Tag: Carmichael Outreach

Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina, Saskatchewan

Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina Saskatchewan
Understanding Chronic Addiction and Responsible Public Health Practices
Nicholas Olson – Housing Support Worker – Carmichael Outreach

Background

Severe alcohol dependence is common in individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Regina, Saskatchewan. For individuals who have experienced violent or psychological trauma, alcohol is often used as a way to cope with the mental and physical pain that comes when this trauma is left untreated. Aboriginal populations overrepresent those experiencing homelessness in Saskatchewan and Canada, and many of the traumas they have experienced are directly related to unstable family settings caused by the lasting effects of residential and public schools and other programs created under colonial policy. Homeless populations have a high rate of alcohol dependence and for this reason face significant barriers to stable and safe housing, and are often unable to access shelter systems. In Regina, the few housing support programs that are willing to work with individuals with severe alcohol dependence are finding that the Housing First model is not always enough to keep individuals housed, healthy, and stable. Alcohol harm reduction is the next clear step to support Regina’s most vulnerable.

What is Alcohol Harm Reduction?

Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to reduce the harms associated with the use of alcoholic substances in people that are unable or do not desire to stop (International Harm Reduction Association). Harm reduction functions under the idea that all individuals deserve the dignity and respect to be treated in a manner that best supports them as a whole person, not just as an addict, and to be treated medically in a way that is understanding, empowering, and compassionate to their specific needs as a person experiencing an alcohol addiction. For many, the traditional abstinence model is unrealistic and does not take into account the desires of the individual who may not want, or be able, to discontinue use. Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to support the individual to live a healthy life regardless of whether they intend to become abstinent. This may be done by assisting them to consume healthy forms and volumes of alcohol through different programs tailored to the individual, supporting them to be safe during and after consumption, and working with them to maintain good health and, if desired by the individual, to reduce their alcohol consumption overall.

Alcohol Treatment

The development of Alcohol Harm Reduction through a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP), Alcohol Swap Program, Beer Co-op, and/or Prescription Alcohol is the best practice in supporting the addictions of a marginalized population in Regina primarily between the ages of 30-55. Since individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness often have fixed or no incomes, beverage alcohol is unaffordable due to the high cost of controlled substances in Saskatchewan. This, coupled with the marginalization of individuals experiencing poverty, addiction, and mental health, has made beverage alcohol even more inaccessible because these individuals are often not permitted to enter establishments that sell beverage alcohol, and in many cases are unable to even access basic health and emergency services. Non-beverage alcohol (NBA) purchased in grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies including mouthwash, hand sanitizer, hairspray, and rubbing alcohol is being consumed in large quantities because of its potency and availability.

Non-beverage alcohol can be any form of alcohol that is not fit for human consumption. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is found in beverage alcohol and is safe to consume in moderate amounts. Denatured ethanol, or alcohol denat, found in products such as mouthwash, hairspray, and some hand sanitizers, is ethanol with chemical product added to make the alcohol unfit for human consumption. The chemical additives also allow the producer to avoid the product being designated as a controlled substance. Methanol, or methyl alcohol is toxic and has caused death when consumed through hand sanitizer (CBC). Isopropyl alcohol, found in rubbing alcohol and some hand sanitizers, is toxic if ingested as well. While it is often stated that the extremely high alcohol content in non-beverage alcohol is the most toxic ingredient, with sustained use and high dosage, serious risks are present from the other toxic ingredients in each solution. Hairspray, for example, can have long term effects such as internal bleeding, kidney and liver damage, respiratory problems and death (CBC). Each receptacle of non-beverage alcohol clearly warns of the risks of consumption and strongly advises to contact poison control if consumed in any volume (Pauly 10).

Alcohol Contents and Types

Table1.1
(costs listed are based on saskliquor.com)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
1 The LCBO is recalling four brands of sherry (LONDON XXX SHERRY INCLUDED) that tested positive for a potential carcinogen. “This is not like E. coli or botulism where you’re acutely affected. To be affected by something like this, you would have to consume it for a long time for many years, so there is no risk at all,” he said. “It’s very, extremely difficult for anyone to get cancer from this type of chemical, unless you’re consuming it on [a] daily basis and you’re drinking large amounts of it.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/lcbo-recalls-sherry-for-carcinogen-risk-1.619474)

Table1.2
(costs listed based on retail prices at given locations)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
2 Medicinal Ingredients: Eucalyptol (Eucalyptus Clobulus-Leaf) 0.092%W/V, Menthol 0.042%W/V, Methyl Calicylate 0.060%W/V, Thymol 0,064%W/V
Notice: If more than used for rinsing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison control centre right away.
3 Ingredients: Aqua, Ethyl Alcohol, Denatonium Benzoate, Camphor
Notice: For External Use Only, Poison, Inflammable. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Call a physician immediately. If patient is unconscious, give them air. Danger: Harmful or fatal if swallowed.
4 Ingredients: Alcohol denat, water (aqua), acrylates copolymer, aminomenthyl propanol, fragrance, octylacrylamide/acrylates/butylaminoethyl methacrylate copolymer, PEG-12 dimethicone, tritely citrate, hydrolyzed silk, hydrolyzed keratin. Alcohol content TBD but could be between 50-70%.
5 Medicinal Ingredient: 62% Ethyl Alcohol. Non-Medicinal Ingredients: Aqua, polysorbate 20, carbomer, aminomethyl propanol, glycerin, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E acetate), denatonium benzoate.
Warnings: For external use only, do not ingest. In case of accidental ingestion contact your physician or a Poison Control Centre.

Limiting availability of these products has proven to be an ineffective means of managing the consumption of the toxic forms of alcohol, as many or all of those accustomed to drinking non-beverage alcohol regularly travel to the suburban areas of the city to purchase from larger box stores and centres where they haven’t yet been banned. When individuals don’t have to spend their energy finding their next source of alcohol and managing their withdrawal symptoms, it allows them to begin to spend that energy on developing life skills, focusing on housing, setting goals, and working on improving their overall health.

