A Way Home

EDITORIAL: Before you condemn the homeless, breathe

What we can take away from Finding A Way Home, tales of love and connection on the streets of Abbotsford

Connection is an incredible thing. It’s the very basis of our society. The empathy we feel for others is the gravity that pulls us together.

Whether it’s the love of a spouse, emotional attachment to a pet or a passion for your community, stories of connection are the most human stories.

As social creatures, people are a significant source of our own self-esteem. Consider laughter, such a powerful impulse: When we laugh, we feel joy. When others laugh with us, we feel comforted.

Turn that on its head, and that power can become destructive. When others laugh at us, self-esteem can vanish, transforming into anger or sadness.

When our collective empathy fails, it can only be expected that some will be left behind. When Harvey Clause tells us in part one of Finding A Way Home how the homeless are treated on the streets – trash thrown at him from vehicles, for instance – that empathy has surely failed.

One key to Portugal reversing its addictions crisis of the 1980s and ’90s, as it decriminalized all drugs in the 2000s, was eliminating stigma, U.K. news outlet The Guardian notes in a December 2017 article.

“Portugal’s remarkable recovery … could not have happened without an enormous cultural shift, and a change in how the country viewed drugs, addiction,” the article reads.

Gone from the common vocabulary was “drogados,” the Portuguese equivalent of “junkie.” This is the kind of revolution we need in our own thinking in Abbotsford, and more broadly in Canada.

Addictions and homelessness aren’t entirely the same, but many of the same factors – trauma, mental health struggles, poverty – play a role in each, and there’s certainly overlap in who is affected by each.

We frequently hear the equivalent of the old children’s adage: Sticks and stones may break their bones, but what harm can come from calling a drug user a “junkie” or a homeless person a “bum”?

If you feel constantly put down by the so-called civil society around you – no matter the social and economic factors in your life – what motivation do you have to pull yourself up? Add poverty, mental health struggles or past trauma onto that, and it’s easy to see how that motivation can slip even further.

To turn that around, it’s only when you feel safe or stable that long-term planning – finding a job, going to school, saving money, applying for housing – begins to rise on your priority list.

We’ve seen it in many of the stories in our recent series Finding A Way Home, tales of love, connection and relationships on the streets of Abbotsford.

It’s when Harvey Clause lost his mother, when Gary Hull lost his dog, when the youths in the foster system felt neglected or put down by those who should be their role models that the risk of homelessness peaked.

So, when Clause tells us many people spiral into homelessness because they feel disconnected, we should believe him. And we should take note of that social power we collectively hold.

Our 2019 New Year’s resolution for Abbotsford: Breathe. Take a moment to understand where one another is coming from before you condemn.

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