Not all homeless people are 'beyond hope'
Re: Mayor Corrigan has his say on the homeless shelter issue (Column, NewsLeader, Feb. 1)
I agree with the mayor that there needs to be appropriate places for people residing in a shelter to go in the long term.
But I suspect we have different understandings of what a “permanent shelter” is. My understanding of “permanent” is that there is a place to go 365 days a year where people without a place to sleep can get connected with the people and resources they need to get on their feet again. It seems the mayor is using the term to mean a permanent address for those “beyond hope.”
I don’t think the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness shares the mayor’s impression of what a “permanent homeless shelter” would look like, although I suspect such places are often at risk of becoming so.
I respectfully question the notion that the people needing shelter throughout the year are “by and large beyond hope.” Certainly, many potential users of a shelter will be those suffering from a mental illness and the drug addicted, but there are others that often require a safe place to sleep temporarily and need to get connected with services. Specifically, there are the hidden homeless: couch-surfing teens at risk of getting involved in illegal activities, women and children trapped in abusive relationships, the unemployed, seniors on fixed incomes and individuals without families that fall victim to long-term illness. Helping all those who need assistance requires cooperation and trust among a host of service providers which will include the health authority, the police, school district, social workers, non-profit societies, volunteers, business and the community in general.
With regard to the hardest to house, arguably the drug addicted that often have other accompanying issues, we need a plan that first of all gives these individuals an address. An address is a first step to getting connected to social, health and educational services. Ideally, within days of arriving at a shelter, individuals would get connected to the health and social services they require and relocate to a more suitable place in the community to continue their recovery. When ready, an individual would get help connecting with employers in the community and offer their skills in exchange for the dignity of a paycheque. For such a plan to succeed, we need greater cooperation and monitoring at the local level. The city can use its “toolbox” and its land to ensure there is affordable housing, and zoning for supportive housing and other necessary community facilities (including shelter) where appropriate.
A permanent emergency shelter is one piece of a much needed larger strategy to ensure all members of the community have a roof over their heads. No one is interested in repeating the mistakes made in the past, so we need to have an innovative approaches and unprecedented cooperation to help address potential obstacles.
U.S. President Barack Obama asked: Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? This is a question worth pondering in our discussion about homelessness.