Manifesto for a Creative City

For Michelle, Judy, and Natasha – as presented at Ignite Culture

Let us talk about creation and the creative, about art and making, about the width and depth of London’s creative class and creative places and challenge the definitions of what and where and who and when culture and art is and can be

Let us applaud the grace of the water as it passes us by through the four seasons and glance through hoar frosted trees at the sunlight that tumbles down on our upturned faces and know that we are blessed by the happy coincidence of time, place,  season and each other

Let us savour the lush aromas that slink out to our senses as we struggle valiantly in trying to decide where to feast ourselves. Let us offer our quiet appreciation of a job well done by the ones behind the walls of the kitchen and by the ones who whisk out to our anticipation marvels of palate and poise.

Let us scream our full throated joy in never resisting the beat or in lifting our voices in harmony  – – never wishing to be released from sounds that drive our hearts and fill us with the impulse to dance. Let us praise and thank those who put together music so beautiful that we are left breathless by the audacity of what has just stirred our most secret places.

Let us witness the grace of bodies in movement in the expression of the undefinable and gasp in wonder at the expression of a unique soul made manifest by the extension of arm and leg and neck and toe. Let us shake with excitement at the mad moves made by the mad young in perfected abandon on pieces of cardboard in the middle of a sidewalk.

Let us fall in to a palette of colours and lines and curves that holders of brush and pen, crayon and spray can make for us to gaze on —images so profound or of such whimsy that we want them to be enshrined on our private walls to gaze on and share with those closest to us

Let us clap and offer our thanks to the catchers of light. To the ones with lenses big and small that tell a life’s story or a moments thought in the millisecond movement of a finger on the shutter button. Or in the longer stories of photon catchers who tell us tales in the campfire glow of cinemas screen or monitors glow.

Let us marvel at the artisanship of digital magicians as they create places of play and communication and industry that move forward our entire world. That these keyboard wizards are as much a part of our creative classes as are the arts of the dancer, the actor, the artist, and the writer.

Let us listen to the scribble of the poet and the novelist. the blogger and the news chronicler, the inspiring an the inspired,  as they reflect  the experience of the city in which we live or the world we hope to see. In the sharing of the the personal and the profound, the plebeian and the pedantic, the reflective and the reasoned.

Let us recognize the places we have come from in the procession of our stately buildings and homes as they wind by us in the reflected window light of summer sun and let us be reminded of those who have come before us and built that which we now stand upon and walk through

Let us revel in the green embrace of our parks, trees, and spaces that we share with each other in summer …be suffused by riotous colors, the falling of leaves and the girth of our harvest in fall. Let us contemplate the slow babble of water and the stillness of snow and ice in winter and let us explode in an ode of joy for the release that spring gifts us with

Let us celebrate the playwright and the Director, the designer and the actor who stand before us in manufactured landscapes and make our collective narrative breathe and come to life . These thespians who speak the speech tripingly upon the tongue and dare to hold a mirror up to nature.

Let us look around again at the faces that pass us by and know that the whole of the world in all its the ages live with us and treasure that this has happened in old London town. Let us grab hold of that diversity of sex and race, youth and age, and gather it in the embrace of our beautifully diversifying london.

Let us decide to include the hockey fans and the monster truck rally goers and buyers of metal trees and not succumb to petty cynicism but welcome anyone with the courage to share in what we do  – to invite them to feel they are a apart of something greater than any one of us – our collective culture

Let us go to the holders of public purses inviting them to understand that with out us toiling in the golden seem of creation there would be no heartbeat at the fork of the Thames. That our food would be a little duller, our lives a little grayer, our street a uniform drab, –there would be no laughter amongst the clowns and there would be no tears of joy when the curtain falls.

Let us decide to scatter the seeds of our creativity across the whole of our city and not just to those with pockets deep enough to pay the entrance fee. Let us reach into our schools large and small, junior and senior, and grab by the scruff the imagination of the young, inspiring them to make things that would leave our efforts looking pale and slight in comparison

Let us understand that we do not need to compare ourselves to any other city or place but that within our own nooks and crannies, our own parks and boulevards, that the whole of our lives are encapsulated and all we need is see, and there before us we will find the muse of inspiration leaping to embrace us with outstretched arms.

Let us understand that without the efforts of the creative class this place would be so much less and let us take responsibility and decide to no longer shake our fists at deaf heaven but reach out to the people that pass us everyday and let them know in no uncertain terms that we are here and we make this world, this country, and this city a better place to live by the very act that we are driven to do. CREATE

Let us decide for once and for all that we can no longer attract or expand, make new or revisit old,  iterate or innovate , without the recognizing that the whole of our city is an experiment in art and creativity. That we should no longer make the potential of what we want to be up on the backs of tissue paper wishes but inscribe them into the very soul of our forested city.

