If you’re homeless in Vancouver, you have no idea where you’re going to sleep after Tuesday.
Seven “temporary” shelters are scheduled to lose their funding and close April 30. If you believe everything you read, you’ll be back out on the street with your shopping cart, your blanket and 5 C temperatures.
Why does it have to be this way? Everyone from the premier on down has pledged to end homelessness, yet despite all those pledges, the actual number of homeless people is increasing and a solution is no closer.
One thing we’ve learned to do is over-think homelessness. If pledges were apartments, everyone would have a nice warm place to sleep. And there have been numerous Band-Aids slapped on the problem, from the temporary winter HEAT shelters to the red tents of the Pivot Legal Society. Everybody has an answer — and nobody has an answer.
The province and the city are playing their annual game of duelling press releases and media advisories. As I write, it looks as if at least some of the temporary shelters could remain open, which means about 400 of the 600 homeless people who use the shelters will be accommodated. The rest may have to skooch in or sleep under the stars … or because it’s Vancouver, the rain clouds.
Ric Matthews is the minister of First United Church, one of the seven shelters in question, which houses about 250 people a night, and one of the recipients of a pledge. Gordon Campbell shook his hand and declared that the province’s commitment to the homeless would not end when the Olympics were over and the world’s cameras trooped off to some other news event.
Still, unless something tangible happens between now and Tuesday, First United and six others face closure. I would hate to see that happen at First United because something very special is happening there. Gradually, quietly, it is becoming a real home for its nightly guests.
First United offers the right combination of location, support, services and safety to the people who sleep under its roof. And it’s offering something else — a commitment to community. You belong here: Home for the heart as well as the head. But that commitment is jeopardized by the latest funding crisis.
It’s time to do this differently. Time for the very important to stop making mutually contradictory pledges to the very marginal and start working together to find a real solution.
One that doesn’t always evaporate next Tuesday.