19 November 2009

One Homelessness Factor Avoided Like Plague

This story illustrates one major contributing factor to the swelling numbers of homeless in BC. It's constantly avoided by the powers-that-be in this province.

Sherry was polite and resolute.

I was puzzled. I asked why she was willing to sleep in a parking lot in order to be with her cats.

"They've always been with us," Sherry told me. "Even just moving out of the house, one of our cats - because she'd been abandoned before and she'd been abused - she thought that we were going to leave her. She just got really freaked out and stuff."

Sherry looked me in the eye. Tears welled in hers. I forgot whether she was talking about her cats, or herself.

"We're not going to leave her," she declared.

Lori gave Sherry an armload of food, and promised to check back in a few days. We wished her well and left her at the edge of the crumbling blacktop.

The minivan was quiet as we drove away. Lori finally broke the silence.

"Actually, that happens quite a lot," she said. "People who've lost everything else, they get quite attached to their pets. Their pets are like family."

Not quite. For people who have lost everything else, their pets aren't LIKE family, they ARE family.

Consider this question, seriously: Would you give up your family for a roof over your head?

Before you answer that, don't make the same mistake Lori did. Accept the fact that for some people, their pets ARE their family. You may not consider animal companions in the same light. If you have pets, you may view them as being LIKE members of your family, but you are not so attached to them that you couldn't imagine giving them up for a roof over your head. Such is not the case for the people I'm talking about. For the purposes of my question, your view of pets isn't the issue; it's their view that matters, which is why I've framed the question as I have.

So again, I ask: Would you give up your family (your children, or dependent sibling or parent) for a roof over your head?

The problem in BC isn't just about the scant few pet-friendly shelters for the homeless. Contributing to the problem is the BC Residential Tenancy Act which allows landlords to deny accommodation to people with pets. And because property owners can do this, almost every last one of them does do it.

No serious discussion about housing for low-income BC residents can endlessly avoid this issue. The more destitute or alone a person is, the more likely s/he is to have a pet. For housing legislation to allow that a pet be given up for the sake of housing, temporary or permanent, only contributes to the problem of homelessness.

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