Wednesday, January 16, 2008

BC's Homeless - Canada's "Problem"

Walking down East Hastings in Vancouver, or through one of the many other main drags in cities in the Lower Mainland, something curious strikes you (besides the colorful scenery and sometimes foul odors)... These people aren't "from" here... Sure a lot of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island homeless are from parts of BC. The thing is, walking around and asking where they're from, you'll get a lot of interesting stories... "I'm from Calgary", "I'm from Edmonton", "I'm from Fort MacMurray", "I'm from Winnipeg"...

I was not that shocked to find that so many of the homeless were from "somewhere else". After all, the warm climate, accessibility to (cheaper/abundant) drugs, and excellent social services (did I say warm climate?) makes a huge difference. It really helps if you don't freeze to death outside. Add to this certain Prairie Premiers from oil-rich provinces providing free bus fare to Vancouver...

Citizens of the Lower Mainland and the Island end up paying huge sums to house, cloth, and feed a lot of these homeless inter-provincial immigrants. The typical Vancouverite pays a huge sum annually in property, local, income, and sales taxes. Guess where a lot of this money goes? Yes, that's right - trying to stick a finger into the dyke of homelessness.

What's wrong with this picture? How do we justify BCers - mainly in the Lower Mainland, and on the Island - being yolked with the burden of caring for Canada's homeless?

Now before I go much further, I assure you my heart bleeds for my homeless countrymen/women... I just feel that: 1) enough is not being done about the causes; 2) enough is not being done by other provinces (in comparison to BC, and maybe Ontario and Sask); 3) BC should not be taking on this challenge alone.

What exactly am I saying? The cities in the Lower Mainland, & on the Island, need higher levels of gov't assisting in resolving this problem. Victoria alone cannot solve and/or fund this issue. Mr. Campbell needs to start asking Mr. Harper that, now that they've killed all the federal Liberals' "City Initiatives", what does he intend to do (in way of funding) to help BC's homeless? This issue HAS to be brought to the national forefront. Harper is doing nothing for homeless people or the poor in Canada (including the working poor).

If Harper and the Conservatives refuse to help Canada's poor and homeless, then Mr. Campbell needs to approach Mr. Dion and the Federal Liberals - as well as the Federal NDP - to ensure that the homeless problem becomes a part of the national debate.

BC, being Canada's only "fair weather" province, needs to have additional support from the Federal Government in dealing with the homeless situation. Mr. Martin's "City Initiatives" would have been a welcome help, but we know the results of the last election. Too bad.

I can probably write an epic about what to do to combat homelessness, but suffice it to say, throwing money at the problem won't fix it. A concerted effort has to made at federal, provincial, and municipal levels to curb the social, mental (yes mental), and urban challenges which cause homelessness. We know that lack of beds in hospitals, drug treatment facilities, and mental institutions are a key part of the problem. We suffer at the hands of a gov't. which would much rather jail drug abusers, than try to wean them off the substances. Conservative types would rather spend billions on extra policing, than investment in the critical urban infrastructure (like treatment centers and hospitals) required to get people off the streets. While everyone out there doesn't suffer from a substance abuse issue, most do. Bringing back the urban support infrastructure would help.

The next step would be addressing the lack of opportunities in rural areas. Too often the homeless start out in small towns, either being abusers, or involved in situations of abuse - or bordering on abuse. Rural joblessness needs to be addressed.

Finally (well, maybe not "finally"), more needs to be done to ensure youth have "something to do". This also has to be a priority, and a national effort. Too many problems in today's society have to do with youth, and today's culture of "gansta hero". Federal Liberal university assistance programs (promised in the last election) - including paid tuition for 1st and final years - would have been a huge help. None of us like the conservative "fear mongers" talking about "increasing crime", when rates are down to record lows when compared to rates over the past 30 to 40 years, BUT, the fact is crime rates ARE all DOWN. Only youth crime seems to be on the rise. There are solutions - but they need to be national.

Time to get some national focus on local urban matters. Upcoming federal election(s) may just be the right venue for airing these concerns at a national level. Trying to get them airtime along with the "cool" issues like the environment, and Afghanistan may not be that easy...

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