By Regina Dalton. Even though I have friends who delight in stainless appliances, and appreciate living in a new development, I’m fine with appliances from the 80s and a house that predates my arriving on this planet. I don’t criticize their choices, and they are okay with mine.
And just about now you wonder where the issue of someone’s shopping for granite countertops — or not — is going. Actually I don’t really want to discuss those of us who differ just a little — I want to focus on those whom society has decided are very different : the”homeless”, or “street people”, or “the campers”, or a few other less complimentary terms.
They are the folk we want to be more like us. If they don’t want stainless, let them live with ice boxes. In fact as long as we can get them into four walls, we don’t really care whether they have working appliances or not.
I say “we” because until very recently, that’s very close to how I thought — make people live inside. After all it’s the only reality I have ever experienced. And since I get on with life that way, so should everyone else.
However, if we look at life choices as being on a continuum, is it even slightly possible that we could leave a person’s choices up to them, and not try for uniform conformity ? I know the answer is “no”, of course — particularly when we throw in “cost to society”.
My argument is that society’s cost will decrease once we stop playing the “square peg / round hole” game. There is a percentage of those without shelter who would rather stay outside, even in horrendous weather, than go inside.
We know that more than one group in Abbotsford is trying to accommodate those who are now camping on both private and public land. Those groups know that we as a society can do better for the campers — much better than the 1930’s (and Abbotsford’s 2013) solution of simply “moving them on”.
And the confidence of those hoping to make a difference comes from their trying to change circumstances rather than trying to change people (and yes, change in the individual may be the bonus here).
Local Abbotsford residents — those who actually talk to the campers — know what many of the campers want. Community comes close to the top of the list — community of people similar to themselves. Safety also — and that often comes along with community. Shelter, but not necessarily what we middle-class types are used to. Individual privacy — similar to our own expectations. Food that can be relied on.
And what does our city want ? Well I guess that would be no campers whatsoever. But that’s not necessarily a reasonable expectation. After all, people who never, ever thought of becoming homeless are now living in tents. So how about the city working with those who believe a stateside solution could work here ?
Abbotsford does not have to reinvent the wheel — Portland has done the hard work for us.
Portland’s Dignity Village has been up and and running for 13 years, and tempting as a junket may be, we don’t need the expense of local politicians traveling to Portland to check out that city’s Village — its description is available to anyone on-line
People housed this way could have their own mini-residence (hopefully something more weatherproof than a tent), surrounding a central “community centre” offering cooking and bathroom facilities. Social service representatives could come to the centre to service those in the village.
The village does not have to be “in your face”. I expect campers will appreciate their own privacy as much as anyone.
There can be a time limit on residency in the camp, and that may encourage campers to get used to the idea of four walls — assuming our provincial and federal governments ever come up with funds to provide sufficient low-cost housing.
Will this work ? We won’t know until it is tried. We do know that very little has changed in Abbotsford since the Compassion Park fiasco, most likely because we haven’t tried anything new in decades.
And by trying something new — aside from the doing the right thing by treating people as individuals — Abbotsford could possibly avoid the disgrace of being featured yet again in Maclean’s.