Friday, January 30, 2015

Can Igloos Be Built with Curbside Snow?

by Jean Roberta

(Shudder.) In the depth of winter, in the middle of Canada, the topic of homelessness is chilling. There aren’t many visibly homeless people in the small city where I live, but is this because enough of them go to local shelters when the temperature is life-threatening, or is it because some of them actually die, and are then removed from public sight? Both these guesses are probably accurate.

My spouse, who works with people who have physical and/or mental disabilities, is occasionally disturbed to see a name she recognizes in the obituaries in the local newspaper. These are the people who fall through the cracks between helping agencies because they don’t clearly meet the criteria of any of them, and who have no relatives willing to help them. In some cases, they escape from “group homes” that feel too much like prisons.

Any able-bodied person can become “disabled” through a sudden catastrophe or the gradual passage of time. Our physical and mental abilities tend to leak away, slowly but surely.

Re the problem of desperate people without material resources, the term “conservative” seems paradoxical here in Canada. We have a tradition of collective action, especially in the agricultural Midwest, where the earliest white settlers (and before them, the aboriginal hunters who passed through) needed to co-operate because there wasn’t really a choice. Rugged individualism simply wouldn’t have worked here: to be alone and stranded was to die. So, technically, a conservative political position might support the institutions that are supposed to ensure that no one gets left out in the cold.

However, that’s not how it works. “Conservative” (as in the ruling Conservative Party, the Tories or the blues) and small-c “conservative” both seem to mean: very similar to the farthest right wing of the Republican Party (the elephant in the room, you might say) to the south of us. So the Conservatives have been defunding and dismantling public institutions since they were voted into office. This includes the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (parallel to the BBC in Britain), which has a history of exposing such trends and trying to conserve Canadian culture.

Our multi-party system (though there are really only three major parties) allows for a party with a minority of public support to get voted in, and dig in their heels. So we have a Conservative Prime Minister already running attack ads against the other two party leaders to defend himself from being ousted in the 2015 election. And meanwhile, he keeps defending slash-and-burn policies re social services, education and the arts, and tax cuts for the rich, on grounds that what doesn’t work very well in the U.S. could work brilliantly in a country where having no shelter can literally mean having no life.

Who likes the Conservatives? The corporate rich and some delusional peasants who identify with them, that's who. Apparently, they think the urban homeless can build their own igloos. I wish.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Too Many Homes or No Homes at All

by Annabeth Leong

The sounds and scents I recognize as home come from a small wooden house in the Ko'olau mountains on the island of Oahu. Chickens which crow not just at sunrise, but seemingly constantly. Clean laundry drying on the line. Pork cooking on the kitchen stove and the smells of beer and marijuana in the garage. The texture of the outdoor sink where I bathed until I was too big to fit inside. The scrape of our enormous dog's chain dragging over concrete. My mother's desperate apologies and denials. My father's soft-spoken mumble, suddenly punctuated by elemental shouting.

Maybe the punch in the gut feeling I get when I think of that place is best described as exile. I can't sleep away from it. I am never, even decades later, quite comfortable or relaxed. I am never sure if I belong. There is the awkward smile I paste on when people, delighted to discover I'm from Hawaii, ask how often I get back. How do I explain to strangers why I can't and won't return to paradise?


The women's shelter carpet smells weird. Bobby McFerrin videos play on the television imploring us not to worry but to be happy. My heart overflows with love for him. He is sweet and adorable, an uncle I wish I had.

Other people's food smells weirder than the carpet. Someone else's mother has made Portugese Bean Soup, and I watch with horror as one of the kids declares he loves the skin and slurps up a big piece like it's a noodle. It dangles over his chin. I know I'm supposed to be polite, but I don't know how.

There is a constant battle for the minds and souls of the children in this place. One kid spends a day with his dad and returns with presents, crowing about the cool things they did together. I know his mother can hear him, and her pain and betrayal pierce me. At the same time, I see the uncertainty in his eyes, the way he glances back and forth between us as if waiting for somebody to tell him which thoughts are right.

