photos: Elizabeth Rowlens and Ron McGrath. Photo submitted.

Resolving the homeless crisis

Megaphone vendor Ron McGrath shares his ideas on how to institute permanent housing for all

Get on your megaphone

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I have been working as a Megaphone vendor for the past five years, it’s the only job I can be comfortable with, and I am my own boss. Due to the fact I got really sick from environmental illness about the year ’98 from drinking contaminated water at my former job. I found life just about unbearable and I struggled for years, not knowing what was going on. I eventually figured it all out without the support of anybody, and learned how to keep myself healthy and safe, which became a challenge just about every day, especially being homeless for seven years.

Here is what I endured in a shelter: snoring that raises the roof, people with different mental illnesses moving about all night, and terrible smells. For me these shelters are not a safe place if there’s mold, pesticides, or painting nearby. When I do have to go to a shelter, I show up minutes before curfew and get up the first thing in the morning to leave.

I recently found a place to live and it’s in a house, and I have my own private entrance. And I feel I can now have control over protecting myself and keeping safer from things in our environment. From all the experience I have had over the last seven years of being homeless, I can see firsthand why everything is a mess— which inspired me to write this article.

Time for change
There comes a time in life to re-evaluate the life of our selves, our families, our business, and our social network. It’s a way we all become better people.

Somewhere down the line, the concept is fading because we’re forgetting about the bigger issue: everything is connected in some way, the planet, and the people on this planet.

In battling homelessness and poverty, in the past year, I’ve heard so many people standing up to give a voice such as Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday, Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston and the holy Pope himself.

They just don’t know how to really take this on. They certainly voice their concerns. To me, they’re really saying to communities that we have to do something now.

Many homeless people just go from shelter to shelter to shelter. People are thinking we need more money for shelters, but my thought is we need permanent housing for all. It’s not right that so many diverse people and people with different medical issues are placed in rooms with up to eight people at a time—even two opposites in one room. They don’t fit. This is the kind of life they are doomed to live for years.

People see a cost, not a vision. Housing is now a crisis.

Connecting the dots
I talk to many people who work in the support system for housing tell me how powerless they feel when their clients have difficult issues and don’t fit. I tell them they are just a dot of many out there in the support field. I say to them we have to connect the dots under one umbrella.

I want to bring all these dots to the same table by starting a series of meetings, which I envision would eventually have everybody working under one umbrella helping solve the homeless and poverty issue. Then again, I’d like to see people with a vision show up with hard hats and are ready to work!

We have to recognize that positive support is a win/win situation. You save in health care, we’re saved from the havoc that poverty causes. Most of us know the challenges— and it will never be resolved in parliament. Our communities are our biggest assets and we can come together on that. Let’s solve and resolve together.

In my photo is a 16-year-old girl, Elizabeth Rowlens. She is a Grade 11 student at Kitsilano High School. Her interest is in photography and film.

In the photo, she is handing me a cheque for $400 for the poster, which I am selling by donation to help solve the homeless crisis. Elizabeth also works part-time. Every year, she donates one-third of her income to charity. This year, it’s me.

If a 16-year-old girl has thoughts for helping the homeless by donating a portion of her earnings—imagine what the general populace could do.

What can be done?
Instead of sending out the country’s armies to fight war, our armies can build homes. Even the apprentices working in trades, on the job experience could go towards this rebuilding and building permanent housing for all. Tear down the old and build anew.

This is food for thought to bring to the table.

For people living in old houses and apartments that have toxic mold, I think we should make housing a first for everybody. And our usual way of business needs to change. Other countries do this in different ways. Like if a house is getting old, it should come down, and the family should get moved into a new home. We would say these are basic homes. And also I think this could be done by starting a housing fund or a tax, and the rent regenerates the fund. This could be a temporary tax until housing issues are addressed.

Then again, I say call out the armies.

Homelessness is a crisis that nobody has declared war on yet. For the past number of years, they have been putting drug addicts, seniors, and people with disabilities together. And for seniors, who have to go to a care home where the buildings are old or moldy.

I am so tired of our systemic way. And another conversation is drug addicts. Legalizing drugs and categorizing them under medical support would be cost-effective for everybody. And housing these individuals where they fit should be an ongoing conversation.

The thing is, there are people who would donate their time and even land, and I am sure there are businesses in the trades that would contribute supplies and time.

Everything comes down to money. These ideas and others can cut costs. And there is much more that can happen if the community is involved.

I am putting all this out there, and I am inviting you to the table for a conversation. I'd like to see all types of people with different interests. People to donate land, people in construction, trades, supplies, and people with special interest in solving homelessness with concrete ideas—bring a cement truck, too!

Can you imagine a whole suburb with a truly diverse community of people? Isn’t that wild?

To connect with Ron about his meeting series to help solve the homeless crisis, you can reach him via email: [email protected].

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