Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Lara Valles
It is said that we are limited to knowing 150 people. But living in a diverse world that is becoming increasingly connected, it feels like we encounter so many people every day. And so we compensate with giving them stories, even when we know very little about them. But when such stories are based on generalizations, they become myths. Myths that skew our perspective and result in damaging stereotypes.
According to the State of Homelessness in Canada report, homelessness is the failure of society to provide a system where everyone has access to housing. In Toronto the biggest barrier is exceedingly high rent, with some spending more than 50% of their income on rent. Surprisingly, most people who become homeless experience it for less than a month. But for those that are chronically homeless, they are the most vulnerable to mental health issues, addictions, criminal victimization and sexual abuse. It’s easy to think that people don’t have a home as a result of their own actions when in truth it’s because of a system with inadequate support and an adverse economic environment.
Initially when the Community Service Committee was brainstorming ideas for how we can help people who are experiencing homelessness, we thought it was as simple as taking them out for a meal and getting to know them. But it became apparent that homelessness is an issue that is both multi-faceted and systemic. Many of these victims require long-term support and services. Organizations like Fred Victor provide these to the 9 000 people in the city without housing, the majority of whom struggle with mental health challenges.
We collected and donated close to 100 underwear on March 29 (after our Underwear Drive) for Fred Victor’s Respite Centre which offers 24/7 emergency shelter, food and service referrals. Underwear is a much needed item since it cannot be donated second-hand. Finding this opportunity took contacting quite a few organizations to find one that was the right fit for Rotaract. Throughout the month, we reached out to colleagues, friends and family for their support and posted on social media. We hosted a Comic and Coolers Night at my place (drawing inspiration from the underwear-like superhero costumes and the traditional Wine and Paint Night we hipsters have an affinity for) which required a coordinated effort between Mariya, Rodayna and I. It was a lot of fun learning to cartoon, coming up with our own superhero names and powers, eating and connecting with each other. To promote the event, Mariya and I ran a little superhero skit and Mariya even designed props for a little photoshoot for the event.
My hope after helping to run the Underwear Drive is that Rotaract is able to continue partnering with organizations like Fred Victor so we can continue to understand the barriers in our system so that we can help spread awareness and remove the myths surrounding homelessness.
Fort York Food Bank
By Rodayna Abuelwafa
On March 30, the Community Service Committee held its traditional FYFB event that happens on a monthly basis. I always do my best to be present each month, but since I was on a Rotaract Trip, I missed February. It was really nice being back, seeing all the active volunteers participating. I always enjoy cooking, with Errol, our chef, as I manage to learn a lot from his great cooking skills. Additionally, I enjoy leading the event as you always get the chance to be in a different station wherever there is a need. One of my favourite stations is serving food; by the end of my shift, an old man just looked at me with a warm smile saying “the food was really good today.., thank you”. That made my whole day.
So looking forward to volunteering again! Volunteering at the FYFB is one of the great ways that shows me an instant result of some efforts that contributes in helping vulnerable people and giving back to our community. We should not wait for the change, as we can always be one ourselves.