First step to change is accepting its necessity

Roger Albert

Guest columnisat

So, the CVRD board has decided to give you an opportunity on Nov. 15 to express your support for, or opposition to, creating a service in support of affordable housing and helping the homeless. It will be in the form of a non-binding market-type survey. Well, at least, that’s something more than we have now.

November 15 is not that far off, but it still gives us some time to consider alternatives and arguments for and against creating a CVRD service in support of affordable housing and projects aimed at ending homelessness in the Comox Valley.

Of course, some folks are going to be opposed to such a move no matter what arguments are put before them or how thick the evidence is in support of it.  Their minds are already made up.

The truth is that there is an underlying and strong prejudice in our society against the poor and homeless. Some people simply see them as moral degenerates, undeserving of any help.  After all, we achieved everything we have with just hard work, right?

Well, they argue, it’s fine to hand out a few bags of groceries at a food bank, provide lunch at a soup kitchen or emergency shelter for those who need it, but there should be no doubt that helping the poor too much removes any incentive they might have had to work or get more training to ‘better’ themselves.

Other folks, the majority of us, I believe, have sympathy for the poor, homeless and disadvantaged. Some of us see inequity as a social justice issue. We support organizations like the Comox Valley Transition Society that runs Lilli House, a safe house for women escaping domestic violence and Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society that runs a residential program in the community for homeless individuals needing transitional housing. We support the Salvation Army’s Pidcock House, an emergency shelter that is often full to capacity and beyond and the work that the Care-A-Van does to bring medical and other assistance to the homeless.

We know the valuable work that the Wachiay Friendship Centre and AIDS Vancouver Island do. The City of Courtenay is trying to put together some supportive housing on Braidwood Avenue. L’Arche wants to build housing, as does the John Howard Society and Island Health.

So much effort is going into trying to do something. Some of it is working, but unfortunately a lot of it inadvertently and unintentionally serves to perpetuate the problem rather than solving it.

Also, unfortunately, most of these organizations are perpetually against the wall when it comes to money and they compete for every cent they get.  I have no illusions that we can solve the housing and homelessness problem with one CVRD service. This is just one piece of a large puzzle in which we all fit. How this service fits in the larger picture is still to be determined, and, I think, by all of us together as a community.

It’s natural for organizations and individuals to be threatened by change, but we must acknowledge that the way we’ve approached the housing and homelessness issue up until now isn’t working.

The reasons for this are complicated and reach down deeply into what we value as a culture. We don’t see the poor and homeless as having any value so we don’t show them a great deal of respect.

If we don’t want the homeless occupying our doorways and park benches, we need to give them some positive incentive to behave otherwise.  Scolding them, putting up ‘no panhandling or squatting’ signs and removing benches isn’t a solution.

Roger Albert is the vice-president of the Comox Valley Social Planning Society and Faculty Emeritus at North Island College. He is a guest columnist for the Comox Valley Record, addressing social issues within the community. His blog, dedicated to the issue, is rogeralbert.org

 

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