From the Editors
Opinions / February 2, 2016
In response to: “Refugees: At Home and Abroad”
Let’s just get this out of the way: the homeless situation in Canada isn’t the same as what refugees are experiencing.
Any inference that the experience of Canada’s homeless is somehow analogous with that of Syrian refugees is a simplification and strikes me as deeply problematic. Complex factors go into both homelessness and the global migration of populations displaced by war, and the argument is a giant red-herring thrown into the middle of an already heated debate.
Of course homelessness is an important issue that needs to be addressed, but it is completely unrelated to the current refugee crisis. The injection of homelessness as a counter issue serves only to distract from helping Syrians escape the civil war that is tearing their country apart.
Canada welcomes the refugees, mostly families with small children, not because they have something to offer us, but so they may have an opportunity to live a life free of violence. I know each and every refugee arriving in Canada will offer great things to the nation’s evolving pluralism, but the country does not open its arms because of that. Refugees are not an investment. The obligation to provide shelter to those people battered by war is something more than boosting the Canadian economy. It is about compassion and about a legacy of kindness.
Sometimes it seems the only real outcry about homelessness is in response to completely unrelated policy initiatives. The federal government wants to sponsor refugees or the United Nations wants Canada to increase foreign aid and I hear “shouldn’t we support the homeless in our own backyards before we help out the rest of the world?”
But where was that support when the Vancouver Police Department demolished the tent city at Oppenheimer Park, executing an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court? Where is that support as major cities all over the country are struggling to develop solutions to a crisis of speculation-fueled property inflation and shortage of low-income housing? There is a distinct lack of kindness in Canada’s approach to homelessness.
Cuts to national affordable housing initiatives began in the 1980s and the federal government didn’t stop until they were all gone. Mulroney cut housing development and rehabilitation. Chrétien reneged on election promises for new funding and instead downloaded the cost of housing programs to the provinces. For all its messages of real change, all Trudeau’s Liberals have offered is to “encourage the construction of new rental housing by removing all GST on new capital investments in affordable rental housing.”
Let me just say one thing to wrap this up: it’s going to take a lot more than encouragement to solve the problem of homelessness. It’s going to take real action from the federal government.