Let me offer my clumsy words clumsily offered. I define art as play skillfully done and all that is needed is to understand that anyone or any place can be average but if we chose in this moment and in this time,  that this place, our place,  is brilliant —then we are and have always been a Creative City

City of Opportunity II – I speak as a Londoner


Councilor White in the previous Blog Post to this asked a question at the beginning. She asked ” Will you kindly clarify your comment about the Glen Cairn Centre? Are you speaking for them or as the Emerging Leaders, ED?”  Respectfully I have never claimed publicly nor privately to speak for Glen Cairn Centre or on behalf of Emerging Leaders who is my current employer. I ask Councilor White that when she called my previous employer and current employer Friday to complain about me was she speaking as a City Councilor or as someone who works for Children Aid Society or as a Private Citizen? Does she represent the City of London Council when she handles a CAS case? Does she represent CAS when she speaks at council? Or is she or any other Londoner allowed to speak out when they see something they disagree with?

I have never once spoken on behalf of Emerging Leaders or Glen Cairn Centre here or on Facebook, and would never do so, without express permission. The problem becomes when this happens it has a chilling effect on free speech and citizen engagement. But so be it, I can not be silent, even if it has personal consequences for me and my family.

Councilor White and the Mayor have made some points in defending their position. But the heart of the matter remains and while both of them and others have direct experience with people in poverty and Londoners with mental health issues so do I both within my family and amongst many friends. I have advocated my entire life both privately and publicly on behalf of those who are most often left behind because it affects my life and the life of my City, Province, and Country.

Mayor Fontana had posted the following in response to the outcry on the cuts to affordable housing, he did this on Facebook and I post it here unedited and in it’s entirety:

With a reduction in the contribution into the Affordable Housing Program, we will be shifting our approach to affordable housing. Right now there are a number of vacant units out there and a lot of individuals and families who need them. Instead of focusing on building all new units, our focus is shifting to filling existing units and entering into public private partnerships to convert exisiting spaces (like commercial space no longer being used as commercial space) into affordable housing. It’s a different approach, but it’s still a good approach and we will be able to increase the number of people we can help. London has done incredible unique things and we will continue to do so.

Affordable HousingThe reduced funding for the Program will result in a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.Changes were made to legislation January 1, 2012. The New Housing Services Act repeals Social Housing Reform Act and gives the City of London as Service Manager more flexibility and discretion within local rules.This will give our housing experts the needed flexibility to create new housing policy and new housing programs based on the needs of Londoners, moving away from the previous prescriptive approach set out by the province.This shift in strategy is designed to achieve greater efficiency in using the City’s housing funds: 
• Families and individuals will have access to housing. While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. 
• The City can leverage the same amount of federal and provincial funding. 
• Jobs continue to be created through construction and renovation projects. 

Working within our funding, we will be using a combination of:
• convert to rent units (increase)
• creating more short term rental supplements (increase)
• home ownership program
• building new affordable housing units (decrease)

Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes.”

I think there are a couple of key points here to pay close attention to and to understand more fully and to seek clarification on.  I notice in this post the Mayor states ” a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.” . Notice some important words here?  An emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term? This will mean an increase in temporary housing and not permanent housing.

It’s important to note this as well: “While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. ” .  Fewer rental units and more short term or temporary housing.
What we need to recognize here is that we are in every case reducing the number of permanent homes as a means to achieve a 0% tax increase. We also need to understand there is an 8+ year waiting list for permanent housing and while moving more families into temporary housing may be attractive in the short term we will in fact be delaying the issue at the expense of those most vulnerable and  sadly who is to say that that temporary housing budget will be there in a year or 3 years or 5.
We also need to understand the economic as well as the human impact of this cut. Abe Oudshoorn ,a recognized voice in homelessness and housing issues, wrote in his blog “this means that the $1M cut to the Housing Reserve Fund represents a potential $8M loss, or at $140,000 per unit, 57 units of affordable housing not built.  Each new unit also represents 2 person years of full-time employment.
Abe goes on to say ” affordable housing represents a much cheaper way to house people who are experiencing homelessness.  Housing an individual in shelter costs $1,450 per month, jail costs $140 per day, psychiatric acute care costs $650 per day, and acute care inpatient over $1,000 daily.  These statistics are clearly outlined in your Council-approved London Community Housing Strategy.  Therefore, putting money into housing up-front saves us much greater costs down the line.You can read the whole post here
Councilor Joni Baechler wrote on her Facebook page ” In My Opinion
Some members of council indicated they support the cut in Affordable Housing by $ 1Million because of the “Mayor’s plan” presented to committee yesterday. To be clear, there was NO plan presented. The Mayor simply outlined how he would divert the Affordable Housing $’s. What may have been missed by some councillors was the “KEY MESSAGE” from staff on the briefing note which states: “The reduced funding from the Program will result in a STRATEGIC SHIFT from the creation of a MAXIMUM number of PERMANENT units to an emphasis on creating shorter term TEMPORARY housing MEASURES”. The plan presented is a significant divergence from the Council adopted COMMUNITY HOUSING STRATEGY. Staff DID NOT recommend the budget cut in this area.As a result of this cut, we will not be able to leverage the same $$’s in order to meet our housing targets ($20 M in municipal housing dollars has leveraged $140 M from other sources). We will construct 75 less units per year which results in the loss of 72 associated jobs. The “temporary plan” does not address the housing crisis as year after year we will fall further behind.The cut to Affordable Housing is permanent. It will temporarily solve a fiscal shortfall on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable in our community
Important in what Councilor Baechler states is that Staff recommended against these cuts and that we will not be able to leverage these dollars and we will construct 75 less units per year.
So despite assertions to the contrary we are left with the same terrible loss at the expense of those that can afford it the least, but if we can focus and share our concerns with Council and the Mayor for just one week ,as so many on twitter and email and by phone have, then maybe, just maybe, we can convince a thoughtful Councilor or a thoughtful Mayor to change their vote and end this tragedy and begin to create a city of opportunity for everyone.

