Homelessness needs a real solution other than NIMBYism

To the Editor:

Homelessness – in Walkerton, Bruce County, and everywhere – is an incredibly complex and fraught issue. With so many different factors – such as wages, housing cost and availability, social support rates, mental health and addiction access – it’s easy to get overwhelmed, and make short-term reactionary choices that are not productive medium- and long-term.

Complex problems, by their nature, do not and cannot have simple solutions. Simply removing homeless people from trails and parks does not resolve the problem of those people being homeless; that resolution requires hard work, dedication, and commitment to ensuring all the residents of Brockton have a home to go to. Thus far, the lions’ share of work has gone into trying to make the problem somehow disappear – out of sight, out of mind.  A great deal of the discussion on this topic circles around the homelessness ‘problem’, without due consideration to homeless people.

During the September 20th Brockton Municipal Council meeting, it was made clear, by representatives from the YMCA, as well as Bruce and Grey County housing and homeless services, that the great majority – well over 90% according to Mr. Shute of the YMCA – of homeless residents in Brockton are locally-connected (ie. born and raised, or have close family connections to Brockton) residents, and that, given a choice, these same people “hardly ever” chose transient encampment solutions over more-permanent shelter. 

What we can take from this, then, is that this is a made-in-Brockton problem, and to ignore it or pass it off on other regions and municipalities, is a great disservice to Brockton residents.

How did it get to this point, with homeless Brockton residents living in encampments by the river? 

For a considerable time, many homeless people were housed in motels in Walkerton; places like the Hillside Motel in Walkerton, or the Forum in Hanover. These are what are deemed “emergency short term shelter” – this was never intended to be a long-term shelter solution. They are a temporary, and relatively-costly, stop-gap placement while the residents seek more permanent or long-term housing. Due to unfortunate circumstance, several of those emergency short-term shelter options are no longer available.

Residents, then, were set up in Lobie’s Park, again as a short-term stop-gap, until callous public sentiment (about people camping in a campground, of all things) forced that shelter solution to be ended. So then, without the short-term shelter of the motels, without the emergency stop-gap of the campground, where is there left to go?

But, wait, it’s gets worse.

Recently, Brockton Council passed a bylaw barring camping within the municipality. One might see the passing of such a bylaw, precisely when homeless camping is growing as an increasingly-common last-resort shelter, to be a bylaw against homelessness without having to say it directly. Intentional or not, our Council empowered bylaw enforcement, OPP, and other services to disrupt and remove what they see as a problem, rather than deal with it constructively. Where else have they left to go, when we’ve criminalized the only refuge they have left in our community? 

Luckily for us all, Councillor Lang has the solution for homeless Brockton residents: put them on a bus to Kitchener. Since we lack the needed facilities and services, Mr. Lang ponders – despite resisting actually developing those services – how much would it cost to put them on buses for places that do? Let’s be very clear: uprooting residents of Brockton and shuffling them off to some unfamiliar place is not a solution for those people (nor, I expect, would residents and municipal councils of those destinations appreciate Brockton foisting extra costs onto their shoulders) – but, out of sight out of mind.

The first steps towards a solution, then, are not to criminalize being homeless, and to remember that this issue is about people in our community. It is not for us, as residents, nor for council, to decide who is and who isn’t an ‘acceptable’ member of our community. Any solution proposed that does not include greater access to shelter, mental health and addiction services, job finding services, and other measures to bring homeless people into a safe, secure, long-term solution is a plan that Brockton must reject, as it does not move us towards a better community for everyone.

We can’t just move the “problem” to someone else’s backyard, it’s on all of us to help build a real solution.

Eric Coleman