Jackie needs some grey in black and white world

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kamloops resident Jackie Jones isn’t homeless — yet.

But she’s one of many who live on that precipice, where one unexpected bill, one delayed cheque, and the world she’s been slowly rebuilding for herself and her young child will come crashing down.

And that day might come sooner than she wants.

You see, Jackie readily admits she’s not the smartest person around and, in an attempt to start a home-based business that would work for her and address her disability, she missed some of the hoops the government has applicants go through.

She didn’t realize it, though, started the business, watched it fail miserably and shut it down.

While she doesn’t have the income she made from it — at least the income that is on the books, which is offset by the expenses she incurred — the provincial government thinks she made that money, so they’re not paying her the June instalment of persons-with-a-disability benefits.

And they want her to repay the amount of income they say she made during those few months she tried to establish her business.

And that means no money for Jackie and her daughter.

Jackie told her story to about two dozen people who gathered at the Henry Grube Education Centre this week to brainstorm ways to address homelessness in Kamloops.

Most represented agencies, landlords and concerned citizens.

Jackie represented the homeless. And she was only able to do that because someone looked after her child and she caught a ride to the centre, something she said isn’t easy for other single parents out there who want to be part of the solution but find the process isn’t user-friendly — at least not marginalized-user friendly.

Jackie’s not the typical homeless person. Even her disability is one of those invisible ones that make it hard for her to get services. She can walk, talk, make sense, isn’t looking for the nearest crackhouse, not waiting for Welfare Wednesday to blow her cheque at the liquor store.

Her disability, while invisible, makes it hard for her to do some of the simple things of life: carry her daughter, do the laundry, carry bags of groceries. Each time she picks up any weight, it causes her excruciating pain.

When she applied for benefits, she was told to find a place to live.

That’s not easy in a city where there are few vacant apartments and townhouses.

Jackie told the group she found some that were cheap, but they weren’t places in which she wanted to have her daughter live.

In fact, she said, she wouldn’t even want a dog living in them.

She finally found a place that met all her physical needs, and in which she wasn’t afraid to let her daughter live — for $1,000 a month.

That’s too much rent, she was told by her government worker.

Find something cheaper.

Go to the agencies out there.

And she’s done it. She’s gone to those agencies. They all have waitlists.

For example, Interior Community Services, which provides housing to families, has about 250 families — yes, families — on that list. And these aren’t people looking to move out of a dive into something better. These are families that ICS executive director Paul Sibley told the group are virtually homeless. ICS doesn’t even consider moving someone who already has housing into one of their vacancies.

The Elizabeth Fry Society, which also provides housing, has a waitlist of more than 100.

So there’s Jackie.

She knows she’s paying too much rent. She’s not getting her benefits in June. She’ll be getting reduced benefs for months afterward. She’s trying to build a life for her and her child.

She knows she’s made mistakes, but she’s trying to fix them in a system that sees no grey — just black and white.

And she’s not alone. The agency representatives at the forum, the ones who are on the frontlines every day, working with people like Jackie and others who aren’t as strong in reparing their lives, live with this.

And they agree on the solution.

Kamloops needs housing.

It needs supportive housing.

It needs affordable housing.

It needs it now.

And the best guess, according to these people who confront this social ill every single day? Kamloops needs 500 rental units. Now. Today.

And there’s nothing grey about that fact.

It’s the little things that truly irk great unwashed

Sunday, May 20, 2007

About a quarter-century ago — and boy, doesn’t that sound weird to say for someone who still thinks she’s a teenager — I found myself working with a supporter of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Now, this wasn’t extremely unusual, although the majority of those of us in the newsroom at this particular daily newspaper probably listed a bit more to the left than others.

But it was challenging.

My friend, you see, took great delight in goading me into debate, a not-all-that-difficult feat at the time, given my propensity to express my opinions to my co-workers.

This same man, recently retired and free from the anonymity under which newspaper editorial writers often work, seems to have undergone some sort of metamorphosis. Were I 25 years younger, I might even suggest he has finally seen the light.

Apparently, he’s no longer a believer in the infallibility of the Conservative party.

Now, you must know that my friend lives in Ontario, where Liberals are Liberals (not Social Crediters in disguise), NDPers really do believe the stuff their leaders spout off on and Conservatives are the progeny of Preston Manning and John Diefenbaker.

Those clear lines helped to define the parties, unlike here in B.C., where it’s really hard to know to which ideologies any of them plan to adhere.

My friend is not alone in his migration away from his party of choice to, in his case, the party of little choice — the Greens.

Consider another friend, one closer to home. I was really hoping Randy Patch would get the Liberal nomination. Not because I don’t like Ken Sommerfeld — I really don’t know him well at all, but when we’ve talked, he seemed likeable and sincere — but because I was sure Patch would take so many more with him.

