21 November 2008

"We need something like a refugee camp"

No matter how much, if anything, is planned toward providing affordable housing, that housing will be built in the future.

What's to be done now, then, for the people currently homeless - and the ones soon likely to join their ranks?

Writes Jody Paterson, a BC activist working on poverty issues,

we need something like a refugee camp, where people can live indoors and be connected with support services until something better can be worked out.

Not more shelter beds, but a place where people can live indefinitely until something more permanent is available. A place where the police aren't always gunning for you and there's room to store your stuff. To get out of the weather. To stay out of harm's way.

Admittedly, any place where several hundred distinctly different people had to co-exist under one roof would almost certainly be chaotic and challenging. In any kind of sane world, no one would consider the temporary warehousing of masses of complex and impoverished people.

But this isn't a sane world. And a refugee camp for those on the street isn't nearly as crazy an idea as just leaving them out there.

If governments are able to emergency house people whose homes have been destroyed by fire, then why can they not provide temporary housing for the currently homeless - not shelters, which are open only certain hours?

There will always be some people who are "homeless" because not everyone wants to live surrounded by bricks and mortar. But for the many more who would choose permanent shelter, rather than the nomadic existence, Paterson's solution makes sense.

But when did sense have anything to do with government policy when it comes to homelessness? That governments DO temporarily house people during emergencies but DON'T act to deal with those now without homes suggests that ideology is the culprit, not lack of resources.

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