Homeless News of the Month (Plus Booky Updates!)

Photo credit: Amy Norris; eightsixty9.com

Hi everybody!

Whew, work is keeping me hopping lately! BUT, there were several news tidbits lately that really struck me and that I wanted to share with you guys:

I’m gonna start off with the article that made my blood boil (that way I can finish up on a positive note with some more uplifting stories):

Five homeless people have died as members of the “control group” (very lab rat terminology) of a $110 million study funded by the Canadian government:

Like police detectives, Michelle Patterson’s group of interviewers scour city streets, homeless shelters and churches on the hunt for some of society’s most downtrodden.

But rather than hunting for suspects, Patterson’s team follows clues to track down 200 people who make up the control group for an ambitious national housing study.

Interviewers with the At-Home project have ended up in hospital rooms, jail cells and even the morgue in their efforts to locate control group participants in Vancouver’s $30-million study into housing the mentally ill. Five have died since the study began just over a year ago.

Three hundred other study participants are provided a roof and assistance through the project. But the 200 members of the TAU (Treatment As Usual) control group are only monitored by project staff.

They are not offered any housing or support services, said Patterson, co-investigator of Vancouver’s arm of the study and a clinical psychologist who does research at Simon Fraser University.

This raises some vexing moral questions.

All of the potential study participants were identified as needy. And yet only some are receiving help.

But without the control group, researchers could not prove whether advancements in the health and stability of those given housing resulted from the project.

So:  We need to spend $300 million dollars (and the lives of 5 people so far), to prove that a homeless person is better off with shelter than without.


Of the 500 participants in the survey, 300 are housed and provided with support services; 200 are left as the “control group” and given absolutely nothing.  Nada.  No help whatsoever.  300 participants were identified as having high needs, 200 as having moderate needs.  OK, so if you can only afford to help 300, and you absolutely have to pick who to help, you’d suppose they’d aim for the ones with high needs, right?

Except no.  It’s all done randomly, by lottery.  Which means a good chunk of those with the highest needs are being turned right back out there onto the street.

Oh, but I should clarify.  They don’t get nothing.  They’re given a one-time “honorarium” of a whole $30 in exchange for being tracked down and answering questions about how much their life still sucks every 3 months.  Lovely.

So yeah, to reiterate:  Dangle the carrot of “hey, we might give you a home!” and then instead go, “oops, sorry bro, you didn’t make the cut.  Here’s your $30!  But hey, it’s for science!  So thanks a lot!  Buy yourself a cup of coffee and a hot meal.”

“We have got to know people, and it’s difficult for our field staff,” said Patterson, who has been involved in other research projects involving this vulnerable population.

Oh, yeah.  I bet it’s been really tough on your staff.  You know who else I bet it’s been tough on?  The people who died on the street because you handed them $30 and sent them on their not-so-merry way, without actually helping them at all.

The study is ongoing until March 13th, 2013.  So fear not, there’s a good two years yet for plenty more of their “control group” to die off, thus proving their theory, that housing really does help homeless people.  Unbelievable.


* * * * *


On a higher note, happy stories!

A friend sent me this – please watch tonight’s episode of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel – the network has teamed up with the 100,000 Homes Campaign to help house homeless Americans. The Travel Channel has committed to donate 10 cents for every viewer who watches the March 1 San Francisco episode – up to $100,000 – to the 100,000 Homes Campaign, in addition to other donated marketing efforts to promote awareness.  The episode airs tonight at 9 p.m. E/P.

Twitter helps a homeless man reunite with his daughter! Social media has become such a force for good in helping the homeless, and connecting them with the outside world.  This story gave me the warm fuzzies.

Miss Colorado has come out and spoken to the media this week about being laid off from her job, evicted, and how she is currently homeless with her mother.  She remains optimistic, however, and plans to compete at the Miss America pageant in June.  I wish her all the best.


* * * * *


Personal news:  I am holding in my hand an Advance Reader’s Copy of The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness, and it feels kind of awesome and surreal and dizzying all at once.  ARC’s were sent out a week ago and I’ve been getting back some super-kind, positive emails from so many lovely people all over the country (and even one in the Netherlands!), telling me how much they enjoyed it or that it moved them, as well as relating their personal stories and why the book connected.  (No negative reviews yet, luckily, but I’m sure they’ll come at some point, so I’ll enjoy this while it lasts!)

I’m so dumbfounded and awestruck that the book really has touched people already, and grateful for the advance feedback.  So please know, if you’re one of those people that emailed me, I thank you!  It means the world to me.  Also, absolutely feel free to leave a review on Goodreads as I’m sure it would help spread the word!

If you’ve already read the book and I haven’t heard from you yet, I would love to – so please drop me a line!  info@girlsguidetohomelessness.com.  If you work at a bookstore or in the media and are interested in scheduling a book signing, public speaking engagement, or interview, the contact info for Shara Alexander, who is booking all of that, is here.  If you write for a blog, newspaper, or magazine and would like an ARC so you can do a book review, she would be the person to contact about that, too.

Also, you may have noticed a new tab up in the top-right corner of the site – the book is up for preorder!  So far I have three retailers up there (Amazon, Borders, and IndieBound).  It’s available from more (i.e., Barnes & Noble, Indigo-Chapters in Canada, etc.) but I’m still waiting to be approved for their affiliate programs so I can put up a link…however, it’s already up for pre-order from all of them, so just search for my name on their websites if they’re your preferred retailers).

Thank you again for your support!  I love you all; I’m so excited for the book launch, and I know this would never have been possible without my friends and readers.



  1. B (a different one) says:

    Whoa, girl! It’s generally wise to suspect newspapers’ reports of scientific studies.

