The least we can do

The world is full of a number of things, and one of them is homelessness. No more than an irritant to a lot of us, it is a matter of life and death to those who are out on the streets. The least we should be able to do, as a relatively wealthy society, is provide a bit of shelter so people aren’t freezing to death in alleys or under bridges.

But, you might say, why should I have to shell out to help people who by their own bad choices have ended up where they are? And all they do if you give them money is spend it on booze!

Point conceded. People end up where they are due to all sorts of reasons, and mental illness is one of the big ones. Some people cope with mental or emotional anguish by medicating themselves, and end up addicted.

But homelessness is broader than that. Talking to Barb Courtorielle of the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre the other day, we learned that homelessness is a big problem in Canmore Alberta. That might be surprising, given the impression that community gives of being wealthy and privileged. But it’s also bottom-heavy with low-paid service-industry and retail workers. Housing in Canmore is, of course, very expensive in a town where so many people want to be. So do the legions of minimum wage workers cope? By living four or five or eight to an apartment. Or living in their cars. Or in tents. That’s the Alberta advantage for you.

Similar situations apply in every oilpatch town when the going is good.

Anyway, in Slave Lake and towns like it, there is a more or less permanent population of homeless people. And thanks to the determined efforts of Courtorielle and others, the Mat Program overnight shelter has opened again as of Nov. 1. But there aren’t funds in place to keep it that way for more than a few weeks.

Courtorielle was in Canmore for a provincial conference on homelessness. She took the opportunity to hit up the provincial government for a grant to cover the personnel costs for the shelter. The rest, she says, she thinks she can cover through fundraising.

There are a lot of things we can’t do much about. This is one we can.

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