Went to pick up Mrs S from her exercise class the other night and as I was driving through downtown was surprised to see a mini tent city had sprouted opposite Christ Church Cathedral near the junction of Quadra and Courtney Street. I knew things were tough, but it was the numbers that caught me off guard. We’re used to street beggars populating every street corner, but it seems a whole new influx are arriving to take advantage of the city bylaw that allows camping in city parks up to 7am in the morning. Here’s a Shaw TV special on Victoria’s problem panhandling (Begging) which barely scratches the surface.
Victoria, and BC in general has a homeless problem. To be frank it has everybody else’s homeless problems because the winters are generally mild and the culture generous and tolerant. A rough straw poll has down and outs from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and everywhere else, not just locals who have fallen on hard times. Local provision of homeless shelter places is (according to various sources) 175, with an additional seasonal 110, but it still doesn’t seem to be enough. My cynical side tells me it never will be. When the snows and real cold hits at the end of January / early February, even in the temperate climes we enjoy here, the city is going to be carting off human popsicles. As usual.
Which leaves Victorians with a problem. You can’t just let people starve and freeze to death, but how many have to turn up before downtown starts to get serious public order problems? More dependent people means more strain on local government, which has to cut other services or raise taxes to pay for all these extra mouths. Bylaw enforcement alone is currently costing the city CAD$700,00 a year and in September 2015 the figure of CAD$50 million (Now cut to CAD$30 million) was requested to build and run 367 housing units for homeless people. That’s right, fifty fucking million dollars, albeit over fifteen years. The additional taxes needed to raise this amount will put pressure on private landlords to raise rents, possibly resulting in even more homeless people. Then what? What with depressed resource prices, the economy not going anywhere fast, there will be less money overall to provide shelter and food. More beggars competing for fewer donations. Less tourism money as people get put off from return visits by being importuned at every street corner and then more cops needed to police the panhandling.
It’s got to the point where Mrs S and I are thinking of moving and buying a place in next door (and less expensive) Langford or Colwood. There’s no real economic advantage for us being this close to the downtown core, and so long as we have a viable fast Internet connection we can work from anywhere.
Now the homeless problem isn’t currently as bad as East Hastings in Vancouver or Seattle across the border, but it seems to me from an eyewitness point of view that despite all the money that seems to get thrown at the issue, homelessness is a bottomless pit. A slough of despond which takes a good chunk of determination for the afflicted to haul themselves out of, because no-one else can do it for you. I’ve been there. Had to live out of my car for a while a couple of decades ago and know how bloody cold and uncomfortable it can get, so I’m not totally unsympathetic.
It’s my observation that what keeps many people homeless are the little ‘luxury’ items like alcohol or drugs that they might take, just to make themselves “Feel a little better.” or take the edge off their misery, whilst at the same time prolonging it. I can tell you from personal experience that getting and staying out of that noisome hole takes willpower, persistence, and not a little luck. The intoxicants and non-essentials have to be ditched and every resource garnered to find work and a place to live. Anything but food and shelter has to take a back seat. Smartening up, swallowing pride and letting the slow burn fuel the push towards renewed prosperity. It’s a long, hard road with no short cuts and lots of potholes.
Sometimes I think the whole issue is like the foreign aid conundrum; give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he can feed his entire family. On the other hand; wells can be dug, irrigation taught, fish ponds created, seeds provided and the means to get produce to market improved, but if afterwards the buggers simply sit on their arses chewing Qat all day, or fight over everything, then you might as well have done nothing for them in the first place. Devil, deep blue sea…………
As for that New Years Eve business in Germany…. Can I join the Greek Chorus saying “We told you so!”