It would have been interesting to watch the saga unfold.

But my Ontario friend has really abandoned his blue roots.

In a recent e-mail, he didn’t write about how things are going or how his girls are faring at school.

There was no gossip about all those people who spent decades putting up with me at our place of employment.

Nope. He just sent me one sentence. He said I was to check out a link on ndp.ca, and then I’d understand why he can’t vote Conservative again.

Now, I don’t look at that particular website. For some reason, I get e-mails about new press releases on it, but I just don’t bother because I really am not all that interested most of the time in what Jack Layton and his crew are doing.

It’s so much more fun to watch Stéphane Dion’s party try to dig itself out of the hole that he keeps filling up every time he makes an announcement, or to just watch Stephen Harper and marvel at how someone I know is made of flesh and blood can move through the world so cold and automaton-like.

But this time, I did check out the link and discovered the dozen reasons my old buddy has adopted for his inspiration.

It’s called the NDP scandal sheet, and it’s a compilation of 12 allegations against the federal Conservatives that, if others read them, might also lead to some concerns.

Many of them you’ve probably heard about already: Harper’s coiffeur (the one who talks to spirits, apparently) with the unreleased government salary; Heritage Minister Bev Oda racking up $6,000 in limo expenses for four days she spent at the 2006 Juno Awards — and that same Oda having to cancel a $250-a-plate fundraiser being organized by a woman who regularly lobbies Oda for CanWest.

But there were a couple of others that were also fascinating:

In March, 2006, Minister of International Co-operation Josee Verner paid an “occasional chauffeur” more than $4,000 for 124 hours of work — at $32 an hour — and didn’t list the expense on her travel forms.

Minister of Labour Jean Pierre Blackburn spent almost $150,000 on private jets that aren’t included in his travel expenses. For five of those flights, he was the only passenger. And for one, he rented a helicopter to take him on a trip that would have taken only 30 minutes by car.

It’s interesting reading. And it makes me wonder how many other voters are like my friend.

It’s not the big stuff that really gets to him as much as the little things, the sense of entitlement so many politicians develop while they claim to be looking out for the rest of us.

No excuse for council’s Sun Rivers embarrassment

Friday, May 11, 2007

Somebody needs to teach Jim Harker how to apologize.

It’s a pretty simple process: Say you’re sorry, stop talking and hope the issue goes away, especially if you’re a politician — or want to be considered one.

Instead, as he took responsibility for his truly inane comments about the YMCA-YWCA’s Dream Home Lottery, the first-term city councillor went on to say he “resented” people thinking his remarks were directed at the Kamloops Indian Band (KIB).

For those who don’t pay much attention to what our city council is doing these days — which is not advised because this council seems to be wandering these days — Harker mused out loud that the city should scold the Kamloops YMCA-YWCA for raffling off a pretty darn nifty house up in Sun Rivers, because the folks who live up there don’t pay city taxes.

Their homes happen to be on KIB land.

It’s not a far leap for many people to think that Harker’s comments were the result of that simple reality.

KIB land, big house, no property tax revenue because it is KIB land— it must be bad for the city.

Here at KTW, it’s been a long time since we’ve had so many letters to the editor on one issue come flooding in.

When reporter Markus Ermisch called him on it, Harker didn’t back down.

He stood his ground.

Now, a week later, he’s admitting he didn’t have his facts right and he’s sorry.

He just didn’t know the Y has no say on where the house is built.

He didn’t know it’s up to the local branch of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.

He apparently also didn’t realize the house benefits Thompson Rivers University, since it is built with TRU trades students, kind of like the ultimate practicum.

He apparently has never paid much attention to this raffle, which has been going on for years now, raising money for a facility that everyone, including people who live at Sun Rivers, can use.

It’s difficult to accept Harker’s excuse that he didn’t have the facts.

It’s not too smart for a politician to speak out when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

You’re not allowed the luxury of engaging mouth before brain gets into gear when you serve at the public’s whim — although we seem to keep on electing some of them.

This is a basic lesson Harker should have learned by now.

He can’t use the rookie excuse anymore; he’s too far into his first term and should have developed some political smarts by now.

Harker’s not alone in this mess, however.

He’s simply the lightning rod.

Somehow, the rest of council avoided the backlash he has endured for the past week.

They should be held just as accountable for it because they all let this discussion go on.

They sat there and not one of them challenged Harker.

Not one of them had the presence of mind to simply say, “Jim, this is none of our business.”

And they all agreed when Harker suggested somebody from the city needed to have a serious talk with the Y’s administration because, after all, it gets an operating grant each year of $196,000 from the city.

Every single one of them at that council meeting agreed.

Only John DeCicco avoided being part of this embarrassment, but that came about because he wasn’t at council when Harker started his complaining.

I’m not sure we want a council that is making decisions when it doesn’t have the facts in front of it.