Then there's the day the social workers shoo us all into our rooms, make us all hide under our beds. My father is here. He's not supposed to know where this place is, but of course my father is here. He can do anything. As always, I feel the conflict between my hero worship and my fear. I know he's come to take us home. My mother won't go today, but I know she'll go eventually.


At some point, I learn that the way to stop longing for home is to forget that home exists. Escaped from the islands, exiled on the mainland, my skin fades and I change the way I say my name. I know now how to run and keep running.

For a while I run with my mother from city to city. The first escape was not enough. After my father, there are other terrifying men. There is an inexhaustible supply of terrifying men.

One day, I strap on roller blades and skate away from my mother's house. I am 14 and have found a terrifying man of my own. I live with him in a roach-infested house with no heat and plywood over the gaping holes in the kitchen floor. This is not homelessness, I suppose, because there are still walls and a roof. But it is definitely not the uncoiling of the chest that comes when stepping across the threshold of a home. It is not safety or sanctuary. It is not a thing a person can permanently survive.


I am in love with a man who sleeps on a floor that belongs to a terrifying man. He isn't himself terrifying. This is a major improvement for me. Soon, we are sleeping on that floor together, and I discover innocence.

We are both screwed up and wounded, but we have the kind of nothing that feels like a lot. I become friends with other people who have drifted. I hear about the punk house, where there's a guy who puts up all kinds of young people who don't have anywhere else to sleep. That sounds great, like a real public service, until I also hear about the large jar he keeps in his room. His life goal is to fill it with semen. He works on it for hours every day.

I work at a restaurant and so does my boyfriend. We ride our bicycles around town all night long when we don't feel like going back to the crazy house where we sleep on the floor. I don't care where we lie down because he is my home. This is one of the happiest times of my life.


Acquisition becomes admirable to me after a long time of having very little, of spending my life wandering and lost. Wanting a boat and a house with additions seems downright wholesome after picking fleas off my arms and suffering unrelenting back pain from sleeping on floors.

I want a romantic story of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, but that's not what happens when we get a little more. The romance of normalcy is not for us. When we break up, he reminds me that he is the one who held me in his arms while I growled and cried like a crazy person. I spend the next decade trying to prove I am not a crazy person.


There are so many schemes I've learned over the years. I know how to use an old-style coffee maker to fry eggs and cook hot dogs (there's a hot plate hidden in there, and you used to be able to find that kind of coffee maker all the time at yard sales for cheap). I know how to shop for a week at the grocery store with less than twenty dollars, and I know how to fill a backpack with cans of tuna and oranges and get on a bus and head for…somewhere. I know how to go back to college and speak about reforming oneself in ways that make everyone think I'm a nice young woman who is getting her act together. I know how to dress like nothing bad ever happened to me. I know where to go to sell plasma and how to sign up to do drug trials and cognitive science experiments for pay, and I know how to make money online, and that it is never very much at all. I know how to apply for a job and make it clear that they can pay you under the table, that you will do anything, that you will take whatever they give you and you won't complain. I know that it's possible to save an incredible amount of money if you have the right sort of landlord and you just stop paying the rent and wait to get evicted. I know how much I have to give my body to science to get enough money to buy a real bed, one that will finally make the back pain go away.


At some point I start to stammer when people ask where I'm from. Do they want an origin story? My current address? The place I feel most connected to? At some point, exile feels like homelessness. I am fundamentally unmoored. I know about possibilities that not everyone knows. My best friend and most of his friends live within a mile of each other. They have left, but they have always returned. I know there is nothing that's really holding me anywhere in particular.


But maybe I don't know that after all. Back in the wooden house in the islands after twenty years away, opening the refrigerator and finding food my father cooked before he died and discovering that it still smells good, I recognize the sounds and shapes of the space around me. I sleep in his old bed and discover that it's squalid, patchy and fallen in. Bugs crawl over the quilt while I sleep and buzz through the light fixture. They are coming into the house from small holes at the back of the closet floor. But none of that matters because I really sleep. Something that's been tight in my chest for decades uncoils.

