month for the last 7 months, we all cook or buy enough food to feed up to 300 people. We've done it in the cold, in the dark, in the blazing sun. We grilled hot dogs. Served breakfast for dinner. I once even showed up with 752 meatballs. Another time I hard-boiled 300 eggs. Last night I brought a sheet of cake and 300 cookies for dessert. It doesn't matter what you bring - they are so grateful. There is an amazing woman named Amber who makes HOME-COOKED food for hundreds of people 4 days a week, so our little group coming in once a month helps to give her a bit of a break.

So if you can find something like this, more power to you. It doesn't fix the problem, but it helps the suffering.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:34 AM on June 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

Because of the way funding is set up, homeless shelters are chronically under-funded. The Scott Mission does good work. You could give directly to them. (Drop your cheque off on your way to work!) Re your "don't know what to make of that" comment, I would guess the shelter is just the reason this man was in your neighbourhood at all. I don't think it's a reflection on the Scott Mission's services one way or the other that a homeless man had a medical emergency on the sidewalk there.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:54 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Food Not Bombs groups in some places feed homeless people in much the manner that HeyAllie describes above. I worked with one such group in Florida for several years and we fed hundreds of people and handed out blankets in winter and toiletry kits year-round. I don't know about the situation in Canada but here in the US a lot of public funds for helping homeless people do go to religious organizations. Some homeless people there told me about several shelters that pressured homeless folks to join their particular religious group in exchange for food and shelter.

Another way I found to help was to bring free books and magazines to places where homeless people congregate. They were delighted. Yes, they can use public libraries, but they often can't get library cards because they don't have addresses, and some libraries find ways to discourage them from coming in. Something like these tiny libraries might work.
posted by mareli at 9:56 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't necessarily take a lot of time and money to help the homeless. Here is an article about serving 150 meals for $30: I am currently homeless. Some of the best meals on the street here are once a week, no intake process, no qualifications, no questions asked. Just hot food served by people treating other people like human beings instead of pariah.

In addition to currently being homeless, I previously (some years back) had a class on homelessness and did volunteer work at a homeless shelter. I helped the shelter develop a website and I helped them streamline their paperwork, which was a big deal.

One of my blogs lists info on services for the homeless where I currently live. A lot of homeless people have difficulty getting their needs met because they don't know what's available. It is not uncommon for me to talk to other homeless people who are struggling to get enough to eat in part because they don't know what's available. The handouts of info available through various programs tend to leave a lot to be desired. I think overhauling one of them and making it more user-friendly would be a valuable service for the community. I have long thought including a good quality map of where services are would help.

Some of the religious organizations have good services for the homeless and some don't. You can email me or memail me if you want me to dish the dirt on where I think some of the religious ones go wrong.

If you care to do some reading, the book "Tell them who I am" was the main text for my class on homelessness. It is a fairly short paperback written by a guy dying of cancer who wanted to do something more meaningful with his final days than punch a clock.

Hope that helps.
posted by Michele in California at 10:09 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Urgh, sorry ThatCanadianGirl. I didn't mean it as in, "why weren't they helping!!" but rather "is the fact that that particular shelter is right there a ~~sign~~ that perhaps I should donate to them rather than someone else even if I don't particularly like their politics" but upon re-reading it does not come off that way at all. My kingdom for an edit button!

Do they do good work there? I was worried that as their breakdown on the site says that 75% of their donations go to "programs and ministry" more would go to ministry and less to programs.
posted by AmandaA at 10:46 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You meet the most amazing human beings, recently I met a woman who works as a caregiver for hospice patients, she is a recent immigrant working extremely hard at an underpaid job and just hoping to make the rent, and she has five kids. And get this, she told me that after work (often 12 hour days), she and her kids take soup and sandwiches to the homeless within the inner city. They don't do this affiliated with any organization, but simply because they see there is a great need.

Humbling, absolutely humbling.
posted by nanook at 11:31 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

An indirect and longer-term tactic would be to contribute to Not Tory parties to help keep people like Harper and Ford from making the lives of the poor and homeless harder than they have to be, to have shelters that are less chronically under-funded, to have more and more effective programs that help people get off the street, and so on.

Whether you'd want to contribute to the NDP or hold your nose a bit and give to the Liberals seems to me mostly a matter of strategic voting in your local ridings. The important thing in this respect is to avoid Ontario having a Tory Premiere.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:48 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Be careful with who you choose to help. Toronto is famous for having the homeless grifter that managed to secure a $1/2 million house from her "earnings". In today's market, that house should now be worth $3-$4 million.
posted by shepd at 1:51 PM on June 12, 2012

Toronto is famous for

...a not easily verifiable/Google-able story; is there a link somewhere for that?

Panhandlers in Toronto reported a median monthly income of $300 from panhandling and $638 from all sources (Table 3). The amount of payment that panhandlers were willing to accept for participating in a 20-minute survey was generally consistent with their self-estimated earnings from panhandling for the same length of time. This suggests that few panhandlers earn extremely large amounts of money. via
posted by kmennie at 3:31 PM on June 12, 2012

Don't let any story dishearten you from your intentions though. Although there may be people out there like the mentioned grifter story, this is probably not the norm & most are out on the streets because they're in need. Erring on the side of generosity (5 dollars, giving some food) is not a bad step to take. It can be something to be aware of, but know that if there were more people out there in the world doing what you're concerned about doing, it would be a much better place.

Keep following your heart, it's an admirable one ;)
posted by readygo at 6:24 PM on June 12, 2012

Sorry it's late, kmennie, but the lady in question is famously called "Shaky Lady" in Toronto.

Here's a story:

If you followed the story in the Toronto Sun at the time, they went more indepth and figured out some of her assets.

You should be able to google and verify that story.
posted by shepd at 4:16 PM on July 4, 2012

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