Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jan. 25, 2008
Now's time to push door wide open on homelessness

They say that the darkest hours are just before the dawn. Boy, I hope so.
I’m essentially an optimist. But 26 years in journalism has also immersed me in the real world, where happy endings are far from a given. I now consider myself a pessimistic optimist - still hopeful, but all too aware of this world’s frailties.
In terms of homelessness, I admit to having wondered in the last couple of years just how dark things would have to get before something finally happened. Pretty damn dark, as it turns out.
But is that a sliver of light I see on the horizon? This week, for instance, the province announced new money to house and shelter 170 people living on or near the streets in Victoria. I’m also hearing good things about BC Housing - that the Crown corporation is working hard to get some action going around new housing.
Not that it’s the dawn of a new day or anything quite so dramatic as that. But I do get the feeling we’re starting to notice we’ve got a full-blown provincial emergency on our hands, and that maybe it’s time to start treating homelessness like the disaster that it is.
News of more housing is a welcome development. So is word that the Vancouver Island Health Authority has created specialized outreach teams, which have proven their worth several times over in cities that have launched them.
Money from the business sector is flowing into a number of important social initiatives in the downtown. Other municipalities in the region are joining the struggle, an acknowledgement that the crisis simply can’t be borne by the City of Victoria alone. I’m hearing talk of a few more detox beds.
Still, without raining on anyone’s parade, it’s vital to recognize that we’ve barely begun.
This week’s housing announcement provides roughly a tenth of what’s actually needed to put a roof over the heads of all 1,500 people on our streets. It does nothing to stem the flow of a couple hundred or more new adults and children to the streets every year, because what fixes that is more help and support for people long before they make that final fall to the street.
Some have tried to frame homelessness as a political issue, but in fact B.C.’s problems exemplify that homelessness can happen under any party’s watch. Here in B.C., it took root under the Socreds, gained ground under the New Democrats, and blossomed like a bad weed under the Liberals.
So we needn’t waste any more time pointing fingers, and we certainly shouldn’t be waiting for an election to solve anything. What we need to do now is get on with it.
Hospitals were closed. Cheap housing was no longer built. Welfare benefits were slashed to the bone. Children with a lifetime of problems were pushed out into the world with no support. Governments got out of the business of helping citizens without even considering the long-term impact of withdrawing care from those who needed it.
In short, the country got leaner and meaner, and the gaps got wider for people who weren’t able to keep up. Now, we’re in a very bad way. We’re going to have to act boldly - like we would if 1,500 people in our community suddenly ended up homeless.
If an earthquake were to put that many people out of their homes, we’d be opening up the schools and filling up the empty buildings in a heartbeat. Why aren’t we? How is it we can contemplate a string of Atco trailers as temporary housing for Whistler employees during the Olympics, yet be unwilling to do the same just as readily for people living on our streets?
Announcements like the one this week would have to be happening weekly for the next two months just to house the people who are currently living on our streets. So we also need to go big. Our actions need to match the size of the problem - and it’s significant.
The time is now. We’ve got a city mayor on his way out who will want to leave a legacy. We’ve got a buzz coming out of the ongoing efforts of the Mayor’s Task Force, and a lot of smart business types moving in on the scene.
The provincial government wants things to be nice for the Olympics. The feds are way overdue to do something great for B.C. In short, the stars have aligned.
Push, people. I’ve put together contact information on this issue for all levels of government that makes for easy letter-writing - you can find it here on my blog in the post just below this one.


Anonymous said...

Another great post! has chosen this blog article as one of the top articles in Vancouver for January 28, 2008. The VancouverIAM Daily Blog Review can be found on and

Keep up the good work

Ian Lidster said...

You really have the essence of it Jody, and it applies in the Comox Valley as much as Victoria. Good stuff.
Oh, and congrats on the previous blog comment info.