I might have wanted to declare myself homeless, but home can't be denied because I'm in it. I fantasize wildly about returning here now that it is safe at last. This is the land that knows my blood. This is the place where people look like me, where there are people who can tell stories about what I was like as a child, where I can go to breakfast and everything available on the menu is something I want to eat. This is where people's voices sound right, where the music is familiar, where I move like I belong.

But I can't stay, even though the bakery down the street is hiring. There is a partner in Rhode Island, waiting for my return. There are the ways I only half remember the things I'm supposed to know, and on top of that the ways no one expects me to remember anything at all. There is a life I don't want to share with my relatives, who are the kind to go through one's mail. I imagine receiving my copies of Best Bondage Erotica and being asked what the hell book is that. "You're not a slut," my aunt comments approvingly, but I know that if she knew the truth she would think that I am.

I get on the plane to fly back to the mainland. I am leaving a home. I am choosing a home. I'm not sure if I have too many homes or no homes at all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


by Daddy X


One day, back in the 70s, I was sitting at a bar in downtown San Francisco. I off-handedly mentioned that I’d noticed a lot more whackos on the street lately. Somebody said, “Reagan closed all the mental hospitals.” Ronnie boy was then governor of California. While the statement was not completely true, not everything one hears in a bar is. Point being that the state released a huge percentage of compromised patients.

Next door was the entrance to the Stanford, a transient hotel that actually took up most of the upper floors on that side of the street. I also worked on that block. A side alley under the hotel windows was constantly strewn with little balloon carcasses, the way heroin came packaged back then. Theory being that a dealer could keep the stash in his mouth and swallow it if the police showed up.  

The hotel was never much to talk about. It always attracted the forgotten layers of society: late-stage alcoholics, drug addicts, dealers, con artists, pimps and prostitutes. Those of marginal IQ and tenuous mental state found a home there. Gullible travelers from the east coast wound up pissed-off after responding to some tabloid ad for the prestigious Stanford Hotel in “dynamic downtown SF”. Wondering, even before they’d left home, why it was so much cheaper than the nearby Ritz-Carlton. As time went on, the street became much worse very quickly. Reagan had “saved” the state money, but now we as a society had to deal with the attendant issues on the street.

This worked so well that the country voted him president several years later, ushering in our current era of anger, hatred, fear and general disgust with what America has become.

I usually put 1980 as the beginning of the groundswell of anti-American thought.

During the Great Depression, we, as a country, learned a lot. We learned that wild speculation was dangerous in a capitalist system. Even the 19th century philosopher Tocqueville, who loved capitalism, understood and elaborated on the need for strict, efficient regulation to avoid disaster. We learned that lesson the hard way back in the thirties and it was an important one. The ensuing Roosevelt years produced effective economic regulatory protections to avoid future drastic downturns. Those of us lucky enough to come of age in succeeding years didn’t have to worry about an economic depression ever happening again.

Destructive movements, accelerating since 1980, have forged a systemic effort to chip away at those quite efficient rules and regs:

First, they deregulated the Savings and Loan organizations, allowing investment in previously illegal instruments. We all know what happened. Lots of money was squandered and lost. That proved so promising (not) they soon deregulated banks.

Chip, chip, chip the regs away. Greed in the moment—worry about tomorrow some other time—is now the current thrust of the economic system. No one can afford to gamble a life’s savings. Those who can afford to risk big bucks can and do make money, while we struggle to earn a quarter of a percent on our savings accounts. Banks don’t really want to do the business they were designed for,  offering all citizens a safe, conservative vehicle for their savings while making a steady, conservative profit for shareholders. Hand-in hand. Instead, they take our money and invest wildly,  (hit some, miss some!) endangering everyone, returning nothing, recouping their losses with low interest rates for us. Retirees, who thought they’d prepared responsibly for their later years, expecting at least three percent return on their savings, are now receiving a mere 1/12 of what they’d counted on.

And I’m talking about people with money to save. What happens when people can’t afford to save? We don’t always plan efficiently. We make bad investments. What if someone’s sick, out of work or on the pavement? According to politicians like Ron Paul … well, fuck ‘em. Again, the common citizen will have to deal with the collateral damage.

