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JONESIE: The potential complications of success in housing the 'homeless'

February 06, 2019 - 4:00 PM

 


OPINION


What a time we live in.

Thanks to court rulings barring communities from banning homeless people from camping in civic parks and new cash from federal and provincial governments, communities around B.C. are finally starting to help their homeless. Municipalities are soaking up transitional and supportive housing from B.C. Housing and large chunks of our homeless populations are being moved from the streets to homes. There they should get the care they need, whether it’s a safe place to do drugs, get off drugs entirely, get mental health help and perhaps some living skills, even just safety.

These are fascinating, fairly fast-moving changes but my curiosity is not only about the present rollout but the results. I’ll be curious to see how many people entering transitional housing are able to, well, transition, graduate and get on their own feet. I’m also curious about who will be left behind and in both cases, how perceptions may change.

I grew up in Ralph Klein’s Alberta where many cheered as the popular premier gave bus tickets to B.C. for people on welfare. Welfare itself — drawing resources from other hard working people — was and perhaps still is shameful.

I carry some of those old school sensibilities myself, but getting face to face with these issues over many years showed me that not only is that presumption shallow and often misinformed, it’s also just poor management. Hospitals, jails and their respective systems are far more expensive to taxpayers than transitional housing and far less compassionate. I’m still skeptical of some harm reduction strategies, less so as counteraction to a poisonous illicit drug supply, but Just Say No and the war on drugs have failed miserably for years. I am content with failing in this direction for a bit so long as we keep assessing it.

But what happens if large numbers of people entering transition homes simply stagnate there? I can’t imagine a complete welfare state — benefits, housing, food and care — particularly one for just a small segment of the population, will be a good one for the long term. The goal is give a hand up, not a hand out, as they say.

What if they don’t take it? What do we do then? 

Now let’s fast forward a few years. If plans work as intended, the only people left on the street will, I suppose, be those who didn’t make it through a vulnerability assessment or were kicked out of transitional housing. When you enter these low-barrier transition houses (before moving to any next steps), you have to follow a few basic rules or you’re out. Getting along with staff and other tenants is part of that.

What do we do with those who don't?

My guess is that will expose that population among the broader term ‘homeless’ who muddy the waters, who actually prey on the homeless, as well as the rest of us when the sun goes down — the thieves and the thugs.

Police have said for years that many of the problems in our communities are not criminal in nature. They’re talking about open drug use and nuisances of people sleeping outdoors, leaving messes, needles and occasional confrontations with residents, security and bylaw etc.

Police don’t need to deal with those things and fair enough, maybe that declines significantly with a proper system in place. But what about thefts from stores, thefts from vehicles, thefts of bicycles, break and enters and sure, even poorly discarded drug needles? If taxpayers set up this elaborate and expensive system in part to reduce crime and conflicts in our communities and make them accessible for anyone who wants help — does that change how we deal with people who refuse and continue that criminal lifestyle?

Right now, judges tend not to send people to jail for those things, even after multiple convictions. They understand that these petty and sometimes not-so-petty crimes are part of a broken society and that society needs to fix it, not judges and corrections.

I'd suggest that must change if judges find that indeed communities have responded and there are no real reasons to commit these crimes and remain in that lifestyle anymore. Maybe for some of them, prison is part of the continuum of housing. 

We're doing this to help our fellow man and if we can truly help people pull themselves up, we're better for it. But there should also be some kind of general return for investors in the form of safer public spaces.

— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2019
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