Today I did something that I haven't often done. I went to a protest rally. I joined my voice with the hundreds of other people there to speak out about the plan to convert a local hotel into a 61 unit low-barrier homeless shelter.
I feel it is imperative to state loudly and clearly that I do not have a personal vendetta against the homeless or drug addicted. I do not hate them. I am not unfeeling or uncaring about the situation they are in. However, I firmly believe that this is not the solution. This is not the answer these people need. And it is certainly not the answer that our community needs.
I know this is hot topic and there are differing points of view and I welcome your comments in the area below this blog. I am open to hearing different perspectives but this is my place to voice my opinion.
There have been homeless people in Maple Ridge for as long as I can remember and I've lived in the area for 24 years. Back then there were a handful of visible homeless and most likely a small number of those who kept themselves more hidden. However, back in 2010 when the winter Olympics were in Vancouver, many of the homeless from that area were moved out here, to give the city a more attractive look.
Shelters and soup kitchens were started. Churches got more involved in helping. All of these attempts were to assist the homeless to better their lives and circumstances. Many caring people gave and continue to give of their time to extend compassion to the displaced. But to what end?
I really think we need to ask ourselves, when we are working to help those less fortunate, what is our purpose? Is it to provide single meal? A roof over someone's head for the night? A place to shower? There is obviously nothing wrong with any of these motivations. Sometimes a temporary solution is what is needed. But shouldn't we be trying for more than that?
When our government is addressing an issue like dealing with the homeless, and are spending millions of tax-payer dollars on it, I think there are some key issues to be considered.
1) Why are these people homeless? I think this is an essential starting point because the why affects what needs to be done. Is it due to poverty and job loss? Have they fallen on hard times and just need a hand to get back on their feet? Or perhaps they are addicted to drugs or alcohol and require a different kind of help. Perhaps they suffer from mental illness and have altogether different needs.
2) What is the end goal? Is the end goal to have the Province supporting every person who is unable or unwilling to help themselves? For how long? And to what extent?
3) What will our community look like in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Will the problem of the homeless among us be solved, or will our neighbourhoods continue to deteriorate?
4) What affect will this have on the communities in which we place these shelters? What will happen to the crime rate? What about the safety of our children who are already finding hypodermic needles in the parks? Is it right to use people's own tax dollars to set up an infrastructure that will only hurt their safety, property rights and home values?
Clearly this is a complicated issue and I don't pretend to have all the answers. But I do know this, setting up a low barrier shelter which permits its residents to continue drug use in a neighbourhood near families schools and businesses makes no sense at all. We need to speak out and our politicians need to listen.