Toronto homeless feel discriminated against by healthcare workers

Maryellen Hess:

I don’t doubt many homeless people are treated with disdain in health care facilities, just as they are treated with disdain in so many environments. Nevertheless there are many care health care givers who want to help the homeless as much as they can. Where they may fall short is in creating a treatment plan for the more typical patient – one with housing. We could say the typical care giver lacks “cultural competence” in adapting care to the reality of homelessness. Full care for them means making sure they have access to hot water and clean bandages for wound or incision care. Their assistants could create calendars to help a homeless person follow a regimen of medicines, Access to nutritious food in the hospital cafeteria seems reasonable for at least a short time to insure medicine can be taken with food. These are the steps that will truly separate rigid medical care from exemplary care. This would make the treatment more effective. Training care givers to create such medical plans could also be the bridge taking them from discrimination to empathy for those they serve in a field also known as the helping profession.

Originally posted on Global News:

TORONTO- A small park lies in the shadows at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.

“If you’re homeless they don’t want to deal with you. They just don’t seem to care,” said Mark as he motions with his hand towards the inner-city hospital steps away from where he stands in the middle of the park.

Mark is homeless, has been for several years. So are many of the other men lingering in the shade around him. He says all of them have been judged at some point by a doctor or nurse.

“You can’t smell like alcohol, you can’t be high, you can’t look homeless. If you look homeless you’re treated as homeless,” he said.

There is a high level of perceived discrimination among homeless adults when it comes to healthcare.

“Some told us they didn’t want to smile in front of a doctor because missing teeth is seen has…

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When did Goliath become the hero?

David versus Goliath. Rooting for the underdog. Using jail to beat down the poor.

Wait. What was that last one? It is the growing phenomenon in America to use jail time and exorbitant fees to punish people for being poor.

The criminal justice system has always been significantly harder for the poor. They cannot afford powerful lawyers. They can’t even afford bail most of the time.

The system’s inequality starts at an even deeper level. It starts with the expectations police have when they patrol certain neighborhoods.

Police expect criminal behavior from black teens. Black teen in a white middle-class neighborhood? Must be casing the houses. Black teen in poor black neighborhood?  He has probably done something illegal. It is only a question of what he did. Adrenaline must run high among the police who patrol the low income minority neighborhoods, judging by their hair trigger reactions to the briefest encounters.

When was the last time we read a story of police killing a white teen when walking through the streets of a white, middle class neighborhood?

Then there is the inequity among who gets arrested and who does not. Data shows that drug use among teens of all races and socioeconomic status are similar. You would not guess that from the law enforcement responses.

Law enforcement and court fees are stretching the inequalities even farther. Remember the Miranda warning? During an arrest police are obligated to tell the arrestees they have the right to a public defender if they cannot afford counsel on their own. This provided low income people with some hope of a fair trial.  Now 43 states allow courts to charge the defendant for that public defender. All kinds of costs get passed on to defendants. Some states charge defendants for their arrest warrants. More than half of our states charge for room and board in jail. In Washington State people must pay a fee to have a jury. 

So these fees add up whether or not the defendant is even found guilty. For people barely surviving financially this just adds to their burdens. Courts may offer payment plans, complete with interest. And if they miss a payment? They end up in jail where they accrue more fines and fees. Low wage workers generally do not get many days off, especially paid days off. Missing a few days of work can cost them their jobs. Now the cost of a speeding ticket can turn an average worker into an unemployed ex-offender.

The fees are not about justice. They are about paying for expensive and overwhelmed courts and jails. Someone has to pay. But not to worry if you are the CEO of a large bank that deceived millions of homeowners.  You are safe from ever paying a penny.

It seems like Goliath is now the hero.

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Unaccompanied immigrant children – not such a complicated issue after all.

American politics and media have lost all ability to define a problem and look for solutions. The surge in illegal border crossings by Central American children provides the perfect example. The emotion laden response to this phenomena makes the issue sound more confusing than it really is. A decision to invest in safe living conditions for the children does not mean America will give up on border security. It does not mean current illegal residents get a free pass to stay. No one is disputing they are coming here legally.

The debate is between people who want to follow a critical law and those who want to bypass it altogether. President George Bush promoted the particular law in question – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act. The act is named after a 19th Century British abolitionist for good reason. It was our humanitarian response to sex trafficking of children. The 2008 law ensured that children who came to the United States got a full immigration hearing instead of being turned away or sent back.

The hearing has a simple goal. It is used to determine if the immigrant has a valid claim for asylum.

