As we hit the final stretch of Christmas preparations – juggling the usual spate of social invitations and last-minute shopping needs – it’s well that we slow the pace for a while and give some thought to neighbours who may be less fortunate than ourselves.
Homelessness and poverty may seem to be invisible problems in supposedly affluent White Rock and South Surrey, but every volunteer and social service agency on the Peninsula can tell you they are nonetheless real.
There are vulnerable people in our community – people on fixed incomes such as disability and old-age pensions, those eking out a bare living from low-paying jobs, those who must rely on the kindness of family and friends to keep a roof over their heads.
As they get squeezed by rising rents (the spectre of renoviction is more than a Dickensian Christmas ghost, alas) and punishing food and medication costs, making ends meet is well-nigh impossible, while homelessness looms as a very real possibility.
We must be glad at this time of year that the community has embraced the concept of an extreme weather shelter, offered for the past five years at First United Church in White Rock.
When temperatures hit zero, or continuing wind chill or inclement weather poses a genuine health risk, the shelter is open for those in need – whether they are actually homeless or living in low-rent accommodation with insufficient heat.
Volunteers and the homeless have formed a good relationship, which speaks well of our community, and those in need know that there is a place for them under such circumstances.
But those tasked with providing such emergency shelter know that it can only be a stop-gap solution at best – the grim cycle of poverty and homelessness doesn’t end when the season passes and temperatures rise. What the Semiahmoo Peninsula needs for Christmas is a year-round shelter – particularly for seniors – and a meaningful commitment to affordable housing.
If we’re tempted to say these misfortunes are not our problems, we should pause and reflect on the meaning for all the celebrations we have at this time of year. Our tradition of giving Christmas gifts, after all, is based on a notion of honouring gifts that we ourselves have received.
Whether we do this as a tenet of religion, or out of whatever our belief system may be, we must acknowledge that the underlying concept of the holiday is rooted in being a good neighbour.
Let thought for the less fortunate be part of our wishes and actions this Christmas and in the new year ahead.