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Mental illness, gender, poverty, and the Salvation Army


The following statement was sent to the City of Ottawa's Councillors in regards to the proposed Salvation Army's new shelter to be built here in the Vanier community.

To whom it may concern,

My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a pre-teen. She was a single mom and we often found ourselves in pretty tough situations. We were also on welfare, facing both financial difficulties as well as my mom’s struggle with mental illness.

I was born in Arnprior but my mom and I relocated to Ottawa when I was 8 years old. I’ve grown up in this city and I’ve been a resident of the downtown core most of my life. I should add that my wife and I bought a home in Vanier in 2010. So I’m not just a resident of Ottawa and I’m not just a taxpayer; I’m also a home owner not that far away from where the Salvation Army proposes to build their new shelter on Montreal Road.

Relevant to this email is the fact that I’m also in a documentary film that focuses on the children of mentally ill parents. Titled “I Am Still Your Child,” the film just started streaming on CBC and will air nationally across CBC Television in January. If you’d like, you can watch the film at the following link: http://watch.cbc.ca/absolutely-canadian/-/i-am-still-your-child/38e815a-00cec9fd824. In conjunction with the film, a number of video shorts were recently released. One of them deals with the financial impact of mental illness. It’s on the film’s Youtube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwaYwp3MbqQ.

When I reflect on my childhood, the reality of my mom’s health and financial situation, and the proposed Salvation Army shelter, I’m struck by the fact that my mom, being a woman, would have found no help there. And she, being a mom, would not have been able to get help for her family, either. Yes, I’m well aware that there are other shelters in the city that can and do help. At the end of the day, however, a new shelter will be constructed that will discriminate based on gender. That is unconscionable in 2017. And it is a sad, sad statement that if I was a child today, living in the same circumstances that I grew up in, my mom would not be able to turn to a brand new state of the art facility for help when she would have needed it most.

I should add that my mom did not win her struggles with either schizophrenia or poverty. She died in 1994, at the age of 48.

I would strongly urge you to pause and reflect on what a new shelter could and should be. A shelter featuring gender equality and one free of religious dogma. If it was both of those things, even if the location and the size were the same, I would support it. Because my mom might have needed it. And we know that other girls and women of all-ages and sexual orientations will need it. Desperately.

The proposed shelter by the Salvation Army is not the solution. It’s no solution at all. I urge you to vote against it.

Addendum


What I didn't add, though I was tempted, was the lyrics to Joe Hill's 1911 song The Preacher and the Slave:

Long-haired preachers come out every night

Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right

But when asked how 'bout something to eat

They will answer in voices so sweet


You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky

Work and pray, live on hay

You'll get pie in the sky when you die


And the Starvation Army, they play

And they sing and they clap and they pray

Till they get all your coin on the drum

Then they tell you when you're on the bum


You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky

Work and pray, live on hay

You'll get pie in the sky when you die


Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out

And they holler, they jump and they shout

Give your money to Jesus, they say

He will cure all diseases today


You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky

Work and pray, live on hay

You'll get pie in the sky when you die


If you fight hard for children and wife

Try to get something good in this life

You're a sinner and bad man, they tell

When you die you will sure go to hell.


You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky

Work and pray, live on hay

You'll get pie in the sky when you die


Workingmen of all countries, unite

Side by side we for freedom will fight

When the world and its wealth we have gained

To the grafters we'll sing this refrain


You will eat, bye and bye

When you've learned how to cook and how to fry

Chop some wood, 'twill do you good

Then you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye

Update


And Ottawa city council passed the Salvation Army proposal over the protests of just about everyone.

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