Hopefully, this is an aberration.

Maybe they all got caught up in the rhetoric.

Maybe they’re all just annoyed they haven’t won the house in any of the previous draws.

Who knows?

Either way, it was certainly not one of the finer moments for Harker or the rest of council.

There’s no excuse for it.

And, apparently, there’s no sincere apology for it, either.


Random Musings #3

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Found out this week that the Food Bank board and director here are still trying to find out how I learned the things I learned that led to some stories that the food bank folks didn't really like all that much.
Seems they're determined to believe that I had to be given the information, that I couldn't have found it all by myself.
And making this belief so easy for them is the fact that one of my co-workers a sales dude, happens to be the chair of the city's social planning council. One plus one equals betrayal, right?
I've told them and told them that I pulled the information together from three separate sources, had to bluff a bit to get some of it and then had to put it all together to figure out what was really happening.
It's what reporters do. We have contacts, sources, people in the know who know us. We ask questions and eventually, we start to see not just answers but a direction to a story.
So, should any of you people with the food bank read this (like that's gonna happen), here's what you need to know: Get over it. The stories are last month's news. Quit witch-hunting and do what you're supposed to do. And when I tell you I don't get my information from my co-worker, largely because that's way too easy and not nearly as much fun as digging it out, believe it.

Kathy and me: A tale of an unlikely friendship

If logic really did rule the world, then Kathy Roberts would not be my friend.

We are dissimilar in so many ways.

Kathy’s always impeccably dressed. I aim for clean and comfortable.

She never leaves the house without her hair looking perfect and all her makeup on. I manage to run a brush through my hair. Somewhere in the house, there may be some old blue eyeshadow.

Even our politics are polar opposites: Kathy’s late husband, Ian Roberts, worked for MP Betty Hinton. I don’t think I’m even on Betty’s Christmas card list anymore.

But I consider Kathy a friend and I’m pretty sure she feels the same way about me.

More than that, she’s an inspiration, a woman who puts more of her own time, effort and money into helping the marginalized in our community than many other small-business people.

I met Kathy the way I’ve met most people in Kamloops during my eight years here — I was sent out to interview her.

At that time, the coal-dust mess that has covered much of Dallas along the Thompson River was just starting to grab attention and Kathy was at the forefront.

Her house was immaculate — if you ignored the fine layer of black dust that seemed to be on everything, a layer that just wouldn’t brush off.

Kathy and some of her neighbours were starting to form a group that would later take on the railroad to get it to do something about all the dust that would come off the cars as they rumbled into town through that area.

A few months later, I was assigned a story on the fashion-show fundraiser Kathy and two friends (Elaine Paget and Marilyn House) would organize twice a year.

They’d promote their businesses, about 300 women would enjoy a fashion show and lots of money would be raised to help cancer patients in the Kamloops area.

The shows continue each spring and fall. Marilyn has dropped out of the organizing, but Elaine is still there, rounding up the dozens and dozens of door prizes.

Kathy expects that by next year, they’ll have contributed $50,000 to local cancer patients.

She popped up in my professional life again when I was doing a story on the youth safe house on River Street.

You see, Kathy and Ian have supported the house for years now, bringing in Christmas dinners and gifts, sending money, doing many tiny acts of charity — and some not-so-tiny-ones — to help the safe house that was once a refuge for their son, Brian.

That was a bad time for the Roberts family, with Brian going through those truly horrible problems some teenagers can’t seem to avoid — the ones that can be destructive to the family and child.

But he got through it, eventually, with the help of his family and the staff at the safe house.

He cleaned up his life — only to die of heart problems before he was out of his teens.

It was a devastating time, but it cemented the link between Kathy and the safe house.

Now, lest you think this is one big cheerleading column, there have been moments when Kathy has done things and I have: a) been glad I don’t have to cover her when those issues arise and b) wonder what she thinks she’s doing.

But that happens with friends all the time. I know I have written things and said things with which she hasn’t agreed.

But she just keeps on going, helping others.

Even when many of us were wondering about her own well-being after Ian’s sudden illness and death, Kathy kept on going.

She’s doing it again on May 11 with the Flip For Fashion dinner show at the South Thompson Inn, with proceeds going to help the youth safe house run by Interior Community Services.

As with all Kathy-created events, it’s bound to be full of fun, frolic and fashion, along with a mother-daughter lookalike contest (which, no doubt, has my adorable daughter delighted as she lives four provinces away and can’t be dragged off to this event because everyone says she looks just like her mom!).

Tickets are $30.

And yes, Kathy will be perfectly coiffed and manicured, impeccably dressed, obsessing on every detail and maybe even causing some of us to wonder just what it is that drives her, even when we think she needs to stop and put her feet up and do nothing.

Because that’s not who Kathy Roberts is. Kamloops has been good to her, she says, and she wants to give back.