Commen-Terry: Refugee situation could eradicate homelessness

Terry Farrell

Record staff

Canada’s involvement with the Syrian refugee crisis has brought about a lot of debate regarding the country’s policies and priorities.

There is the train of thought that, as a caring community, we should do whatever we can to help those in need. We should welcome the refugees with open arms, and if any families come to our local community, we should do whatever we can to make them feel welcome.

This scene has been played out time and again for the past week or so, with Prime Minister Trudeau even getting involved, personally welcoming families as they arrived at the airport in Toronto. Residents are heading out to airports across the country, with signs, jackets, and other appropriate clothing.

Farmers are filling food banks with locally grown chickpeas – a staple of Middle East diets – to give our newest residents some “comfort food” as they adjust to a new life in an unfamiliar country.

I applaud all those who are embracing Canada’s refugee action plan, and I look forward to being at the front of the reception line, basket of essentials in hand, when the Comox Valley’s next Syrian family arrives.

That said, not everyone feels this way. Such attitudes and actions are countered with the camp that believes we should not be bringing in refugees. One of the most oft-used arguments against bringing newcomers to the country is that we already have a homelessness situation reaching near-epidemic proportions in this country, and we should take care of that before bringing in any more families.

For every post on Facebook lauding Canada’s efforts, there is one saying we can’t afford it.

It doesn’t appear so on the surface, but this is an encouraging argument, on a few levels.

First, it’s bringing Canada’s homelessness issue to the forefront.

There are people talking about the homeless in our country like never before. People who have never donated a dime to a housing strategy, or dropped a dollar into a panhandler’s hat are suddenly concerned with the homeless in our country, and that can only lead to good things.

How so?

Take a look at the online postings, newspaper letters and columns supporting this argument. Note that nearly every author expressing his or her disdain for bringing in newcomers in the midst of a national homeless problem uses the word “we” when addressing the homelessness issue.

We have too many homeless people already.”

We can’t take care of the people who live here now.”

“How can we justify accommodating refugees when we don’t even help our own?”

“Shouldn’t we be making sure everyone who already lives here is fed before inviting newcomers?”

My question is, why can’t “we” do both?

The thing is, once you use the word “we” you are accepting that the issue involves you. So in order to fix the problem you talk about, you have to be part of the solution. And that is why this argument is encouraging.

Undoubtedly, some of those using homelessness as an argument against helping people who are fleeing bombs are using the argument because of its convenience. They have no real concern for the homeless, and have no real interest in rectifying the problem in Canada. They are simply trolling.

But I have more faith in humanity than that. I believe those people are of the minority, and that the majority of people who claim concern for Canada’s homeless situation are genuine.

So, let’s do something about it. Together.

For those who say it’s a problem that can not be resolved, I disagree – as would the residents of Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Medicine Hat is a community of more than 60,000 people, and in May 2015 it officially became the first city in Canada to eradicate homelessness.

On a per capita basis, the homelessness issue in Medicine Hat was much the same as any other city in Canada, but through an aggressive “housing first” program, the city found residences for nearly 900 needy people, within five years of  the program’s inception.

It can be done, and now there’s a blueprint.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has a 10-year plan, which would eradicate the problem in the country. The estimated cost of that program is $44 billion.

Yes, it’s expensive. But in comparison, the cost is only about half as high as the estimated price tag associated with keeping people homeless during the same time frame. (It is estimated that homelessness costs the Canadian economy more than $7 billion a year, in social, medical and policing/law enforcement.)

For all those saying we have a problem, I agree. We do have a problem. Let’s quit using it as a crutch against other issues and let’s fix it.

Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record

 

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