COLUMN: Scare tactics don’t foster solutions

Reporter' Viewpoint

It seemed appropriate a government press conference officially announcing the construction of a social housing unit on Wesley Street was held in the pouring rain.

The project, when completed, will provide not only a roof over the heads of some of Nanaimo’s homeless, but four walls as well.

The press conference should have given the participants a good idea what it was like to be out in the rain with nowhere to go.

Fortunately – or unfortunately depending on how badly one wanted to get the homeless message across – a couple of large tents were erected to protect the officials and media, the electronic sound system and the array of goodies for people to snack on.

I stood listening to the speeches, gazing out at the rain and wondered what would I do if I didn’t have a warm rain jacket to keep me dry until I ran back to my vehicle and then drove home for the night?

What would I do if I my jacket was flimsy, my shoes had holes in them and I had nothing to eat and no place to sleep that night?

I can’t even compare that to the rainy days I’ve spent hiking because I had a tent and sleeping bag to crawl into. I had cooking equipment to prepare the meal I brought with me.

I had everything I needed.

But what if I had nothing? What if I didn’t have family or friends to turn to, or wore out my welcome with them?

My wife and I recently sold our house in Pleasant Valley and bought a condo in north Nanaimo. We love it and are safe and sound every night.

Throughout the summer in the north end, I noticed a man on a bicycle more than a few times. Often he was returning bottles, sometimes he was resting under some bushes and other times he was going through garbage bins.

The other day we saw him with what I assume are his worldly goods strapped to his bike along with a large, folded piece of cardboard that looked like it once held a freezer or refrigerator.

“What’s he got now?” my wife asked.

“Probably his bed or shelter,” I said.

And then we went home and commented on how hard it was raining and how I really should get a good coat of wax on my truck before winter set in.

Back to my original point, what would I do if that was me and all I had was a piece of cardboard and some plastic to keep the elements out?

For the life of me, I don’t have an answer. I can’t imagine being in that situation.

The only thing I can think of is to ask for help. Seek out the services available in Nanaimo that help those who can’t help themselves.

And that includes the social housing units going up on Wesley Street and proposed for Bowen and Boundary roads, and Uplands Drive.

I’m of two minds about the government’s Housing First initiative. The Uplands project is a few kilometres from my home.

Does one portion of society deserve to be given a home courtesy of the taxpayer while others must struggle to make ends meet all on their own?

Should the residents of these units be allowed to continue their destructive lifestyles while living there or should they be required to seek all the help available as a prerequisite to free housing?

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said he has a hard time turning his back on the homeless and pretending they don’t exist. I agree. They are not going to go away and need our help.

I don’t have an answer, but I do know it won’t be found if people let their emotions rule their decisions.

It’s a topic that requires seeking out answers through relevant information, not scare tactics. It requires co-operation from all stakeholders to come up with a solution to satisfy everyone.

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