Homeless In Canada? Amid All Our Abundance? Shame

As I write this, sitting on the wharf with my ancient laptop on a sunny day in Gibsons, looking at so many moneyed folks buying everything in sight, I know that not a stone’s throw from where I am are 30 people – with hearts and souls just like you and me – without a home.

Last night, some slept under rowboats pulled up on the beach. Some didn’t sleep, because the little shelter they sought from last night’s rain – a garage, perhaps, or maybe just a big tree – was made unavailable by a property owner who didn’t want them there.

I’ll keep banging this drum. We have a moral obligation to help and support our fellow community members who are homeless and, quite often, live with a mental illness.

It is important to understand this: Not one of these folks has made a choice to live this way. Not one wants to wait each week for the food bank. Not one would prefer to live without love, support, and happiness. Not one would not embrace the chance to express the talent, spirit, and energy she or he has.

It comes down to us. We who have more than we need.

I ask this: Is it possible that you have ten hours a month to volunteer to support your fellow community members? Think about it. Ten mere hours a month away from Netflix.

It it possible for you to talk to the guy who plays John Prine for dimes on an out-of-tune guitar outside your fancy food market? Is is possible for you to buy him a sandwich – maybe even take him to lunch? Is it possible for you to accept him? (Or her, of course.)

Reject the objections to social housing or shelters that so many don’t want in their neighbourhood. Stand up for what it morally right and true. Share your abundance.

To my Sunshine Coast friends, you might listen to a recent podcast (link handily provided below) and express your support to John Gleeson, my fine editor, and the Coast Reporter, for running my column.







  1. This comment is focused on the topic of stigma touched on in the interview with John Gleeson. One problem I see is that many people with mental illnesses cannot handle living in shared accommodation (that is where the person is a roommate or housemate and does not have a separate suite, and where kitchen, and sometimes bathroom, facilities are shared). With the Disability and Welfare shelter allowances so ridiculously low, there is no choice but to share, if the indiviual can find a home at all. People with mental illnesses can become paranoid. Sometimes they go off their meds and their behaviour suffers. These issues can make it very hard for both the person with the mental illness and their housemate(s) to live together. In the case of paranoia, it can even be dangerous to live in close quarters with a person whose paranoid delusions may focus on oneself. Even if the person is no physical danger, they may still take up an unacceptable amount of their housemate’s time going on about their obsessions or making irrational complaints and demands. For seven years my partner and I rented extra space in our home–there was no rental crisis at that time and, it seemed, 99% of the people looking for shared accommodation turned out to have mental health issues.

    I had hoped to provide low cost accommodation for people who needed it–but my partner and I were not mental health professionals and we had no idea of how to protect our own privacy from the irrational behaviour of most of these housemates.

    This kind of situation would be solved, at least in part, if the shelter allowance was enough for people to have their own place. But, as you know, even being a person with a fulltime job no longer ensures being able to afford one’s own place (or any place at all). So, call it stigma if you like, but the behaviours sometimes caused by mental illness do make people reluctant to either rent to, or hire, people who are mentally ill–and I believe housemates, landlords, and employers have a right to feel that way. Some folks who have mental illness make acceptable (or even good) tenants or employees, but others, whose behaviour can be unacceptable due to their illness, increase the stigma for all. If the system gave patients intensive, individual, and appropriate, treatment, symptoms would be lessened and stigma would be greatly reduced. Unless and until that happens “stigma” is going to persist, no matter how much we “educate” the public–because sometimes it’s justified.

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