The Undiscovered Country

Shakespeare’s Hamlet said something interesting:

“To be, or not to be–that is the question”

The traditional interpretation is that Hamlet is weighing whether to take his life or not but beneath or beside this is another struggle, to take action or not to take action. For Hamlet he is also struggling with deciding to take the life of his uncle/step dead and honour the request of his father’s ghost or to not.

But there is something about Hamlets soliloquy that has had me thinking for quite a while now. Our collective “To be or not to be” is around how to get to that, to borrow a phrase from the Puritan John Winthrop,” City upon the Hill”. That place of potential we all want and which,  should we take actions, could be a better for us and our fellow citizens to live. To create that forested city on the hill.

I was lucky enough tonight to run in to my good friend Adam Caplan and we fell into, as we often do, these meaningful conversations about who we are and what we believe. Adam pointed out to me that he found the system of our traditional political parties to polarizing and that it was difficult to engage in critical thought and the dialogue that follows in the face of the contentious poles of Left and Right. I agree with Adam here, it is hard and there is a sense, one that I am sometimes guilty of using, that you’re either with us or against us. But perhaps there is another path here that we need to consider.

My friend Glen Pearson and I have been having an ongoing conversation about the ideas of citizenship, this is something Glen has been talking about for some time, and from those conversations I have come to agree with his ideas that the new power that needs to be developed amongst us is that of the engaged citizen continually speaking to the issues in his or her community/province/country rather that the politics of left and right. What we end up with is community coming forward to make sure our political, business, religious, and community leaders understand what we support or don’t support.

In the past months I have been involved with the citizen’s panel with Glen, James Shelley, Kevin Dixon, Eric Shepperd, and Sue Wilson. We have been working away at the Social Assistance Review Process at the behest of City Council. At the first City Symposium last month we had a huge turnout of Londoners who were interested in learning about the income gap and we will ask them to become further involved in two events this month so we get their input on the systems that most affect the disadvantaged in our city. This is a clear example of the idea of engaged citizens becoming involved – of answering their own to be or not to be question.

Today I went down to the Electro-Motive plant with James and Glen to support my fellow Londoners on the picket line. Essentially their employer, Caterpillar, has said to them take a 50% pay cut or nothing with no middle ground. The shear indifference of this offer is breath taking. But it has led to some troubling thoughts and discoveries as well. Many people whom I respect and genuinely like are not supporting their fellow community members in this struggle because they don’t like unions. But if using Glen and Adams ideas of having critical conversations outside of polarizing party lines and of citizens coming together to move ideas forward we then reach something else Hamlet talked about: the undiscovered country.

Our friend Hamlet goes on to say:

“But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of”

Our Danish pal has some important ideas in these lines that I think we need to consider. Let’s take that first line, the dread of something after death. We can, and again I’m as guilty as anyone else, speak to an issue not out of critical thought or even compassion but out of our comfortable well-worn beliefs that may be an uncritical habitual reaction – our individual death of reason. In the case of the CAW on strike is the reaction against, or at the very least not in support of, these workers\based on an assumption, or maybe one or two bad stories , of what unions have actually done ? Has this opinion been politicized in terms of right and left? Is our will puzzled because we cannot imagine being in support of such a group? Do we not support our fellow citizens because to do so would go against our comfortable viewpoint of the lazy union worker and that is uncomfortable or deadly to our previous viewpoint? And does this lead us to” bear those ills” and see these workers go down alone rather than come out strongly in support of them together?

