Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Helping unravel the homeless riddle
It was perhaps 15 years ago now that my then-small sons and I were traipsing through a forest that is now the site of Scott Creek Middle Schoool, finding hidden trails, secret hiding spaces and otherwise enjoying some midday fun.
Our adventure took an unexpected turn when a man suddenly emerged from the forest. Nervous at first, we soon engaged him in conversation and learned that he was sleeping among the bushes and trees and spent his days scrounging for food from bins. It was then that I realized for the first time that the "homeless problem" was not confined only to the downtown eastside.
I raise this now because of two stories in our local papers today. This one describes the end of Coquitlam's "wet-weather mat" program for the year, and the ongoing dispute about how best to temporarily house the homeless. This one here reveals the startling news that a local business owner, operating only about a kilometre away from the site where my boys and I came across our homeless man, had set up his own privately operated shelter to help the homeless who live in forested land adjacent to his business. Bylaw enforcement officers have now shut down the unlicensed operation.
I've got to hand it to that business operator, Gerry Sly, for his commitment. While activists and politicians continue their lengthy and important discussion over how best to respond to the problem, Mr. Sly took decisive, short-term action.
The homeless problem is complex for the very reason that there's a different set of circumstances for every person who is homeless. Many are addicts or suffer from a mental problem. Some can't cope with the strictures of living in a modern society. A small number are, quite simply, vagrants.
With these varying causes in mind, whatever solution we find to the problem must, therefore, be careful to help the truly needy while not facilitating free-loading pauperism. Moreover, a true-long-term solution should also include a recipient's commitment to treatment, counselling or education.
Posted by Terry O'Neill at 8:43 AM