To the Editor,
If you have taken a walk down Main Street recently, you will see signs up in the windows of many businesses: “No public washroom,” “No loitering” or “The RCMP will be notified about intoxicated people.”
In my 40-some years living in Flon, we have had transients and homeless people. But from my observations the number is increasing.
Perhaps the problem is because of a big economic shift in Flin Flon. We have moved from an economy primarily based on mining to a trading hub for more than 7,500 people. We are glad that there are good roads to bring people in and this has really bolstered our retailing sector. But those roads have also brought others as well.
Statistics Canada notes that in 1911, 45 per cent of the population lived in cities and in 2011 that number rose to 81 per cent., People have moved to cities expecting opportunities for employment and a better quality of life. Often, they don’t have the qualifications for jobs or those jobs don’t exist. Some go back, but others lack the resources to return home.
I think we are very quick to make snap judgements about the homeless. We say, “They are shiftless and lazy, druggies or drunks and probably mostly to blame for their predicament.”
Statistics tell a different story.
The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness claims it is poverty. Wages for low- income Canadians have dropped almost 20 per cent between 1980 and 2005. Housing costs often constitute approximately 50 per cent of someone’s expenses. Add costs of food and medical care, people have little left. Some homeless women are single moms or have left abusive relationships. Although women’s shelters exist, they are not adequate. Some face the demons of drugs, alcohol and mental illness. Governmental response in recent years has been to cut funding for health care and education. Affordable housing is becoming a thing of the past.
As a retiree, living on a fixed income is challenging. In the past 10 years, my hydro, taxes, cable TV and water bills have almost tripled. We are finding it more of a pinch to keep our home and there are many other pensioners far worse off.
There are signs in our Main Street stores that seem unwelcoming to street people. But it is not their job to look after them. Their first obligation is to their customers. I feel uneasy if I see people I don’t know loitering in front of a business. I fear being hassled. I would feel uncomfortable to enter a business establishment and see a street person harassing a store employee. I don’t like being panhandled. I know years ago when someone asked me for change, they grabbed my wallet and wouldn’t let go until the wallet tore in half.
The homelessness problem in this community is our problem. Other communities struggle with the same issue and they have found solutions. In Winnipeg, the problem of the lack of public washroom facilities has been solved by the installation of porta potties at strategic locations along Portage Ave. They have hired unemployed homeless people to act as attendants. The cost was under $100,000. The money was raised from local charities, donations by Portage Avenue businesses and from the existing budgets of city councillors.
If you walk along our Main Street there are several vacant lots. This is not an impossible solution for our community.
The problem of finding shelter for those who have no place to sleep is not unsolvable. Quonset huts are warm, cozy and inexpensive to purchase and maintain. Flin Flon has many places for sale because of unpaid taxes. Perhaps our city council might waive the taxes if these properties were purchased for homeless shelters. Most of these are unoccupied. Seeing these places renovated and used would be an asset for our community. Flin Flon is a very generous community. Look at the money we raise to help people who have high medical expenses or have lost their homes due to fire.
We can solve this problem, but we need to be proactive. Flin Flonners are resourceful. We need to get businesses, municipal government our service clubs and charitable organizations on board. We can show leadership to other places and make our actions a matter of civic pride.