The beginning, the middle, and the end for me are the following 3 points when it comes to the fight at Electro-Motive:

  1.  It is not fair that these workers are being told to cut their wages in half even though we , as represented by the federal government, have given this company tax incentives to be in our community
  2. If we allow this to happen without a fight then this will happen again and again and again and the result will be a race to the bottom in terms of wages – something that has already happened in the service industry(can you say Wal-Mart?)
  3. I cannot stand by and not speak out in support of my fellow Londoners when they are being unfairly treated by a company that has shown indifference toward their wellbeing and the wellbeing of our community

I know for some of my friends reading this that it is a difficult place to be in – on the one hand they do not like the  unions but on the other hand they do not like to see their fellow community members be treated like this. To them, and to all of you, I suggest we resolve the to be or not to be and discover the undiscovered country of critical thought, compassion, and engagement in order to make London a better place for us all and support those who need it even in the face of what maybe personally uncomfortable.

Pay Attention


A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all.Tacitus

Irwin Cotler – When constituents of mine began reporting that they were receiving telephone calls asking if they would support the Conservative candidate in the pending or imminent by-election, I rose in the House to assert that the practice breached my privileges as a member of Parliament and indeed that of Parliament itself. MORE

Justin Trudeau and NDP – “His father famously uttered fuddle duddle in the House of Commons. On Wednesday his son went one better, calling the Environment Minister a “piece of shit.”Justin Trudeau, the Montreal Liberal MP, admitted he just lost his “cool.”He just couldn’t hold back in Question Period after Peter Kent attacked NDP environment critic Megan Leslie for not attending the climate-change conference in Durban, South Africa, last week” From Globe and Mail

Sandy White of the Globe and Mail “With the government’s omnibus crime bill set to become law, a critical question we should ask is whether we are becoming a society that fosters hope or one that extinguishes it. While Canada is a country of promise in many ways, the government’s course of enacting legislation that favours incarceration and punishment over treatment and rehabilitation stands in conflict to the values that make it such a formidable nation.”

Here’s what you can do – Show Up

The Citizens Panel

In my last post I asked where was everyone and many of you answered. I am deeply grateful for this. Some of you asked where you can show up and help and I have a suggestion for you that I hope and pray you’ll take me up on.  I’m involved with some amazing people, Rev. Kevin Dixon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Sue Wilson of the Sisters of St. Joseph, James Shelley, co-ordinator of the City Symposium, and Eric Shepperd, and Glen Pearson, on a citizens panel trying to make some concrete suggestions for the thousands of people who are on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP). Our province, Ontario, is in the middle of a review of these services (called SARC for Social Assistance Review Committee) and as a part of this you have an opportunity here in London to speak to some very specific points in order improve the lives of the most vulnerable in the places where we live.

In London a review was held with agencies and people with lived experience currently using the OW/ODSP system. Some of the thoughts that came out of this were: “Londoners expressed interest in simplified social assistance rules. While they want consistency, they also want workers to be able to respond to their individual needs. They want a program that better provides enough income to meet the cost of living particularly for food and shelter and they want a program that includes transportation as a basic benefit. They want a program that allows people to keep more of the income they earn from working and want a program that does not require that assets virtually be depleted as a condition of eligibility. Having access to adequate housing is fundamental.”Click here to read the entire report form the London meeting.

Let me give a little background so you have something to go on. Currently if you are on Ontario Works you get about $582.00/month to live on. In London the Low Income Cut off measure ( the poverty line) is a little more than $1500/month. So if you’re making a little more than $1500/month you have enough to pay your rent, get groceries, buy your clothing, ride the bus, and generally squeak by. But remember if you’re on OW you’re only getting about  582/month. That’s a difference of more than $800/month.

(Graph supplied by James Shelly)


Low income cut of vs OW vs ODSP

Also if you’re on OW or ODSP and you make a little extra cash, say you get a part-time job or 10 hours of work from a temporary employment agency, that gets clawed back from what you receive every month. So if you make an extra $100 that month 50.00 will be taken off of your OW cheque. So if I get paid $10.50/hr. for 10 hrs. that equals $105.00. But half of that, 52.50, will be deducted from my 582/month. So we end up with 529.00 for your OW cheque . So really I get paid $5.25 for every hour that I work while on Ontario Works.

I don’t know many people who would work for $5.25/hr. If I wanted to make 10 hours’ worth of pay I would have to work for 20 hrs on OW. Now some of you may think that this is a good deal, that we’re giving them money anyways so they should be grateful for what they get. But think about this for a second:

  1. The economy is really bad right now
  2. Part time work is becoming the norm
  3. 1 in 5 children live in poverty in London
  4. Would you work for 5.25/hr.?

