Not a house to live in

Lana
Lana Payne
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Playwright Lillian Hellman wrote that "cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth."
And as the British Columbia government works on a new law to force homeless people into shelters this winter, there is plenty room for unpleasant truths.
As thousands and thousands of people from around the globe make travel plans for Vancouver in order to take in the 2010 Olympics, the government of British Columbia is also making plans - plans to hide their embarrassing homeless problem.
It's difficult not to view the B.C. government's proposed new law to force homeless women and men into shelters during extreme weather conditions this winter with anything other than cynicism.

Government says it's not about Olympics
Rich Coleman is B.C.'s minister for housing. He says the law being drafted by provincial lawyers has nothing to do with the Olympics, but is rather in response to the death last December of a homeless woman. The woman, Tracey, died after refusing to be taken to a homeless shelter. She burned to death trying to keep warm with a candle.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is not happy with the proposed new law. They say homeless men and women who resist going with police to a shelter could end up being arrested for no other reason than they are homeless.
The association also points out that the law will likely be unconstitutional, but, with the time it would take to challenge the legislation, the Olympics will be over and the government will no longer have any need to hide the homeless from the world. The world will have gone home.

Growing problem
The truth is, Canada has lots to be embarrassed about.
As one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, there is no excuse for the fact that tens of thousands of Canadian citizens do not have a home.
Instead of hiding the homeless in temporary shelters, and drafting laws to ensure that happens, perhaps governments should turn their attention to the real problem - the lack of affordable social housing.
J. David Hulchanski, the director of the Centre for Urban and Community Studies at the University of Toronto, calls Canada's growing homelessness "the great unresolved political and social problem of our time."
And it is a growing problem. British Columbia has, according to the ministry of housing, about 5,500 homeless citizens. Critics say it is much higher than that. A report done in 2007 for the government by several university researchers found that there are more than 15,000 homeless people in British Columbia.

British Columbia not alone
But British Columbia is not the only province where people go homeless. There are others where people living on the streets, huddling near grates to keep warm in 40-below temperatures or, as we have seen in our own province, living in tents because no housing is available.
According to Raising the Roof, a national organization dedicated to ending homelessness, there are different types of homelessness or houselessness: absolute houselessness refers to people who are "sleeping rough," who use public or private shelters, sleep on the street or in places not meant for human habitation; concealed houselessness involves people who are houseless, but are temporarily staying with friends or family; and at-risk houselessness refers to those at grave risk of losing their housing.
According to Hulchanski, debating what has caused the dramatic increase in the number of people without housing is a waste of time. "Access to housing is still the first step in dealing with the problem."
In other words, don't judge people, help them.
Helping could come in the form of a national housing strategy with concrete actions.
Helping is not a law designed to hide the homeless from the glare of the international media. Helping is listening to the experts in this field. Helping is a real home, not a shelter bed.
Instead, Canada's persistent failure to deal with homelessness or poverty is nothing short of a disgrace.
Just this month, the Conference Board of Canada released its annual ranking of Canada with respect to a number of society indicators.
Poverty rates in Canada, the Board said, are among the worst of 17 leading developed countries. With respect to poverty, Canada ranked 15 of 17 - a D grade - because of the high number of poor working-aged people.

Going backwards
Anne Golden, president and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada, says considering how wealthy Canada is, these rates of poverty are unacceptable. "Not only are we not making progress, we are losing ground."
Golden knows a little about this topic.
In 1999, she headed a mayor's task force on homelessness for Toronto. At that time the task force report said: "Prevention and long-term approaches must replace the reactive, emergency responses to homelessness that we have relied on to date … (and) everyone, including all three levels of government, must
take ownership of the problem and responsibility for solving it."
Since 1999 when Golden and her task force members submitted this report, homelessness in Canada has steadily gotten worse.

Measuring our society
Several years ago, John Ralston Saul, a leading Canadian writer and thinker, said that such levels of poverty as we have in Canada, and a lack of affordable and supportive housing, undermine our society. "You cannot have a democracy which functions on the legitimacy of the citizenry and then have citizens eliminated from that society by their condition. Citizenship implies inclusivity. The true reflection of ourselves, of our society, is the one among us who has the least. That is the bar by which we must measure ourselves, our own success, that of our society."
Perhaps we can all think about that during next year's Olympics.


Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com.
Her column returns Oct. 10.

Organizations: B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Centre for Urban, University of Toronto Conference Board of Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Federation

Geographic location: British Columbia, Canada, B.C. Vancouver Toronto

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  • mary ann
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    As far as I know Tracy did not want to leave her shopping cart which had all her belongings and the existing shelters at the time did not allow homeless people bring their carts into the shelters.
    The other inhumane thing was when the city opened shelters to accomodate carts and pets, a
    group of condo dwellers nearby targeted the homeless even to throwing bags of feces down on the shelters with a note which was hate filled
    and despicable towards the shelter residents..think about that as a reflection of the society we have become.

  • Shirley
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    While your at it Lana why dont you list lack of action by the Danny Williams Dictatorship. This tyrant makes even Harper look good.

  • mary ann
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    As far as I know Tracy did not want to leave her shopping cart which had all her belongings and the existing shelters at the time did not allow homeless people bring their carts into the shelters.
    The other inhumane thing was when the city opened shelters to accomodate carts and pets, a
    group of condo dwellers nearby targeted the homeless even to throwing bags of feces down on the shelters with a note which was hate filled
    and despicable towards the shelter residents..think about that as a reflection of the society we have become.

  • Shirley
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    While your at it Lana why dont you list lack of action by the Danny Williams Dictatorship. This tyrant makes even Harper look good.