A Modest Proposal for Homelessness

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End the Homelessness - Just Let Them Die
by Chris Johnson
Two days ago Judge Brian McKenzie settled once and for all the constitutionality of the bylaw enforcement policy prohibiting the use of temporary emergency shelter in the City of Victoria. He reiterated Judge Ross's October 14 ruling that certain Park regulation bylaws were of no force and effect insofar as they prohibit homeless people from erecting temporary shelter. Judge McKenzie went on to suggest that if the City of Victoria was interested in enforcing any kind of regulations related to tenting, such as the 7 to 7 policy, they would need to amend their parks bylaws.

Questions arose immediately as to why the City of Victoria didn't amend their municipal code in October, when a BC Supreme Court judged suggested they do so. The city needed time, I suppose, to think it through and make sure they amended the bylaws properly. So after all these months (years really, because you would imagine that going into this whole long legal drama that they had contingency plans for different options) what they have decided is the best thing to do is to keep pushing for a appeal and in the meantime, make it so that the police have enforcement powers to keep the situation from getting out of control.

The message they have been communicating is that they don't want tents, they want real housing, as do most people. They are so adamant that we don't have tents used as emergency shelter that they have spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to appeal a human rights victory, hundreds of thousands more to enforce an illegal bylaw, and continue to ticket, arrest and seize the belongings of homeless people every day.

Obviously, they've all had some kind of traumatic incident involving tents in their past. They see horrible things happening when they see tents. Imagine, such a small, simple structure striking such fear into people.

I went off on an angry tirade yesterday after hearing about the new bylaws being rushed through. It doesn't mean that myself and other alternative emergency shelter advocates are unwilling to sit down in good faith with the city and discuss how we might go about dealing with the disaster happening around us [1500+ homeless people in Victoria Canada outside again tonight in the cold and rain].  My unhappiness is about how I don't feel the city has made a reasonable decision, and I think if the public were well enough informed, which they sadly aren't, they would not support the approach the city is taking.

I alone would not be able to suggest to the City of Victoria how they should amend the bylaw. That's why I think proper public consultation should be involved.

We need to involve the entire city in the discussion. We're talking supposedly about 'our' city and 'our' government, and I think that when decisions are being made that are going to effect the life, liberty and security of person of the most vulnerable in 'our' community, we should all have a say.

Honestly, I can't say that I'd be able to debate with anyone on that council that 'unregulated' camps are the way to go. We're not asking that people be immune to actual laws. (Tenting is still not a crime). Obviously, everyone in this city is regulated, not matter what covers their head at night.

If the police are concerned about drugs, then deal with the drug problem. Don't say that tents cause drug use because that's already been proven to be an asinine hypothesis.

I also do not ever want to give up the position that people should be able to live outside if they have to, and that homeless people and other allies in the community should be able to regulate themselves. There should not be a second layer of law for the poor.

Here's another thing that keeps going through my mind. At the press conference the other day, Dean Fortin declared that he was interested in ending homelessness, not managing it.

Let's dissect that statement a bit, starting with this proposition that we can 'End Homelessness'.

The only way I think Homelessness can end is by calling it something else. Take all the poor people who can't afford rent or can't find a room to rent and put them in jail, the hospital, a homeless shelter, or a subsidized social housing unit. Now there is no homelessness. Just brutal poverty.

The new Our Place cost something like $15 million dollars. If you live in a $15 million building, you must not be poor. So the people inside are not poor. We can end poverty this way too.

Now let's end violence. And disease. Or fear.

Come on, seriously. Even if that was the plan, (and I seriously fear it is) it can't happen quick enough. There is still the question of where the people you can't arrest, institutionalize or coerce into a homeless shelter are going to sleep.

If not in tents, then what? That's all we're asking, and don't say warehouses and gymnasiums, because we already have that, and we're talking about creating something for people shut out of that option (for whatever reason).

I'm being evicted from my house next month, and I have no job and no money and no check from the government and no credit and no one who can take on the burden of supporting me until I get back on my feet.

I'll sleep in a tent if I have to, as I have for many months in the past, but I'd prefer something more solid myself. I want to be able to live simply and cheaply and not take up too many resources. I want to utilize some unused space, and work on my health and well-being before I throw myself back into the workforce. I can't work on my health and well-being at a shelter. That makes it worse. A tent will be fine, and preferably not alone. I'd like to not have to carry my belongings around all day as I go to meetings, appointments and odd jobs.

I'd like to be able to rest comfortably when I get a migraine, my neuro-muscular disorder is flaring up, or I am having a panic attack.

I realize that no level of government has anything it can give me right now, which means I have myself and my community to help me find shelter.

So anyway, to make a long story short, that's the question. What do any of us on the street or facing eviction do until this affordable housing appears?

We've been focused on alternatives to homeless shelters, working from the assumption that we need these alternatives regardless of what the shelters are like. I think we should have an inquiry into the poverty industry in this country, but in the meantime, it doesn't have to be about attacking the current services.

We're not DEMANDING anything yet, but when we realize, as a group of citizens, what it is we do need to achieve our goals, we may have to DEMAND it, and not just from the City of Victoria.

Space for temporary shelter needs to be made all over the CRD. And it will. If we, in cooperation with everyone involved (from homeless people to concerned neighbours) comes up with a plan, or plans, that we feel are reasonable and within our rights, we will make them happen. If any municipality makes a bylaw or chooses to enforce a bylaw that infringes on our right to shelter ourselves and each other, they will be asked to reconsider their behaviour. After all, they work for us, they are not our lords and masters. They are elected to represent the people, and if the people are behind this, they will have to overstep their authority to stop us.

Just because I don't want to work with city councils doesn't mean I want to work against them. It just means they don't seem to have the proper perspective to be able to provide much valuable input into our process. We don't want their money and its attached strings, and it's not against the law for a homeless person to shelter themselves, so we don't need them to make new laws for us.

When I say that I think that the council appears to want to see us dead, it's only because they have not worked hard enough to convince me otherwise. I mean no slander or libel. Just putting out some theories.  

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