This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Legalize tent cities.
As my regular readers know, I have a real issue with the way homelessness is dealt with in many cities. Instead of doing what needs to be done to alleviate the issues related to homelessness, it seems we are getting closer to criminalizing homelessness related activities and issues like many American cities are doing. In some US states,even feeding the homeless is illegal.
Is this what it has to come to? Have we no compassion at all anymore? Even if the provincial and federal governments kicked in all the money and land needed to build more affordable housing right this second, it still would leave us with a certain portion of the homeless population outside camping. Is it better to continually invest all the time, bylaw and police resources to do continual sweeps and cleanups? Or is it time we acknowledge our communities failures along with a heaping dose of reality and look at alternative, interim approaches? This is as much about the economics of these homeless camps as it is about compassion.
One thing I know for sure, what is currently happening clearly isn’t working when you see the number of tents, camps and tarps in parks and lots in Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods. This week, Brent and I are taking the lead in looking at this issue. Please, feel free to disagree or perhaps you agree, but let’s get the conversation started.
This week’s topic: Should local governments enact bylaws that would allow and regulate legal tent cities for the homeless?
If there is one thing that remains true about the state of homelessness in Metro Vancouver, it’s that no one has been able to solve the issue. For years we’ve seen a never-ending stream of conferences, studies and task forces on the root causes of homelessness, with an equally generous number of promises to find solutions. So where are they?
There is even more finger-pointing between various levels of government as political leaders on the hot seat try to pass the buck when the media spotlight shines on issues of unresolved homelessness in their community. A good example of this is the Oppenheimer Park tent city last year that brought Vancouver national attention. The city of Abbotsford’s antagonistic approach to dealing with people on the street – which included chicken manure – raised even more compelling questions not only on how to deal with homelessness, but how we view it.
Read Brent Stafford’s columnhere.
Both situations speak to the need for immediate action on interim and long-term solutions. If community leaders want to avoid similar issues this summer, they need to start now. Most shelters currently only offer an overnight bed, sending residents back to the street during the day. Many don’t offer space for belongings or a cart, and a large number of homeless choose instead to camp in lots, parks or wooded areas instead. This is not going to change – it’s been happening for decades.
The result is never good for a community. Public urination/defecation, and garbage impact the health and welfare of both campers and neighbouring residents or businesses. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is now addressing the growing need in his city by proposing new legislation to authorize and regulate three more tent cities. Yes, there are others – six within the city, and King County has several. He makes it clear it isn’t a long-term strategy, but a much safer interim option than what is happening in parks, alleys and vacant lots…
Read the rest of this weeks column, vote and comment at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2015/01/18/the-duel-legalize-tent-cities
This is a link to Seattles current tent city website, which is run by social service agencies and religious organizations on a rotating location basis. http://www.sharewheel.org/Home/tent-cities
And a recent news stories on Seattle mayor Ed Murrays proposal http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2025464425_homelessencampmentsxml.html