Comment: Province should craft poverty-reduction strategy

In January, we wrote to encourage residents of the region to see the humanity of the residents of Super InTent City, and to encourage the B.C. government to take seriously the province’s social obligation to find meaningful and durable solutions to the crisis of homelessness. Since that time, much has happened.

Some perceive the past several months as “the worst of times.” Some local residents have been inconvenienced and a few have chosen to demonize the residents of the tent city, using the language of division and discord.

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Public disdain for the poor and the marginalized has a long history, and the less privileged have always been easy targets. However, to their lasting credit, most of the local residents, and most residents of Victoria, did not stoop to this level. Many were actively supportive of the tent-city residents. They seemed to realize that the causes of social and economic inequality, poverty and homelessness will not be solved by vilifying its victims.

On the positive side, notwithstanding the negative perception of some of life in the tent city, many of its residents felt it was their home. It was a community they had created. It gave them a sense of belonging and ownership, and a strong sense of community.

For more than 10 months, they had some of the benefits of a “home” that most of society takes for granted. All of us have some understanding of the importance of such belonging, such a sense of community. We must consider what life must be like for those daily seeking shelter in temporary accommodation, or in doorways.

The unique nature and presence of the tent city has resulted in the provincial government loosening its purse strings, in a limited but meaningful way. The government did not succumb to the temptation to push poor people out of a public space by acting precipitously to dismantle the tent community. For this, the government is to be congratulated and encouraged.

However, it is important to note that the response to date does not constitute significant movement toward a real solution to the crisis of homelessness in Victoria and in B.C. Such will remain elusive until this province follows every other province, adopts a poverty-reduction strategy, and puts resources and brain power behind solving the shame of poverty in a province as wealthy as ours.

As we noted in January, at this point in our history, affordable housing and justice for the poor appear to be in very short supply.

As we did in January, we urge the government to work toward finding a durable resolution to the crisis of homelessness and poverty. We urge the government to adopt a well-constructed poverty-reduction strategy as an essential first step.

We believe the faith community has a role in this endeavour, and look to partnerships that will facilitate the creation of such policies and assist in the creation of supports and housing so desperately needed. We urge the government to have the courage and show the leadership to address these issues systemically and with an evidence-based approach, and to commit the necessary human and financial resources.

Social Justice Matters Committee members are Brian Rendle, Rev. Canon Nancy Ford, Margo Matwychuk, Gordon Harper, Peggy Wilmot and Archdeacon Alastair McCollum.

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