I had to wait a while until after the Christmas holiday before writing this topic. It’s quite sensitive and I know I’m going to get heck from at least one person for posting this.
Canada has pledged to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees as part of a humanitarian effort to deal with the crisis in that troubled region of the world. Of that total, according to CTV News Kitchener, 1150 will settle in the Region of Waterloo.
Keep that point in mind while I quote the following from the Homeless Hub, an organization pledged to find solutions for the homeless:
“In the State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report, it was estimated that at least 200,000 Canadians access homeless emergency services or sleep outside in a given year. The actual number is potentially much higher, given that many people who become homeless live with friends or relatives, and do not come into contact with emergency shelters. Recent data from a March 2013 Ipsos Reid poll suggests that as many as 1.3 million Canadians have experienced homelessness or extremely insecure housing at some point during the past five years.”
Again, from the Homeless Hub, a report on the number of homeless living in the Region Of Waterloo:
No. of individuals estimated to be living in emergency shelters: 3,492 (est. for 2013)
I have checked other sources for the number of homeless people in Waterloo Region and have found comparable if not higher numbers.
The media blares about the crisis of Syrian refugees — who are not citizens of Canada and have not contributed to our social safety net — and runs feel-good stories about residents raising funds and opening their doors to them. All three levels of government, including Waterloo Region and the cities that make up that region, have ensured these refugees have a place to stay and even work waiting for them. At the same time, the call to address the homeless issue — which is higher in number than the refugee total on both the national and local scene — is met with the sound of crickets chirping on a quiet summer night. The respective city councils of Waterloo, Cambridge, and especially Kitchener are guilty of cutting funding for emergency shelters for the homeless to go to on cold winter nights. The federal government continues to cut funding to social programs and the provinces (particularly Ontario) have been placing additional restrictions on back-to-work programs like Second Career.
This is confusing to me. The homeless are citizens who once contributed to this country’s prosperity. They might be your parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker. They worked, paid taxes, obeyed the law and were good Canadians. When they, like me, hit on rough times and ask for a hand up (not hand out) to get back on the road to self-reliance, the response is indifference. Actually it’s more than that. It’s outright scorn.
We can thank our conditioning for that. How many times have you heard of the expression, “Don’t be a lazy bum” or “Oh, I’m doing nothing, just bumming around the house”. How many times have you seen how homeless people are portrayed on your favourite TV series or movie? Do you remember that scene in the first “Back To The Future” movie where Marty McFly returns to the present in a flash of light, waking up a bum who then slurrs, “Cahreeezy druwk dwiver” before nodding back to sleep on his park bench? Pretty darn funny, huh? I remember laughing at that along with the audience when I was an usher at a movie theatre where that movie was shown.
I don’t particularly find that funny now, but a change of perspective and fortune can do that to you.
That’s selective compassion right there. Show the government a picture of a dead child on a beach and everyone from the Prime Minister to the everyday Jane/Joe will open their wallets and pitch in to help. Show a picture of a homeless man on a park bench and all three levels of government will say, “no money” and the everyday person will say, “wow, hope that’s not near where I live! Lazy bum!”.
Maybe if we renamed the homeless “economic refugees”, they would get the same sort of help the political ones receive now.
Thanks for reading!