Add to this, and I have seen this first hand, that you’re OW benefits may get cut off until OW verifies your income and we have a serious disincentive for anyone to try to make a little extra money.

At the City Symposium event on Dec. 13th we are going to be talking about the income gap that is growing ever wider in our country. We’re going to use this talk to then gather people around and offer recommendations to the City of London on this Social Assistance Review Process. The City will then take these recommendations and adopt them and send them on to the Provincial Government as well as the Federal Government. We will meet twice in January to do this.

So in my last post I asked you where you all were. In this post I am asking you all to show up on Dec.13th at the Wolf Performance Hall at the Central Library in Downtown London and to make a difference. You will hear about the growing income gap and then WE NEED YOU TO SHOW UP IN JANUARY  to input on improving the lives of our cities most vulnerable in a tangible, practical way.  I am begging you to make a difference. So tell your church leaders, your service clubs, your neighbours, your friends, your boss and coworkers, to show up, to make a difference, to be a part of something important.  I don’t think I’m asking too much. I just want you to change the world. Who’s in?

City Symposium 5 – Income Gap

Additional resources to understand the issue

What will we do? World Mental Health and World Homelessness Day

I’ve been meaning to write the follow-up to my posts on mental health and the issues that surround it for some time now. But what with our Ontario Provincial Election and the demands of work, school, family and my to many projects the time just seemed to slip by. But today is World Mental Health Day and it’s World Homelessness Day and here in Canada its Thanks Giving so it’s apropos that I offer my solutions to what is often a black hole of issues.

First though a couple of things you need to realise about homelessness here in London Ontario and by extension the province, the country and the world. There are often 2000 people per night that sleep on the streets or in the limited shelters in our forested city. That’s a lot of folks with no family to celebrate this holiday with nor enjoy that holiday staple the turkey dinner and they live on the street. If this makes you feel bad good. I think we all have a collective shame to bear that we allow this to happen in community in which we live

The Cost of Poverty according to the Ontario Association of Food Banks is The report finds that the economic cost of poverty in Ontario comes to $32 to $38 billion per year “ and with child poverty “If child poverty were eliminated, the extra income tax revenues nationally would be between $3.1 billion and $3.8 billion, while for Ontario, the additional (federal and provincial) taxes would amount to $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.  The total economic cost (private and social) of child poverty Ontario is $4.6 to 5.9 billion annually.”  The London Free Press Reported recently about the London Food Bank  As the food bank marks its 25th anniversary this month, use has gone up, not down. It has had an almost 10-fold increase in client families, to more than 3,200 a month. And still Londoners go hungry, are homeless and are unemployed.”

The Cost of Mental health is .  “$51 billion is the estimated cost of mental illness to the Canadian economy in terms of health care and lost productivity” and in Ontario “$34 billion is the cost of mental illness and addictions to the Ontario economy” according to the Centre for Addictions, and Mental Health(CAMH)

What you need to realize friends is that Mental Health, Poverty , and Homelessness are all deeply interrelated. But what can we do as ordinary citizens to change what seems to be an insurmountable problem? We can choose to act with a political and community minded will to ensure our governments address these as some of our highest priorities.

I can here you thinking “ Sure you keep talking about these issues but what are you offering as a solution?” Well I’m glad you asked. I suggest first that as a province and a country we need to stop talking about tax cuts and start talk about paying for the community, Province, and Country in which we want to live. This means that if I have to pay an extra $400/year in taxes to solve these issues then I’m willing to do that as the cost to making where I live a better place for everyone.

I also believe that we need to integrate our approach across disciplines. There can be no separation of church and state between health care, education, community and social services, police and justice, and the public. So on the issue of homelessness, poverty, and mental health there is a unified approach to taking action across the board that is driven by research and not politics.

A fairly straight forward thing that could happen immediately to help almost 53,000 people in London is to increase Ontario Works and ODSP (disability) payments to 10% above the low-income cut off line. At the same time we need to create a transition from OW to work. This means rather than claw back benefits when a family earns some money we allow them to keep it and once they have regular full-time employment then we allow them to keep their benefits for 6 months. This would ease the transition and ensure economic stability for that family.  With the current system this is impossible so families and individuals feel they cannot leave Ontario Works. I have seen this hundreds and hundreds of times in the past 4 years.  Our system actively discourages people from moving forward because it does not allow them to build an economic cushion. You are either on OW or your off.

This chart gives you an idea of the gap between what OW and ODSP pay and what the Low Income Cut Off mark is . This comes from Children’s Mental Health Ontario:

You can see that we have a long way to go but if we do decide to cover this distance and take on something that is important for the economic, health, and generational benefit of our community then we will be pulling down the huge economic and human cost of these underfunded and often ignored area.