Now this law has become inconvenient for people who want to expedite deportation proceedings for children crossing the border. Calling it a crisis (isn’t human trafficking a crisis?) the House Republicans proposed a bill changing the Wilberforce anti-trafficking law to make it easier to send the child immigrants home. It strips out the children’s rights to have a deportation hearing to determine refugee status.

Ironically President Bush signed the law the GOP now wants to eviscerate. More ironically the Department of Homeland Security Secretary has testified the children are in fact coming here to escape high levels of violence. Secretary Johnson told a Congressional subcommittee that “Conditions in Honduras are horrible”. He noted that the State Department warned U.S. citizens about “critically high” crime and violence there. “[It's] the murder capital of the world.”

The Honduran and Salvadoran child migrants are from some of the most violent regions in those countries. San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the world’s murder capital, with a homicide rate of 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013 driven by a surge in gang and drug trafficking violence. For the entire country Honduras’s murder rate was 90 per 100,000 in 2012, the highest in the world. In 2011, El Salvador was not far behind, at 70, ranking second in terms of homicides in Latin America then.

To put this in context consider that American’s murder rate is 4 per 100,000 people.


Johnson went on to testify that the law doesn’t allow the DHS Customs and Border Protection to summarily return these children to their homeland. Johnson said the law doesn’t allow him to do so. “The law requires that once a child is identified as unaccompanied, CBP has to give them to HHS and they do what’s in the best interest of the child. That is what the law passed by Congress requires.”

In other words, we cannot just overlook the Wilberforce anti-trafficking law.

An immediate deportation policy without the benefit of hearings contradicts other U.S. policies written to extend humanitarian protections. The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) allows qualified individuals from designated countries who are in the United States to stay here for a limited time period. A country may be designated for TPS by the Secretary of Homeland Security based on certain conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from being able to return safely, or in certain circumstances, the country’s government from being able to handle their return adequately.

When Secretary Johnson identified San Pedro Sula, Honduras as the murder capital of the world it is fair to say the Temporary Protected Status should apply to these children. News and research abounds showing that the Central American drug cartels are offering people an ugly choice: use drugs, carry drugs or die. This is the life some people want to shove children back into.

The U.S. prides itself on following the rule of law. That is a key feature of democracy. It holds itself out as a protector of human rights. That is why we have the Wilberforce law. The U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services department has a process to ensure that immigrants can find safety here to escape violent conditions. T-Visas are issued to give sanctuary here for victims of human trafficking. U-Visas are for victims of domestic violence. Maybe we need D-Visas for victims of drug cartel violence.

Jordan has absorbed over 600,000 Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war, a number that exceeds 10% of its total population. Americans opposed to any compromise on immigration reform are grandstanding on caring for 50,000 children coming into a country of 300 million people. That is less than 2% of our population.

Congress has failed to act on immigration reform. It refuses to acknowledge that people want to come here because we brag about what a great nation we have. It refuses to accept the fact that we have many residents who do not have visas but they support our national economy.

Immigrant children as young as six years old are crossing our borders alone in pursuit of safety.  They come from places where drug cartels reign supreme. We have laws and protocols to determine whether they should be allowed to stay. All we have to do is follow them.

It’s really not that complicated.


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Immigration & Human Trafficking

Maryellen Hess:

If you want to believe all immigrants should be deported without a hearing, don’t read this.

Originally posted on Eye On America:

Immigration is a heated subject right now, but the connection between the children at the border and human trafficking must be addressed. Maybe, this is an angle that you may not have thought of before. Hopefully, it will help you understand why children are fleeing their countries to come our border. To summarize, I’d like to give some facts on both immigration and trafficking, then connect the two.

First, let’s do a quick rundown of human trafficking.

  • There are 29.8 million people worldwide enslaved. (Global Slavery Index) 
  • While most of trafficking victims here are American citizens, there are as many as 17,500 people who are trafficked into the United States each year. (End It Movement)
  • The top countries of origin (besides the United States) of federally identified victims in the United States for 2013 were Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand. (2014 TIP Report)
  • One out of…

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Immigrant children test our real values

What would you do to keep gang members away from your children?

Do you try to keep your children safe from kidnappers and molesters?

Would you willingly part with your children knowing you might never see them again?

Parents in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are taking extreme measures to protect their children. They are willing to part with them to keep them safe and give them a chance for a better life. Their home countries are among the poorest in the world, giving them few opportunities to improve life on their own. Unless people are willing to work for the drug cartels many remain unemployed. Their governments are too weak to control drug related violence ravaging the entire region.

