Emergency Prepared Community

My partner and I recently put together an emergency kit for our home. Getting organized was fun and we both learned lots through the process. The most important lesson is this: by being prepared, we’ll be better positioned to help.

Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year, I attended a Vancouver Coastal Health public information session about preparing for natural disasters.  The session was eye-opening and I had been meaning to get on it since then. One Sunday night last month, I was going through my neglected in-tray at home and found the emergency preparedness literature. I finally had a proper look through it and started pulling together what we needed to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.

Being prepared for a minimum of three full days without public assistance and without access to utilities, fresh water and communication channels is recommended by our municipal government and provincial health authorities.  It’s a good idea to prepare three-day emergency kits for your home and for your car.  A step further is to build a second kit for your home that includes supplies for an additional four days so you’re covered for a week.

We started with getting a three-day kit together for our home.  We already had most of the stuff we needed, scattered through camping storage bins, first aid kits, and in the garage. That first night, our three-day home kit was assembled into a backpack containing medical basics, flashlights and batteries, duct tape, matches, scissors, rope, plastic bags and a few other odds and ends. We had also created a to-do list of missing items, like work gloves, energy bars, and spare keys.

The best part was talking about our emergency plan.  We assumed that we would not be together, that we would not have cell phone coverage, and that we would be on foot.  Our meeting point is our home and if it’s unsafe to be there, it’s our local community centre.  We’ve stashed a Sharpie, paper and tape in a baggie on our porch so we can leave a note if we do make it home but decide to leave.  Our plan is specific: meet at the NE corner of Ontario and East 33rd Ave.

The second part of our plan is getting to our young daughter.  We assumed that she would be with my parents, who care for her while we’re both at work, and that they will be at their home in North Van.  We plan to ride our bikes over the Second Narrows to gather with the rest of my family.  We also agreed who we would call outside of the city to check-in.  My aunt in Edmonton will be my family’s communication hub so if we can’t get to one another, at least we can let someone know we’re ok.   Deciding upon our emergency plan started our whole family talking about emergency what-ifs.  We all feel better for it.

Before considering emergency preparedness, I guess I just assumed that we would be ok/taken care of when shit goes down.  We often hear of communities pulling together during crisis.  I now realize that being prepared positions us to help our neighbours because our chances of staying healthy are increased.  That sounds like a good plan to me.

Masthead photo courtesy of Earthworm

Shelters form the Backbone of Marginalized Community

One of the most inspiring things I’ve witnessed recently has been the generosity and general sense of hope implicit in the New Fountain Shelter. Here is a community built on compassion, which helps in a very real way some of our poorest citizens.

The New Fountain, along with four other shelters has been baring the brunt of the homelessness crisis and were opened roughly half a year ago as an emergency shelter. Since then they’ve assisted dozens of people to find permanent housing, pick up career skills, and provided a safe and respectful place for young and old to stay.
Safe and respect are key words here. No violence or violent individuals are tolerated and mounted in the staff room is a small list of names of violent offenders who have been permanently barred from the shelter.
“They’re predators,” said one of the staff members. “They come here to sell drugs and prey on our clients. When they do so, we ask them politely to leave.”

A few hours in one of the shelters is illustrative.
The clients vary in age and appearance. Some have recently been released from jail. Others sport large gashes and open soars. Most seem very happy to have a bed to sleep on where they need not worry getting robbed while they sleep. Almost everyone is incredibly polite to service staff who hand out syringes, medical supplies, toiletries, donated clothing, and cookies generously.
The New Fountain is also equipped with a soup kitchen where residents can come for a quick meal. In the corner there’s a small TV with a small group of folks camped out around it sweating in the heat. The shelter smells of vegetable soup. Everything is clean and tidy.
Other people are in their rooms – small 10 X 10 foot rooms with a canvas sheet serving as a door. We’re note talking about the Hilton here. There are two beds in each room and around 15 – 20 rooms in the shelter. Since the shelter is intended to be as low barrier as possible, pets sometimes stay with clients in their rooms.
“Sometimes a dog, cat, mouse or other animal is the only friend the person has,” said one outreach worker. “If we don’t let them bring in their pet, they won’t come in themselves. We try to keep the barriers as low as possible so we can help as many people as possible.”
Many of the residents living in the shelter these days are worried. New Fountain and the four other shelters like it opened as part of the city’s HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Team) initiative have funding for now – but that funding could well dry up at the end of June. If it does, many of the folks who now have a home (for many this is the first home they’ve had in years) could find themselves alone and back on the street.
The diaspora that would follow would be tragic. One of the most commendable and advantageous things about the New Fountain and other shelters like it is that they provide a hub of community. Not only do they rejuvenate people who have suffered years on the street but they provide dozens of clients with services from helping them find employment to locking down more permanent housing. Here truly is a place where everyone knows your name.
The emergency shelters are critical because they are the first rung in the ladder of recovery. Without this rung, many people will find it almost impossible to climb out of homelessness – despite an earnest wish to do so. Let’s hope the BC Liberal government agrees.