Comment: People are living in squalor in Victoria; we need to do these things to help them

A commentary by a retired social worker living on Cook Street, a few metres from the warming tent.

I have many years experience working with the population of homeless, mentally ill and addicted. I am horrified and disgusted by the situation that has been encouraged at Cook Street and Dallas Road.

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It is beyond comprehension that having people living in such squalid, inhumane conditions has become normalized in our community. I am fully aware of laws regarding personal liberty, but that liberty also implies liberty from victimization.

If an individual is unable to provide for their own most basic needs, a compassionate society would step in to assist. And that may well mean providing care to those who claim to not want it.

I truly believe that this claim of personal liberty is being used as an excuse for doing nothing. As long as the public is arguing about where a warming tent should go, actual people are needlessly suffering and being victimized.

So, a few suggestions:

1). Triage. There is no monolithic homeless person. Each person has their own story and their own needs. Some really do just need affordable housing, but that is a minority. Most require extensive, ongoing support and supervision to be able to live any type of comfortable life. And some will never be able to live independently.

2. Stop using old motels to warehouse people. It sounds like a sensible, compassionate idea until it becomes obvious that there is nowhere near enough support and supervision. As a result, those living in the motels as well as the people living/working near them, are being victimized.

3. Acknowledge that this is a public health crisis. Not only are people living in astoundingly unsafe conditions (two people were found dead within this area within two days last week), but what is being done/allowed is in no way addressing the mental-health and addiction issues that are the root cause.

And the argument that people cannot be sheltered indoors due to concerns about COVID-19 are absurd. Like being outside in the cold, no sanitation and so on is good for health?

4. Sometimes, life is unfair. Not everyone can or will be able to live in Victoria. I cannot afford to live in my hometown. That in no way means that people should be allowed to live in substandard conditions because rents are too high. Tents in the park and campers on the side of the road are not the solution. There is a need to deal with reality.

Having long-term taxpaying residents terrified to leave their own homes is not the way to build empathy and support for the homeless. Quite the opposite has, in fact, occurred.

5. Be honest about alternatives. The reality is that some people need to be institutionalized. Allowing people to wander the city while they are sick, cold, fearful, hungry, etc is an issue of basic human rights. It is an unspeakable cruelty.

And, given the level of violence crime that seems to be occurring within and around this population, perhaps some thought should be given to a forensic psychiatric unit.

Again, there are people who are unable to function on their own and expecting them to do so is a kind of victimization in itself.

I know this is a problem in many cities, but Victoria’s response has been consistently shameful. It is time to show compassion to those less fortunate.

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