The surge in immigrant children crossing America’s southern border recently grabbed headlines although Central American immigrants have been increasing notably since at least 2008. Hence their appearance in the three countries from where the immigrant children are coming. All of these problems have been building for years. As the Mexican government stepped up its attacks on the cartels, drug kingpins began moving their operations into Central America as early as 2008.

Increased drug trade correlates with the spike in violent deaths. El Salvador’s murder rate, already one of the higher ones in the world, jumped 37 percent in 2009. That increase was due almost entirely to wars among drug-trafficking organizations moving to the region. El Salvador’s defense minister, David Munguía Payés, states bluntly, “The more pressure there is in Mexico, the more the drug cartels will come to Central America looking for a safe haven.”

Los Zetas, a drug gang turned cartel, is believed to have expanded from Mexico to 11 Latin American countries. In December 2010 Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom had declared a “state of siege” in Alta Verapaz, an especially violent province near the border with Mexico, contending that the Zetas had overrun that province. They continue to take hold in other Guatamalan states. The more established Gulf Cartel and Los Zetos are having bloody turf battles, adding to the cruelty and loss of life.

It is not any better in Honduras. San Pedro Sula in Honduras has a murder rate of 187 per 100,000 people. “Honduras is actually the murder capital of the world,” says Mark Lopez from the Pew Research Center. By contrast the murder rate in the United States, for example is about 4.2 per 100,000.

The United States estimated in 2012 that 75 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first land in Honduras. The Caribbean coastal region of Honduras is a primary landing zone for drug-carrying flights and maritime traffic. The region is vulnerable to narcotics trafficking due to its remoteness, limited infrastructure, lack of government presence, and weak law enforcement institutions.

Country Report: Honduras, Bureau of International Narcotics And Law Enforcement Affairs, 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)

This is not to say the U.S. has ignored the region’s need for support in fighting the drug trade. Through the Central American Regional Security Initiative it has invested financial support, with much of it paying to provide gear and training for its Central American partners. The Central American Regional Security Initiative funds counter-drug units, or TAG (Transnational Anti-Gang) teams comprised of agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, who partner up with local police to investigate drug trafficking, weapons smuggling and money laundering.

Whether the U.S. should provide this aid to fight the cartels does not change the effect they are having today.

One by one desperate families are dealing with the threats to their children in one of the few ways available to people who are already living in poverty. They are sending their children north toward the U.S. Mexican border. They pay human smugglers, known as “coyotes,” to transport children by bus toward the border. U.S. authorities claim that human smugglers are at the heart of the current border crisis because they have facilitated the travels of the 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who’ve been apprehended in South Texas since October. The coyotes will even help smaller children manage their inner tubes when they cross the Rio Grande so they won’t drown.

One coyote who calls himself El Lobo (the wolf) revealed to one reporter that they take care of the children to maintain a good reputation so parents will entrust them with their children. He can charge $2,500 per child. In fact, not only are coyotes moving the children away from the risky lives in Central America, they pay a fee to Los Zetos or the Gulf Cartel to allow them safe passage.

Drug trafficking is a global enterprise. It also happens in our own backyards, whether we live in inner cities or suburbs. We have been spending billions every year for decades for our “war on drugs.” Americans grieve for mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who grow dependent on drugs. Should we really be so outraged that parents are sending their children here?

The public is appropriately appalled when we learn an American child has been abused and tortured. We search our souls when the stories come out, wondering how we didn’t know it was happening in the house next door.

Well, it is happening next door. The children have crossed a street hundreds of miles wide to escape it. We can do better than treat them like miniature criminals masterminding an invasion into America. What does it say about us when the coyotes take better care of their charges than we will?

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Which came first – domestic violence or mental illness?

One in 17 people in the United States live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.[i]  Do you know more than 17 people? Someone in your circle of friends and family most likely has a mental illness.

Personality disorders afflict about 13% of people[ii]. That’s more than one in ten. It is not uncommon to say “so and so” must have a borderline or narcissistic personality in our effort to understand behaviors of people who repeatedly lie, bully, manipulate others or act impulsively.

This article cannot delve into the multiple factors that underlie either mental illnesses or personality disorders. Those are best left to highly educated medical practitioners and researchers. Yet there is one glaring factor that ordinary people can address without advanced degrees. Domestic violence.

There is no chicken or egg question here. Domestic violence precipitates extensive physical, emotional and psychological damage.

Typically we associate domestic violence as physical assault on someone close to the abuser.  The victims can be spouses, unmarried partners, parents and children. We recognize that it often leads to serious physical injury, or even death. We have made progress on fighting it. Laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA) codify victims’ rights to protection and provide funds.

