So let it be written…
I’m thinking about a story out of my youth, in the prairies. There was this guy who was known to be very generous in his community but clearly failed to appreciate the maxim that charity begins at home.
During the spring melt, sucker fish would invade the ditches and so he’d put on his waders, grab a dip net and scoop up enough of the spawning, wriggling flesh to fill his freezer.
And while this guy was playing the philanthropist out in the community, he’d expect his wife and kids to subsist on these god-awful bony fish.
Canada is kind of that way.
You are no doubt aware that our fresh federal government has decided to relocate 3,000 Syrian refugees into Metro Vancouver and that most of them will likely be calling Surrey home.
And so the scramble is on as people in the resettlement business try to find these people a place to stay.
Hotels, motels and basement suites are being looked at, as are vacant apartments, and even emergency measures are being considered such as setting up cots in churches, gyms and community halls to accommodate these new residents.
Maybe some local families might like to take a Syrian family under their wing, something like billets.
Which is all of course very fine and right, except when cast in the light of a recent discovery by the provincial New Democrat opposition that in Surrey, in 8,558 instances, homeless people were turned away from shelters between November 2013 and November 2014.
Now, we don’t know what the most recent figures are, and probably will not, as the NDP also discovered through a freedom of information request that B.C. Housing has since stopped tracking how many homeless people are being turned away.
So here’s the picture. We have homeless people on our streets, not because of political and social problems unfolding on the other side of the planet, but as a result of our own home-grown problems.
Should we not try to fix our own problems first?
It’s truly sad what’s happening many thousands of kilometres away, but it’s also sad what’s happening right here in our own back yard.
How is it that we’re talking about putting these Syrian newcomers up in cots in gyms, when we have 8,558 – eight thousand, five hundred and fifty eight, no less – turn-aways at Surrey homeless shelters?
I mean, it’s absurd. Sadly, I also wonder how many of these Syrian refugees might eventually find themselves among the homeless already being turned away from shelters.
It’s a difficult situation, no doubt. Heck, even Christ himself found there was no room at the inn.
Should we be trying to help these Syrians? Sure. But isn’t there a city or municipality in Metro Vancouver, other than Surrey, that’s better equipped to shoulder this burden? Surrey clearly has its own problems – 8,558 of them.
Is it fair to attempt to re-locate refugees into a community that can’t handle its own social obligations to people who already live here but cannot find a warm place to lay their head?
Again, charity begins at home. And if the government can’t wrap its head around that one, it’s got some big apologies to issue to people who already sought shelter in Surrey but found none.
Roughly 8,558 of them.
So let it be done.
Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org