“We believe any society is measured by what it does for the aged, the sick, the orphans, the less fortunate who live in our midst.” – Tommy Douglas.
The NDP’s father of medicare was the voter’s overwhelming choice for premier of Saskatchewan in 1944. He ran on a slate of social welfare and inclusion.
Seventy years later, on the verge of the past federal election, many less fortunate Canadians told me they felt like refugees in their own country.
There is new hope for them. Another charismatic leader – a liberal this time – has been elected on a promise to return compassionate government to ordinary people. On the run-up to Oct. 24, I heard some of their stories.
Here’s one. Lorraine Pinel had a friend on social assistance with a two-bedroom apartment. Steven Harper was ending subsidies for those. Lorraine’s friend was afraid she’d be homeless.
“She can’t afford to pay the $166 extra the two-bedroom would cost her,” Pinel told me. “She’s done everything to keep her home, given up cable, cut back on meals. It’s not enough. She’s given her notice. She’s moving in with her sister.”
Darlene Morrey, a senior, lives in Pioneer Village, a subsidized co-op. Some of her neighbors with two-bedroom apartments are “terrified” she said. Darlene consoled one lady who talked about suicide.
“I’m homeless now,” Warren Halm confided to me this summer when the Sunrise Apartments in Maple Ridge burned down.
He sadly said good-bye to his friends at the CEED Centre, a place Warren thought of as his home; good-bye to friends he referred to as his family.
“I can’t afford a market-price apartment,” Warren explained before he left to live with his brother in Chilliwack. He longs to come home, but can’t afford to.
“We have a plan,” promised Justin Trudeau, “to make housing more affordable for those who need it most – seniors, persons with disabilities, lower-income families, and Canadians working hard to join the middle class.”
I’m hoping the plan kicks in soon for Warren, and the growing number of Canadians who join the ranks of homeless each day.
At-risk youth were another target for Harper’s exclusive housing policies. By passing responsibility for overnight emergency shelters to provinces this summer, and ending support for youth shelters like Iron Horse in Maple Ridge, our former prime minister put vulnerable kids on the street.
“When you see the heartbreak of damaged lives, someone in a downward spiral,” Iron Horse manager Stephanie Ediger told me, “you want to make a difference.”
“Youth are in survivalist mode,” Henri Giroux says in his book, Disposable Youth. He says they’re unable to transcend the market economy. They’re living at home longer. They can’t get decent paying jobs. Any young person who wants to go to school should be able to, he writes. Debt excludes them from the democratic system.
Trudeau says he’ll help students make ends meet, and address the growing problem of homeless youth.
Teesha Sharma, a local youth advocate, is working on it already. She believes that local communities can do more to support their young people, especially those dealing with mental illness. Her goal is to raise funds for an overnight facility that would fill the role of the Iron Horse shelter.
“I want to introduce people to the issues of youth mental illness and homelessness,” says Sharma.
At the CEED Centre, Dec. 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., she’ll welcome anyone interested to a mentoring training program.
“Anybody who might want to learn how to empower youth in our community is welcome,” said Sharma. “Hopefully – under a new government – we can get acknowledgment that youth are worthwhile. We can start giving them a hand up, instead of putting them on income assistance as soon as they reach 19.”
Douglas would approve.
Maybe Trudeau will, too.
– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.