photos: Photo courtesy of the B.C. gov't.

New election, same problems

Director's Corner: This May, tell politicians why we really live in this great province

Get on your megaphone

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“What do you think contributes to homelessness?” a CiTR radio host asked Megaphone vendor Mark last week in the makeshift studio set up in Megaphone’s office.

“A lack of communication between the people experiencing homelessness and the powers that be,” Mark replied. “They follow policies, but it has an impact on us.”

Mark explained that he recently had a bout with homelessness himself. After a mix-up with his automatically withdrawn rent payments last year, he hadn’t realized rent wasn’t going to his housing provider for several months. According to policy, Mark was evicted.

Thankfully, Mark was able to find alternate housing in a relatively short time. He spent a stressful three weeks without housing.

According to new research from Metro Vancouver’s Regional Homelessness Task Force, five people become homeless in Metro Vancouver each week. The number is stark but unsurprising. For many, bouts of homelessness are not so brief as Mark’s.

Every time I speak with someone who is losing their housing or in a precarious situation, my heart sinks. I’m afraid for them.

Losing your housing is an awful experience. Scary, stressful, frustrating. And, from my privileged position, it’s awful to witness, too. It’s a slow-motion nightmare to see it happening to someone you care about and to feel powerless, knowing how few options are available in our patchwork social safety net.

It’s hard for me to fathom how we have arrived at this reality, but it’s important we find a way to understand it. The stories we tell have power. Stories about the way things are and how they come to inform our understanding of what is possible. I often encounter the idea that homelessness is inevitable, that it is forever, just a natural feature of the landscape.

That’s not true.

The homelessness crisis in our communities today is one that was created by policy choices—by decades of disinvestment in social housing and social services. And though that’s disheartening, it can also be empowering. When we understand the story of homelessness as a reality we created, we can see it as a reality we can change. We see that we have choices.

The B.C. budget, released last month, is yet another in a long line of choices that ignore the suffering of people experiencing poverty and homelessness. Budgets tell stories.

They show us what we value, where we are going, and where our priorities lie. The BC Liberals’ budget chooses to tell a story that I think sells British Columbians short: “After all, isn’t that why people live in our great province: Secure a great job, own a home, and be able to keep more of their hard-earned money.” – Premier Christy Clark, Throne Speech 2017.

After listening to the Premier’s throne speech, I looked for the transcript online. I re-read that line over and over. Is that really all we want? Are our imaginations so limited?

I don’t think so. We want good jobs, secure housing, and the ability to care for our loved ones, but the British Columbians I know don’t feel the need to step on each other to get there.

British Columbians must make a decision.

Do we continue to ignore the suffering of our neighbours, to watch the gap between the very rich and everyone else grow ever wider? Or do we choose to fight inequality and to offer a hand up in solidarity to people experiencing poverty?

The decision we make will construct the reality we live in here in B.C. We all tell stories about the world we live in through the choices we make.

I hope we choose to change this story.

 

Join Megaphone April 12 at SFU Woodward’s in Vancouver for “Changing the story on Homelessness,” a free public event to wrap up our 6-part, reader-funded series. We’ll hear from experts in policy and experts in lived experience on what we can do to address the homelessness crisis in our communities. Outside Vancouver? Join the event via Facebook Live. CLICK HERE to find out more and to register for your free tickets.

 

Get on your megaphone

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