When I was very young, my family was broke.
Not poor, broke, and that’s an important distinction.
Shortly after moving the whole family out to a new home in Langley, my dad lost his job in the nasty recession of the early 1980s. For years, neither of my parents could find full time work.
We were okay. We had family. We had friends – some of whom found temporary work for my dad.
Money was very tight. Years later, my mom told me how they would drive out of their way to avoid going past a fun fair, so my brother and I wouldn’t ask to go, when there was no way they could afford the tickets.
But we had Christmas presents, and we didn’t lose the house. Both my parents eventually found work.
When I meet homeless people, I don’t see someone who has made some terrible, singular decision that caused them to wind up on the street.
I see people who suffered a run of bad times, like my family did, but didn’t have those supports that got us through it.
What if we hadn’t had family with the resources to lend us money – for years?
What if one of my parents had gotten sick, or injured, at the wrong time?
What if we hadn’t had a good neighbour willing to throw us some work when it was desperately needed?
Would we have lost our house? Wound up living in our car?
Life is not a series of good decisions that lead inevitably to good outcomes, or bad decisions that come to bad endings.
It’s a Jenga tower, stable until you start to take away the supports, one by one.
I was very gratified to see the Langley Township council vote unanimously in favour of supportive housing, to create 49 units for people currently living on the streets and in temporary shelters.
The homeless people I’ve met are often candid about the reasons for their situation. Addiction and mental illness often play a role, but so do injury and illness, job loss, and alienation from family. Those things can happen to anyone, and they are not moral failings deserving of punishment.
“Support” is the key word in supportive housing. It’s about building people up, providing stability for lives knocked badly askew.
We will need more such projects. More housing, more prevention to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.
For now, many thanks to mayor and council for putting some pieces back to support and build up our fellow citizens.