In the end we can either deal with these issues honestly and with maturity or keep playing the tax cut shell game we have been for to many years. We as corporations, businesses, public institutions, governments, and most importantly citizens must decide how our communities will prioritize our efforts. I propose the priority is Poverty, Homelessness, and Mental Health, so that we have a community for all not just some.


So what you may not know is that when it comes to any mental health issue affecting a child or a youth that the system is divided into three non-cooperative spheres. There are The Hospitals, The Schools, and The Mental Health Agencies in the community.  Now each of these is funded by three separate systems as well.  The Ministry of Health, The Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Child and Youth Services. Why is any of this important? Because for the last week I have been trying to get help to 5 different families all with children with extreme symptoms all of whom cannot get the help they need and these systems are not working together to solve these extreme issues.

So let’s imagine you are a mom with a child, say between 6 and 8, who is continually so out of control that he or she has completely trashed their room and you have a number of bruises and knocks and in some cases broken bones. Let’s also imagine that the child’s room has had to have all toys, furniture, closet doors, and lamps removed because when this child flies into a rage they hurl these things around. Also the child’s room has had the walls boarded up because the child has punched holes into. Let’s further imagine that the windows have been boarded up because the child has tried to hurl themselves through the window. Also this child has lashed out at siblings, parents, teachers, workers, hospital staff and relatives. Now as a parent you have had this child hospitalized, you have called the various crisis intake lines, you have gone through the various agencies and have applied for respite and counselling and …well you get the idea. Now given these above circumstances you would think that these three systems would do everything they could to support these moms and dads and get this child stabilized and the family some relief. Think again friends think again.

What happens instead is that first you’re parenting skills are called into question and you’re immediately but into a position of justifying that you are not the cause. This will often happen previous to any treatment. But it gets better folks. So again we’ll imagine that things are so bad that your child, or the police in many cases, is taken to the Emergency Room. You arrive hoping that you’ll get relief and support but sadly that is not often the case. The ER staff, who are heavily overworked, are usually under trained when it comes to child and youth psychiatric issues. So you tell your story and you wait to be seen by a resident in psychiatry and then you’re assessed and if you’re lucky you’ll get an admit. BUT if your child is exhibiting externalizing behaviour, like hitting or biting or is violent, you won’t get that admit even if your child is tied to the bed during the consult. Why? Because if your child is exhibiting these symptoms the hospital is not equipped to deal with it. So you’re back out on the street again and asked to go to a local community agency. Literally given a list of numbers to call and asked to do it yourself.

So now you’re off to the local child and youth mental health agency. You arrive hoping for immediate relief to find you must fill in forms, tel your story again, and then you wait and wait and wait. Often this wait can be from 4 months to 2 years and during all this your child is still in crisis and therefore so is the family.

Meanwhile your child is at school. At the school there are usually 2 paths. Path one is where you will be called at work, as in my case daily for months, to pick up the child. Path two is that you will go through a process to get your child the educational supports they need including educational assistants, specialized program modification, and additional psycho-educational supports. This will take months and months and will often result in a reduction of time for your child in school. In the case of my daughter she went for half a day for a year.

So now your child is attending half a day of school during which you’re still going through assessment and intake with the mental health agency and may have had as many as 6 hospital visits within a 4 month period because your beautiful child is in a medical crisis. Oh by the way your still trying to keep your job and marriage going during this or if your single and living at or below the poverty line your barely making it through a day and will likely suffer your own health crisis.

So you have finally survived the waiting list and the agency calls. This may go one of two ways as well. The first is that you will be assigned a case manager, that’s someone who coordinates your care, and assigned to programs. Part of this program is that you will take a parenting class while your child goes through a some sort of behaviour modification program. These programs can be highly effective but that is dependent on the illness you’re child has. I’ll get back to diagnosis in a minute.

The second way this can go is that after months of waiting you may be told there is nothing this agency can do for you and you’re sent to another agency. Fortunately in London we have CSCN as a central facilitator of connecting you with one of these agencies but often the wait can be as along there as it is at the agency itself and you may still be told, as my family was, that there is nothing they can do for you. So as I said before your back at square one. So you go to another agency and start again. Meanwhile your child is having even more problems at school and is attending less and you’ve had to visit the hospital several more time.

Now for the Diagnosis. So during this whole adventure you have no formal diagnosis. A diagnosis for your child can take several years and can often change over time. There is a serious shortage of qualified child psychiatrists in Ontario, more than 50% of them in Canada reside in Quebec, and the wait times to be assessed can be horrific.

