“Our priority is for more manpower for those we’re afraid of and not the ones we’re mad at”, said newly appointed Edmonton Police Chief, Dale McFee, at his swearing-in ceremony.
“We will be equally relentless in leading solutions to help the vulnerable within our city that make up the majority of our calls for service and where the best path forward might not be a jail cell.”
For those who work with the homeless, addicted, mentally ill and those experiencing domestic violence, McFee’s comments speak truth to power.
Each year, multi-millions of tax dollars are simply poured down the drain in the revolving door of policing, health care, justice and jailing of the homeless, mentally ill and addicted.
Not more than two days later during a conversation with a 40-year-old successful businessman, he opined, “we have homelessness because we treat them too well”.
Therein is the divide between those who interact daily with the homeless, mentally ill and addicted and those who see them as lazy, coddled nuisances whose presence trash property values.
This millennial was absolutely right on one point; homelessness takes an economic toll on property values, livability and businesses in downtown cores of cities.
The strategy has been to push them further from the core, reduce their benefits and services or give them one-way tickets to British Columbia.
Just a walk through downtown Red Deer, especially by the river, is proof positive this approach has completely failed.
Last year I travelled through many European cities, but the most impressive city was Vienna, Austria for the simple reason it has no homelessness.
Not in the downtown core, nor anywhere else. Simply they have invested in the root causes of homelessness, specifically addictions, mental health and young people fleeing abuse at home.
Government leaders need to stop being mad at our homeless, addicted and mentally-damaged citizens and start to see them as human beings who require our help.
In 2009, Edmonton City Council and its mayor, Don Iveson, developed Edmonton’s Plan to End Homelessness.
It focuses on strategies to quickly find a home for those experiencing homelessness and then give the supports they need to keep that home.
Progressive politicians understand it is cheaper for society to provide housing and in-house supports for the newly-liberated homeless than continue the insanity of police, doctors, judges and jailers simply recycling the same victims.
Communities of formerly homeless people need on-site visits from psychologists, doctors, nurses, social workers, career counsellors and life skill coaches.
They need house mothers, addiction programs, safe injection sites and social service agency supports.
What an economic and social boom if provinces worked with cities to embrace Vienna’s humane and economically successful strategy.
A couple of million-dollar penthouses on the river with spectacular views are for sale in downtown Red Deer. They’ve been for sale for a few years.
The reason they aren’t selling – they sit on the path of the homeless.
For the winter games, Red Deer’s City Council sanitized downtown areas by pushing the homeless further down the river which just moved the problem to a south side residential neighbourhood.
I hope the words of Edmonton’s Chief McFee’s message strikes a chord with our new provincial government when planning their next budget.
Maybe a trip to Vienna for Premier Kenney and his cabinet would convince the homeless haters of the value of spending money on the root causes of homelessness.
Leaving our vulnerable on the streets simply keeps the rage of the ‘successful’ or ‘lucky ones born into good families’, festering towards these broken people and does nothing to make our downtowns safer or more inviting for economic development and tourism.