Comment: We must be better neighbours for each other

Many of us grew up playing the board game Monopoly. Park Place is the second most expensive property on the board, and has the highest rents and mortgage value — sound familiar?

Victoria has put a new twist on this, and designated certain parks for our most vulnerable to seek shelter.

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The City of Victoria continues to address our homelessness crisis, which has not been simple, particularly during a global pandemic. This has been extremely controversial, ­especially as it relates to our cherished Beacon Hill Park.

It seems that many residents are opposed to city parks being used for sheltering, and yet ­others are not. Some communities have really stepped up, and others have not.

Let’s be realistic. We’re all ­living in unprecedented times, and while many of us are housed, we still have many who are not. While the pandemic has stolen the spotlight this past year, issues such as homelessness and the opioid crisis must remain a priority.

If you look at the number of people dying on our streets throughout Canada, you quickly realize this can’t continue.

Meeting filmmaker Krista Loughton several years ago certainly helped me understand more than I ever knew about the issue of homelessness, and the challenges we all face in order to eradicate the problem.

Her documentary film titled Us and Them moved me to the point of sponsoring a screening in my old hometown of Red Deer, Alta., in 2017.

Homelessness redefines ­vulnerability. Whenever I think of, or see, our street neighbours I’m reminded of the outstanding work of Brene Brown, the author of Daring Greatly.

In her book, she outlines some fundamental ideals, including the first one that states: “Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We’re hardwired for connection — it’s what gives ­purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.”

With the news of the coronavirus vaccines rolling out, we might consider another injection — one laced with a good dose of compassion.

It’s sometimes those closest to the turmoil that can become hardened, such as those working in enforcement roles.

Recently, I witnessed the removal of one man’s property from Regatta Point Park in the Railyards, in Vic West. He was the lone occupant in the park, although his girlfriend joined him on occasion.

They were both clearly distressed, and it wasn’t long before residents called police. A few days later, about a half a dozen bylaw officers, and a police officer converged on the park and remedied the problem — or did they? There didn’t appear to be any mental-health workers in attendance.

How many of our street neighbours have we now ­displaced in our city?

Yes, in some cases it has been absolutely necessary, and maybe this was the case in the Railyards. The shelter he had meticulously constructed, taken apart and rebuilt on several occasions may not have been safe or in accordance with city regulations.

It was clearly evident that most of his belongings had been soaked by rain, and that he possessed a great deal of materials that had been strewn about the park. The man walked away with nothing, and I couldn’t help but wonder how we really helped this fellow human being.

We all know that one of the primary solutions is more housing, and there are certainly those working toward providing more shelter for those at risk. It’s also obvious that there are those that could be doing more, such as neighbouring communities.

While there are still ongoing concerns regarding public safety in and around some of our parks, and downtown, we must remember that our most ­vulnerable have no sense of place — they’re homeless.

They’re not all criminals and drug addicts, and they continue to struggle through these ­perilous times. It seems to me that we could all be better neighbours, especially those of us who are more privileged.

Steve Woolrich is a crime prevention practitioner and the principal of Rethink Urban’s collaborative focusing on community safety and well-being.

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