For every billionaire created during this time of avarice and greed—for everyone who advances from the middle to upper economic levels—there are hundreds who have become much poorer. Some, who lived paycheck to paycheck before, are now in our shelters and on the street. Again: works for those making money.

Of course we’ve always had indigent people in our country, but “homeless” didn’t become a household word until Reagan became president. He used the same basic advisory team as he had while governor of California. I fully understand that Reagan didn’t create this tragedy. He didn’t have the brains. If one person could ever be considered for that distinction, it would be Grover fucking Norquist. With his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”. (If you don’t know what the pledge was/is, look Norquist up). Those same and rapidly devolving like-minded team of advisors, advocating the same policies (on steroids) a generation later, were proactive in leading a trusting country to near disaster in 2008.

We hear from radicals, calling themselves conservative, that redistribution of wealth is not to be tolerated. But one of the biggest transfers of wealth … upward … occurred in 2008, with nary a peep but with a squeal: When the banks thought they just might NOT be ‘too big to fail’. That year produced the greatest redistribution of wealth ever, as ordinary homeowners lost their biggest investment while the government stampeded to bail out the very banks that had driven us into the mire.

Reagan is famous for his absurd ‘trickle down’ theory. Money doesn’t trickle down. It percolates up. Poor people spend what money they have. Money, placed at the bottom, ends up at the top. In the process, funds flow upward through mechanic shops, hairdressing parlors, supermarkets, bus and other public services, creating jobs across the board and the ability for everyone to share the wealth. For instance, how many bills do you pay each month to those who have less than you? What percentage of your monthly expenditures goes to those with more money than you? The very rich don’t spend all they have like the rest of us; they don't put money back into the system at anywhere near the rate at which they accumulate it, so it just keeps making more for them.

As I said before, it wasn’t all Reagan’s fault. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t have devised this Machiavellian absurdity that’s endangering American viability. He was a dupe, easily lead by his handlers.

Just a note or two to illustrate what this means:

According to a recent Huffington Post article, since 2008, there’s been a 65% increase in homeless children in New York City to more than 77, 000. In Queens alone the total has increased by 90%. This number applies only to kids attending public schools, so the actual number is likely much higher.

The Koch brothers have pledged $889,000,000 to the 2016 “conservative” Presidential election.

And to end on a non-sequitor:

Reagan (the prick) died the same week as Ray Charles. In doing so, he robbed attention from, and respect for, a national treasure who had overcome unthinkable obstacles to become a world-renowned figure.  Ray Charles provided joy and hope to everyone he or his music came in contact with. Where’s the justice?


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Not all those who wander are lost"

What is the significance of a home?
image from Wikimedia
The word conjures image of warmth, family and safety in the mind of a healthy person who was brought up in a happy home.

For others...the word "home" is not so happy.

Thus, voluntary homelessness.

One source estimates that two million kids run away from home annually in
image from Wikimedia
the US. They're mostly girls, average age 16.

Not hard to guess the reason those girls leave.

The loss of a home is disorienting, frightening, Home is at the core of us.

A few years ago, a friend of mine went through a bad patch. He had a relationship that was, on his side, deep and true, one he thought would last forever. But when it ended, he had lost his home. His distress was so great that he landed in the hospital.

In 2006, I lost my marriage and my home. My ex made it impossible to stay, telling me, "You fucking bitch...I hope you eat shit and die."


I left the guest room where I'd been living for three months and found refuge in a family member's home. A couple months later I packed a few bags and hit the road. 

Planning to never return, I flew to London. As the plane descended and the green fields of England came into view, I cried. I thought I had found my home; England has always felt that way to me.

my flat in Thailand
However, life takes many twists and turns. My path during the following six months took me not only to England, but to Italy and southeast Asia, where I sought to heal, and then to plan.

During that time, I found solace. I distinctly remember awakening one December morning in Thailand and looking forward to my day. For the first time in mamy months, life seemed preferable to the alternative.

