Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Court decision on homeless 'camping' is ticket to real change

So now people can sleep in our city parks, but have to be gone first thing in the morning. Hope somebody at city hall is developing a Plan B, because I sure don’t see that 7 a.m.-curfew stuff working out to anybody’s satisfaction for very long.
Here’s the thing about last week’s B.C. Supreme Court judgment that brought us to this point: It’s one of the most powerful tools to emerge so far as a means of ending homelessness.
Dealing with our problems requires political will, which in turn requires community outrage. The spectre of hundreds of people sleeping in our parks every night - even if rousted by 7 a.m. - will quickly generate all the outrage we need to get this ball rolling at long last. In fact, it has already wrested 85 new beds out of the province, none of which had even been hinted at until the judgment came down.
B.C.’s highest court essentially ruled that because there aren’t nearly enough shelter beds for everyone on our streets, the people who have to spend the night outside have the right to put a tarp over their heads while they’re sleeping. Hardly an extreme position to take.
A smart city would respond to such a ruling by using it to bully and push other levels of government into compliance around making things happen on the homeless front. A stop-gap bylaw that misses the point of the judgment won’t get us far.
With municipal elections coming up next month and a provincial election in the spring, hold your representatives accountable for what they’re going to do about homelessness. I’ve put a few questions on my blog at http://closer-look.blogspot.com that I think are important to ask.
An enormous thanks to all the people who responded to my Oct. 3 column by donating goods and volunteer time to a big gathering we put on for the street community last week.
We saw more than 500 people through the door at the region’s first-ever Project Connect, which I organized on behalf of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. In my column I’d asked readers to help us by volunteering their time and buying some of the goods for the 500 “survival packs” we wanted to hand out at the end of the day.
You came through in every possible way. We ended up with an abundance of everything, including that most precious of commodities: People’s time. You donated socks, gloves, personal products, rain ponchos, blankets, thermal shirts, hats and more, but more importantly you gave us your time to ensure we’d be able to pull the whole thing off.
More than 120 people volunteered that day and in the intense week leading up to the event. I can’t thank them enough for their help, and hope in turn that the gift the event gave them was the chance to meet - with open hearts - the very interesting and often heartwrenching people stuck in the middle of this thing we call “homelessness.”
(Visit http://streetstories.blip.tv for Christopher Bower’s moving video vignettes of some of the people on hand that day.)
Thanks as well to the two dozen-plus service agencies and professionals who showed up that day to help people in whatever way they could. We saw an impressive array of services delivered in a single room on a single day. A standing ovation to Gordon Fry and the Capital Lions Club in particular, who served up 1,000 burgers and 500 dogs with astounding efficiency.
It was still just one day, of course, and one day does not a solution make. But what I witnessed that day was a new way of doing business in terms of service delivery, and a powerful way to bring together the mainstream and street communities to work together on addressing the many problems at the root of modern-day homelessness.
We’ll do it again sometime soon, and hopefully again and again. When the day comes that we actually have housing to offer people, a Connect event will be a great way to make that happen. In the meantime, we’re really going to have to build, renovate and hang onto any and all cheap forms of housing, because we simply don’t have anywhere near enough of it to meet the need.
For those who made it happen last week, thanks for a magical day. A special thanks to the street community for their respectful participation, and willingness to share their stories one more time in the hope of bringing about real change.

1 comment:

mikemathew said...

This year is set to see more actions, protest camps and efforts to bring the real agenda of slashing energy use, pollution, consumption, goods transportation etc etc further into mainstream debate. where the court has decided to safe guard the whole city and the court has been a powerful tool to emerge the police. The complies has been taken and the right decision is been done by the court according to the law.


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