Opinion

Homeless are deprived of their humanity

Re: Homeless shelter to operate 24/7 – Mirror Oct. 17.

It is long overdue, but the conversion to fulltime operation of homeless shelters will certainly ease the situation of people previously forced to battle the elements outside and mark time until they could get back indoors at 5 p.m.

 What bothers me is the disclosure that if the shelter is converted to be open fulltime, it will be a place for people to find refuge and get back on their feet, not to “waste time.” Further, the shelter wants to get a signed commitment that residents will go out, come back with information that they have applied for jobs and that “they are at least looking for jobs.”

 While I understand that the Salvation Army is under new orders from the province and as such, it is all about getting a job; there are a lot of broken people who we send to the local shelters. They are broken by drugs, alcohol abuse, divorce, AIDS, early pregnancy, lack of education, dementia or mental illness, post traumatic stress and impenetrable hostility. The psychological burden of being homeless certainly does not make someone “job ready”.  Homeless parents with children and no available childcare are not “job ready.”

Homeless people who are exhausted from being homeless, whose feet have calluses and sores from walking everywhere, and keeping their shoes on 24 hours a day, who feel cold all the time, and who are constantly tired no matter how long they sleep are not “job ready”. Homeless people who cannot get dentures paid for by welfare and who are toothless or sick from rotting teeth are not “job ready”.

 To expect someone in this circumstance to sign a commitment to “at least look for a job” is not only unrealistic, but potentially reckless. To accuse someone of “wasting time” when they are not emotionally or psychologically up to par to do much more than rest, who are numb to feeling after such a long time of lacking sleep, peace of mind, personal security and safety, does not consider all the dynamics of homelessness.

I fear that if a work search is a requirement to maintain shelter, and it must be if they are having them sign some form of declaration to do so, it will be of no use to many people if the shelter is open 24/7. They will not “qualify” for shelter.

 What can someone who has no money, no address, no telephone number, no identification, no bank account, no adequate clothing, no or limited education and skills, and no home except for a shelter with a 10 day stay maximum possibly offer a local employer?

Will they be reliable, punctual, enthusiastic team players?

Will they have the ability to work independently?

Will they be able to serve the public well and come to work with adequate dress and deportment?

Will their minimum wage provide for the rental housing, nutrition, electricity, transportation and childcare they need?

Will they be able to find rental housing with the “welfare stereotype” that exists in this community among many landlords?

 If we want to tackle the growing problem of homelessness in our community, there must be some attention, some engagement from all of us, some willingness to focus on homeless people not as statistics but as individuals, needing care, needing to be welcomed back as full members of the human race. This could mean unfolding the social safety net and letting them rest in it for a while.

  Homelessness deprives people of far more than shelter. They have no place from which to be productive and giving, to be restored, to be welcomed, to be themselves, to enjoy hobbies, the love of a pet, to give physical expression to their personalities.

The homeless are, quite simply, deprived of their humanity.

Restoring that to them requires more than a  $70,000 public expenditure, temporary bedding and a mandatory job search.

Sian Thomson, Executive Director

Island JADE Society

Campbell River, B.C.

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