Back to drawing board with homelessness political football

Dear editor,

It was unsettling to learn our new mayor is relying on data for homelessness by turning to on-the-street hearsay accounts.

Dear editor,

It was rather interesting, and somewhat unsettling, to say the least, to learn that our new mayor is relying on data for gauging the level of homelessness in the Valley by turning to on-the-street hearsay accounts that may or may not be totally accurate or reliable.

He conveyed this questionable information to the public while being interviewed on CBC’s morning show On the Island a couple of weeks back. Then soon after that, a reporter from a local paper ran with it from there.

Overall, it seems a bit strange, too, that the mayor, as well as a large part of our community, consider the homeless as only those who are unfortunate enough to have to live outside and are lacking a roof over their head.

I beg to differ, since my take on homelessness also happens to include all those who have no fixed address; those who can’t afford or are simply unable to find a place to rent for one reason or another. (Estimates are somewhere around 250 locals who find themselves in this pickle.)

You know, these are the folks not only cycling in and out of local overnight facilities but also couch surfing and who can’t seem to escape living on the edge from day to day. And never quite know when they just might end up outside living under a tarp in the bush this winter.

Speaking to that, I did speak with someone who works at a local social service agency who informed me that this dilemma is most disturbing for women, particularly since they often have to make the bad choice of shacking up with a man they would in better circumstances avoid at all cost. (Remember Ruby who used to push the shopping cart around town?)

While Tom Grant’s idea of obtaining more trailers to help relieve local homelessness is to be commended, it still doesn’t address the question adequately. What of the chronically homeless folks with obviously complex problems we are so familiar with hanging around downtown?

Those whom simply having a roof over their heads just doesn’t cut it since they desperately need other programs to keep them safe and out of trouble?

I really think it is most unfortunate then that the planned-for shelter on Cliffe became such a political football and that it has all gone back to the drawing board.

And as far as the cost question? That was all a red herring from Day One. There is no shortage of well-researched studies that point out that it is far more cost-effective to get that small handful of chronically challenged folks off the streets than have them constantly stressing out emergency wards, City staff, and local policing and court resources.

For a start, I highly recommend that the new mayor and council read Malcolm Gladwell’s (science writer for New Yorker magazine, former New York bureau chief for the Washington Post) “Million Dollar Murray: Why Problems Like Homelessness are easier to solve than manage” — a quick and easy read in Gladwell’s 2009 book What the Dog Saw and other Adventures.

It puts a whole new light on the homelessness question by showing us how Reno, Nev., came up with a very cost-effective solution to the problem.

Rick James,


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