Sunday, December 23, 2007

On Homelessness

About 10 years ago, a friend and I met with Liberal Member of Parliament, Hedy Fry, in her office in the Denman Mall.

I'll never forget this encounter.

We made the appointment to discuss an idea we had.

We wanted to open the Burrard St. armories to the homeless as a shelter for a dozen or so days over the coldest part of the season in December and January. The site had heat, hot water, beds, cots, mattresses, blankets, lights, a kitchen and about 100 cadets who marched back and forth all day.

All we were asking of Dr. Fry was that she speak to the Minister of Defense. My friend was a former City Councillor and we felt confident we could get the City onside.

Dr. Fry was so not interested in seeing us.

Her first response was that her research had indicated clearly that homeless people liked being homeless and that they would always chose homelessness because it gave them a sense of independence.

I told her that I lived in False Creek and that I had spoken several times with people living under the Burrard Bridge. To a man, they had all said they would be happy to get in out of the cold.

Her next response was that this was just "a band-aid measure. You're not going to cure poverty."

I was shocked by this kind of idiocy.

I told her that I wasn't a Christian. "But wasn't it Jesus who said, "The Poor shall always be amongst you.""

Here is the school to which I belong.

Almost all human endeavour, and especially the helping kind, is a "band-aid" measure. We do a bit of this, we do a bit of that and we make the world a slightly better, safer place. We push the marble a little further up the hill. Only once or twice in a generation does a Curie or a Salk come along and significantly change the order of things.

The rabbis teach that if you save a soul, you save the universe.

How much can any of us expect to do?

I spent ten years running a treatment centre. I didn't save the world, but I helped many people and I'm both proud and humbled by this experience. If I visit a senior in a care home for an hour, that isn't worthwhile?

Let's leave the Worst and Least deserving Member of Parliament for now and go to today's news.

Jeff Birmingham and his girlfriend - we learn in this morning's Province - collected $1,100 worth of Canadian Tire "money," brought it to Canadian Tire, who matched it and allowed Jeff to buy $2,200 worth of goodies for the poor.

He bought 60 sleeping bags, 60 pairs of socks and 20 thermal blankets.

Please don't write me and tell me from your deepest wells of cynicism that this lovely couple wasted their energies. I applaud them. Bless them for their kindness and thoughtfulness. Their "band-aid measure" will keep some people warm.

IN another Province story, we learn that 5 churches in the tricities area have been taking in as many as 250 homeless people. That's the good news. The sick news is the NIMBY neighbours in the full spirit of Anti-Christmas, are kvetching.

This is a story of Hope and caring and, simultaneously, a story of disgusting selfishness. Read the story here.

It is true that we need larger, more comprehensive solutions to homelessness. They are called HOMES. We need the Federal and Provincial governments to stop putzing about and built adequate housing for the homeless. I am a taxpayer and I welcome this expense.

But until the rosy day that happens, any gesture that alleviates the suffering should also be welcomed.

I'm so sorry that the presence of homeless people in their neighbourhood churches has cut into the delusional plans of the good folks in the tricities who are dashing about buying their new plasma TVs.

I am proud of those 5 churches.

Happy Sunday.


Still don't believe in global warming?

Try visiting Castiglione, a village near Ravenna on the Adriatic Coast, not far from Venice.

A tropical disease spread by tiger mosquitoes hit this town like a bomb this past summer.

The disease, normally present only in Africa and India, has now been spotted in Switzerland and France.

For those of us who love Italy, this is scary news indeed. Venice has its fair share of Mosquitoes even as early as April and May.

Read the whole story from this morning's NY Times here, if you're not too feverish.