Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Forcing Homeless Into Shelters For Their Own Good

Do you smell anything funny?

Remember Tracey, the 47 year old homeless woman who unintentionally immolated herself on Davie Street during the cold spell last winter, while trying to stay warm with a candle? Maybe the smell is her burning flesh - I gather it permeated the area.

But no... it doesn't smell like human flesh burning to me. It smells strangely like horseshit - that kind of sweet pungency...

The BC government is suggesting legislation to force homeless into shelters during cold spells. They are citing the case of Tracey as an example. Conservative supporters suggest that just as the police are allowed to intervene in the case of an attempted suicide, they should be allowed to intervene in the case of people who are sleeping outside in the cold, sending them to shelters where they will be kept, if need be, under lock-and-key.

I am all for helping the homeless, but I have exactly five thoughts when I read this:

1. This is the thin end of the wedge that will allow for the incarceration of homeless during the winter Olympics; they will be kept off the streets "for their own safety." Yeah, right. If this is the real issue, it is grotesque and offensive to use Tracey as a pretext for the legislation.

2. ...which also feels dangerously close to the criminalization of poverty; if we can round up and detain the homeless when it's cold, why not at other times?

3. The truth is, if it's subzero and there are people who would rather be outside than indoors, it's probably a little too late to start worrying about them. If they would choose a freezing doorway over a shelter - this means that they have huge trust issues, for one. Locking up people with trust issues that large? Can you imagine it - homeless mentally ill people shrieking and clinging to their few possessions while cops try to force them into a van? I guess they could always taser them...

4. And isn't one of the main issues keeping the homeless out of shelters that they have to ABANDON their shopping carts and shit to be let in? Why not change THAT rule (or just greatly expand our social housing efforts?).

5. And speaking of spending money, if we REALLY want to address this issue without it seeming too little, too late, the province needs to radically increase funding for drug treatment programs and re-open Riverview or create a facility like it. Oh, wait, I forgot - we're bankrupting ourselves to throw the Olympics! Nevermind.

Am I just cynical? I wonder at times. Maybe the province should just invest in some of these handy portable homeless shelters to give out?

Do you smell anything funny?

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