IT ONLY TAKES ONE VOICE
Audrey LaFerriere, is a senior woman living in the Oldtown area. She has embarked on a campaign to raise awareness of the homeless situation in Vancouver. She would like the City of Vancouver to earmark Storyeum, the now defunct tourist attraction that didn't attract many tourists and was forced to close its doors.
Storyeum is a public asset owned by the City of Vancouver and is located in Gastown. It is a huge cavernous space, quite valuable and it appears that the City isn't open to the idea of turning it into a homeless shelter.
The fight though by Ms LaFerriere is a good one. Whether the fight will actually be about turning Storyeum into a shelter but using Storyeum symbolically to raise awareness of the escalating homeless issue and the need for more shelters is a noble idea.
Ms LaFerriere has had difficulty encouraging the various charitable groups in the area to support her vision. They tend to claim that the political fight must be about housing first--not shelters and while we all agree that affordable housing is desperately needed, building it takes time and in the meantime we have around 3,000 homeless citizens in our Metro region.
One would have to be blind not to notice that we have a worsening homeless problem on our streets. The homeless numbers, unfortunately, keep growing and I'm not certain we can ever build enough affordable housing or fast enough to keep these homeless citizens safe, warm and secure.
Once citizens find themselves homeless, this begins a vicious cycle of continued homelessness. Chances are the homeless will move in and out of homelessness even if we can offer them other resources such as affordable housing, detox, mental health care facilities or treatment beds.
We therefore need to re-think shelters as an option so that the homeless don't die out on our streets, however, .the current model of shelters isn't at all adequate. Most shelters require you to leave by 7 am and they do not offer a range of services
Proper shelters as defacto permanent housing for the homeless must be considered since many homeless as I mentioned may not be suitable for the standardized subsidized housing model that we currently employ.
Shelters ideally should be open 24 hours, with properly trained staff, laundry facilities so the homeless have clean clothes. Showers and bathtubs should be part of the facility and a no-cost cafeteria where the homeless if registered at the shelter have access to proper nutrition. Common community rooms, including a library would allow the homeless to socialize and interact
The public has been informed that it is very costly to have people homeless. The costs are astronomical when you consider the impacts homelessness creates. Bad health, increased drug addiction and alcoholism, untreated mental health and many other social ills, including criminality which comes as a result of homelessness.
While many affordable housing activists and organizations who manage the poor, oppose homeless shelters as a housing solution, after all it is quite easy for them to do so since they are not homeless themselves, but from a pragmatic point of view, shelters could very well be our best option to assist people in turning their lives around and keeping them warm & safe.
Ms LaFerriere's homeless crusade has merit and every Sunday from 2pm-4pm , she and other supporters are in front of Storyeum on Water Street, asking people to sign their petitions, calling for shelters. They also provide free sandwiches and other snacks to the hungry, destitute and homeless. If you have an opportunity please stop by and offer your support or encouragement.
This past Sunday on a crappy wet day, I went down to Storyeum and chatted with Ms LaFerriere and a few supporters. Two brave individuals who are assisting Ms LaFerriere include Rachel Davis, a Carnegie board member and Wilf Reimer, an activist in the neighborhood.
Remember folks it only takes one voice and from that voice, amazing things can and do happen. In this regard, kudos to Ms LaFerriere for standing up for our homeless citizens
Jamie Lee Hamilton