Dignity, Inclusivity and Respect: Communicating with Diverse Members of our Community
Updated: Mar 9
"A healthy, economically robust and vibrant community does not treat some of its members as having less value than others. Even the smallest positive contribution we can make as we engage with others can serve to make our community better."
Many people in our community are currently struggling with complex issues such as poverty, mental health and addiction. Unfortunately many are, to varying degrees, disengaged from health and social services. A serious housing crisis and the onset of colder weather means many of our community members' lives are at risk.
Stigma (often amplified in smaller communities) and discrimination serve to dehumanize individuals who are experiencing these types of issues. Knowing the root causes (poverty, trauma, racism, the effects of colonization, to name only a few) leads to an understanding of the harsh realities of vulnerable individuals and the very limited choices they have.
The Barrie community’s support for people and businesses in the downtown core is sorely lacking. If the goal is to have a city that is safe and inclusive to all our community members, then we need to reject the often proposed solution that a stronger police presence is the solution. Evidence has shown that this is not an effective strategy for dealing with issues that may arise amongst community members and businesses. In a number of Ontario cities similar to ours there are initiatives in place that have peer outreach workers responding to most of the situations that arise. The trend is towards a more positive outcome for all involved in comparison to a police response. The outreach workers provide training and support for businesses and demonstrate to the general public effective ways of communicating with vulnerable individuals. The workers also engage with vulnerable persons to facilitate connections to the services they may need. Check out welcomingstreetsguelph.com
It is important to remember that any one of us can fall on hard times. Unemployment, an unexpected illness or accident, or a traumatic event can cause our savings to be quickly depleted. Most of our community members are only a couple of paycheques away from being unable to pay rent, pay the mortgage and put food on the table.
When we encounter someone on the street we do not know their story. Making assumptions about an individual can not only hamper effective meaningful communication, it can make what might have started as a minor disturbance escalate into something that results in a negative experience for all involved. Shouldn’t our goal in communicating with others result in less harm not more?
There are many evidence based resources for effectively communicating with persons who may be struggling with homelessness, mental health challenges and addiction. How we communicate with someone can affect whether a situation escalates or defuses. These strategies are often useful for communicating with anyone we may encounter. Check out CAMH.ca and ontarioharmreductionnetwork.org
If you feel someone is being disruptive, calmly introduce yourself. If there are others around, look to see if you can move to a more private area while keeping your safety in mind and respecting personal space. Or if that is not possible, keep your tone lower to facilitate some level of privacy. Discussing the issue so that others around can hear can result in defensiveness, embarrassment and/or shame. Feelings all too familiar to individuals who have been stigmatized and discriminated against. Keep your tone and body neutral. Take time to listen to the person. Be empathetic and nonjudgmental. Boundaries are important to establish. No one should accept abusive or threatening behaviour. Sometimes a mutual understanding is not possible. Calmly remove yourself from the situation if this is the case.
A healthy, economically robust and vibrant community does not treat some of its members as having less value than others. Even the smallest positive contribution we can make as we engage with others can serve to make our community better.
Engage Barrie Organization encourages our members and guests to contribute blog posts on a variety of topics that fall under our "equitable, empowered, engaged" umbrella, in the hopes of sharing a variety of perspectives and experiences. Please be aware that the views and opinions expressed by our blog contributors do not necessarily reflect any official position of Engage Barrie Organization.