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January 25, 2008

Through the Looking Glass - Part 2

Today I finally get a call back from the Chinese Outreach worker. She's only done the job for 3 months. She a little difficult to understand at times but she speaks Mandarin, Cantonese and English.

As I'm speaking to her I realize how rusty I am at this reporting thing. It's been a long time. The only thing that isn't really rusty are my instincts.

As I speak with her I begin to realize that I probably wasn't posing the question properly. What's homeless? Is it really about being homeless or is it about being completely vulnerable? If you're living in a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel, sure you might not be physically on the street but you're not exactly in the kind of circumstances any one of us would want our elderly parents or grandparents to be living in. I wasn't really asking the right question.

She's actually asking me a lot of questions. Who are you? Are you Asian? Why do you want to know this? Who told you this? But she keeps talking to me.

As we speak more, she begins to open up. She's emphasizing that there aren't any statistics. There's no statistics. Let me give you a sense of it. It's just my opinion she says.

I have clients. Immigrants. They might have been here [in Canada] 30 year and they used to be useful to their kids. Babysitting. But, then at some point the kids abandon them. They set them up in an SRO. They're completely isolated. They can't speak the language. They can't access services because they can't communicate. They don't have a pension. They might have a mental health problem, or when they're abandoned they might start drinking. And they lose everything. You might see them on the street. They're pushing a buggy. Collecting bottles. They're going through garbage.

She indicates that like every social service agency she has a mandate and it doesn't specifically include outreach to the SRO's. That's just her personal vision. I personally have a vision to reach out to the SRO hotels. But there's hundreds of SRO's and there's only one of me. We need an entire team of people to do outreach to the Asian community down here she says. This is just based on what I've observed so far. There's no stats she says.

She tells me to talk to SUCCESS. I've only been doing this job 3 months. They have outreach workers and translators who volunteer for free sometimes.

So, there is a story afterall by the sounds of it. It's just going to take a lot of work, more work than I might have the time or the inclination for. But, we'll see.

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