I was saddened and dismayed to read Danyelle Toplov’s letter to the editor which was little more than another misinformed and mean-spirited attack that blames the poor for poverty and the homeless for homelessness. More disturbing is that Ms. Toplov, obviously someone who has never had to live in a shelter or sleep on the streets because the shelters are full or there is no affordable housing to be had, takes a moral and even religious stance in order to place blame squarely on those who find themselves trapped in poverty, homelessness and addiction for their fate. Well let’s examine the facts before we place blame.
It is nice that she was able to take one example of someone who managed to work hard and find a home and perhaps escape the poverty trap. There are of course these feel good stories and they are worth telling. However, Ms. Toplov wishes to take this story and use it as a moral hammer to beat on those who, for whatever reason, have not been so fortunate. She would like to make it sound like those who live with debilitating mental illnesses or are victims of abuse and violence or those who are unemployable for whatever reason (try holding down a job when you are surviving on the street – who would hire you?) are not worthy of help or somehow morally inferior. Ms. Toplov states, “In Canada, there are no excuses for our homeless in terms of needing more handouts.” A certain Christmas story character comes immediately to mind but that is another letter.
I have been from one end of this province to the other and I can tell you that affordable housing is almost nowhere to be found. Since the federal government got out of social housing in the mid ’90s the housing crisis has grown exponentially year after year until we find ourselves in the disastrous situation we are in today. I’ve seen the working poor living in cars while working full-time and still completely unable to find housing – for years at a time.
At one time that is what government did best – provide infrastructure and spending programs for the betterment of society as a whole. All this has been crushed back by years of austerity and cuts to progressive spending under governments across the spectrum. And what is the cost? Homelessness is bad for tourism. It’s bad for the criminal justice system whose resources are distracted from real crime in order to deal with what is in effect a social and health issue. It is terrible for frontline healthcare workers and health budgets as a whole as they are in the trenches dealing with the oversode casualties and victims of poverty and despair.
I have lived in shelters and seen people who work minimum wage at temporary work agencies doing the worst jobs imaginable just to make a little money for clothing or daily needs. Finding affordable housing is out of the question. While it is true, that shelters are full of people with mental health issues and serious addiction problems, how unrealistic is it to imagine that these people jump up one day from their demons and often angry broken lives to find the kind of work that would allow access to decent housing – if that housing even existed. While I’m happy for the exception of Ms. Ungaro, the true scale of homelessness in British Columbia bare out that that she is a fortunate anomaly in the current housing crisis.
As for Ms. Toplov’s hopelessly misguiding rant on safe injection sites and harm reduction, perhaps she should look at the statistics. Harm reduction saves lives! It has been statistically proven over and over again that treating addiction as a health issue is far more effective than treating it as a criminal or even a moral one. If we could stop looking down our noses at the less fortunate for a moment perhaps we could start seeing the homeless as people and addicts as worth the same kind of humanity that people who have not suffered addiction take for granted.
Finally, governments are beginning to realize that condemnation and moral posturing is not going to work either to solve homelessness or the opioid crisis and that the only solution is going to be found in informed public policy and putting financial resources into solving the problem. There are encouraging signs that all levels of government are beginning to awaken to the seriousness of the situation and new social housing is on the horizon for Vernon and other communities.
Ms. Potlov’s God has had 2,000 years to solve poverty, crime and moral decay and the mess just keeps getting worse. Perhaps we should get off the moral high horse and quit asking God to solve the problems we created and try something bold and new – something that has been proven to work in other jurisdictions such as Oregon or Portugal. It is new ideas and bold thinking that will provide solutions to the problems we face as a society. Placing blame and moralizing will only further divide society into haves and nots and change nothing except to make it worse.
(In a shelter)