The only responsible, healthy, and compassionate way to support those who consistently consume non-beverage alcohol is to understand that in these cases abstinence is potentially a dangerous, unhealthy, and unrealistic treatment, and that reducing the harm they are causing to themselves means assisting them with the consumption of safe forms of alcohol. This can be done with Managed Alcohol Programs where individuals are given a regulated amount of alcohol at regular intervals during the day to help them deal with withdrawal symptoms and feel normal and well, Alcohol Swap Programs where individuals not necessarily receiving comprehensive housing supports can swap out certain quantities of non-beverage alcohol for beverage alcohol, a Beer Co-op where individuals are trained in proper and safe ways to brew their own alcohol for safe consumption, and Prescription Alcohol, which like a MAP, would regulate volumes and quantities based on medical assessments and administered in similar harm reduction models such as methadone. These programs, specifically MAPs, have been implemented across Canada and the US to reduce both the harms inflicted upon alcohol-dependent individuals, and the subsequent costs upon the health and justice systems.

While other potential treatments for alcohol dependence include medications such as benzodiazepines, which include diazepam, or Valium, the lifestyle and the desires of the patient must be taken into account, and for many, discontinuing alcohol use is not desired and is not a possible solution. Using diazepam as a treatment for alcohol withdrawals does not respond to the fact that many individuals would rather not discontinue alcohol use, and even with regulated and prescribed diazepam treatment, many individuals will continue to drink different forms of alcohol when it is presented to them. This would lead to an increased risk of addiction to diazepam, and a “high risk of overdose, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.”(American Addiction Centers) Benzodiazepines are also used as a short term treatment option, with only 1-2 percent of adults continuing treatment for 12 months or longer, and carry substantially higher risks of dependence and misuse in populations with a history of substance abuse (Longo). When supporting an individual living in community, monitoring all the substances that enter the home is impossible, therefore it is best to prescribe that which reduces the most risk and harm to the individual.

The harm reduction framework aims to support individuals to make healthy choices and this begins with offering assistance in managing quantities of beverage alcohol, and accessing beverage alcohol in a cost-effective manner, while at the same time being careful not to perpetuate the stigma of using non-beverage alcohols that is often present in community supports and medical services. Many populations are stigmatized even within social circles for drinking non-beverage alcohol, and this stigma is magnified in many professional health settings. Following the harm reduction framework means focusing on the needs and desires of the individual, not reducing addictions to a moral or ethical choice, and understanding the barriers that have led to less-safe alcohol consumption. It is important that harm reduction treatments are in place and practiced by health professionals, as professional knowledge is needed to create public health policy that can be safely and confidently administered by community entities.

Understanding

Each individual receiving alcohol harm reduction support will consume a different variety, style, and amount of beverage and non-beverage alcohol each day. It is important to understand what the approximate quantities of non-beverage alcohol are to ensure that the proper volume of beverage alcohol is supplied to each individual. Having a set schedule of beverage alcohol consumption would ensure that a moderated amount of alcohol is consumed, which, ideally could be lessened over time based on the desires of the individual. Clinical medical advisement through a MAP or prescription may be required to ensure that the individual is getting a safe dosage, and that an understanding of the individual’s history with addiction and their personal and traumatic history is taken into consideration. In an evaluation of a MAP in Vancouver, BC, alcohol consumption did not necessarily decline in six months for all of the participants, however the consumption of non-beverage alcohol did decline, and most participants reported improvements in mental health, social connectedness, and general well-being, and consumed alcohol in a safer setting with less harms that come from drinking large quantities at one time (Stockwell 6,7).

Below are some comparisons of alcohol contents. Though it is clear that the ethanol present in beverage alcohol is different than the types of alcohol present in non-beverage alcohol (denatured alcohol/ethanol, isopropyl alcohol) and the “high” achieved through using non-beverage alcohol would therefore be different, the comparisons below are a guideline for quantities consumed knowing that the denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol have added chemicals that are toxic for human consumption.

For example, as shown in Table 2.1, one litre (1L) of Antiseptic Mouthwash has an alcohol content of 270mL, which is equivalent to 12.5 cans (4.4L), of strong percentage beer, or nearly two bottles of a strong sherry wine. Similarly, as shown in Table 2.2, it takes nearly 10 times as much strong beer to equal the same alcohol content of 449mL that is obtained through 725mL of Hand Sanitzer Gel. While the point of alcohol harm reduction isn’t necessarily to meet the alcohol content that an individual would consume drinking non-beverage alcohol, it is important for service providers and community supports to understand just how much beverage alcohol it takes to help cope with withdrawal symptoms.

 

Table2.1-2.2

Conclusions

It is clear both to the uneducated outsider and to the affected individual that the consumption of non-beverage alcohol is extremely damaging to one’s physical and mental health. By offering support to individuals in their addiction through alcohol harm reduction programs, the dignity of these individuals is upheld as they are receiving compassionate medical treatment that views them as a whole person. Through these programs, these individuals would be able to access supports that are often only accessible to less-stigmatized populations, including detoxification programs that in Regina are inaccessible to many with reduced mobility and high physical needs.

Access to inexpensive, clinically regulated and adequately strong forms of beverage alcohol is key to the physical and mental health and well-being of the individual. Regulated quantities of alcohol must be customized to each individual based on their own personal symptoms and histories. While having professional medical advice involved is clearly the best practice, disallowing access to safe forms of alcohol because of lack of confirmed policy is irresponsible and lacks the compassion necessary in the human services sector and in a responsible community.

Policy driven by the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, monitored and planned by medical professionals, delivered by community organizations, and tailored to the needs of the individual are imperative to the success of an alcohol harm reduction program, and the timely nature of its implementation is extremely important to ensure the safety, health, and survival of a large population of vulnerable people. A responsible community and health region would not allow the continued consumption of controlled poison when clear, simple, and practical alternatives exist.

