Wednesday, September 30, 2009

gimme shelter....

How does someone living in the land of plenty end up living in squalor down by the river? How does a human being grow up only to be discarded, abandoned, invisible and forgotten? I took these photos of a small outdoor nesting place for a few homeless people in the city of Fredericton. Located down by the edge of the Saint John River, so close to the Delta Hotel that you could shoot your spit and it would most likely hit the bricks. Haves and Have Not's residing as neighbours. The Have Not's know it. The Haves are oblivious. The neighbour on the other side? The Lieutenant Governor's mansion. Nice......


The area is referred to by government and community organizations, and the media as "tent city." Its hardly a city when you compare it to the excessively enormous shanty towns and makeshift communities under overpasses in larger centres. But, it is what it is....a home for the homeless, the transients......the human beings who have either chosen to live outside rather than in, or who cannot and will not abide by the rules of the local Shelters.

If you were walking quickly, or biking leisurely along this portion of the Trans Canada trail, chances are you wouldn't notice the hidden pathways leading to small clearings where human beings have congregated. Summer fauna overlaps the entrances and keeps the secrets behind the leaves...... sort of. Attention has been given to the handful of homeless people by a locally formed committee that was set up to "deal" with the issue. Deemed as dangerous and unsafe due to mental illness, addictions, lawlessness, there is an urgency to rectify the "problem" by finding alternative living arrangements.

There are some who want to use strong tactics to get these "filthy dirty addicts..." out of the city altogether. Put them on a bus.... move them to another town. Get rid of the problem. Quick and clean...resolve the issue by pushing it on. This "approach" reeks of impatience and disregard. No time or interest in finding out why another human being has fallen so far down and away from "functioning in the community" or being "self-sufficiently independent," these strongarmed bureaucrats see them as an issue that needs to be managed. No time to be curious or to see how beneficial it would be to connect in some way with these Tent people in order to learn WHY and WHAT HAPPENED...... They probably spend more time discussing what colour their new office furniture is going to be than truly caring enough to take the time to understand the individual human beings who have fallen.

There are others who sit across from the strongarm types who are quick to say...... Give them housing. They bark out their politics to anyone who will listen .... the issue is not enough affordable housing. The government doesn't have enough affordable housing!! Oh yeah, if only we had a place to park them that would solve the problem, now wouldn't it? hmmmmm......... no. It's not that simple. It also isn't that simple just to pour money into a bottomless pit with no foundation either. Housing doesn't make a home.

If we had all the money in the world, would the issue of homelessness be solved?

Homelessness is a symptom of a much larger systemic problem where one social service department or agency works in a silo providing their goods, while another offers up another package of goods and no one communicates effectively. Communities don't get off scot free either. Its not just a "problem" for the public sector to manage! Everyone plays a role because it isn't an "issue" that has to be solved. It's not a "problem" that has an easy fix answer like some math equation.

A person living on the streets, or down by the river, or in a tent in the woods, on a park bench, in a car, under a bridge, may have a handful of people whom they receive some form of assistance from. Social assistance, food, methadone, addictions counselling, shelter options, medical assistance. Sadly, not one of those helping frontline people have the capacity within the confines of their job description to fully assist this human being. Why? Time. Work constraints. Designated roles and responsibilities don't allow for it. Lack of genuine political will. Lack of financial resources. Community fear. Bias.

So, the perpetual problem continues...... and every now and then when the neighbourhood raises their ire, or when the Queen comes to town the issue of homelessness hits the front page of the local newspaper. Then, it dies down.......... becomes invisible and the human being Have Not's are lost beyond the margins, away from any attention.

Autumn is now here...... and the nights are colder.

11 comments:

Kay said...

colder nights and winter approaching raises concern to resolve more 'issues'...the thing is, you can't help or assist people who don't want your help, there is so much more that lies beneath the surface here, so much, that not even one community can really over come.

Life is a choice.

Marja said...

Yes it is sad Govenrments and people have time and money though to spend on occasions and projects to show themselves of. The ego is a big culprit. In Cnada it would get extremely cold in winter. I hope they have a shelter to go to

Hope you are well Dana

urbanmonk said...

perhaps they could just let a community grow up by the river. That would be a novel concept. Thats often how our "great" societies have been formed after all

Anonymous said...

Good piece Dana

I am trying hard to find solutions to coming in for the winter. Some will come willingly, others are banned from Shelters. more just want to go home or move on but have no money or hopes of getting any. Whatever the case may be I try to never lose site of the fact that each and everyone is a human being equal to myself.

Thanks for bringing the issue out to the open

Mavis

Awareness said...

Kay....I'm aware of that, but I'd say many want help, and sometimes they are so mentally ill that they have lost the ability to help themselves. Perhaps many of them made the choice but when a person has lost all sense of themselves and have also been through many many traumatic experiences which have accumulated to a point where they feel a sense of brokenness we can only imagine, then it is time to intervene. The problem is, we rarely intervene effectively because everyone has their own skewed lens to look through.

Marja. Ego, timelines, political beliefs, lack of resources etc all play a role. There are shelters, but many who live outdoors either can't handle being indoors for mental health reasons or they won't abide to the rules because of their addictions.

Mavis....I want to write your story. I want to write about the work you DO.

Awareness said...

Monk....I missed you! Sorry. :) You're on the right track I think. Trouble is there is no order and the people who are living there are not capable of looking after their basic needs. But, they most definitely need to be INVOLVED in the planning of their future, and in the interventions they believe they need etc. It has to be done in a partnership of some kind.

Selma said...

I used to work in a homeless shelter in the inner city. What I actually did was drive the van around at night handing out blankets and food to people. I found it quite upsetting sometimes but also very rewarding.

I used to think that some people on the streets were there because they didn't want to be helped, but after about 6 months I realised I was wrong. They all want to be helped, they just don't know how to ask for it or how to accept it. They have lost the skill set that allows them to interact in a 'normal' way.

I find homelessness to be unacceptable and I think it is one of the great failures of modern society. I have no answers or ways to stop it from happening but I would do anything in my power to change it.

Such an important post, Dana.

Charles LeBlanc said...

You always had a way with words!!

Bon travaille!!!!

Awareness said...

Selma, you hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned. I see it this way too. They want help but they don't know how to get it, ask for it, who can provide it....etc. Over and over again I witnessed this and heard this during my years working in the frontlines of the welfare office, and hear it on the streets when I'm speaking to someone who is in this predicament.

Awareness said...

Merci Charles.... Hope our paths cross again soon.

Independent Chick said...

It is getting colder....