Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Night Before Christmas

As the temperatures crash like icicles falling from your eaves, the Saviours of the Homeless are much on the march.

Or, at least, their PR people are.

Let me take you back about 12 years to a little pre-Christmas Story for the Ages.

A man who had previously been a Vancouver City Councillor and I went to visit Dr. Hedy Fry. Yes, she's been in office just about since confederation.

We had a modest proposal.

We would get the City behind it, if she would kindly drop a word of encouragement in the ear of the current Minister of Defense.

The idea?

Let's open the Seaforth Armouries at the corner of Burrard and First Avenue for the 12 days of Christmas to the homeless.

The temperatures were plummeting and the Armouries had (has) the following amenities: a roof, heat, hot water, a kitchen, showers, cots, blankets and hundreds of cadets marching back and forth about nothing in particular.

Here's what Dr.Fry had to say to us.

1. Our research tells us that the homeless don't want to be anywhere except where they are.

I told her that at the time I lived in a pretty fancy apartment building right on the water beside the Burrard St. Bridge, and that only the day before, I had spoken with three homeless men who were living under the bridge. I has asked them if they would go the Armouries for a few days to get in out of the cold if it were available. Of course, they said, "Yes!"

But that didn't fit Hedy's "research" or her world view.

2. Dr. Fry told us, "This is only a band-aid. It won't solve poverty."

I confess.

Normally swift of tongue, I had to retrieve my jaw from the floor of her well-appointed office.

This was my slightly delayed reply.

"Dr. Fry, I a not a Christian. I am a Jew. But was it not Jesus who said, 'the poor shall always be amongst ye?' No one will ever solve poverty. People who want us to believe that they have a silver bullet should shoot themselves with it. Yes, this is a band-aid. That's how good deeds usually happen. One little reaching out, which may or may not lead to other reachings out."

Out being the operative word.

We were quickly back on Denman Street shaking our heads in disbelief.

As you know, I have been an enormous fan of the good Doctor Fry ever since.

Now, please be advised that several days ago I phoned one of the current city councillors and left a voice mail.

I suggested that while the new mayor's new homelessness gang, HEAT, is casting about for places and spaces, they might have a look at the Seaforth Armouries.

Let us see what happens, shall we?


Anonymous said...

Providing a warm place to stay during the coldest nights of the year is the very least that HEAT should be looking at. While casting about for that final, perfect idea they overlook an obvious, possibly life saving, solution. Even if it is a band-aid, it's a band-aid that could possibly keep someone from freezing to death. I hope they follow through on your idea.



Gary said...

The saddest part of your Post David, is that you sat down with Dr. Fry TWELVE years ago! And what has changed? Nothing. Dr Fry would ship all of the Lower Mainland homeless to Price George where they could heat themselves around the burning crosses! The Homeless Situation is a growth Industry, protecting all those that draw a Pay Cheque because of it, hence perhaps one day there may be relief, but NEVER a cure. Criminal doesn't begin to describe it!

Anonymous said...

In 1995 I canvassed BC Buildings Corp, found an empty building, the old Marpole Correctional facility on SW Marine. Canvassed the agencies, wrote a proposal, got the place open. It ran as Lookout South from 1996 to 2002. Al Mitchell was the manager. Once I learned the Armouries are in use during this season I moved on to other locales. Once Gordo came to power he shut it down, sold the land, and the developer built those teeny-tiny condos that are so psychologically unsound. Put your energies into Riverview. Raise hell. Get some of the buildings open. The film industry does not need so many of them.

DAVE C. said...


I commend you for trying, but my limited experience in "The Best Place on Earth" suggests that you're "blowing against the wind". I'm starting to speculate that homelessness serves some kind of unconscious, cruel, moralistic message from the "haves" to the "have nots" of our society. "See what can happen to you if you're not productive. Serves you right".
How else can we make any rational sense of a wealthy part of the world like this being so uncaring towards its less fortunate citizens? Maybe not on an individual basis, but certainly on a political level as the not-so-good Dr. Fry exemplifies. But why no public outcry? Learned helplessness?


Anonymous said...

I guess I could identify with being a Christian in most of my views.
It is telling however, that many of the homeless refused to go to shelters in the last week.
They didn't want the rules associated with them. Or the noise and the smell.Quite a few objected to the fact that they couldn't drink and use drugs in them.
When will we as a society finally address what the real problems are?
Jesus said that we need to feed the poor. He didn't say to enable them and to not treat mental illness and addiction.

Pelalusa said...

I live in Vancouver Centre. I wish that just ONE person in my riding would give me a decent answer as to why they've EVER voted for her!