Saturday, December 27, 2008

A timely reminder ...

It was a brutally cold morning in Kamloops ... the flu was taking hold of me and the chill of the wind went straight to my core ... pulling out of the parking lot at Tim's I saw the message (above) scrawled on the side of a battered car ... I HAD to stop and get a picture ...

Less than a week later we were wending our way home to Manitoba through an equally brutal cold ... the news carried an item about a woman burning to death on the streets of Vancouver trying to keep warm in her shelter of cardboard, a tarp and a shopping cart ... I returned home to Brandon and faced the question - "is everyone in from the cold?"

I made some calls in the days before Christmas to find out if the dozen or so shelter-less individuals we have in Brandon were actually in out of the cold ... along the way I was interviewed by the local TV station and asked the same question ... the answer I could provide was - "to the best of our knowledge 'yes', the shelterless are in from the cold ..." That wasn't the end of the story though ... today's Brandon Sun has an editorial from the managing editor that raises some valid questions, and, has had an ongoing discussion about homelessness in Brandon ... clearly the message scrawled on the side of a car in BC serves as a timely reminder to many of us ...

For your reading pleasure ... I offer a few tidbits:

Firstly, the Wheat City Journal Article I wrote and submitted from BC - entitled, "Signposts in Life", it reflects on the message in Kamloops and the seasonal story of Scrooge.

Secondly is the CKX online story from Tuesday entitled "Homeless have a Bed".

Then finally - the text of James O'Connor's editorial that raises some important questions for the people and agencies of Brandon:

At this magical time of year, I witnessed the creation of an urban myth.

You see, it’s now an accepted fact that Brandon has an indeterminate number of homeless people. But they aren’t like those poor folks in major centres who huddle in cardboard boxes in parks or who sleep under newspapers on heating grates.

Nope, hey they are the invisible homeless.

Despite repeated attempts by this paper over the years to locate a true homeless person, all we have found are some folks who choose to live outside in the summer, or who are broke and staying with friends or family.

And yes, there are some with medical or psychological issues and addictions who need to take advantage of some of the temporary shelter beds made available through some social service agencies.

For sure, there are many, many poor people in Brandon. But despite all the propaganda spouted by those in the “homeless industry” — soup kitchens, second-hand stores, government agencies and religious-themed drop-in centres — we simply don’t have any clear evidence of people living in the street.

So when I heard the head of a local Christian soup kitchen and thrift shop last week suggest that homeless people were committing crimes to get a warm bed in jail, I shook my head in disbelief.

“The jail is filled with people like that. I don’t know whether they deliberately got into trouble, we can’t rule that out,” Rev. Henry Idonije of Street Love Ministries told CKX-TV. “So most of them are in jail, it’s warm, it’s cozy, it’s nice for them.”

Of course, that controversial statement went unchallenged by the TV journalist, so I asked our veteran court reporter Ian Hitchen if he ever heard of a case where someone committed a crime in winter just to get off the street.

He couldn’t recall any.

Of course, there are those public tipplers who are lodged in the drunk tank under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act, but that’s not the same.

Hitchen said there was one case years ago of a solvent sniffer who would commit crimes of mischief — such as stealing gas — to both feed his habit and because he didn’t seem to mind getting arrested.

However, there isn’t any evidence of widespread crimes for beds activity.

But that’s how those in many private and public social service agencies justify their existence. They create a myth, then find ways to substantiate it.

Of course, the CKX story never featured an interview with a real homeless person, just those who make their living in the homeless industry — including Brandon’s own homelessness coordinator.

Now of course, I applaud those charitable and well-meaning folks who work with the poor and those in the margins of society.

Such as all the wonderful volunteers who spent countless hours yesterday and today feeding hundreds of folks at the Westman and Area Traditional Christmas Dinner at the Keystone Centre.

But I think Idonije went way over the line.

And to think he runs the chaplaincy program for the Brandon Police Service.

That involves him occasionally going out on the street on patrol with police.

Where he undoubtedly sees some of Brandon’s homeless committing crimes to get warm.


Anonymous said...

It seems that the only question the editorial raises is whether there are any homeless in Brandon and just what or who it is that you are co-ordinating.

Anonymous said...

I thought you were progressive and embraced equality - what's with your use of mankind and man in your article?