Director's Corner: The homelessness crisis has lost its urgency. Let's change that.
It’s time to treat homelessness as the emergency it is
“Homelessness is a crisis that has lost its urgency.” I read that statement as I worked my way through the American non-profit Community Solutions’ report on homelessness. It resonated so strongly I said, “Yes!” aloud to myself.
The situation on British Columbia’s streets is dire. Megaphone’s updated report on Homeless Deaths in B.C. will launch this month, and the numbers are grim. We’ve seen preliminary statistics from the 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count. We know already that the number of people on the streets in the Fraser Valley increased by 73 per cent. New research from the Metro Vancouver Mayors' Task Force suggests that five people become homeless in Metro Vancouver each week.
The good news is we know what we need to do. The solutions are clear. Megaphone has spent the last six months exploring solutions to the crisis on our streets through our crowdfunded series.
It’s time to treat homelessness as the emergency that it is. If this were any other kind of emergency, the response would be very different. If (when) the Big One hit the West Coast, I have faith that government response would be swift and comprehensive. We would not enforce a no-camping bylaw and force people with no choice but a tent to pack up and move along each morning. We would not criminalize people who were homeless, ticket them, or confiscate their few remaining belongings. We would not cave to ‘not in my backyard’ sentiments to determine where emergency housing and shelters could be built.
We would move to action with a plan—one that triaged the situation and made people safe immediately. And we’d also look to ensure that things weren’t about to get worse—we’d work to prevent the resurgence of a similar catastrophe by addressing root causes. We know how to respond to emergencies. If this issue affected people with more political and social power, we would have long ago fixed it.
I’m proud of the team that put together this series, including videographer Kat Britten, animator Gord Price, editorial support from Rosemary Newton, and the team from our partners, The Tyee: Robyn Smith, Chris Wood, and Christopher Cheung. I’m grateful to the Megaphone community whose appetite for solutions and financial support made this project possible. And the Megaphone vendors who are on the streets of Victoria and Vancouver every day, working to tell their stories and build community support to make change. I’m particularly proud of the in-depth work and heart editor Stefania Seccia put into this project.
The three vendors on the cover of this issue—Sekani, Mark, and Ron—have all experienced homelessness. The stories they and other Megaphone vendors have shared about their experiences have helped shape Megaphone’s journalism and priorities. Our vendors sharing their stories is important because it shows that homelessness is about more than numbers. It is about individual stories of challenge, heartbreak, and resilience.
It is about kind, funny, creative, skilled people who experience incredible hardship. Our vendors, and everyone else who experiences homelessness, deserve a better response.
We’ll continue to advocate for solutions, and with a provincial election next month, I hope you’ll join us. Reach out to your candidates. Ask them what their plan is to end homelessness in B.C. Let them know it’s an emergency, and our government ought to start treating it as such.
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