LETTER: Missing some realities about homelessness

As taxpayers, we need to ask ourselves whether we want to pay now or later.

This is in response to Mr. Redekop’s rosy proposition to end homelessness in Abbotsford.

I would like to touch on the fact that homelessness in Abbotsford is indeed a crisis which is a product of many oppressive forces that are unseen.

1. There are no such things as mental institutions anymore, thanks to the government’s de-institutionalization policy. They were closed long ago with plans to treat people with psychological issues in the community.

Unfortunately, the government missed the part where they were supposed to allocate money and plans for community initiative. This is part of the issue we see now, with a lot of homeless people on the streets with mental illness that have no place to go and are unable to function without support.

So to say that the people need to be treated in supervised care facilities in order to receive funding is next to impossible with the nonexistence of these facilities.

2. A person can enter rehab all they want and get clean, but when they are injected back into the community most of them lack the healthy social support, and living conditions we all take for granted. This makes it very tempting to go back to the lifestyle of a drug addict because it may seem like the only alternative. Clean, supportive housing is a great idea if the mentality of “not in my backyard” was not the societal view. Everyone loves the idea, but doesn’t want it in their neighbourhood. You’re right, isolating the homeless in a place where their only means of transportation is by foot or bike to access food and other services is ridiculous.

3. There is no such thing as a “healthy” homeless person. Sure, they may seem “healthy” and able-bodied from the outside, but when you have no fixed address, limited access to personal care facilities, and your only food is the outdated and understocked food bank, other forces hinder your employment opportunities.

Even if you get food from the food bank it would be incredibly hard to cook it up in your tent kitchen. A big part of attaining employment is the interview. Sleeping in a tent could very well be noisy and cold so making it to your interview could prove difficult and your sleepless nights exhausting. Also try explaining to a possible employer why you look unkempt and have no fixed address. I fear this would inhibit the employment process.

I am happy your friend was willing to employ homeless people, so why didn’t he drive down to tent city and offer them jobs? With the money he spent on flights and accommodation for employees from other countries he could have provided transportation, housing and a  much-needed hot lunch

for the people of tent city. There is also the matter of pay from these abundance of jobs. Most of them hardly pay a living wage and keep people well below the low income cut-off.  It is also a reality that as soon as people begin to make any kind of wage that the government might consider high enough they start cutting back child tax, child care subsidies, and numerous other benefits. In the end, it is still hard to pay the rent and put food on the table holding down a job at say McDonalds, and it is very discouraging.

Like you and the majority of Abbotsford, we wish the people of tent city to have a safe home and be gratified members of society, but first we must analyze  our own attitudes. A good start would be money allocated for a solid community based program for people experiencing psychological

disorders and clean, safe, and drug free supportive housing with access to the food bank within a short distance and other community outlets.

There is no easy answer but we have to start somewhere and I think we are just going in circles at this point and trying to pretend the “white elephant” is not in the room.

As for classifying the homeless into three distinct categories, such as healthy and unwilling to work, drug addict, or mentally ill, this is completely narrow-minded and unfounded. There are many dimensions intertwined in the lives of these people and each person has a story. They are our people with real problems and cannot be clearly placed in a group and offered a simple solution.

As taxpayers, we need to ask ourselves whether we want to pay now or later.  Pay now with preventative, supportive, and outreach programs, or pay later with more tent city clean ups, extra police enforcement, judicial costs, and medical expenses.

Instead of battling progress and making ignorant comments we need a plan. So far it has been just smoke and mirrors.


Candace Banks