Homelessness is a difficult and complex issue

There is a significant amount of speculation and misinformation

I’d like to tell you about a guy named W (name withheld to protect privacy) who I met at the Blue Moose. He’s one of the reasons I began to fall in love with this town. I started working here several months ago, conducting research on homelessness for the Hope and Area Transition Society. I had previously worked as a homeless research advocate in Abbotsford, and when I came to Hope, I was astounded at the level of compassion and community good will I encountered.

W is a case in point. He works for the phone company, and he was having coffee with a couple of buddies on break. I began to talk with them about issues of homelessness. Within five minutes, I realized that W knows the names of almost every homeless person in town. At the tent city in Abbotsford, people drive by and gun their car engines, spewing smoke in the residents’ faces. W? He bought a homeless man living by the river a pair of new shoes. And he had lots of ideas on how to better help the homeless.

However, as the course of my research went on, I began to encounter other attitudes and emotions in Hope. I found grief –grief, exhaustion, and a sense of helpless anger at the level of drug – related crime in town. In some quarters, I also encountered a great deal of frustration and not a small amount of bitterness. I found mistrust and suspicion, as well as a feeling that institutions and social agencies were not doing enough. Homelessness is a complex and difficult issue, and it is on the rise across Canada.  The emotions I encountered are understandable. Hope resident Sabine Keil put it to me eloquently: “It is tough on the homeless, but also on the community psychologically – sadness at seeing others suffer and feeling helpless and powerless, and also the impact of crime associated with homelessness.”

At this point, compounding these natural feelings is a significant amount of speculation and misinformation – in some cases, downright preposterous rumours. I get that some of this is inevitable. And I understand the need to vent. But venting will only get you so far. I’m wondering: Who are the people who are serious about solutions? Who are the people who can bring wisdom to the dialogue? Where are the people who can speak healing and compassion to some of the wounded and festering places in this community? I know you’re out there. You blew me away when I first got here. You deserve a voice.

I hope that anyone concerned with homelessness and its related issues will come to the public information forum on Feb. 19, from 7-9 p.m. at the rec centre conference room. We hope to give people the facts and also to answer questions in a constructive and community-building manner.

Jen Hawkins