NIMBY!

31 05 2009

NIMBY

My last post was about the principle of valuing all people and treating everyone with dignity and respect, even those who are out-casted and marginalized from our society. The comments I received from this post were generally positive – people seemed to agree about the importance of valuing every single person as true human beings. Then something came to my mind – when I was volunteering in Coquitlam for the Cold Wet Weather Mat Program in its first year, we had to get it approved by the City Council. The situation was that there was and still is a growing number of homeless people in the Tri Cities and unlike the DTES there is no permanent shelter in the Tri Cities. This was my first time working with homelessness, and I figured that the idea of the Cold Weather program, which used church facilities as temporary shelters during the cold winter months, would be something that would be a guaranteed yes in the minds of everyone in my community. However, I was wrong and when I went to the city council meeting it brought record numbers of people who wanted to have their say about this temporary shelter idea – the city councilors had to stay well past 1am listening to the communities’ voices and there were a good amount on both the yes and no sides. The main objections of people to having a homeless shelter could be summed up by the statement, “Yes there is a problem and we need to help them, but don’t’ put the shelter so close to home – not in our backyard!” I looked back at the City Council records, and the arguments for this were based on these ideas:

  • The churches which will house the homeless are very near schools
  • Most of the homeless people are addicted
  • Our communities will see more theft, vandalism, and crimes
  • It is possible that the homeless people could have criminal records
  • It is possible that the homeless person could be a pedophile.
    • (Isn’t this also true for the person sitting next to you in a public bus stop, or at the movie theatres?)
    • Homeless people could be there at the same time that the church’s kids program
      • And they could also be walking down the street and sharing the same sidewalk as us..

I could go on, but it seemed clear to me that there were many prejudices about homeless people. Homeless people are simply a group of people with one thing in common: they are all homeless. Continuing to hold such prejudices and separate the homeless from our communities would only keep the homeless people marginalized and away from the goal of re-integrating them back into society. We have to realize that if we are to solve the problem of homelessness, we would have to accept that they would be living with us – our neighbors even, if we are to achieve the goal of bringing them back into society. It seems like we want to help them, but only if it doesn’t affect our lives at all. Only if it’s “not in our backyard”.  As I thought of Bill’s principle more, I had to think back at these experiences, because it’s often easy to agree and say that homelessness is a problem and something should be done about it, but the real challenge to our statements is when solutions start getting proposed which may affect our lives, and require changes in our perceptions, beliefs, and actions. I must ask:

If not in our backyard, then in whose?

If not now, then when?