    The fact that the control group is only monitored by project staff does *not* result in the (mis-reported, I am almost certain) statement that they “are not offered any housing or support services”. My guess is that the control group has continued access to the support and services that the general population of homeless are offered. This study sounds like it’s offering to the 300 services above and beyond what is generally offered, in an effort to demonstrate to the Canadian government that it would be in their best interests to offer these benefits to *all* the homeless. (Actually, I read her paper on-line and she does specifically mention “Severe Addition and Mental Illness”).

    Sure I feel bad for the 200 who don’t get the extra housing and support … and I feel equally bad for the thousands of homeless in Canada and here who don’t get the extra housing and support. But this study is an attempt to improve the situation. I think you were a bit unfair about it!

    • Hi, other B! Thank you for your comment. I appreciate participation, even if it’s dissent.

      Michelle Patterson, the co-investigator and clinical psychologist who monitors the “control group” by tracking them down every three months to ask them questions, was the one who stated in the article that “They are not offered any housing or support services”.

      The project coordinator, Catherine Hume, further stated that as far as the five deaths go, “in those cases, we’re not convinced that we’re doing everything we could.”

      And again, those with the highest needs are not necessarily the ones offered housing and support. It’s done by lottery. Which means some of the worst off are turned back out onto the streets with $30 in their pockets.

      Would those people still be homeless if the survey weren’t done at all? Sure. But they also wouldn’t have the hope of help dangled in front of them and then snatched away in exchange for 30 bucks. It’s not right to view fragile human beings as lab rats in a scientific experiment. And all to prove what – that housing is beneficial? Well, duh.

      To me, the whole thing smacks of poverty pimping. Nobody has to agree with me, of course. But that’s the overwhelming impression I’m getting.

      • I’m not familiar with this study, but I can speak from personal experience that -nothing- is more damaging to someone who is already homeless than to give them hope and snatch it away. Three years ago I was homeless. I won’t lie, it was due to some stupid mistakes on my part, But I can distinctly remember times where I was given the promise of aid, help, or even a roof and a blanket only to be told that I didn’t qualify because A. I had family in the state B. I had no proof of mental illness C.I had no drug addictions D. I had no criminal record… the list goes on and on. Nothing makes you want to give up more than hearing “We can help . . . but we aren’t going to” If you asked me, Those five deaths may well have been triggered by the study. As someone who lived a year homeless, and dug their way out of it (and may be looking at it again… gotta love the delicate balance of not knowing if you’ll have a job last the week ) without help, I have to (reluctantly) say that at least in my case, I’d have been better off without the offer of help rather then the offer and subsequent retraction.

        I will say something else though. Being someone who’s been homeless and has a repeat more or less constantly in the background of my mind, seeing your success gives me some hope. I plan on picking up your book if I can scrape up some extra money :-)

      • I have to agree with B on this one – the study author may state “They are not offered any housing or support services” – but I interpret that to mean that her program specifically does not offer those 200 housing or support services. But the study cannot deny anyone the social services available to the population at large (such services are never adequate, unfortunately).

        My understanding is that the study is providing more comprehensive services than the usual social services provided in Canada and the study is trying to prove the effectiveness of doing so (unfortunately you have to prove such things if you want a conservative government to fund it).

        Which is not to say the study doesn’t have the cruel aspect of giving people hope of proper support and help and then not giving it to 200 people – but is giving it to 300 people, which is more than if the study hadn’t existed at all, sadly.

  2. Mary McK says:

    Keep making the miracles happen….for you and for others!

  3. Bri: you look fantastic! Looks like things are definitely going well for you! So happy!
    Unfortunately, I think that with the economy continuing to tumble (despite other reports) we will see a rise in homelessness and there will be no funding to help at all. I recently read the stats on the numbers of American families living in poverty and they have increased dramatically in the past few years. It is now the highest rate since the 1960′s when the “War on Poverty” was declared.

    I have been lucky this past year to have the RV camper and friends and family to put me up. Still haven’t found work and it is hard at my age as it seems companies don’t want people in their 50′s. But enough of that.

    Glad to see the book out! How exciting!

    Please keep us posted here on how it is going. I always look forward to your updates.


  4. MerryCurie says:

    The abuse of vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, for medical research is one of the things that the Nuremberg Code was supposed to prevent. I apologize on behalf of my fellow scientists who appear to have fallen so far away from their moral compass.

    Also, I’ve preordered your book and can’t wait to receive it! Keep fighting girl!


  5. Jim Reeve says:

    Hi Bri, I am one of your newest reader admirers, having just become acquainted with you thanks to a link on http://rvtravel.com/issue471.shtml and then finding this blog. My sincere compliments on your book. I just clicked the link on Amazon’s website asking your publisher to make your book available on Amazon Kindle.

    • Hi Jim,

      That’s so kind of you! Thanks for stopping in and dropping a line :) I believe they do plan on releasing the book for the Kindle/Nook/etc. I’m not sure yet if it’ll be released simultaneously with the print edition or later, but I’m meeting with my publisher tomorrow so I’ll try to find out if they know anything about that yet!

      Thank you again!!!

  6. I’m a 50 year old male and have been homeless 3 times 78,83,and 89 each for 4 months or less. I bought your book at walmart and was suprised at the level of thought that you had seem to have at a time I only remenber feeling guilty. I have a 15 yr old girl and a 21 yr old boy and a 27 yr old girl they will all get to read your book. Thanks for open the eyes of so many. Joe

    • Joe, that is an amazing email in just a few sentences. Glad to see you continually help yourself out of tough situations.

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