Home can be anywhere. 
Under a freeway bridge. 
In a tiny cold-water flat in Chiang Mai. 
Even back in California.

Home really is where the heart is, or rather, where we find peace. And if peace is not in the heart, we are homeless forever.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Home Is…Where the Heart Is? Where You Hang Your Hat? Or What You’ve Lost.

Sacchi Green

Home can be where you live, or where you came from; a roof over your head, or, most important in the legal sense, a mailing address. Home can be the land that refugees leave behind, or the refuge, if any, they find in a new land. Home can be where you want to be, or a place you can’t stand to go back to. Home can be where you feel you fit in best, like a career soldier who thinks of his army as home, or an ex-soldier who has been through so much that he can’t handle being anywhere but a self-built camp in the woods. In the seventies there were Vietnam veterans camping in the wilderness around the Quabbin Reservoir near where I live, and even now, at least in summer, there are woodlots around the edges of towns and along rivers where some ex-soldiers hang out, on the indistinct border between homelessness and choice. The presence of a large VA hospital nearby may or may not be a draw to this area.

Homelessness has been a human problem for what seems like forever, or at least since our ancestors had any firm concept of “home.” Since the earliest recorded times families and by extension communities were traditionally assumed to be responsible for all their members, and to be cast out required a major breach of law or tradition. Sometimes, even then, there must have been individuals who would rather risk death alone than stay with families who grudged them the support society expected.

When I think about what home means, and homelessness, I’m old- fashioned enough to think of Robert Frost’s poem,  “The Death of the Hired Man,” even though its most well-known line has become a bit of a cliché. An old farm worker returns to the place he’d worked longest and found the most kindness. He’d left that farm one haying time, when he was needed most, lured by an illusion of higher wages. Mary, the farm wife, takes him in when he returns, saying he’s come home to die, but her husband Warren is reluctant. The old man is no kin of theirs, and had abandoned them when they most needed him. He says,

“’Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’”

Mary counters,

“I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

Homelessness has many facets, many layers, many causes. Having no place to go where they have to take you in is one cause, and so, sometimes, is feeling that being taken in only because they “have to” would be worse than being homeless. Silas, the hired hand, had family he wouldn’t go to. Mary says,

“’Silas is what he is—we wouldn’t mind him—
But just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide.
He never did a thing so very bad.
He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good
As anyone. Worthless though he is,
He won’t be made ashamed to please his brother.’”

It’s a stretch to make a comparison, I know, but these days kids kicked out of their homes for being gay, or running away because of abuse, are sometimes homeless because the price of staying home is too high. Denying who they are in order not to “shame” their families, or putting up with abuse, is more than they can bear. With older people who seem to have chosen homelessness even when families might take them in, the reasons are harder to generalize, and mental illness or addiction are often factors, but the line between mental illness and a drive to be independent of the restrictions of family and a settled home is a hard one to draw.

The clearest cause of homelessness is, of course, poverty, and the more economic inequality there is in a society the more poverty and homelessness we see—or try not to see. Now and then, in some places, constructive efforts are made to combat homelessness; Salt Lake City has built groups of very small houses for the homeless and finds that the expense is less than providing emergency services for those without homes. Too many cities, though, are concerned more with pushing the homeless out of sight than helping them.

What can be done? More opportunities for employment would help many, but some would still be left behind, without marketable skills, or too old to be attractive to employers who could use their skills. (Warning: A bit of a riff here about age, homelessness, and women. Women, even those without children, are more likely than men to go to shelters, partly because they feel even less safe than men out on their own at night, for good reason. And women are more likely than men to turn to sex work for economic support—there’s certainly a larger market for them—but even that resource depends on youth and attractiveness. Older “bag ladies” might well be raped for entertainment, but they wouldn’t get paid for sex.)