So you get a diagnosis, you start medications, you finally have an agency working with you , and the school situation is now on track. Sigh of relief. But what if even despite all of this help your child is still having violent outbursts and your home and work life is in a shambles. Well you can try to get your child into a psychiatric facility that specializes in children. Again we are blessed in London with The Child and Parent Resource Institute or CPRI. CPRI has both in and out-patient care and has an outstanding collection of staff with a number of specialities. So you go to CPRI, which by the way serves all of South Western Ontario – a huge population, and try to get admitted.

Well you’re back on a waiting list for the outpatient programs. If you’re lucky enough to get a YURI bed, that’s a short-term emergency assessment inpatient program, you can get a meds review and diagnosis review. But YURI beds are few and far between.  And you’re waiting again. Remember that unlike any other emergency medical issue mental health issues are often about waiting for service and telling you’re story again and again while trying to muddle through.


So were now at 1280 word to describe the situation of 5 mothers I have been trying to help in the last 7 day.s They are still not receiving the help they need. These three systems are not talking to each other, there are no emergency beds available, there is no support in the community to help, and they are all on waiting lists or have been told that they can’t get the service they need. Also within the school system they have been expelled, suspended, charged by the police, or been told to go home.

Now I could yell at the people who work in these systems, people like principles, and doctors, and social workers, and teachers, and…well you get the idea. But they are not the problem. I know many dedicated and brilliant people within these systems that have literally changed the lives of many families. No the problem is larger than that. The problem is the whole system and the way it is funded and designed. A successive series of governments have left the child and youth mental health system understaffed, radically underfunded, and siloed in to three separate areas of which only one can be investigated by the provincial ombudsman. Someone once said that if adult mental health was the orphan of the medical system then child and youth mental health is the orphan of the orphan. We are fortunate In Ontario that the Liberal government recently increased funding to child and youth mental health but the real world effect of this, while good, is still way behind the rest of the western world. In fact this government is the first to give any increase in funding at all for the last 13 years. A positive step forward. But in the end this last week there have been 5 moms all with children with serious medical conditions who continue to be in crisis and are not getting the help they need. Oh and by the way…there are as many as 650,000 children with a mental health issue in Ontario alone of which only 1 in 5 are receiving any treatment.

My next post will deal with the transitions. The transitions between Hospitals and Agencies and the transition from youth to adult mental health systems.

An Apology to Nancy Branscombe and Cheryl Miller – Live the change

I want my representatives to be thoughtful and engaged and to treat the people who they work with, whether on their own political side of the fence or not, with respect and in a spirit of working for the common good. This is the dream I have for our political system.

If this is the system I imagine then this is the way I should behave when I engage in a political or any other kind of discourse. In other word live the change you want to see. I have not done this in the last week or so. In fact I would say that I have been the exact opposite. After watching the provincial candidate’s debates last Thursday on our local Rogers cable I started firing off a twitter stream dismissing the two PC candidates Nancy and Cheryl. The problem is this is that by doing this I am not living the change I want to see and in fact am acting like those politicians and pundits that I most want to see this way of behaving in.

I can imagine a system where the candidates and parties respect their electorate and treat their fellow human beings on the other side of the bench with dignity and respect. I believe whole heartedly in vigorous debate and testing the merit of ideas but I do not agree with name calling and cheap political stunts. By firing of quick cheap shots over twitter I began acting like that which I most dislike.

We are now in the midst of one of the most important processes we have in our country, the process of choosing who will lead us and who will make decisions on our behalf for our collective benefit and sadly many times I do not see that change I most want to see. So I must join the efforts of some other who behave this way and help to bring about the civil society I long for.

So To Nancy Branscombe and to Cheryl Miller I offer my most sincere apologies for the way in which I have callously thrown around remarks on twitter. I disagree with many of your party’s policies but that does not mean I should act like a braying ass and I hope that you will call me on it if I start too.

To the rest of you I ask you to join with me and many others to create the place in which we most want to live. I’m asking you to join the civil society.

Sean Quigley

@sqedmonton on twitter

Imperfect Me

Why is it one day I am so deeply dissatisfied with where I live and what my influence is on this place I cohabit with my fellow Londoners but the next am deeply moved by what someone is doing or the potential of an idea that someone shares with me? Is it because I am fickle? Is it because I don’t have a faith? Is it because I never see something through to its logical or illogical conclusion? Is it from lack of attention span? Or maybe it’s because I want things to change at a fundamental level be that education, civic engagement, art, or the care we take of one another, and I want to believe that is possible and I try and I believe but sometimes the more things “change” the more they stay the same.

