One of the more notable elements of this year’s municipal election campaign has been the sponsorship of all-candidates meetings in both White Rock and Surrey by groups dedicated to addressing the issue of homelessness.
The Candidates Cafe held last week at the new City Centre library by the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force and the meeting this Wednesday (Nov. 9, 7 p.m., First United Church) by the Peninsula’s Homeless To Housing Round Table are reminders to those seeking office of a problem all too often swept under the carpet.
It takes a lot of money these days to stage an effective political campaign – even on a municipal level – and in an era of low voter turnout it seems it’s those candidates who have spent the most on advertising materials and placement that have the best chance of attracting votes.
This can often mean politicians in local office who are insulated from some of the harder realities of a post-recession economy and more likely to have an empathy deficit common among our political leaders on every level.
To some, the only answer for those in desperate straits is ‘get a job’ and move on – preferably anywhere where they can’t impinge on the image of progress and prosperity.
But in a world of high debt and inflation, in which many of us are only one or two paycheques away from poverty, this is a dangerously short-sighted attitude.
Homelessness may often be out of sight and out of mind in our apparently affluent society – frequently at the wish of those forced to couch surf or sleep in cars themselves. It is a social reality nonetheless, and one in which the impact is likely to be felt on our own streets first.
What affects the citizens of our communities is the first and foremost priority of those we elect to represent us. All too often, the plight of the homeless is a missing plank in campaign platforms constructed of glib rhetoric.
To address the needs of have-nots in a meaningful way – beyond the frequently served menu of empty platitudes, dilettante charity drives or passing the problem off to some other level of government – requires some personal investigation, more than a little sober reflection and a large degree of personal empathy.
That’s why all-candidates meetings that acknowledge the existence of the issue are a valuable exercise – not only in terms of weighing the fitness of candidates for office, but also in terms of what they may end up learning for themselves.