HOMELESSNESS / IS THERE A BETTER WAY?
I sit in my warm and comfortable home, peacefully looking out the window and over our city. It is cold outside; the temperature is about 5 degrees Celsius. It is black and overcast, the darkness hiding the imperfections and the 6,000-odd people who are homeless.
Amazing, they seem to disappear at night, finding and clinging on to places to keep warm and sleep. Cardboard for a mattress piled on with old clothes, they huddle where they can to try to sleep and be warm.
Yes, there are some that make it to homeless shelters. All one has to do is drive to the centre of the city before 10 PM and see the lineups to get in.
Back to sitting here in my warm and comfortable apartment. That got me thinking there must be a better way.
Can We Force People to Move?
It struck me; “Can we force people to move?” I want to give you two opposing views after working with marginalized First Nations for more than 20 years. Although, this article is not about First Nation people, their views about connectivity to the land bear relevance to my thesis.
Me as the “White Guy.” I do not have any strong affiliation with where I came from, how I got to where I am, or where I might go. I have no burning desire to uproot myself and move “back home.” I do not profess to have a “back home.” I do profess to have a home where I live with my family. The location is dependent upon being able to achieve economic and social objectives; it is not dependent upon any historical upbringing.
First Nation People First Nations peoples have a special relationship with the earth and all living things in it. This relationship is based on a profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guided indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility, and reciprocity. First Nation people live where they live because that is their home and the tie that binds them is unbelievably strong. Force them to move somewhere else and they do all they can to go back to what is comfortable and what is theirs.
Homeless People A case in point; how many times and how much money has been spent trying to convince people who are homeless in the downtown east side to move somewhere else? The downtown east side is their home. It provides things they know. It is comfortable for them. I do not mean “comfortable” in the way I have it, but for them, they are comfortable in their downtown east side surroundings. They understand it, they are tied to it, and there, they know how to survive. There is no question that forced mobilization does not and will not work. In Vancouver, there was an attempt to get the people living in street tent communities, to move out. Struggles ensued, people with so little lost so much and today, they are back. Forced out, they moved back. Reflecting on my work with First Nations and the similarities with the people in the downtown east side, I began to question if there is a better way. With the discussion below, many people are going to say “No Way Jose.” Just like NIMBY’s and people who complain but never offer solutions, there are those that will do their best to come up with excuses as to “why not.” I heard a good one the other day; a person said, if we tried to do “x, y, and Z,” even though many thought a good idea, it would be contrary to city by-laws. So, don’t just stop the world to get off; figure out what is required to effectively address the issue and change the bylaw. A good example is the work done to decriminalize drugs in Britsh Columbia.
Is there A Better Way?
There has to be a better way. Dehumanizing, disrespectful and costly just begin to describe the attempts at the forced movement of the homeless in the downtown east side. Why would we think it is OK for a marginalized group of people to be forced to move?
We lump them all together, we treat them all the same and we try to force them all to move.
Does moving the homeless help them? Or does it give us a sense of power, management and control based upon some vein excuse for safety and to put the challenge into someone else’s backyard?
The City, bless their souls, stuck the Fire Chief in the middle, getting him to write up a bylaw infraction that the camp in the city centre was unsafe. In swooped the police. Lives, belongings and any sense of any building relationships were destroyed.
Forcibly moved out, the homeless people moved back. Today, they are right back where they were before all this began. There has to be a better way.
A Better Way
Turn convention on its head. Interesting, I am struggling with Type 2 diabetes. The convention suggests one way for a diabetes diet to lower blood sugar. It has not worked for me.
Fortunately, I found a diabetes treatment that turned most of what convention suggests on its head. For me, with some tweaks, it is working. I was able to look at my problem through a different lens and arrive at a solution outside of convention. That is where we must get to with the homeless challenge in Vancouver.
Traditional methods have not worked; time for a change to look at ways to turn convention on its head.
The past included organizing the forced movement of homeless people to some other place. There was no consideration for social, mental health, and physical differences. Everyone lumped in as the same and at a most basic level, we know that is not true.
Any planning and action built upon the premise of “sameness” is doomed for failure and fail it did. The homeless people are back in the same place.
The Present Let’s look at this issue through a different lens. Consider this:
We are attempting to move the homeless because we want to move them -the reason is not important. Put this convention on its head.
We accept that safe living conditions can be satisfied by moving the homeless. Accept that safe living conditions can be achieved by having a homeless shelter in the same place. It may just take some new thinking and work.
BC Housing presently provides year-round, temporary and emergency shelters. Within this context let’s start to solve the issues that would allow the homeless to shelter in place where they are comfortable to live.
Some may suggest the situation in the downtown east side is a fire hazard – remember the fire chief being used as a pawn? Forced movement of people into other structures does not eliminate the problem. It only moves it. Here are a few issues to address without a “cannot do:”
What is required and what can be done to make the area of the camps in the downtown east side safe from fire?
What about garbage? Does anyone see garbage bins in accessible locations for their garbage?
Where are the water and sanitary systems? Those systems are put up and taken down every day at construction sites, farmers’ markets and many other locations. Why not at the homeless camps?
What about street and sidewalk daily cleanup? Bless their soul. I just read that the City is allocating $2.5 million to hire homeless people for street cleanup this coming year! Now, that is progress – let’s solve the rest of the challenges seen to allow the people to comfortably shelter in place.
That gives the idea for changing convention on its head. And I am sure there are those that still look at this issue through a negative lens. In response, I would ask one question; “anything that comes up with a negative, why can it not be done?” We can put a man on the moon, and people on their way to Mars. We can build self-driving cars, but we cannot solve simple challenges to allow homeless people some dignity and the right to shelter in place?
The homeless camps in the downtown east side of Vancouver are more than sad to see. In British Columbia, more than 6,000 people face extreme living conditions every day. What has happened to address homelessness in the past has not worked and it is time to take a different approach. An approach that turns convention on its head by solving the challenges so that the homeless can live where they want to live, not where we want to attempt to force them to live. Force them to move and they will move back.
Best wishes from Damndiabetes.ca. Valentine's is fast approaching and time to consider a little love and tenderness by supporting the needs of the folks facing homelessness.
Wayne Drury has more than 40 years of business experience including 15 years as CAO for a large First Nation and CEO for a First Nation Corporate Group and forest company. He retired in 2015 but was quickly asked to reconsider to assist a First Nation group.
Today, Drury focuses on First Nation community social and economic development and administration, as well as, content, business and other writing services, including grant-writing for First Nation communities, where his success ratio is in excess of 98 percent.
If you are looking for the Professional’s Choice for writing services, please call Wayne Drury directly at (604) 788 7261 or contact him by email at email@example.com.