Sources
International Harm Reduction Association, What is harm reduction?, http://www.ihra.net/what-is-harm-reduction
CBC News, Hand sanitizer ingestion linked to 2 Ontario deaths, Oct 25, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/hand-sanitizer-ingestion-linked-to-2-ontario-deaths-1.2252046)
CBC News, Hairspray abuse plagues northern town, Feb 16, 2001, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hairspray-abuse-plagues-northern-town-1.293513
Pauly, B., Stockwell, T., Chow, C., Gray, E., Krysowaty, B., Vallance, K., Zhao, J. & Perkin, K. (2013) Towards alcohol harm reduction: Preliminary results from an evaluation of a Canadian managed alcohol program. Victoria, BC: Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia.
Carnahan RM, Kutscher EC, Obritsch MD, Rasmussen LD. Acute ethanol
intoxication after consumption of hairspray. Pharmacotherapy. 2005 Nov;25(11):1646-50. PubMed PMID: 16232026.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16232026?report=docsum
American Addiction Centers, Dangers in Mixing Valium and Alcohol or Drugs, http://americanaddictioncenters.org/valium-treatment/dangers/
Longo LP, Johnson B., Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines–side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 1;61(7):2121-8. Review.,
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2121.html
Stockwell, T., Pauly, B., Chow, C., Vallance, K., Perkin, K. (2013). Evaluation of a managed alcohol program in Vancouver, BC: Early findings and reflections on alcohol harm reduction. CARBC Bulletin #9, Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria
http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/carbc/assets/docs/bulletin9-evaluation-managed-alcohol-program.pdf

Blogging will save the world..

White Butte

I was accidentally put on a ‘panel of experts’ discussing homelessness at a recent documentary release. Politicians mingled with professors and service providers in an eatery that neighbours the dry men’s shelter. Concerned citizens arrived early to bounce pleasantries off one another, nibbling on fine sausage and kalamata olives. I showed up late, downed a whiskey to calm the nerves, and shook with anxious rage throughout the entire documentary.

The panel discussion concluded past its allotted time, and the moderator hurriedly spilt the plan, funding model, and hopes for the upcoming year in the industry of homelessness, with no one really understanding what it all meant. The crowd left restless and confused as to how to help, and the panelists left more disgruntled than before, and a month later, mid-October, there are still people sleeping in the alley in Regina.

As a white male, when I speak, people generally listen. They listen for two or three sentences until they realize that I don’t know what I’m saying, then they rightfully daydream about food and sports and sex. On this year’s Blog Action Day, a day where organizers attempt to unite writers under one socially-driven topic (a day that I use the prompt to get off my ass and write something off-topic), people were asked to consider the title Raise Your Voice. Writers, artists, and journalists have the responsibility to tell the stories of those who are unable to do so. But an important part of this is to give people the platform to tell their own stories. Those whose voices need to be heard—the marginalized, the people of colour, the refugees, the LGBTQ2, the Indigenous, the working class—are denounced because a wealth-driven patriarchal society determines whose voices have worth. For completely unjust reasons, I have a voice. Instead of only ever using my voice to amplify the voices of others, I attempt to use my voice and my actions to create a place where others can be heard without need for amplification. When you create a place where people have inherent value, their voices will inevitably be heard.

To Raise Your Voice in the digital era by blogging, sharing, liking, or ranting is as effective as leaving scraps of paper with motivational slogans blowing in the gutters. Divisive and irritating, the internet only further entrenches beliefs and perpetuates ignorance. While speaking on the panel I kept repeating this idea that we can pressure and lobby government until our heads explode, but that this is only one, arguably ineffective, means to creating change. That the only way homelessness and class-divide will end is through a system-wide change, altering how we treat and relate to one another, and changing the wealth and social inequalities that oppress minorities. I left the event feeling empty and sick, for I sounded like a politician—pushing for an idea while offering no tangible examples of how it might work and while participating in no organizing that may lead realization of the idea.

Appealing to the judicial, legislative, or executive branches of government in the hope of reform is as realistic as accepting the offer made by the March Hare during the Mad Tea-Party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.
“I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.
“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

-Hedges, Wages of Rebellion, The Post-Constitutional Era, p 61

On Thanksgiving Monday I biked to the advanced polls to participate in the experiment of democracy. My hands numb in the wind, I waffled left and right each time I saw an election sign posted in a front lawn, truly not knowing who’d get my vote upon arrival. I’d rather waffle left. I voted in a way that reflects my values. I voted in a way that is considered a throwaway. This is because I do not believe in the ability for real reform under the current economic system in which the major parties function, but I simultaneously participate in this economic system and rarely make an effort in being a part of breaking it down. When I raise my voice but drink my sorrows, doing nothing to participate in making true change, I am complicit.

Later on Thanksgiving Monday I lost a game of cribbage to a person who I’ve only known for a few months. It definitely wasn’t the first game of crib I’ve ever lost, and sure, I gave away several pairs of sevens to the crib. After he pegged out and we congratulated ourselves on a game well-played, I laid on the floor and watched him paint while we listened to new Northcote and RahRah. My new friend has been housed for three months, homeless for years before that, and still requires regular and extensive assistance to live a healthy life. I am extremely privileged to be employed by one of the few places that actively works to repair the damages caused by the wealth inequality synonymous to the capitalism, however, continually cleaning up the messes left by a system that purposefully destroys the lives of a particular cultural group is ineffective. Working within the current system is necessary to a point, but a total dismantling of this system is required to ensure real, lasting equality.

There is no morality in words. Morals are behavioural, based in how a person acts. A person can raise their voice to the heavens while sitting in their recliner. If you raise your voice without breaking a few walls, no one outside your already-converted group will hear you. Breaking walls means breaking laws, breaking norms, supporting (verbally and physically) oppressed minorities, and thinking outside of the “cult of the self”* in which we find ourselves.

