Sunday, January 25, 2009

It was almost 48

CBC Edmonton:

Hundreds gathered Saturday at Edmonton's Boyle Street Community Centre, listening to speeches, music and prayers to honour the 47 homeless people who died last year. Harmony Barry went to the fourth annual homeless memorial to pay respect to family and friends who perished while living on the streets. "I lost two of my cousins and a couple friends over the years. It's in the papers one day and then nobody else remembers it, aside from those of us who have lost friends," Barry said.

Lorette Garrick with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness said many died as a result of health problems and violence on the streets. "So often they are the forgotten people, so it's really important in society that we remember that these are human beings … [who are] important to somebody. We need to remember that," Garrick said. "We also need to raise awareness in the greater community. I think that's another good reason why we do this every year." Garrick said she would like to see the provincial government provide more funding for programs to help people find housing.

As it turned out, it wasn't 48, but the individual involved is now permanently physically disabled due to severe frost bite.

Homelessness in Edmonton is a major problem. Shelter capacity is poor to begin with, and even more restrictive when it comes to intoxicated shelter-seekers - most places are dry. The Salvation Army men's mat program used to have a capacity of 50. This year an internal decision reduced the number to an arbitrary 16 spots, meaning men are now turned away at 30 below. The homeless used to be allowed to sleep in the LRT stations, but no more apparently because, as I understand, the police are unable or unwilling to supervise stations. There are very few options left. Especially when the city starts proposing shit like this:

The Edmonton Police Commission wants city council to change Edmonton's public places bylaw to crack down on aggressive panhandling. The commission has proposed an amendment to city council that would make it illegal for anyone to panhandle in an aggressive manner that includes making continual requests, insulting, threatening, coercing, obstructing passage or making physical contact with another person. According to police statistics, there were 181 acts of aggressive panhandling in Edmonton last year, with 81 of them taking place downtown.

No bylaws exist to specifically ban this practice and that needs to change, police commission chairman Brian Gibson said. "What we are receiving at the police service are a number of complaints," Gibson said. "Women coming to work in the morning or going home at night and being aggressively pursued for monetary contribution to these individuals and they are feeling very unsafe on the streets."

Proposed $250 fine

Under the current bylaws, peace officers need to specifically prove how the panhandler's actions were impeding the flow of people on the street in order to issue a violation ticket. The commission is proposing a fine of $250, but there will be options for people who can't afford to pay it.

"There has to be another option … you're going to clog courts up with people that can't pay the fine anyway," Gibson said. "So we have to have an option to be able to say, what sort of other activity can we pursue with them to try to … alleviate their aggressiveness or to help them so they don't have to pay." Edmonton police officers would still continue their practice of warning and helping people who are "truly disadvantaged," the commission's report said.

You know, because what defines "aggressive panhandling" is completely ambiguous, does nothing for the problem, and gives the cops a catch-all charge allowing them to remove unsightly human beings. Clearly the fine is not a viable option, but I guess it looks good to the uninformed. Let's just hope the "other activities" do not involve something like a starlight tour.

As the recession gathers steam the numbers of homeless are going to increase across the country. Many on the street in Edmonton come from Fort McMurray, either burnt and binged out from living too hard or are simply unable to earn enough to live on or leave before layoff. Rents in Edmonton are astronomical, there is no rent control, and there are virtually no cheap temporary accomodations unless you're into theft, drugs, bedbugs* and curfews. It's not going to get better. Here, there, and everywhere.

I read the Cons are promising 2 billion for affordable housing. This is not the same as low income housing, nor is it the same as homeless shelters. Indeed, even it were, it'll be implemented by a bunch of ex-Common Sense revolutionaries...

*Speaking of bedbugs: someone with a bit of clout might want to start asking questions about how many months or years the rent paying working poor and mentally ill residents at the Sally Ann ARS on 102nd have been living with a bedbug infestation.

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