Despite the fact state and federal governments legislate for change the incidence of domestic violence is still staggering. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner or other family member.  That exceeds 12 million abused women and men over the course of a year in the United States alone.

Whether or not abusers cause physical harm to their victims’ bodies they cause infinite damage to their victims’ psyche. It is especially difficult for victims to recognize the psychological effect of abuse. They begin to think they are “crazy” and abusers are all too happy to encourage that belief.

“Domestic violence can cause an adverse ripple effect on the emotional and psychological state of a domestic violence survivor,” according to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, depression and anxiety are often ignited by domestic violence and/or other severe forms of abuse.”

This emotional impact is insidious. Domestic violence can lead to a chronic state of PTSD. Being abused by someone who should be trustworthy and loving leads many women to feel abandoned, betrayed and unlovable. Depression is by far the most common symptom of domestic violence, and it’s also one of the chronic effects of PTSD caused by abuse. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness to which many victims fall prey profoundly undermines their mental and emotional well being.

Dr. Kelsey Hegarty, a professor at the University of Melbourne calls domestic violence the hidden epidemic associated with mental illness. Depression has long been recognized as one of the more common psychic injuries of battering.

Then there are the children. The trauma of domestic violence has severe and long-lasting psychological, emotional and developmental effects on them. “Families under stress produce children under stress. If a spouse is being abused and there are children in the home, the children are affected by the abuse.”[iii]  Children grow up learning that it’s okay to hurt other people or to let other people hurt them. A third of all children who see their mothers get beaten develop emotional problems. Boys who see their fathers beat their mothers are ten times more likely to be abusive in their adult intimate relationships.[iv]

These negative effects happen even when children are not harmed themselves. Studies show that children who witness violence in the home and children who are abused may display many similar psychological effects.[v] These children are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression, and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying, or cheating. They also are more disobedient at home and at school, and are more likely to have social competence problems.

There are adequate laws in place criminalizing domestic violence. They create a system in which we can work to end it. But laws themselves don’t change the world. We have to change our culture. We have the knowledge to prevent domestic violence and its trickle down effect on families’ total mental and physical wellness. At the same time we can break the cycles of homelessness, poverty, poor school performance and childhood trauma.

Change has to happen on the ground. People must face their suspicions that a friend or family member is a victim and take action. Religious communities can use their relationships with congregates to encourage victims to come forward. We must invest in school programs that teach children what abuse is and how to avoid it. Even more importantly, we have to teach children they are right to “tell” on people who hurt them or make them feel something is wrong. Laws against abuse must be enforced against anyone who exercises it – whether they are celebrities, politicians, law enforcement personnel or the guy down the street stocking shelves or pushing a broom. Then we have to protect victims with more than a simple piece of paper that protection orders can be.

Our laws, programs and generous donors to the cause show that compassion for victims is there. All too often they add up to an approach that spends less on prevention and far more on taking care of the victims after they are hurt.

Ending domestic violence is the answer. The incidence of mental illness will certainly decline and so will the social ills that go with it.


[i] National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Statistics: Any Disorder Among Adults. Retrieved March 5, 2013, from  (retrieved from

[ii] Last full review/revision August 2012 by John G. Gunderson, MD; Lois Choi-Kain, MD.



[v] Jaffe PG, Hurley DJ, Wolfe D. Children’s observations of violence: I. Critical issues in child development and intervention planning. Can J Psychiatry. 1990. 35:466–70.

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The Tent

Maryellen Hess:

This is an inspiring post. If people in general could see how the world looks from other people’s situations we would be so much better for it. It is common for homeless people to lose their friends, especially if they have a mental illness or addiction.

The value in building new social networks for people who are already isolated and deal with the disrespect of others cannot be overstated. We all need a support group. Kudos to tjmcfee for pointing this out!

Originally posted on brainsections:

Unfortunately, living in a tent in my city is seen as a terrible crime that must be eradicated by force, if necessary. I, on the other hand, see it as a positive sign. Tents clustered together shows a sign of community and support (maybe that is why it is so threating to some). The homeless nomads that drift to and from and sleep in doorways, more often then not, have some form of mental illness that keeps them from connecting to others and forming friendships. Some DSM terms such as “quiet form schizophrenia”, “attachment disorder”, etc. describes them. They have given up on people as a whole and keep to themselves. Not sharing their suffering until they die a victim of it.

That is why seeing a cluster of tents in a park or along a street is a sign of hope to me. Yes, I did say hope. These people are struggling , but…

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