GEORGE: Compassion rare as communities deal with homelessness

The classic image of justice includes a blindfolded woman holding a sword in one hand and scales in the other.

The symbolism of Lady Justice runs deep. The sword, the scales, the blindfold; all play a role in the classical depiction of Themis, the Greek Titaness.

More than anything the symbols lead to the idea of neutrality and impartiality. Power, whether political or social, is subservient to justice. I think it is time that we considered serving a measure of justice to those who find themselves homeless on our streets. They certainly can't expect it from those who consider themselves better than them.

I have watched closely over the past year or so as the people of Vernon have struggled to find ways to deal with the problem of homelessness in their city. I was saddened when it became clear that no one really had any good ideas about what to do to address it and instead began a campaign to deal with the homeless themselves instead.

Make no mistake; homelessness and its causes and the homeless themselves are two very different things. Not dealing with the systemic causes and instead of rolling out column inches demonizing the victims is emotionally satisfying but does nothing to address the actual problem. Blaming this round of victims, going out of our way to belittle them, to punish them, to kick them while they are down won't fix anything.

The causes of homelessness will remain and the role of the victim will be played by a new round of people once the current "villains" in this piece have been cleared from the stage. Many families find themselves on the brink of financial disaster, deeply in debt and ill-prepared for any further increases in the cost of housing or food. People who find themselves comfortable today will find themselves teetering a little closer to the abyss while those standing on the edge will slip over.

The recent skirmishes between the "Safety Task Force", the Social Planning Council, and the city council in this election year have been discouraging. Not so much on the surface but in the comments from people on social media and in the comments section of the news stories.

Somehow people have gotten the idea into their heads that good solid taxpaying business owners should have more of a say than someone who finds themselves living on the street. Last time I checked we were all citizens and more importantly, all human, no matter how much wealth we have managed to squirrel away or our social standing.

Compassion for the victims of our economic system, rather than a heaping helping of blame is what is required now. Many aphorisms come to mind. "As you sow, so shall you reap" seems most fitting.

So it was very encouraging to see compassion in action as a former area resident felt compelled to do something positive for the homeless.

The first three words of her GoFundMe story say it all. "Can you imagine...". And that, really, is the core of having compassion for others. Being able to see yourself in their shoes isn't as difficult as we seem to make it. It is dangerous though, as doing so strips away all of the little justifications we build up around ourselves so that we can continue to hold ourselves above others.

At the end of the day, the vast majority of us are only a couple of months away from being on the streets ourselves. Trade wars, drought, floods; all things that can drive us over the edge. Would it then be fitting to see ourselves as victims of circumstance? Or would we take our current "tough love" approach and blame ourselves for our situation and look for ways to punish ourselves further?

We purport to live in a just society. But justice without compassion is no justice at all.

"Can you imagine..."

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.


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