What the homeless need – Guest Blog by: Nigel Kirk

What the homeless need – Guest Blog by: Nigel Kirk

Guest Blog Author: Nigel Kirk
March 23, 2018
[email protected]

Hello readers! My name is Nigel. I work on homelessness. I’m not a front-line worker. I’m not a service provider. I’m not a social worker. I’m a guy who used to be homeless, and I focus on human rights and homelessness. The first thought that comes to mind when I mention this is usually: “Oh, so you advocate for affordable housing?” Yes and no. While I do agree we need affordable housing because homeless communities are in crisis, I think just addressing homelessness at a housing level doesn’t deal with the fact we are living in a broken society.

Of course, I’m all in favor of providing safe, adequate and affordable housing to homeless communities, but there are more systemic issues at place. One thing that impacted me when I was on the streets was how the homeless community was treated. I’ve been spat on, assaulted, told to die, refused service at restaurants (even when I had the money). I was given the runaround when trying to vote. I’ve been kicked out of restaurants that did serve me by police officers. I was completely sober. My only crime was being homeless. This is a regular occurrence for many. The idea that the homeless community faces direct systemic discrimination is often foreign to many. It’s not so much that society denies the discrimination exists. It’s just that it’s always been so acceptable and even encouraged to openly and brazenly target the homeless for discrimination. The idea that we have to earn to the right to vote, order food, peacefully hang out in a park, it all seems foreign to us, but as we pass laws to make buildings and businesses more accessible, we simultaneously pass laws to exclude the homeless and prevent them from accessing public places. I don’t like to consider myself an advocate, not in the traditional sense. I consider myself an “engager.” Along with peers at Poverty Talks, and the Client Action Committee, I engage. I engage the homeless community to keep on top of what’s happening to them on the streets. I also engage the public. I engage individuals, such as you who is reading the article, I engage schools and children, I engage politicians and policy makers, and I engage community organizations and service providers. All to ensure that we remember that human lives should be treated like human beings, because if we treat them like a monster while they are on the streets, how do we expect them to maintain a home? Besides, saying housing is a human right is one thing, but if we’re actively admitting the homeless don’t deserve rights, then what good is affordable adequate and safe housing as a right?

What can you do? First, just treat the homeless better if you haven’t done so already. For decades Calgary has had a social policy geared towards making the homeless invisible. You can do the opposite. Smile more. Or even a small nod acknowledging their existence if you see someone who may be homeless. You don’t need to talk at length or anything. Just a little acknowledgement that we exist. Secondly, get involved. Talk to your school or your children’s school about inviting someone who has been homeless to speak to the class. This might seem scary at first, but a bit of prep between the teacher and the speaker beforehand should help ensure that the message is appropriate to children of that grade. If your place of business is doing a fundraising campaign for a service provider, invite someone from the streets to participate in a campaign event. Thirdly, call your MLA and your MP and demand that social condition – including homelessness, be considered grounds for discrimination in all human rights legislation. Together, when we actively engage each other and learn from one another, we can create a world where Dignity is not tied to a set of keys.

Written by: Nigel Kirk for BeTheChangeYYC Blog

Nigel Kirk Twitter:


  1. Shauna

    Hi I have to say that this group yycbethechange is such an amazing of people that have come together to help the unforunate people of our city.
    They are so warm and compasionate to the needs weather they need food. Shelter help information on were to go to get some extra help. I have watched them sit and lisen to there story or a problem thats uosetting to them at that time.They have such compaion its so wonderful to see with such hard times upon us all at this time. Once week they gather together to serve up a warm wonder meal . This city has such a woderful group like yycbethechange this can change. Thank from me to the wonderful people in this group.

  2. Chaz Smith

    Great post Nigel. Love what you wrote, especially how you went into the systematic errors that cause and contribute to homelessness in our communities. Very well put!

  3. Jalisa Krause

    Very well written, I go out of my way sometimes to say hello to the people I have met while helping the homeless. Just the other day, I ran into a man downtown. It was cool to be able to recognize him and talk for a minute. They are just people. Most of them don’t mean any harm 🙂

  4. Krista

    Vulnerability is the biggest measure of courage and Nigel, you are very courageous! Sharing your own personal journey is powerful!

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