And I can say with certainty that I’ve never broke down a wall in my life…

*Hedges

The Carmichael Free Press

This originally appeared at CarmichaelOutreach.ca.

Carmichael Free Press copy2
Noel, Rocky, Mike and others sat in the coffee room on a Thursday afternoon and asked what was going on for programming that afternoon. “Art Class!” I proclaimed on my way downstairs. I brought up the box of scrapbooking supplies that former gourmet chef and art mastermind Mike Wysminity paid for with money he raised himself by selling tomato plants at the Farmers Market in pots hand-painted by Carmichael art participants.

I tossed markers, fancy-edged scissors, stickers, moon-shaped hole punches on the table and people started creating. Noel wrote an inspirational quote and drew a cartoon. Mike wrote a poem. Lisa wrote a note to her son under a picture of him taken from a previous Carmichael Hockey Day. Brian wrote a story. Then staff members cut them out, organized them, and pasted them on the template, made copies, and printed them for the masses.

The Carmichael Free Press is a grassroots publication on it’s fourth edition so far—a zine style scrapbooking newspaper that anyone can contribute to. Not topical, always different, the Free Press is a creative home for real, not-pretentious, unknown writers, artists, painters, comics, mothers, children, and more, not only to produce something they are interested in—they are proud of, that makes them laugh—but to have it shared with their group of friends, the Carmichael staff, and the greater community.

The first ever headline of the Carmichael Free Press was borrowed from a photograph from a previous Carmichael photography class partnered with the Heritage Community Association and Sask Arts Board.

“Here you go!” he said, as he passed his page to me with the inevitable nervous feeling of sharing something you just created. The headline read, “The Princess Royal Walk – Her Royal Highness Visiting Heritage Centre in Regina Sask…..” with an up-close picture of a loyal volunteer. Everyone in the room laughed at the joke. Real news be damned, street news is what matters. The experiences of people in your neighbourhood who you have never met are what truly matter, not the business interests of private national media. Hailed by its creators as “The most important newspaper in Saskatchewan,” the Free Press begins its climb to the top.

Thursday afternoon Art Class at Carmichael has evolved as necessary from painting to drawing to scrapbooking to newspaper-making to who-knows-what-next, depending on interest, on funding, and on person skills of the facilitator. The informality and drop-in style of the Art Class is what makes it a success. Peter walked into the coffee room, saw his friend sitting at the table, saw markers, scissors, empty pages of the Carmichael Free Press, and sat down for ten minutes, drew a remarkable drawing of a pipe with the smoke forming a buffalo, eagle, bear. He thanked us for the time and headed on his way.

Big Mama Page

Every person has the right to have their voice heard, published, and distributed. People in your city are depressed, pissed off, a little bit high, lonely, in love, tired, dope-sick, or extremely happy, and they are entitled to these feelings. The power that is gained in sharing these feelings, putting them in some creative form, is invaluable. Outside of the online world of status updates and cartoon smiley faces, people need to have a forum to express themselves, and since Facebook and other online media aren’t accessible to those without internet access and aren’t really collective, the Free Press fills the void.

Authors and artists work years to get things published or get their art hanging in a coffee shop in the over-marketed world of writing and art, but that doesn’t make the voice of the amateur any less important. If anything it makes it more significant; not being sold as a commodity or graded like a high school paper.

The Carmichael Free Press is the perfect example of Carmichael programming—drop-in-style, no cost, inclusive to all, hilarious, frustrating, and motivating. Sober or not, published or not, practiced or not, community members can use the Carmichael Free Press as a home for personal expression, a place for injustices to be made public, love to be shared.

The sign-off of our first edition reminds readers what the Free Press is trying to proclaim each and every edition—the importance of listening to and helping out people you have never met, and encouraging you to get to know them one way or another, possibly by participating in your local Free Press!

“Sisters and Brothers, we are all on the same page. So don’t flip me!”

Carmichael Free Press copy

Counter Assault

We stood on the trail from the lake to our campsite, holding hands in fear of our premature deaths. What the fuck is that, I had wondered, an elk? It was a blondish brown patch of fur the size of a beach towel, stomping in the bush. It turned its body around for us to see enough of its shoulder to know that it wasn’t a charming, peaceful elk, but a medium-sized, overly curious grizzly. We backed our way down the path, jingled our keys and bear bells like distracted children at a Christmas pageant, trying to remember the advice from the Bear vs Human pamphlets. We spoke loudly, awkwardly. She recited poetry, I repeated it in booming baritone.

Not to lose the feel of the mountains
while still retaining the prairies
is a difficult thing. What’s lovely
is whatever makes the adrenalin run;
therefore I count terror and fear among
the greatest beauty. The greatest
beauty is to be alive, forgetting nothing
although remembrance hurts
like a foolish act, is a foolish act.

-John Newlove, excerpt from The Double-Headed Snake, The Wascana Poetry Anthology

The fear of death brought the idea of practice into our minds. The more your practice it, the less you fear it. The next week, (although we saw no more quadrupedal omnivores on the trail) we felt stronger, more secure, more confident in grizzly country. But the pressurized can of capiscum in my back pocket, Counter Assault Bear Spray, may have been the source of that confidence. By the tenth time I see a bear, fear will be an afterthought and the Coghlin’s Brand Survival Horn that we bought for a sense of security will be even more of a prank.

After nearly two weeks surrounded by a Matt Goud/Tim Barry/Ken Freeman/Allison Weiss tour, you learn to fear not death, but inaction. Don’t be afraid of dying, be afraid not to live, Tim would say most nights. A wasted life is worse than death. Not in a danceclub/yolo/butt-touch kind of way, but in a I’ve-wasted-enough-time-on-all-the-bullshit kind of way. These mantras ring throughout the art that most closely resonates with me. But ‘wasting’ is what needs to be discovered. What is living?

