Interesting, but not surprising, to read in my local newspaper that my home city of Victoria, BC, Canada, is not alone as it wrestles with the problem of people who are homeless – and want to remain that way until their demands are met.
Demands? Yes, I think that’s the right word when interpreting the statements attributed to one Ivan Drury who was in attendance Thursday (Feb.25) for “a celebration” at self-proclaimed “tent city” on what was once the lawn of Victoria court house. Any semblance of a lawn disappeared in winter rains weeks ago as ramshackle shacks and tents from modern to reclaimed sheets of tattered canvas covered every square foot of a once demure, peaceful patch of green.
On one side across the street stands Christchurch Cathedral solid and solemn in its affirmation that those who provide shelter, clothing, food and drink for the needy are following original, admirable doctrine advocated by Jesus Christ: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.”
On another side stand the Law Courts where the rule of law, the most important foundation stone in any society claiming to be governed by the ideals of democracy, is upheld. The courts have decreed that where a government fails to provide adequate “shelter” for its citizens the “homeless” can pitch a tent or build a shelter on public land until more adequate accommodation becomes available.
While church and the law sit in their respective, comfortable, cloisters collectively washing their hands of the core issue while voicing religious or legal opinions, Victoria’s “tent city” festers in the muck.
Ivan Drury sees it as a place “created by poverty” where “brave leaders in the fight against poverty and homelessness….” have come together “to show the way out of this crisis.”
He adds that the only way out, the only solution, is permanent affordable housing for low income people. An admiral objective strongly supported by church and law – neither being burdened with the awkward business of finding the money to achieve what is obviously a desired aim.
Donna Ambers, indentified in the newspaper story as “the camp grandmother” told all who would listen: “This is our struggle and we’re winning. We are not leaving. We want land. We don’t want temporary nothing. We don’t want shelters. We don’t want anything like that and we want to be able to stay as a community not dispersed around the city.”
I don’t expect Ms.Amber or anyone else in “tent city” to believe me, but there was a time when I, and thousands like me, wanted what she wants today. Eventually we got what we wanted, not as gift from government dispensing money collected from better established taxpayers, but during a long and sometimes painful journey when money was always scarce and our roofs not always weatherproof.
We had morale help from friends, learned to live without vacations, search for second-hand clothes, didn’t dine out and confined our drinking to plain tea or coffee. In 1948 I paid $1,500 for my first bit of land in Saanich – every penny “saved” from my $37 a week pay for a “first home” shack that would have been right at home in “tent city.”
What about the demand that government (the people we give billions of dollars a year to spend on our behalf) launch massive housing projects with low mortgage or low rental availability? No problem – other than where to place it on the taxpayer demand list and what to build. New towns in what is now wilderness? Condo towers to boost down-town populations? And cost?
We can afford it? Indeed we can – but we can’t afford everything we need. Something – other than taxpayers already weighted down with costs for health care, education, police and fire protection, potable water, public transportations, domestic water supply, recreational facilities, street lighting, exorbitant hydro rates and of course parks, presumably for the beneficial use of all citizens – has to give.
All suggestions welcomed.