Saturday, 12 June 2010

Yellowknife homeless face double standard

Walt Humphries

Tales from the dump
with Walt Humphries
Friday, June 11, 2010
NNSL [full text]

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"The measure of a society is how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members." Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying this, but variations of it have been used throughout history by quite a number of humanitarians, philosophers, spiritual leaders and yes, even a few politicians. It is a quotation that I think should be emblazoned on government buildings, especial those where politicians hang out.

We have homeless people living in Yellowknife and it would appear that we have a lot of them. Many of them don't want to live in shelters, so they set up camps in the bush. If these camps get reported to the city, they send a crew out to clean them up. If they are discovered on the grounds of the legislative assembly, they also get destroyed during their yearly clean up.

So, in effect the homeless are also made campless. This does nothing to solve the problem and I am sure it creates a very real problem or burden for them until they can re-establish their camps elsewhere in the city. There is a rather startling irony to this. In the bush outside of Yellowknife people are building rural camps, cabins, cottages and even homes, wherever they want to and no one is stopping them or imposing any rules. Meanwhile, a homeless person in Yellowknife who sets up a small bush camp is under constant threat of having it cleaned up.

So, why are recreationalists allowed to do whatever they want but homeless people aren't? There seems to be a double standard here. Also, every time I go to the dump I see no end of wood and building materials being bulldozed and buried. Why isn't this material being saved and salvaged, to built proper camps and cabins for the homeless? There is enough stuff being thrown away to even build some houses to tackle the housing shortage in the North. It seems that we aren't being very creative or imaginative when it comes to solving problems here in the North.

Like a lot of people who work in mineral exploration, I have spent a good portion of my life living in tents in the bush with no running water or electricity. Its not bad, if you are set up properly for it. A tent frame, with a floor is even better and easier to keep clean. To me, a nice cozy bush cabin is great and in many ways I sometimes think I would rather be there than here. At least there I don't have to listen to sirens and people yelling and screaming at night. So, there really is no reason why we can't take a radically new approach to our homeless people and the housing problem, except for the political will to do it. Properly built and maintained camps would be a whole lot better than some of the squalid makeshift shelters I have seen people living in, inside this, our capital city.

Next time our MLAs are packing for one of their international junkets at taxpayer expense, whether it be kibitzing in Copenhagen, feasting in Fiji or chilling in China, maybe they could spare a few moments to contemplate the lives of their less fortunate constituents, the homeless people living here in Yellowknife.

A couple of years ago there was a debate going on because some street people were using the alleys and greenspaces around town as washrooms. They still are. At the time, I offered a few sensible solutions. The simplest one, would be to put a few port-a-potties around town. That would be a quick, easy and cost-effective solution.

Next, they could pass a rule that every government building, including city hall and the legislature, should have one washroom open to the public and that would of course include the homeless or street people. Taxpayers pay for those buildings so why shouldn't at least one washroom be available for those that need it.

I find it mind boggling that here it is in 2010 and people, citizens of our territory, are forced into using alleys and greenspaces for washrooms and have to live rough in the bush because they are homeless. Something is seriously wrong with this picture and it is time we changed the picture with some practical and creative solutions.

Seek and ye shall find - the answers at our dump.

  • Walt Humphries is a well-known Yellowknife artist and prospector