Hamilton Police Chief Frank Bergen was on TVO last week telling Steve Paikin that he agrees there are a number of areas where police should not be the first responders. One can be reasonably sure that homeless encampment clearance would be one of the first duties the chief would like to strike off his to-do list. It doesn’t matter what the facts are, the imagery is bad—a woman of colour in a wheelchair being arrested, a police officer kneeling on a protester. Whatever the sequence of events that led up to those images actually was, they are now being passed around on social media with the predictable outrage of the social media cognoscenti.
Some of the tut-tutting is coming from the same people who think it’s terrific that governments are spending close to $4 Billion dollars on a transit system that will displace more precariously-housed people as more neighbourhoods become gentrified. This, at a time when there is a backlog of 5,000 for public housing, not to mention the tent encampments—all of which could be pretty much solved with the aforementioned senior government money.
The supporters of the encampments seem to believe the solution is the provision of new tents, and, as was seen in last week’s fire—propane tanks and gas generators—extremely dangerous when one is reminded that some of the encampment residents are dealing with mental health and addiction issues. Who would have taken responsibility if someone had been killed in last week’s fire?
The homeless are just the tip of the iceberg in the current housing crisis. We are well on our way to creating a generational underclass of young people who have education and jobs but for whom the prospect of home ownership is slipping away.
During and immediately after the second world war the federal government, confronted with a severe housing shortage, faced the problem by creating Wartime Housing Limited which provided low-cost rental housing, and later the CMHC, which made it easier for Canadians to purchase homes. No less a national mobilization is needed now to attack the current housing crisis. But instead, our priority is on eye-catching “transformational projects.” What could be more transformational than getting everybody into decent housing, one might ask.