By Laila Yuile. Last week, Stats Canada and the Broadbent Institute both released surveys that indicated British Columbia leads the country in social well-being.
Not surprising when you think about it. After all, this is beautiful B.C. It’s the land of plenty, where the ocean meets mountains and opportunity can be found around every corner.
But in a province that leads the country in social well-being, why is homelessness still such a big issue for so many communities? Case in point is the City of Abbotsford. This Fraser Valley community found itself the target of several media reports earlier this summer for dumping chicken manure on a site where homeless people were camping.
While the city manager took responsibility for the issue, several media reports have since revealed that many city departments were involved in one of the most disgusting methods of dealing with homelessness I’ve ever encountered.
Last week, city staff “evicted” homeless squatters off another site in Abbotsford. So where did these people who have no homes go? Much to the chagrin of city officials, they went back to the location where the city had dumped chicken manure earlier this summer.
Was Abbotsford right to shut down and evict these homeless residents? Absolutely not. At least not without a feasible plan in place to ensure they don’t end up simply moving down the street like they did last week. It is within the city’s legal rights to enforce their bylaws, which include evicting and dismantling this camp. Yes, it is unacceptable to have people defecating and urinating in public areas, but without providing somewhere for them to go, they haven’t solved the issue — they’ve just relocated it.
The biggest hurdle Abbotsford has to overcome is to realize that homelessness is much more than a cosmetic issue to be pushed into back alleys and away from public view. Each of these people has a story behind what that pushed them to the streets. Once you are on the streets, it’s not so easy to get off. Many have mental health issues, addictions or functional disabilities that prevent them from accessing shelters, even if they are lucky enough to find a space. Everyone has a right to shelter, but a shelter is not a home. It’s time we all took a hard look at the problem, instead of turning our cheeks to avoid what it says about ourselves.
Photo by Bas Stevens
——Laila Yuile blogs at No Strings Attached and is a regular contributor to the Today Media Group websites.