Many of us have watched with a growing sense of uneasiness and disbelief as the tent city on the courthouse lawn in Victoria has taken on an aura of permanence. Many have wondered: Is this Canada in the 21st Century?
There’s another word for the haphazard collection of wood, plastic, cardboard and fabric that has taken root in the heart of one of Canada’s major cities and B.C.’s capital: it’s a shanty-town.
The term shanty-town has been more usually associated with ‘third-world’ countries, places where the standard of living is so low people can’t afford a proper roof over their heads, running water, enough food to meet their nutritional needs, help with health and mental issues.
That a shanty-town has sprung up amidst some of the most affluent real estate in Canada, in a city consistently judged one of the most beautiful in the world, is a puzzle. What’s going on? What can be done to dismantle the pallet sidewalks and reclaim the public space for all citizens?
The answer is simple: provide a modicum of shelter, food, clothing and services for the people who find themselves squatting on the court-house lawn, and most of them will soon be gone.
Don’t offer them temporary housing in a cynical ruse to disperse them, then send them out into the street again a few months later; these are street people – they’ll see through that kind of gambit in an instant.
And don’t ask municipal levels of government to cope with the issues of poverty and homelessness – unless you’re going to give them adequate, sustained funding to provide the facilities, programs and services homeless people need.
And don’t blame the homeless themselves. Shanty-towns don’t just happen. They spring up when we as a society create the conditions that make a jumbled collection of thrown together habitations the best a group of our citizens can do for themselves, and if we bulldoze one tent city, another will spring up to take its place until we go to the root of the problem and offer real solutions.