I see that the stats about the failure of our education system and the sickening gap between the wealthiest and the poorest and friends I want to walk off and say  to hell with it all. I give up. I see the poverty of people where I work and live and the un-human way they are treated by the people who are supposed to help them and I want to say to hell with it all. I give up. I see the way we treat objects and things with the more worth and reverence that we treat each other, and yes i am guilty, and I want to say to hell with it all. I give up. I see people being elected to represent us but are representing money or ambition or their friends or themselves, and i want to say to hell with it all. I give up. I see no one letting someone else ahead of them in a line up and I want to say to hell with it.I GIVE UP.

A but then, and here’s the rub friend, but then I see a moment of such heart-rending beauty that I want to shout and point and say this is it. I will not give up. Or I see someone take someone else by the hand or offer a kind word and i want to shout and point and say this is it. i will not give up. Or I see a mother with her child in circumstance that are so cruelly bad but they still succeed and I want to shout this is it. I will not give up. Or I hear an idea, some idea, some simple perfect idea that is completely mad yet I want to believe and I shout this is it. I WILL NOT GIVE UP.

We are imperfect. We are cruel. We are destructive. But we have so much … potential…I have to believe. I have to believe we can make this a better …place… Because to not to is too painful. Too bleak. To…unrealized. it’s Imperfect

Shame and the social help

James Shelley, a London thinker, posted something on  his blog that got me thinking about victims and heroes. Part of his point was “ Your closest circle of human relationships is comprised of individuals who are neither victims, villains or heroes toward you (or one another). Where power triad exists,common unity is altogether impossible. This ought to give us pause when we consider the manner by which we run “social programs” as a society. It seems that most altruistic, religious, and community service organizations are founded upon doctrines of heroism: “We will save you!” Tragically and inadvertently, many of the best intentioned social programs thus reinforce the power dynamics that victimized clients and recipients in the first place. The whole system needs a serious rethink from the roots of human interaction up, not from the rhetoric of hero ideologies down!”(please read the whole post here)

I have very briefly met James at Pod Camp London 2011 where he spoke eloquently about whether  to create, consume, or stream and where we as individuals fit on the continuum. The ideas behind this speech seem to come form his post here and I encourage you to read it. James is a thoughtful contributor to our ideas on society and the world but in his post I think there is something else to think about before heroism and victimhood and those roles within assisting our fellow humans. That thing is shame.

Shame is defined by the free dictionary as” A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace” and according to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, “shame is a violation of cultural or social values”. This is for me the sticking point and the place where we need to start in our value of anyone that by their own admission is suffering. That part by the way, by their own admission, is the fundamental step for me in offering my resources to anyone who asks me and is also the place where shame inserts itself in to the communities collective will to help and that individuals sense of self.

The formula for me goes something like this. I need help with X, where X is the issue I’m facing. If I need help with X then I must be less than or less capable than those people who do not have this issue. I feel this way because my society says that if I need help with X then I am unworthy or pitied in society. Because I have issue X and cannot deal with it myself independently then I feel shame. I feel shame because I have violated a cultural or social value of self reliance and the ability to take care of myself and my issue. If I feel shame then my status in my own eyes and societies is lower than those who do not need it and I swing easily into victimhood. If I am a victim and my status is lower then the helper or the hero,  then the helper or hero has a higher status. Then we end up exactly in that unequal power dynamic James was talking about: victimhood and heroism.

I think the place we must begin to work on as individuals is that sense of shame when we need help. This is true for mental health, violent crime, rape, poverty, homelessness or any other destructive social/medical force at work in our communities. We must work on removing the shame of needing help. That for me is an individual struggle and something once achieved can be passed on to our children, family, and friends.

Now you might say, and quite rightly, what about those people who are already feeling that shame and helplessness/victimhood? What can we do to help them? That is a loaded and dangerous question for me because personally I need to examine why I want to help. Do I want to be the hero? Do I want to feel superior or tick that “do something good” box on my list of things to do?  These all raise my status and raising my status for me leads to my being the hero.

What I have begun consciously thinking, and not always successfully, is that my first responsibility is to offer my status as equal to anyone that may need my assistance. My second responsibility is to find out if my assistance is needed or asked for? My third responsibly is if it is asked for then to offer that assistance without raising my status and lowering someone else’s. My greatest responsibility though is to not treat any of these issues like they are an obstacle in my day or an inconvenience when my assistance is sought. I cannot ignore pain and I can only assist if I see the person I am assisting within the same status as I see myself. Also as importantly I can only offer that assistance if i am capable of sharing it.

If we can begin to think consciously when we see someone who is homeless/in poverty/in crisis/in need of comfort in this way then maybe we equal what is often an unequal relationship with our fellow community members. While this is not a clean, works in every situation , good for everyone , answer to our collective welfare it is something for me that can work and if we work on it we may be able to eliminate the creep of shame.