The greatest
beauty is to be alive, forgetting nothing

I’m reading books about writers. Fiction books. Bohemian authors of San Francisco or Toronto talk about the noble craft and its apparent sexual exploits. Dry literature, to me, but classic to many. It somehow puts the fear in me. Not the fear of death, but the fear of running out of things to say that are worth anything, the fear of writing about writing; writing about extramarital affairs, writing about ‘cultural eras’. So here I am, trying to scare the fear away the only way I know how. With practice.

I dream of quitting my day job to write. Drive across the country occasionally, wash dishes at the pizza place, sit in a grungy library facing a scuffed-up wall and do something as banal as ‘express myself’, being naive enough to think it might change someone’s perspective. But to me, not paying attention to your neighbour is a waste of both your life and theirs. Not living is comforts and distractions. Quitting to pursue a naive selfish dream of typing nonsense onto a dead tree or into a digital void, can seem like a waste. Is a waste.

But it may also be a waste to isolate, to work 11 hours a day even in the vague name of social justice, to sit in a stiflingly humid bachelor apartment overflowing with hats, broken bicycles, interprovincial beer. So which is it?

Not to lose the feel of the mountains
while still retaining the prairies
is a difficult thing…

It becomes a lot easier to fear not death, when it isn’t literally knocking on your fire escape window, asking your deteriorating body if you want a huff. To have the privilege to even make this choice is what eats me alive like a starved grizzly south of the Crow’s Nest Pass. And these words are my only Counter Assault.

HAT FARM

Hat Farm

HAT FARM on Instagram

Since it’s invention, the ball cap has been the preeminent accessory of comfort and the ultimate casual lifestyle. People participating in baseball games or other leisure activities, those hiding from the harsh rays of the sun, those who don’t know how else to deal with a bad hair day, or those who don’t take themselves too seriously, wear hats. But they also wear hats simply because hats are comfortable.

HAT FARM was born out of a desperate need for simple funds for the Carmichael Outreach Housing Program, and the regular classic hat donations received by the Clothing Depot Donation Program. Carmichael’s Housing Support Team works to remove the barriers the community has in finding adequate and safe housing, which often includes small financial obstacles that aren’t covered in other budget lines or in housing clients’ budgets. The profits made here will go towards removing those barriers and thus housing people, and keeping them housed.

 Teddy

The hat I wear daily is one I’ve had since I was 12 years old, but only started wearing it about a decade ago. I have separation anxiety when I don’t have it for long periods of time. I have nearly lost it out the window of moving vehicles, in fist fights on the beach in Mexico, in severe gusts of prairie wind, in the rivers of Thailand, off ferries on the west coast. I’ve repaired the plastic snap three separate times, and the once body-filled hat now rests limp and tattered like a discarded pair of briefs. I have moments of panic knowing that one day it will disappear in a drunken stupor or traumatic event, some instance where losing your head and what rests upon it is possible. For that reason I began auditions for a new, future everyday hat. Like when your best friend moves away, you start flipping through your contact book dejectedly for someone that may be able to partially fill the void, if anything at least for a weekly beer.

When I began hat auditions I happened to be working at Carmichael Outreach, a community drop-in centre downtown Regina with free food, coffee, hygiene products, housing services, needle exchange, and clothing, open to anyone in the city. Hundreds of clothing donations are dropped off to the back door weekly where they are sorted and put out for the community depending on their seasonal use and if there is room in the tiny three-rack clothing depot. Community members browse daily for clothes, dishes, puzzles, Patsy Cline CDs, used printers, children’s books, all of which are free in the clothing depot, open all day Monday to Friday. Closets from all over Saskatchewan have been cleaned out after decades of storage bringing in vintage Star Wars toys, unworn embroidered cowboy shirts, antique decorative plates, slightly malfuctioning DVD players, and much more.

Larsen's

One day I walked into the clothing depot to find a stack of hats six feet long, the collection of hat connoisseurs around the province. Farm industry logos, country legends, family vacation destinations, family reunions, all immortalized on the unparalleled medium of the trucker hat. Several small town hat collectors dropped off their decades-old work so that hatless men in the city could feel the dignity of cranial comfort once again. Before the hats were put on the rack, I searched through the most classic, mint condition, collectors hats from all over the world, and documented the rest which have all been put back into the clothing store.

All proceeds from the hats collected and sold here will go towards the Carmichael Outreach Housing Program, including funds for damage deposits, carpet cleanings, new small household items, fees for money orders for rent payments or identification applications, or any other potential barriers that might keep community members from maintaining stable housing in the City of Regina. Because as much as a person needs a nice ball cap to feel comfortable, a roof over their head does them one better.

For more information, to buy, or to donate, email thehatfarm@gmail.com

Halfway Husky

Letter to the Board



IMG_4020

Letter to the Board,

Carmichael Outreach is a unique community unlike any other within the city of Regina. Community members, occasionally referred to in the pejorative as ‘clients’, use Carmichael for its services and programs, which are often as unique as the community itself. Community members also come to Carmichael for a sense of dignity, belonging, friendship, and community. Where most people find this in their own homes, Carmichael community members make their own family, and use the coffee room as their living room. I have experienced no greater example of belonging, dignity and respect.

The reasons a place like Carmichael has to exist is complex and longterm. Poverty, addiction, mental illness, abuse are complicated human issues that will never be solved by the harm reduction programs run out of a small, dilapidated building with an overrun staff. But the decisions that that individuals and organizations make that cause these issues are clear, and as a non-profit, very avoidable. The systems of capitalism and colonialism are the root cause of the issues that tax the lives of the Carmichael community members. Capitalism is the economic model used by Canada’s colonial past and present. This economic system not only took over Indigenous land for the sake of giving land for new homesteads, but has played the largest role in the destruction of the traditions and governing systems for the fact that capitalism cannot exist in the presence of other traditions. The traditions and governance of Indigenous peoples are the polar opposite of capitalism, which is why colonialism had no choice but to assimilate and exterminate.

