Offer homes and stability, not punishment

10-16-12

CWP Board Member for the Yukon and member of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, Reanna Mohamed, wrote a letter to her local paper about addressing the root causes of addictions and poor behaviour: poverty.  Policing poverty will not end the cycle and is more costly than offering a stable, healthy home and supports.  Reanna reminds us that focusing on symptoms is not the answer.

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Dear Editor,

This letter is being written in response to some of the recent media coverage regarding the escalating violence on downtown Whitehorse streets. In a recent Yukon News article, a Whitehorse resident had expressed frustration with the lack of protection from police when pedestrians are being accosted and harassed by intoxicated people. On October 3, there was a story on CBC radio (afternoon show) where a man was attacked and he and his coworker had to fight back to avoid being harmed.

This behaviour is definitely not acceptable; no violence ever is.  However, the reaction and comments of Whitehorse residents to criminalize people for having addictions is also not acceptable.  Simply adding more patrols to the downtown streets will not solve the problem at hand. Putting drunken people in jail is not a solution – it is a bandaid.

It seems easier to turn the other cheek and ignore the real issues at hand (homelessness, residential school, childhood trauma, poverty etc) but if we as Whitehorse residents truly want to have a safe city, then we need to embrace the concept of inclusion and acceptance. We can’t separate residents of Whitehorse into ‘us’ and ‘them’. We all live here together, and we all have a part to play in making a strong and vibrant community.

Some people need support – and right now there is not much support for street involved people. The emergency shelter is over capacity every night and hotels are charging up to $1,200 per month to people on social assistance.

Research has shown that to do nothing about homelessness is more expensive than shifting the focus to eliminating it.  People who are homeless are more likely to have poorer health, mental health issues, involvement with the justice system and substance abuse issues. 

Tim Richter from the Canadian Alliance to end Homelessness was recently in Whitehorse and he spoke to the fact that any city can solve homelessness if it wants to. He states that there are 10 essentials to any effective plan to end homelessness.  The most important point is to have a clear, deliberate and comprehensive plan.   See “A Plan, Not A Dream” or Calgary’s 10 year plan to end homelessness at www.caeh.ca.

Mr. Richter also spoke to his experience that often municipalities take the lead in getting a plan started.  Not because housing or social supports are in their mandate, but because the impact of homelessness is felt on their streets by their voters.  Equally as important is the commitment from the Territorial Government who in fact does have a mandate to provide housing and social supports through the Department of Justice, Health and Social Services or the Yukon Housing Corporation.  These partnership won’t work without partnerships with the rest of the community – business leaders, faith community, individuals and other levels of government.  This is so vitally important, that one without the other will only ensure the perpetuation of the growing issue of homelessness in Whitehorse.

Public support is also needed. Right now it does not seem like there is a lot of public support around doing anything about the problem of homelessness in Whitehorse other than putting the drunk ones in jail.  Here’s a challenge, if you –  as a proud Whitehorse resident – truly want to make our streets safer, don’t turn to the police for help to jail the ‘vagrants’; turn to your municipal candidates.  Encourage them to take the first step by starting the ball rolling and inviting partners to end homelessness together.  If we commit to it, we can do it.

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