Back to what to do about homelessness. From my perspective, electing politicians who favor job production and infrastructure repair and a “social contract” that includes responsibility for the poor and afflicted over ever-higher corporate profits would be a positive step. On a local level, possibly more successful in non-urban or merely semi-urban areas, towns can get together with groups of individuals to provide help and shelter. Where I live there are active groups in several towns called “survival centers” that offer food and clothing and other kinds of help funded by contributions, and almost but-not-quite-enough shelters run by church and non-church groups. There are also meal-providers like soup kitchens (a major one here is called Manna) and outfits like our local Food Bank that organizes contributions from local chain grocery stores and runs a farm operation as well, supplying food to the soup kitchens and survival centers. We as individuals can support these efforts, even if it doesn’t seem like enough. (Another aside about women; I’ve heard that the greatest lack in contributions of goods to these organizations is tampons and menstrual pads. Desperately poor women can’t afford them, they don’t like to talk about them, and it doesn’t occur to folks to donate them.)

We can give what we can afford to those who ask for help on the streets, even when we can’t be sure what they’ll use it for. (When I owned a store I used to give gloves and scarves in cold weather to those begging in front of my business, and money now and then, but, I admit, sometimes as a bribe to get them to move to another location for while. A couple of the guys really distressed some of my employees by commenting loudly on the girls’ admittedly quite noticeable physical attributes. I also admit with a certain feeling of guilt that I refused to give to a regular street person who smoked cigarettes continually. Who am I to judge what someone needs most? But in this case I did know that she wasn’t exactly homeless.)

I wish I had better answers. I wish someone had better answers.  Giving the homeless small, economical homes as Salt Lake City does seems like one good idea, if it could only catch on, but some would still be left behind. There would still be those, usually men, possibly addicts or PTSD victims, listed in police reports with addresses like “the streets of Northampton” or “the streets of Amherst.” Or like the lesbian couple I knew several years ago who lived through the summer in a tent and came to my store to charge their cell phones. One was clearly disabled and got disability checks, which, as far as I could tell, was what they both lived on, that and what the other, more dominant one, stole. They almost made it into the town’s limited public housing—I put in a good word for them with the chairman of the housing commission—but the deal was blown when the dominant one was caught stealing, and they lit out for Florida. I was glad to hear from the disabled one just this year on Facebook; she has good public housing now in Rhode island, while the other one will be in prison in Florida for a long, long time. I’m not judging the latter—I haven’t walked in her shoes, as they say, and as far as I know she only stole small items like incense sticks from me—but I’m glad to know that at least neither of them will be on the streets right now as a major blizzard bears down on New England.

Which brings me to the point where I don’t stop wondering what we can do about homelessness, but I do turn to battening down the home I’m so lucky to have in preparation for the possibility of being stuck without power or drivable roads for several days in very cold weather. And I count my blessings.


Friday, January 23, 2015


Spencer Dryden


It's cold here in the frozen tundra, too cold to live on the streets, so homelessness disappears into the shadows for six months out of the year.

I don't have a good little story to post with a homeless theme to demonstrate my sensitivity. If anything, I am insensitive to the subject, but aren't we all, really. As a good liberal, my knee jerk reaction is to demand that we take some money from the one percenters and give it to the zero percenters. I'm very generous with other people's money. I jump up higher on the soap box over the issue of homeless veterans. It seems that if we have trillions to spend on wars without end, we could carve out a few billion to better serve those who served us. Hell it's only a couple of B-2 bombers were talking about. Neither argument is working and neither are our safety nets. Maybe that's why we become insensitive, it's too frightening to think about...there but for the grace of God...

I've been following and contributing over at The Good Man Project for the last few months. One of the themes there is "the disposability of men". Who is more disposable than the homeless? The face of homelessness is a single male, they make up around 75% of the long term homeless. Why more men? Complications abound as you search for answers. Some say it's because women end up with the children and there are more programs supporting women and children than there are for single, childless men.  A second explanation is that men are less likely to ask for help. Blame the victim. That'll work. But when you factor in the mental illness and substance abuse, the argument is clouded. People with mental illness and addictions often can't ask for anything aside from another hit. 

