Sarah Leamon: Homeless people deserve safe shelter

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      It is no secret that Metro Vancouver has a problem with homelessness.

      While it is difficult to get an exact count on the number of people affected by homelessness, a 2014 study conducted by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness estimated that 2,777 individuals in Metro Vancouver were without adequate housing or shelter on any given night. The same study said that approximately 5,900 people would be affected by homelessness over the course of the year.

      These numbers are staggering and they are likely to be even higher than estimated. After all, this study only dealt with the “visible” homeless. It did not factor in those with no permanent home address, those who struggle with overcrowded living conditions, substandard housing, or unaffordable housing.

      The problem is so bad that, in 2012, the City of Vancouver knew they had to do something. They unveiled a plan to deal with housing and homelessness issues. City council declared that they were committed to ending street homelessness by 2015 and sought to do this by creating more accessible and affordable housing options to meet the needs of all people, including those who suffer from mental illness and disabilities.

      Although some positive strides have been made, it only takes one look around the city streets to know that this goal is far from being met.

      We still have a very long way to go. With gentrification pushing many vulnerable populations out of the downtown core, homelessness is likely to worsen in the near future. Areas with previously non-existent or small homeless populations may see numbers increase—and with the vast majority of homeless people still heavily reliant on government-funded programs and social-service agencies to provide them with shelter, problems are inevitable. In many areas, demand for such services already exceeds supply, leaving the homeless population vulnerable to the elements and without anywhere to go.

      In some cases, homeless people have taken matters into their own hands. They have erected temporary camp sites in order to provide themselves with reprieve and shelter from harsh weather conditions. While some argue that these sites are hazardous eye-sores, built contrary to city and municipal by-laws, advocates for the homeless have argued that they are necessary in order to meet the demand for shelters where the government has failed to provide them. Residents of Vancouver may recall the recent controversy surrounding the Oppenheimer homeless camp, which was ultimately dissembled in October 2014 following a court-ordered injunction.

      In Abbotsford, an ongoing six-week Supreme Court trial is breathing new life into this issue. There, the B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors is working with Pivot Legal Society to challenge city bylaws that prohibit the erection and use of survival shelters. This case is being heard in the shadow of the disgraceful actions that were recently undertaken by Abbotsford city officials and police officers in an attempt to displace homeless residents. This included using bear spray on homeless people’s belongings, slashing tents, and spreading bio-hazardous material on long-standing camp sites. To see public officials engaging in this kind of behaviour is both sickening and illustrative of the extreme prejudices that the homeless population must deal with on a regular basis.

      But with no less than 151 homeless in Abbotsford, and room for only 112 in shelter spaces, the reality is that many people are left on the street. Homeless residents are therefore arguing that it is their constitutional right to sleep in public parks and erect survival shelters to protect themselves where adequate housing and shelter spaces are not available. The city says otherwise. Ultimately, the decision will be left in the hands of the court.

      Whatever the outcome, I believe that access to safe shelter is a basic human right that every person should be entitled to.

      Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing plan. This is unacceptable. Homelessness is both a local and a national concern. It affects all Canadians and it deserves our attention. If anything, I hope that this case and others like it serve to motivate change. It is time that we acknowledge the basic dignity of all people and take action to provide the infrastructure and support necessary to provide our homeless population with basic necessities of life, such as a warm place to sleep.

      All people deserve that much.



      we agree there is a problem

      Jul 7, 2015 at 11:55pm

      but what are the causes?
      mental health, needing education, lack of job opportunities, substance abuse, homeless migration to take advantage of climate, etc.

      to simply build more housing and increase services would seem to be treating the symptoms and this may not resolve the underlying problem. I would be more interested to read an analysis that presents the causes and then proposes how specific actions would result in an effective solution.


      Jul 8, 2015 at 6:01am

      Treating symptoms is needed while resolving underlying causes.


      Jul 8, 2015 at 1:03pm

      you think we're any closer to resolving underlying causes?


      Jul 9, 2015 at 5:56am

      No. Nevertheless treating the symptoms is needed while resolving underlying causes. If you dislike the treating of symptoms part then you should be more active in resolving the underlying causes.

      Not treating the symptoms while resolving the underlying causes, no matter how slow or ineffective we are at solving the causes, is worse than treating the symptoms while being slow or ineffective at resolving the underlying causes.


      Jul 9, 2015 at 8:43am

      Do you realize we're already paying $3 Million per DAY for social programs for the homeless and mentally ill. Most choose not to use it. There's even a new shop that offers free beer if you're looking to get better.

      At the end of the day, we can provide free University education to everyone looking in Vancouver or we can keep funding programs. Your proposal to spend even more is laughable and fiscally irresponsibility.


      Jul 9, 2015 at 11:23pm

      "treating the symptoms is needed while resolving underlying causes" - duh.

      but the question is, are we actually resolving the underlying causes? I haven't seen much change in the past 30 years of watching this.


      Jul 10, 2015 at 7:24am

      "but the question is, are we actually resolving the underlying causes"

      That was not the question. The question was whether we should be treating the symptoms. There is no exclusion between the principle of resolving the underlying causes and treating the symptoms. To say that we must do one or the other is simply not correct. We must do both so that when the underlying causes are resolved we no longer need to treat the symptoms.

      As you imply, we have not been trying to resolve the underlying causes and that is a crying shame.


      Jul 14, 2015 at 10:02pm

      The question was not whether we should be treating symptoms (see comment, duh above). Vancouver has no problem pumping millions of dollars into this issue without any overall reduction in the underlying problem. And of course that is not to say there isn't individual success and help for many (again duh, but I figured that would be your next big point out the obvious).

      "To say that we must do one or the other is simply not correct." ... you have built a strawman here... nobody, except you, has suggested the options are mutually exclusive.

      The question remains, are we continuing to treat symptoms while pretending to address the problem? Are we getting anywhere or perhaps the problem is not solvable and we should just admit that treating the symptoms is the best we can hope to do.

      Many years, tons of cash, little change... be Canadian..

      Jul 29, 2015 at 11:36am

      "Homeless residents are therefore arguing that it is their constitutional right to sleep in public parks and erect survival shelters to protect themselves where adequate housing and shelter spaces are not available"

      What is it about Canada and Canadians that allow them to make homelessness a disgrace and make it illegal? They want to shame homeless people into non-existence but fail to realize these people will still continue to exist. They don't just drop off the face of the earth because someone doesn't want to see them.

      All over the world there are poor people who are allowed to take up space! They don't have all the luxuries etc but they are allowed to continue to live, usually in spaces where there are others like them (except when hosting world events).

      Why, as Canadians who are just so liberal and accepting, do we want to extinguish these people and deny their basic right to survive?

      We are just so judgmental, holier than thou (because Canada is just such a great place to live) but continue to lie to ourselves about the realities some people face. Deny deny deny!

      And like everyone else here has said talking about it takes time, resolving it (although perceived as surmountable because this is Canada of course) is not going to happen if you believe that talking about it is the only way to start! In this case I agree with treating the symptoms.

      The reason denial is in our Canadian blood is because our public representatives work so hard to hide the realities of some Canadians from the people who don't want to see it for themselves. They don't want to ever think it could ever happen to them therefore deny it's existence and judge the circumstances/people who have landed there.

      I would say that is why the first poster has the opinion they do. It's very Canadian. But I will admit I could be wrong. Because they would just deny it anyways