As a community-based organization, Carmichael has the distinct opportunity to stray from its current model of governance, that is, treating the non-profit as it were a multimillion dollar company, and to treat it like the living, breathing community that it is. Top-down, hierarchal decision making has worked superficially in the past and works in other contexts, but running Carmichael in such a manner only perpetuates the reasons Carmichael has to exist in the first place. Decisions, economic and otherwise, made for a community’s well-being without direct involvement or even simple consultation of that community, will be uninformed and detrimental to healthy functioning.

A shift to a more communicative, cooperative model of governance, still based in the Canadian laws for charitable organizations, would greatly benefit an agency like Carmichael Outreach. Board members offer a unique outside community perspective with business and executive expertise, while staff bring a frontline, community-member voice imperative to the balanced and equal decision-making to ensure that the customary neocolonial top-down approach of running an organization doesn’t take hold. Carmichael community-member input, more than once a year in patronizing AGM meetings, is imperative to the inclusion of the most important demographic; the service-user. To expect the opinions, ideas, plans, and dreams of hundreds of community-members and dozens of staff members to be filtered through a single Executive Director position is not only ineffective and impossible, it is unfair to charge the Executive Director with such an overwhelming task. Communal decision-making ensures a transparent, efficient, and effective process, and one that could slowly be transitioned into simply by allowing a Carmichael staff member to participate in the board meetings each month. Such a change would bring board members into a far greater understanding of daily operations at Carmichael, and would give staff members a clearer understanding of the necessity of process in an organization of this size. This transition could be complete with running Carmichael as a cooperative community movement that includes people of all backgrounds, incomes, and visions together in one common goal of continuing the important community work at which Carmichael already succeeds. Community requires such social mix, and a community organization’s healthy functioning is no different. Greater communication between stakeholders of Carmichael Outreach can only improve the future strength and effectiveness of such a community. I ask that you please consider a more cooperative and communicative approach to the operations of such a strong and critical community in Regina as it would be a disservice to the service-users to run it in any other way.

I have not, and likely will never again, work in a place such as Carmichael, and I know its potential far outweighs its current impact, which is a significant statement considering Carmichael’s influential past and present. Please consider decolonizing Carmichael’s governance and shift to inclusive and cooperative styles of governanace that truly can benefit such a distinct community.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this organization.

Nicholas Olson

Act Like You Know

I planned a successful yet wildly overbudget kitchen renovation. Successful in the fact that the new space looks like a kitchen, and it looks like a nicer kitchen than it did before. It has yet to be used, so its functionality is still highly in question. My experience working in a commercial kitchen for one week washing dishes under the feet of thousands of Habs fans, scrubbing pots with my tears of jealousy, along with working six months in a kitchen the size of my closet, gave me obvious authority to run a commercial kitchen renovation.

I wrote a second book. The first one received wild acclaim from my aunt in small town Saskatchewan, so I figured I owed it to the world to write a second, to be released in a matter of days. In the process of repeatedly underlining one paragraph of the 300 copies of my book with a red ball-point pen stolen from a private Christian high school, I tried to come up with an explanation for one of my stories for when Peter Mansbridge inevitably asks me about it on The National. Well Peter, this story represents the inevitable Marxist revolution coming within our generation. Peter will share the book with an aging baby-booming generation of liberals and will send it to the swoopy-haired tiger-beat of Jian who will publicize it to the slightly more liberal but slightly less informed generation of thumb communicators.

I recently began as the Housing Coordinator at work. This position, usually held for academics with experience, was given to the best candidate, an anti-academic with zero experience. I am to guide people on the margins of society through an Orwellian world of bureaucracy and gently nudge them towards the racist, classist, stigma-soaked free enterprise rental market so that they survive another month. My experience living in suburbia and going to private school, as well as that three months of volunteering at the food bank in Montreal was all they needed. I was a shoe-in.

Before you begin to congratulate me on how wide my knowledge base is, how successful I have become, and how multi-talented I am, please know that my recent successes have been entirely based on this:

If you don’t know, act like you know.

Disclaimer: If you abide by this creed but you are a visible minority, we cannot guarantee positive outcomes like those listed above. We suggest you bank on your contacts, that is, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” to bring you out of the muck.

In daily dealings of all three of the above projects I get asked about my background. Each time I instinctively want to respond “Swedish and Irish,” but then realize I’m not at a settlers reunion. Actually, people want to know why they should give me the time of day. My publishing history. My construction experience. My participation and perseverance in systems of institutionalized education. Justify yourself in two short phrases. And while I find the request foolish, I can’t blame them, since I am the first to admit that people have zero reason to take my word for anything. I am the hack of all hacks. I do, however, I appreciate the chance to make myself look foolish.

You didn’t get lucky, some might say, you worked hard. As true as this may be, my luck cannot be downplayed and my privilege cannot be ignored. Hard work pays off is a sentiment that attempts to justify the oppressive systems of capitalism and neocolonialism. In the cases that it is used to congratulate someone for a job well done, it often ignores the contextual advantages that actually contributed to the finished project, and fails to recognize the reasons that hard work doesn’t pay off for the majority of folks, besides the fact that they “just didn’t work hard enough, I guess.”

After three days of a new position, clients have actually said to colleagues, “I met Nic. I like him because he really knows what he’s doing.” The illusion stands. I’ve tricked my boss, I’ve tricked clients, and now the goal is to trick you. And by the time the illusion falls I hope to be in a tropical country indulging in coconut-flavoured depressants. That is something that I am undeniably versed in. No acting necessary.

The Five-Dot Eagle

The new year has already had me clean up several kinds of faeces, including human, off of the snow-covered ground. It has had me see the reproductive organs of two single, middle-aged, grey-haired males, both dropping their pants in places that would not be deemed appropriate by a court of law. The new year has seen me drag a half-conscious man from a snowbank into a building to escape from a -40 degree Celsius Saskatchewan windchill. Two thousand fifteen can’t come soon enough.

Seeing penises does not make me a better person. I have a rewarding job, people often tell me. If this is the reward, then you must have an odd sense of payoffs. Nice to be able to make a difference, others claim. If the difference is that I get paid to ensure people don’t freeze to death on the street, then I claim that every citizen should somehow participate in this difference.

Later in the same day that I dragged Leon into the coffee room, I was walking to the library in the early evening darkness. A plastic bag was fluttering in the wind, but caught under the packed snow of the street. I bent down to grab the bag to put it in the proper receptacle, and had a flash of my action earlier in the day; dragging a man, foaming from the mouth, into his proper receptacle, that being Carmichael, and shortly after that, a police cruiser. I fleetingly feel shame in comparing Leon to a plastic bag stuck under road snow, but then again, this is how the man is treated. His proper receptacle is one of three locations with a span of three blocks, Carmichael, detox, or cells. The system has made his proper receptacle sanitized State-run facilities of oppression. An extermination hidden behind poor State-run social programs. I despise dragging a man, normally on crutches, grabbing him from under his armpits, as though I am hauling a piece of meat in a slaughterhouse (I couldn’t decide if this or leaving him lay in a snowbank was more dehumanizing). I despise calling the the undertaker, his hearse a police cruiser, but it is, through much experience, the only thing I can do in the current system of care to make sure Leon doesn’t freeze to death in the outdoor cooler. Passed around from under the armpit until he eventually dies and the program of cultural genocide continues.

Heartbreaking. Tragic. After calling in on a single person fifteen times, after two penises, after several species of shit, it isn’t heartbreaking or tragic. It ensues rage. It ensues rage for the reason that those who dictate these people’s lives through policy, through programming the state and public mentalities, are uninformed. Those of them who are informed are often purposefully-distant, economically- and socially-conservative tools of the State. Leon, they see as an inevitability, a ‘well-we’ve-come-this-far’ colonial stepping-stone, as a financial burden. And only when Leon can be seen as less of a financial burden, by proving to them that their system of oppressive police systems, court systems, correctional systems costs more than treating Leon as if he weren’t a bag caught in a snowbank, but as a human, only then will they listen. Only then will they consider his humanity. And when he becomes a taxpayer and not a leech off of the system, then will he be truly rehabilitated, and the program of forced assimilation continues.

Those are the two outcomes, deliberate and purposeful.

But Leon will never rehabilitate. He will likely never sober up. He will likely die in a snowbank, as he told me he wanted to, while he laid in a snowbank. And at his funeral, if the State were to attend, they would eulogize him by absolving their responsibility to help such a person and say that they offered him supports but he just couldn’t sober up. Because his addiction was the reason he was homeless and unable to rehabilitate—not the fact that he was the victim of a multi-generational genocide planned and carried out by several levels of government, and assisted in the apathy of the general populace. No, he was always fond of drink, they’d say.

Conservatives are not heartless, and progressives aren’t flawless. But conservative politics are heartless, based on and committed to a market-driven capitalist system that leaves people who cannot help themselves out in the snow, whether their supporters know it or not. If they do know it, and feel that it is neither the role of government, nor their role as citizens is to bring justice to the marginalized, then, well, they are as selfish as their politics. An ideology where an accountability to the market trumps an accountability to a human being is frightening when one looks into the already dimming future. And progressive politics are utopian, equally as damaging when they are bred in a bleeding-heart ignorance. Selfishness and ignorance, we are bound by thee.

I’m tired of penises and I’m tired of calling the police on people whose only crime is nearly dying outside. I’m tired of participating in a system of oppression. I’m also tired of my ignorance that leaves me helpless in offering change to a system so badly flawed. And if I got an education, I would be tired of dealing with politicians with track-blinders on, and a Social Services system designed for the likeable, sober, employable, white homeless man you saw as a kid in the PeeWee Herman movie—designed for the eradication of a culture that represents the opposite of a consumption-based existence. And if I got an education and participated in the reform of the system, I’d likely be tired of something else. Probably tired of living in the dregs of socialism.

The next day, over a bowl of chilli, Leon and I compared tattoos. He stuck his hand up my t-shirt sleeve to get a better look at mine, then he pulled up his leather jacket sleeve to show me his—four of five dots on his forearm that he did himself before the tattoo gun broke and he couldn’t continue. It was an eagle, he said, flying free in the sky. He gave a toothless grin, took his chilli and crutched his way to the north coffee room of his community-run receptacle.

Children and Why I Hate Them

Carmichael Kids' Camp

I recently had a long, meaningful conversation with a former girlfriend when she said she had learned a lot about herself in the past several weeks. I asked her specifically what these were. Among more profound familial lessons was her new life decision that she was never going to have kids. She had expressed similar sentiments in the past, but it had since become definitive, and unless something changes significantly in her life in the next ten years, she said, that is how it is going to stay. As her former partner, when she would bring forth such ideas in the past, I would be selfishly disappointed of such a bold statement as if it were an avoidance of commitment (like this is something I should ever be sour about), but now, after a week of heading up a Kids’ Camp, I can understand her new realization. And though I would never plainly state what she has, I am currently examining the possibility that I hate kids.

Thirty-six community children ran my ass ragged through their extreme energy and stubborn defiance to simple participation. Their guiltless tears and their visible joy of catching frogs disgusted me. I shouted more than I spoke. I swore at children in utter resignation. I wished for their demise under my breath, and sometimes over my breath. I could tell which children had structure and discipline in their lives, and tried to rationalize the multitude of the children’s flaws with the difficult lives of their parents. But mostly I blamed the children themselves.