Inevitably, the conversation turns to sex and the fur starts flying. Do women avoid homelessness through sex trade?  Men's rights advocates square off against feminists, the issue quickly becomes more heat than light and the humanity of the problem disappears. Recently I saw a very touching article that addressed the humanity. Rather than speak about things I don't know, here's a link. to a woman's story about her homeless father. Maybe if we could reconnect with the humanity of the victims, we'd be more sensitive and proactive.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Maybe I Shouldn't...

by Giselle Renarde

Sometimes I have thoughts I probably shouldn't share.

Sometimes I have thoughts I keep to myself because other people would probably think I was a terrible human being if I fessed up.

Here's one:

A few years ago, I started thinking about homelessness among LGBT youths.  Statistics are pretty staggering, though don't ask me to cite them because I've got a mind like a sieve.  But you've probably seen these stats about the percentage of homeless youths who identify are queer, genderqueer, questioning, trans, gay, bi, lesbian.  It's a big chunk.

Then I started thinking about who, here in Toronto, provides shelter and assistance to young people who've been kicked out or left their homes. There are a lot of shelters in this city, but the go-to one that everyone knows about is a Catholic organization.

Now we come to the part I thought maybe I shouldn't say out loud, for fear of sounding anti-Christian or anti-Catholic or whatever.  I don't want to come off as a total jerkass.  That said, the Catholic church hasn't exactly been friendly to the LGBT population.

So if the biggest youth shelter in my city is a Catholic organization and a huge percentage of homeless youths identify across the LGBTQ spectrum... isn't that problematic?  Is it just me?

Last year I discovered that, no, it's not just me! Other people have these thoughts too! The article I read on this topic wasn't Canadian--wasn't even North American.  It was an article from Australia, voicing EXACTLY the same concerns I had! I am not alone! What's more, this appears to be a global phenomenon.

I wish I'd bookmarked the article I read, but I'm not that organized. I think it appeared on a gay news site, but I could be wrong. The reporter interviewed staff from Catholic shelters to ask whether they truly felt they could provide a safe and supportive environment to LGBT youths. Of course they could. "What a question! We never tell our clients they'll burn in hell for their wrong-headed groin sins! Never!" (<=these are not direct quotes, or even accurate paraphrasings)

And maybe some shelter workers can do that. Don't ask me! Anything's possible!

I have worked in the shelter system, though. As with any job, a big part of how well or poorly you do it depends on who you are as an individual. But, no matter who you are and what you believe, you're working within a framework. If your institution works within a religious framework with a long tradition of gay hate, is it ever really possible to provide responsible care to queer youths?

Here's a solid example, in case you think I'm just picking on the Catholic church because they chased my grandfather's Jehovah's Witness family out of Quebec (no hard feelings, honest! He converted to atheism shortly thereafter, so we're cool):

A bunch of really amazing high school students here in Ontario organized a bake sale at their school. They sold rainbow chip cupcakes and lots of other rainbow-themed goodies, and they raised money for a very deserving charity that serves LGBT youths.  All-round amazing! Good job, students!

But wait... story's not done... because these students attended a Catholic high school... and when the school's principal or a superintendent (can't remember which--sorry) got wind of this, they wouldn't allow the students to donate the money they'd raised to a gay charity. A Catholic board could not support an LGBT charity. Not even when the initiative was coming from inside the school. Not allowed.

I could give you other concrete examples of Ontario's Catholic school boards preventing students from showing support to the LGBT population, even among their own ranks. I could give you examples of boards attempting (with incredible determination) to alter legislation so they could legally prevent students from forming gay-straight alliances in schools (and failing, btw--it helps that our provincial premier is a lesbian). But if I got into the nitty gritty of all these instances, I'd bore you to tears OR make you as angry as I am, and I don't want you to be sad and angry.  You're not here to read about Ontario politics.

But it gives you an idea about working within a framework. Even if you're the most queer-friendly person in the world, is it ever truly possible to honour LGBT individuals from inside a religious organization that dishonours us so frequently and so loudly? 

You tell me.


Giselle Renarde is a queer Canadian, avid volunteer, and contributor to more than 100 short story anthologies. She's written plenty of juicy books, including Anonymous, Nanny State, and Seven Kisses. Her words have been published by Cleis Press, Simon and Schuster, and Oxford University Press.