It is lamentable that homelessness and its myriad of related issues are featured prominently in the election campaign of many candidates for city council.
It is lamentable because the expectation of votes for the candidate with the loudest voice turns these issues into political footballs with little likelihood of any real solutions being offered.
The many proposals put forward by aspiring politicians are frequently not well thought out and, at best, are about as practical as attempting to push a string.
I have been a frequent commentator on some of the associated problems of homeless people, such as prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism, violence and related crimes.
I have also voiced opinions on the operation of the Caring Place and its proximity to adjacent established residential areas and the fear that its presence has engendered in senior citizens and others.
It is obvious that virtually 100 per cent of homeless people don’t enjoy the circumstances of their lifestyle, but a sense of doom and hopelessness pervades their ranks. They feel homeless, hopeless and helpless.
If you speak with street people, they will tell you they feel they have no real control over their own lives. They feel bullied, used, ostracized and marginalized.
It doesn’t matter how they ended up in their current predicament. It is of little use to brush the whole problem aside by saying they’re in a mess of their own making.
As a civilized society, we owe it to ourselves and the homeless to accept some responsibility to find and implement practical, long-lasting solutions.
Trying to solve these homeless and social problems by abandoning most of it to one of the largest real estate-based and partially non-tax paying religious organizations in North America is a huge mistake, and, to some degree, a waste of charitable and taxpayer dollars.
As long as hand-wringers and ill-advised do-gooders support this approach, there will be no real solution.
With the arrival of cold weather, the need to offer at least temporary shelter is critical, but the key word here is temporary. Throwing mattresses on bare floors, then throwing the occupants out in the morning is something like throwing a drowning man half a life preserver.
And sometimes there are not enough beds for the number of homeless people and some are left on the street. They are left to wander around, searching for somewhere to snatch even a few hours of sleep.
Any approach to these issues that does not recognize the need for permanent shelter and daytime refuge for homeless people will accomplish little or nothing, and we can wait another four years, until the next civic election campaign, to hear more impractical promises. But the homeless issues will still be with us.
One mayoral candidate has suggested a mayor’s task force to deal with these issues. That’s a good one, but has anyone out there ever heard of a task force that succeeded in accomplishing its task? I didn’t think so.
City council already has a committee charged with responsibility for dealing with downtown street problems, such as homelessness. We all know the story about committees; after all, it is said a camel is a horse designed by a committee.
The provincial and federal governments have offered little or no help, and they hold the purse strings to the serious amounts of money that will have to be directed to these issues. If there will ever be any hope of solving these problems, senior levels of government must abandon their current mean-hearted approach of solving their own fiscal woes on the backs of people such as the homeless, who can’t fight back.
Meanwhile, the greater community and its homeless, hopeless, helpless people wait for answers.
– Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor.