To the Editor,
Re: Come down harder on city’s panhandlers, Letters, Sept. 1.
The letter writer concedes some of the activities of concern to her are the result of medical issues. She then suggests panhandling and public intoxication is criminal conduct. Mental health issues frequently do lead to criminal conduct. However, if criminal conduct is the result of medical issues, is it wise to sentence people to jail for being ill?
Putting up notices advising people they are breaking the rules by being publicly intoxicated, panhandling, relieving themselves in public, etc. is not going to work. If they are mentally ill, their behaviour is part of the illness. If they’re drunk or high, they don’t care. Judges aren’t going to sentence people to jail for panhandling and/or public intoxication.
Our social safety network is broken and will remain so for some time to come. It begins when young teens have problems which are not addressed by child services.
If a person has drug or alcohol issues in this province, good help is hard to come by. Most programs are only a month long and when people leave, they are back where they started. Welfare rates are too low for people to find a decent place to live. Community resources to assist the mentally ill and addicts are few and far between.
All of these services have been neglected for at least the past 15 years. Taxpayers wanted lower taxes and the B.C. Liberals provided them. When you de-fund a government, it no longer is able to provide the services a society needs. Nothing is going to change until the people of this province decide social services has to be a priority. That means real money being spent on education, health care, housing, police, social workers, etc. It means identifying youth at risk and dealing with it. It means providing ongoing mental health care. It means spending real money.
There simply isn’t enough political will to deal with the issues in any meaningful manner.