Monday, October 15, 2012

Getting to Home ...

As I have travelled across BC, Alberta and occasionally into the US over the last few years, I have noticed  a marked increase in the population of people who are, for want of a more inclusive term -"homeless".This category is broad and includes the under housed, hard to house, housing poor, whatever term you choose to use, the dilemma reamains the same, These people do not have reliable, safe or affordable accomodation. The absence of this key element to human development and self actualization has far reaching effects on society as a whole and does not just effect the immediate individual and their family. There is a cost to society in terms of our healthcare, social services, judicial and policing costs for every person that finds themselves in this unenviable place. In Canada, the number is just over 50K per year. It is hard to imagine that it costs 50K a year to be homeless in Canada and that is only the financial cost. It is further believed by many to be a low estimate, depending upon the urban vs rural debate.  It is easy to look the other way and assume that the plight of the poor is entirely of their own doing. It is also not intellectually honest to believe that luck, chance and misfortune cannot effect us all at some point in our lives. A recession is not selective about its victims. I am certainly not saying that as individuals we are not responsible for our choices and decisions, we most certainly are.What I am saying is that it is not in the best interests of society at large to have a "one and done" mentality towards people who have made the wrong choices or fallen upon hard times. The simple truth is that regardless of your ideology or political bent, the problem of homelessness is a community problem.The degree to which we tolerate this problem is a direct reflection of the type of society we have become.

This is a topic I have struggled to understand from a theoretical perspective for many years. Admittedly ,I have never been homeless or ever came close. I can also say (very thankfully) that I have never missed a meal in my lifetime that wasn't by design. I can't even imagine how it would feel to come to grips with the thought of not being able to provide for my family. In truth, I have been blessed with a supportive family, much opportunity,a decent work ethic and the ability to accomplish most of what I set out to do. Not everyone has this kind of start in life nor do they get the opportunities I have been blessed with. Absolutely, hard work is required to take full advantage of those opportunities, but consider this for a moment- The pull up your bootstraps argument ,does not work for a man who has no shoes. Sometimes all people need to get back on track or even find a track is for someone to care enough to point them in the right direction. Not a hand out, but instead a hand up, with a view towards independence. I should qualify that last remark by acknowledging that there are those among us who simply are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves and they are truly deserving of our help. If this is so, then is it really a big leap to say that those who can help themselves and have lost their way, also deserve a hand up? Some help to get back on track? I believe that it is this next step of helping people toward independent living that will make the difference. I also believe that if they had the answers about how to accomplish that objective, they would likely not be in the predicament they are in. Granted, their may be many impediments to gaining that indepenence but as with all great comeback stories, the journey begins with the first step. They must be shown how... this is where you and I come in.

We can make a difference as individuals. You can volunteer at our local cold weather shelter this winter. You can serve a meal at the food bank and get to know some of the nameless people we pass by each day. You can listen to their stories and realize that, there but for God's grace, go all of us. I am not talking about creating a bloated bureacracy that fosters even more dependence, but rather a citizen led model of helping our fellow man towards once again becoming producing members of society. Notice the solution requires effort not just on the part of the benefactor but also the beneficiary. I will be helping out by supporting an initiative that has recently begun in Greater Trail ,called the Getting to Home program. It is operated by the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre and Career Development Services. So far in 2012, this program has helped to house 21 adults and 9 dependent children in our area. The primary goal of this program is to help find safe and affordable housing for those in need. I am encouraging individuals and local enterprises to support this worthwhile initiative with your resources and by encouraging others to do the same. For more information about the program you can contact the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre at 250.368.3713