luke_16_rich_man_and_lazarus1“You’d think the homeless people would be better off by now, with all your meetings.”
That comment — courtesy of a relative — got me thinking. Exactly how long have we been talking about the homeless population here in Abbotsford? Seems like forever to me. And when will we get past the point of talking?

It shouldn’t be this hard. Sure I get to sleep comfortably every night — but people I consider neighbours do not. So let’s say the provincial government really wants to help those on the street here in Abbotsford. When it comes to tax dollars, do we just say: “please sir, more”?

Trite, I know, but money doesn’t appear to be the only problem. Apparently over a million dollars a day is shoveled into Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) — that’s over $3 billion in a decade. $3 billion??? Why isn’t every single homeless person on the DTES living in a mansion??? What exactly, has Vancouver got for $3 billion? Having lived in Vancouver, I think I can answer that — Vancouver now has increased numbers of people requiring shelter.

Was it Einstein or some other genius who said that doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result is insanity?  Since Abbotsford isn’t Vancouver, perhaps we can do better. What about using existing buildings that can be re-purposed for those who require housing — faster and loads less expensive than privately-financed edifices that take years to complete. In a city that managed to orchestrate Plan A — perhaps not the best example, since that’s something our leaders actually wanted to do — I’m sure we could find places large enough to accomodate housing and service options, such as group food preparation. The city-owned building on Marshall comes to mind.

Oh and here’s an idea — find out what our marginalized residents really want. Talk to them — don’t assume. Individuals on our streets — just like those of us in “regular” housing — are not an homogenous group. Even my writing about them is somewhat arrogant — how about allowing people to define themselves.

When we read a study in which homeless people say they want their own place, do we even know what that means? I don’t — although I am getting a better idea. If we just box everyone up, will that be the end of it? I don’t think so. A friend recently told me her sister has been housed 10 times. Even if we allow for some exaggeration, perhaps you get the picture.

Housing first sounds good, and it may be the answer. But why limit choices to a certain type of housing? Round pegs, square holes, etc. I don’t pretend to know nearly what an outreach worker knows. At the same time, I don’t take well to being patronized, and I doubt our homeless population does either. Those of us with adequate shelter understand the concept of choice. Taking choice away from those we say we want to help may simply perpetuate the merry-go-round.

Community appears to be very important to those we label “street people” Several times when I have visited camp sites – neighbours are close by. There appears to be a connectedness, a “community”.

And no, I am not idealizing here. Just like the rest of us, those in need of shelter can be different, but that does not mean “better” or “worse”. I would be neither physically nor emotionally strong enough to live on the street. That does not mean I consider myself “less”. But I neither do I consider myself “more”.

What if I had not had the family support that allowed me to stay comfortably housed? Just like my simple good fortune in being born in a wealthy country, I was also “smart” enough to be born in a supportive family. Otherwise I might be the person requiring shelter.

And if that were the case and I was a modern-day “Lazarus”, hopefully I could count on the rich man paying attention.