Phil Melnychuk.

Maybe a middle way for homelessness

Having no place to go, takes its toll

I figure it takes about 12 hours to turn into a zombie.

That’s the time it takes, if you become homeless, to change from a rational, articulate human – to becoming a mumbling, dazed, human who has no home and nowhere to go.

A zombie is someone who can’t think straight, someone who’s bordering on incoherence, because they’re incapacitated, in shock or traumatized, just trying to survive being outside.

It takes its toll, constantly being outside, coping with the hot or cold weather, the cold stares of busy people on their way to and fro.

Being without a place to go means you have no purpose or no place where you can just be – which means you’re out in the public, or hiding in the bush or under a cardboard box, passing time, just existing.

It’s no wonder people get sick, physically or mentally, and become subject to assault, ridicule and simply, mind-numbing, incapacitating boredom and loneliness. It’s no wonder people pick up a needle in order to cope. If you weren’t using before you hit the street, it would be understandable if you pick up a needle after any amount of time on the street.

George Orwell wrote somewhere – being homeless makes people want to kick you.

It’s easy to learn what it’s like to be homeless.

Put on an old coat, grab a small backpack, maybe leave your cellphone at home and walk the streets of Maple Ridge for a few hours, five or six maybe.

If you’re carrying a back pack though, you can’t go into a mall because the security guards will be on your case. Timmies will likely take you in for a half-hour or so for a double-double, before you have to pack up and leave, simply to find maybe a cafe for another half hour, providing you’ve got money. Maybe you’ll just have to hang out on a park bench.

Surprisingly quickly, you become numbed and exhausted. And soon you’re ambling about, spending a half hour here and there, your reserves draining, stress building, incoherence growing. If someone offered you a hand up, you’d likely couldn’t take it. Try it for half a day.

(Hitchhiking around once, I arrived at a single men’s hostel in mid-afternoon. Security told me to come back when it opened, but I couldn’t move. I was so tired and hungry, I sat there until the doors opened.)

We just can’t accept that people don’t have places to live in Canada, B.C., or Maple Ridge, even with rents at $1,500 a month.

Everyone in Maple Ridge agrees on that.

There should be no tent city and there should be no needles in parks or people sleeping on benches or hanging out in the Haney bypass tunnel. There should be no filching of propane tanks or bicycles.

The issue has been rending Metro Vancouver cities in two for a decade as the debate rages between enabling and helping, Housing First and tough love and accountability. It’s all about the model, is the latest buzz phrase.

Maybe the solution is within the blended approach, where homes are provided for everyone interested, so they can get their heads straight, such as in the Royal Crescent modular home project in Maple Ridge. That’s a place where people are taken in as they are, but a place where there’s supervision, expectations, and accountability. They’re essentially triages for our mental health system. And no, it won’t work for everyone. And there always will be homelessness, one city councillor told me, just like there always will be pot holes.

But such places are cheaper than hospitals and prisons.

I wonder if there’s any space at the Maple Ridge SPCA.

Phil Melnychuk is a journalist with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.

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