Nearing a quarter-decade of life, my peers are deciding that their libidos and personal energy can be well-spent on the magic of progeny. This is admirable. What has been called ‘our greatest resource’ is comprised sadly of miniature caracatures of the absolute worst of ourselves. The disorder-diagnosed, bed-wetting, pill-prescribed, blatantly selfish human beings that will one day be the drivers of our communities and councils of our cities. Tar sands seem almost preferable.

People always say that it is different when it is your own kid, a truism that I cannot speak to. And I guess that is something I could look forward to; the chance to unimpededly warp the mind of a human unlike I have ever been able to do before because of previous parenting/brainwashing. My closest comparison is eating a rotten vegetable from my own garden; it somehow still tastes better than the neighbours’.

The one kid at camp that wasn’t addicted to meat, sugar, video games, or attention, still managed to annoy me. He ate what I ate, he enjoyed reading rather than pestering other children, he was interested in science. But because his parents (with whom I likely have much in common, who likely eat the way they eat for presumably the same reasons as I) brainwashed him to a painful degree, it bothered me. If my child grew up with my exact ideals, I’d be disappointed; zero surprise, zero independent thought, zero digression. Zero evolution.

But children, you may say, are impossible to hate. Their crooked teeth, their high pitched voices, their clear vulnerabilities. Their innocence and foibles and miniature features that formulate the broad term of ‘cute’.

When I drove back into town, minivan exploding with bottles of old condiments and lost-and-found underpants, I waited at a red light next to the gaudy yellow lettering on forrest green back drop of the lamest chain store in the world, DOLLARAMA. I waited at the red light behind a massive SUV with stickers on the back window—stick-figures representing each member of the family including dogs and cats, but with the former father-figure sticker visibly scratched off. The truck next to me, the ultimate fan, had an upside-down novelty Roughrider license plate, showing off his true partisanship and devotion to ignorance. The light turned green and I grinded my teeth.

Parallel to my former partner’s realization, I could say I have come to my own. I do not hate children. I hate who the children will inevitably end up being. That is, their parents. I hate their future selves and their parents for reasons that I just now understand. Because they are both selfish, ignorant morons. But this examination also reveals that I hate children because they make painfully evident the things that I loathe in myself. Over-controlling, short-tempered flakiness that I despise in others, and only see in myself when I am telling a child named Denzel that he is an idiot. Though I have been well aware of the fact for sometime, it was humbling to see how unprepared I am to be the guardian of offspring.

I hate the children because the children are me.

Indians and Indians

Carmichael WindowThe Red Indians. That is how I remember friends from India refer to Aboriginal peoples in North America. Please excuse the politically incorrect nature of the title of this essay.

As Cook and Food Recovery Program Coordinator (the more words you have in the title, the more important you are on a global scale) one of the duties is to run a nutrition program. If my roommates are a typical sample selection, I can guarantee that I eat healthier than most single men my age, but in no way does this qualify me to pretend I know more than mothers-of-five or middle-aged men. I stumble through repetitive weekly sessions about budgeting and Canada’s Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations trying not to brainwash them into vegetarianism that could realistically jeopardize their culture. Currently, the program consists of several Aboriginal mothers and fathers and one Punjabi woman with no children.

Daily I feed hundreds of people who lack a regular source of healthy food. I attempt to do this with absolutely no ability or knowledge in serving them food that respects their culture, let alone their dietary preference. I serve westernized semi-processed foods out a back window to people verging on physical malnutrition and cultural assimilation. Carmichael Casserole or Spaghetto and Meatsauce sustains their bodies for a while longer and at times it doesn’t even achieve that. I am overwhelmed with how little I know.

Then I read such articles. Things which are 100% relevant to my current position and I begin to reel. If the government or people are not willing to properly reconcile, then I become immaturely overwhelmed as to how to do so out of a 6′ x 6′ kitchen. Leanne Simpson, Indigenous author, writes:

“I wonder how we can reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship….

It reminds me of an abusive relationship where one person is being abused physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She wants out of the relationship, but instead of supporting her, we are all gathered around the abuser, because he wants to ‘reconcile.’ But he doesn’t want to take responsibility. He doesn’t want to change. In fact, all through the process he continues to physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abuse his partner. He just wants to say sorry so he can feel less guilty about his behaviour. He just wants to adjust the ways he is abusing; he doesn’t want to stop the abuse.”

-Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back

I cannot host reconciliation out of a kitchen. And this is because, according to the synopsis of Simpson’s book (see the above link), “reconciliation must be grounded in political resurgence and must support the regeneration of Indigenous languages, oral cultures, and traditions of governance.” I cannot catalyze reconciliation because I do not really understand the historic or contemporary injustice of occupation. And that is what gets me. Reconciliation is not done solo out of a grimy kitchen. It is done through processes which may have nothing to do with me and steps which I cannot control, but processes and steps in which I can participate in some way. Processes which I can learn about to potentially approach a climate that is fair for future reconciliation.

The fact that I cannot adequately express my intentions with the word Indian demonstrates my obvious inability to help promote and preserve a culture that is not mine through an ill-prepared nutrition program and sloppy meals. The infinite nature of my naiveté and glaring inability is burning me out. They make me want to run away to the land of the Not-Red Indian in a fit of hedonistic, selfish admission of my lack of knowledge. My lack of commitment. My lack of connection to the issue, which is maybe the worst part—that I could get on a plane and forget about hundreds of years of colonialism and assimilation, because I can.

I am here to stick around for as long as I can before my brain explodes and I find myself crying in some colonially-cultivated blossoming organic flax field, because I do not want to “adjust the ways” we have been abusing, rather I want to stop the abuse. One of the only ways to do this is participation, knowledge, and handing out egg salad sandwiches to two-hundred people a day.

Or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself so I don’t drown in egg salad.