--> Getting It Right

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I’m of two minds about the purchase of social housing units announced this week by Premier Gordon Campbell and Minister of Housing, Rich Coleman.

A big part of me cheers at the thought that now, perhaps, we can finally break out of the partisan bickering that has defined this issue and focus on the cause of the despair.

The $80 million investment in single occupancy units and supported housing is an excellent step on the path to truly helping damaged lives.

However, unless we deal with the root of this epidemic of hurt and hungry people on our streets, we will soon fill these beds and still need more.

As I wrote last month, the GVRD estimates there are 3000 homeless in the lower mainland – most of those in Vancouver.

A survey of them shows that the vast majority are coping with mental illness, substance abuse and, more often than not, some variation of both conditions at the same time.

New supported housing, with dedicated teams of mental health workers, addiction counsellors and life skills trainers will go a long way to helping people who can be helped.

If, through this housing, we can stabilize a druggie’s life so that she isn’t selling her body for crack or breaking into your car, then we have made a real difference. If she gains skill enough to go confidently into the real world, away from her old life and work to support her family, that is success.

And success will occur one broken life at a time.

But if the plan is to warehouse the poor, the mentally ill and the addicted in downtown eastside ghettos, we have just made a terrible mistake. Although those making their living from the creation of a concentrated homeless population may disagree, social housing isn’t going to fix the problem.

We need to accept the government’s purchase of marginal housing stock for what it is: a short-term band-aid to the gaping wound that plagues our cities.

Some of the homeless should be incarcerated into mental institutions. Some of the homeless are excellent candidates for drug replacement therapy. Others need to be supported to return to their homes and their families elsewhere.

Because as crazy as it sounds, building more ghetto housing is not a sustainable solution to homelessness, because most people without a roof have complex reasons for their situation, other than a simple lack of housing stock.

So kudos to government for staunching the flow of blood. Now we all need to work through the underlying issue that caused the haemorrhage in the first place.

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