Our homeless neighbours who live in the bush or in their cars, or crash at a friend’s place, are scrambling to find a place to stay warm, as the Extreme Weather Shelter at the First United Church site is now closed because it is above freezing.
Some are seniors, others are in their 20s. Many have long-term mental health and addiction issues, and they are worn from years of survival on the streets, but there are others who for some reason have no place to go and turn up at our shelter. They go off to work during the day, but essentially there is “no room at the inn” in White Rock-South Surrey. Rents are too high, and stipends and wages too low.
It was but two weeks ago that I listened to the candidates for the federal South Surrey-White Rock byelection debate in our town centre one question about housing and homelessness (Hundreds pack centre to hear candidates, Dec. 8).
There seemed to be a lot of goodwill, which was heartwarming to me. It is true that each individual seeking election has the capacity within their philosophy and perspectives to solve homelessness.
But it takes more than “goodwill.” It takes will put into action – policy, structures and an infusion of public wealth – to assure every citizen has the possibility of safe, appropriate, affordable housing. As long as we are a society of mixed economic streams – low-income jobs, minimal pension benefits and meagre stipends – we need to provide for the basic necessities for everyone.
I left the debate that evening after the fourth consecutive question that focused on wealth management and security for investments. I confess I sometimes lack patience! Besides, I was on shift for 5:45 the next morning at the shelter.
People ask, what can they do. Yes, you can help with clean socks and warm winter coats, but we need to go “beyond soup and socks” to create housing. Talk to the mayors and councillors about changing bylaws to encourage building of rental housing. Advocate with the province to build subsidized housing and create a climate within the development community – like was done in the 1970s – to build mixed housing. Put pressure on our new member of Parliament to make good with the recent talk of a national housing strategy.
Put aside your own ideas about people who are homeless or on the edge of homelessness so that you can see them as your neighbours. Imagine this is your neighbour with the stability of a roof over their heads, the possibility, finally, of holding down that job or beating that debilitating addiction.
The last morning I was at the shelter, one of our guests returned with an envelope. With eyes averted, he handed it to us and then silently walked away. Inside was a small, handwritten thank-you note.
I await now to be able to receive a small note from him again – the day he moves into his warm, safe and appropriate permanent housing. Wow, wouldn’t that be a great day to be celebrated, for all of us?
Joan McMurtry, volunteer co-ordinator, White Rock