Being ‘Homeless’ vs ‘a Resident’

It’s a fairly uncontroversial observation to note that Vancouver has a lot of people who are homeless, by which we mean that have no fixed address. Many of these people sleep in shelters, if they can get in on time, or on the streets if they can’t. This is, of course, in addition to the ‘invisible homeless’, people who manage to get by by sleeping on the couches and floors of understanding friends.

While Vancouver does have a large quantity of people who are homeless, they don’t seem to ‘count’ though. Certainly, they count less than people who are ‘residents’, even though those people who are without a fixed address may well have been ‘resident’ in this city longer than many of those labeled ‘residents’. I, myself, can only be considered a ‘resident’ here for less than 2 years, even though I first moved here in 2006. The framing of this article by the CBC certainly seems to imply that I am far more important than any of the people without a fixed address, regardless of how long they’ve lived in this city.

Let’s take a look at some details. Stop Homlessness has attempted to do a census of the people who are homeless in Vancouver a few times. The most recent report can be found on this page (you can get the pdf by clicking on the “Final Report on the Results of the 2014 Homeless Count in the Metro Vancouver Region” link on that page).

On the 10th page of the document, in the Key Findings section, it states that 2,777 people were counted as homeless. 51% had reported living in Vancouver for 10 years or more. I wonder how many of the vocal “residents” in the CBC article have been living in Vancouver for that long?

Similarly, 582 of the people surveyed self-identified as Aboriginal, giving them ties to this land in terms of generations, not mere decades. Again, I wonder how many of the people complaining about ‘not being consulted’ about their new neighbours identify as Aboriginal? I suspect that this number is less than representative of Aboriginals in the city (2%) to the degree that the representation of the Aboriginals amongst the homeless is above…

While I’m certainly no fan of the military, given the date of publication of this article I think it’s worth pointing out another fact: while only about 1.7% of the general population of Canada are military veterans, they make up roughly 7% of the people who are homeless. I’m sure that they’ll view the wearing of the poppy with a slightly cynical smile. Gone, but not forgotten unless homeless.

To be perfectly clear here, these people are homeless for a reason, and that reason is the lack of investment in facilities and services to assist the vulnerable in our society. The ‘residents’ of this area were “angry” that they weren’t consulted about this facility being put in place (the sole purpose of which was to shut down a protest), much like ‘residents’ of any other area are likewise ‘angry’ when shelters are suggested for any other area. At some point it becomes pointless to ask, because the entirely self-involved ‘residents’ will demand the right to restrict who can live around them, a right that they are not at all entitled to.

The people who are homeless are entitled to human rights like the rest of us. Moreover, they pay taxes too (sales tax is a tax, in case that’s not self-evident) and should have to deal with being told, repeatedly, that ‘your kind isn’t welcome around here’. Additionally, given the percentage of people who are homeless that are Aboriginal, there’s a racial component here that can’t simply be brushed aside.

Ironically, the meeting mentioned in that CBC article wasn’t intended to be for the aggrieved privileged folk to air their complaints, but in order to help the ‘residents’ find ways to relate to and connect with the people who are homeless who were to be their new neighbours. But instead they decried their lack of consultation, like spoilt children.

The population of Metro Vancouver is estimated to be roughly 2.5 million. There were 2,777 people who were homeless surveyed, and likely many more uncounted. I think we can do better than this, Vancouver, and I know we can do better than whinging about homeless people being sheltered in our neighbourhoods: if you don’t like it, demand that your local representative invest more in initiatives designed to help those in need.

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