I recently participated in Walk With Me, an informative and inspirational program developed through the Comox Valley Art Gallery.
I came home from that event bursting with empathy and some understanding of the challenges that our homeless/addicted population faces.
Some fight mental illness and require long-term, ongoing residential care. Some are actively engaged with and using drugs and/or alcohol. Some want help. Some do not. There are some who, due to housing shortages and sky-high rents, are homeless and somewhat helpless.
It’s a mixed bag. There is no one solution. Band-Aid solutions don’t work. Just like an aspirin doesn’t work for every medical situation. It’s complicated and solutions are expensive.
Asking our local municipal governments to come up with solutions is akin to asking our veterinarians to come up with solutions for every type of human cancer. They don’t have the training, expertise and certainly not the budget. They are torn by pressure from us, their constituents. Provide more services (say some)! Provide fewer services (say others)!
You will find no answers in this letter. Only more questions. Why isn’t the provincial government providing more services? Why do we keep adding warming centres, needle exchanges, meal programs, etc., right in the centre of our business community? Our local businesses are the second biggest losers (homeless/addicted/mentally ill being the first). On a daily basis, they are hosing urine off the outside of buildings, scraping feces, repainting to cover graffiti, suffering losses due to shoplifting, and all the while being asked to donate to Rotary, to school programs, sports programs, fund-raisers of every stripe while providing jobs and working to keep their businesses afloat.
As a long-time resident of this Valley, it’s sad to see the community strewn with garbage, hard to watch young and old people doing alcohol and/or drugs in the middle of the downtown core, wandering into traffic, stolen shopping carts piled high with questionable belongings shuttled along. It is heartbreaking to observe and feel helpless. I have come to recognize the problem that we address as “homeless” could possibly be rethought.
As I said, I don’t have answers. I’m dealing frustrated, helpless and angry. Angry that the problem continues to grow. Angry that the Band-Aids aren’t working and are costly. Angry that the number of homeless/addicted/mentally ill population continues to grow in spite of well-intentioned measures. Angry that downtown is starting to look and feel nasty. Angry that my empathy is waning.