Friday, February 27, 2009

If You’re Homeless Your Possessions Are Garbage

image According to the CBC the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, recently managed to capture on film of city crews dumping a homeless man's possessions into a garbage truck as an onlooker pleaded for them to wait.  He desperately tried to save his friends few meagre possessions by stuffing them into his own cart.  Imagine returning from the bathroom to discover that all of your worldly possessions has been thrown in the garbage.

It seems that the city of Vancouver has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to structures set up on its sidewalks, boulevards, and alleys.  The city is quick however to point out that it offers a five-page list of shelters where individuals can stay and sometimes it makes arrangements for people to keep items in a city storage locker for up to 30 days.

Isn’t that generous, 30 days and when the time is up you are back in the exact same situation.  It seems everywhere I turn we are treating poverty like it is something that should be punished.  Being homeless is not an individual failure it is a cultural/social failure.   There are many living on the streets that have jobs but simply cannot afford the exorbitant rate of rent.   Even with our socialized health care system many end up on the streets because of a vicious treat and release policy for the mentally ill.

In short there are various reasons why someone ends up living on the streets and regardless of the reasons, it should never amount to a complete loss of human dignity.  With our worsening economy, more people than ever risk not having a home to return to at the end of the day.  Instead of further shaming these people, we need to begin to create concrete solutions so that each person has a place to lay their head.  Private property has resulted in some of worst crimes against humanity.

I have been fortunate enough to always had a place to lay my head but I am more than aware that this has much to do with luck and undeserved privilege.  With tent cities sprouting across the western world we much begin to confront the problem rather expecting the homeless to just disappear into the background.   Homelessness is quickly becoming the invisible crises and for women it can be particularly brutal.

  • homeless women are under-housed, under-slept and under-fed;
  • 84% of homeless women reported having at least one serious physical health condition;
  • 33% of homeless women have difficulty walking, a lost limb or some other impairment of mobility;
  • homeless women aged 18–44 are ten times more likely to die than women of the same ages who have homes;
  • more than half (55%) of homeless women have had a mental-health diagnosis;
  • roughly one-third of homeless women reported difficulty with the basics of personal hygiene, such as bathing, using the bathroom obtaining pads and tampons and washing clothes;

As well, homeless women suffer from certain illnesses and health conditions in significantly greater numbers than housed women:

  • 50% of homeless women have arthritis (v. 20% of women in the general population);
  • 20% have heart disease (v. a 4% average);
  • 43% suffer from migraines (v. 15%);
  • 29% have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (v. 1%).

The particular conditions of the far north – the harsh climate, underdeveloped infrastructure, geographic isolation, high cost of living coupled with limited opportunities for employment – only exacerbate the hardships experienced by homeless women in the south:

  • all women in the north are at risk of becoming homeless, according to the North of 60 study, and it is a short slide into homelessness;
  • homeless women in the north have reportedly had to sleep with rotting garbage in order to keep warm in arctic winters, where the temperature can dip to -60° C.

There are an estimated 1,000 homeless women in the north, with 500 Yellowknife alone, 300 in Iqaluit – and a total of 2,000 if the women’s children are added in.

The extremely cold temperatures in the north make sleeping in the street a mortal risk. This results in a preponderance of “invisible” or “hidden” homelessness. These terms denote situations in which women stay with friends or relatives temporarily and/or stay with a man solely to obtain shelter. They may have a roof over their heads, but the have no home of their own. 

The above statistics are chilling and yet we continue to expect the underclass to suffer in silence as though we have not socially failed them through our neglect and privileging of material goods.  We pat ourselves on the back and declare that we are better than the US without understanding that better does not mean good.   Failing to provide shelter in Canada in some instances is tantamount to a  death sentence.  We should not judge ourselves by what others do but by what we are capable of achieving.  We cannot all be born a Weston however, we certainly can attempt to ensure that everyone that needs a home has one.


No comments: