Sunday, June 24, 2007

Victoria, world-class enabler

enabler: one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.

Victoria is a beautiful spot -- scenic, temperate climate and a city offering most amenities along with a laid-back life-style -- all the reasons I moved here a dozen years ago.

These are the same reasons most people are attracted to Victoria. But, as well as productive citizens it has also attracted a substantial underclass of alcoholics, drug addicts, panhandlers, vagrants, youthful able-bodied ‘free spirits’ - most if not all of whom are homeless. Over the years it’s been hard not to notice the growing numbers of chronically dysfunctional people inhabiting the down-town streets and parks and gathering around the many facilities aimed at 'helping' them.

And, while it’s difficult not to notice the growing underclass, it’s nearly impossible not to notice the growth of a ‘poverty’ industry that clamours for ever more ‘help’ for the poor souls on the street. It’s a rare day that there isn’t a headlined story in the newspaper, a radio or TV talk-show or other media event highlighting the problem and appealing for help. In today’s local paper there’s a full four page advertising section detailing the ‘Our Place Society’s programs and asking for donations. And to hear the mayor and council going on about it one gets the impression it’s the only issue on their agenda.

‘Help’ includes soup kitchens, food banks, street outreach, drop-in centres, shelters, needle exchanges and just this week it was announced that the BC Health Minister will recommend approval for three ‘safe’ injection sites in Victoria. Vancouver has one. Victoria needs three?

It seems logical that, as a basic rule of thumb, the easier you make it for people to lead a dysfunctional, parasitic life, the more dysfunctional, parasitic people there will be. More facilities for street denizens will lead to more people living on the street. So, you might ask, how’s it really working out in Victoria? What are the numbers? Is there objective evidence that the city’s strategy of enabling dysfunctional behaviour is yielding more of it?

Yes there is! In 2005 the Victoria Cool Aid Society did a comprehensive survey to find out how many street people or ‘homeless’ there were. The count was 668 region-wide. The survey was repeated in 2007. The new count was 1242. That’s an increase of 85% in just two years - and bear in mind that for Victoria these are economic boom times with very low unemployment and ‘now hiring’ signs plastered in the windows of many, many businesses.

Now don’t get me wrong. Many of these street people, especially the addicts and the otherwise mentally challenged, certainly need help (beginning with an attempt to help themselves). And the people trying to help them have their hearts in the right place:) But you sure have ask whether a strategy of enabling bad behaviour, a strategy that attracts ever more troubled people to the streets, is the right one.

Victoria is unlikely to change its approach any time soon. It's a world-class enabler. So I predict the Cool Aid Society’s 2009 homeless survey will yield another big jump in the numbers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

True in what you write....but the homeless/addicts/alcoholics are a feature of every major city, warm temperatures or not. Check out downtown Calgary for instance, or around city hall in Toronto.

What to do??? I don't know. I know that alcoholism is an illness.

Not every homeless person on the streets is an addict or alcoholic though. Some have other mental problems, and some are just rebellious teenagers. There's a group of them in Edmonton here who have these big ferocious dogs I guess to protect themselves. Gee....I want protection from the kids.