Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is 1500 Too Much For Shelter?

image This little house was designed by the students of Emily Carr University.  It cost less than 1500 CAN in materials to build.   Though they are no larger than 64 square feet, they provide shelter from the cold and a place to store belongings.  With several of these in one place they would foster a community.   They are currently being used by the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Society.

image Tent cities are flourishing across North America.   The system is overloaded and day after day the unemployment rate is rising.  Those who were living in poverty before the recession depression started are extremely vulnerable.  As the ranks of the homeless rise governments are at a loss for how to provide basic necessities.  The students who designed these homes have suggested that 10-12 of them be placed together with a communal kitchen and bathroom in the middle.   This  plan was rejected by the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster.

Quite often as in the case of Toronto, when the homeless set up temporary shelters and communities, the city rushes in to destroy their homes and remove any stability that they have managed to create.   We continue to turn people away from shelters night after night.   Even the lucky few that are able to find a bed are often subject to violence.  Is this really the way that we expect people to live?

Why is it we somehow find it more acceptable to have people sleeping in cardboard boxes with newspapers as blankets than affording them some form of stability?  The list for government housing  can take years and in some cases the buildings are so run down that the provincial government is no worse than a slum lord.  Though the divide between the rich and the poor is smaller in Canada than in the United States, it continues to grow each year.

As  long as we live under a capitalist system we are always going to have a number of people who for various reasons are going to be homeless.   It is time that we admit this very basic fact and work towards solutions that will provide permanent shelter and a decent amount of human dignity for all people.  There is no reason in a society as rich as ours for people to live in this kind of misery, especially when there are workable solutions available. 

If we were to incorporate a community garden along with the communal  kitchen and bathroom, at least some of the food would be self sustaining and healthy as well.  There are viable options but we cannot afford to pretend that this broken system is even marginally meeting the needs of those that it supposed to help.  With a little ingenuity and a  helping hand these homes could be just the beginning that a homeless person needs to regain the dignity that we socially strip from them because of their poverty.  A small place to call ones own, a door that locks, and a place to lay ones head, says I matter in this world.  If we can find money to wage war in Afghanistan, we can find money to build homes in Canada. 


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