I have followed the news media concerning Namegans Nation over the past few months and visited in the summer to bring supplies. I have many questions about how things have unfolded, but most importantly I want to lend my support to the members of Namegans Nation, who have endured unbearable levels of harassment and discrimination for taking an unwavering stand against the crisis of homelessness in our region.
From an observer’s perspective, official responses have lacked empathy and appeared to be poorly planned, and at times, totally bungled. The over-policing of the camp to manage community controversy and misinformed ideas of “risk” has been costly and ineffective. We know approaching a situation with support will powerfully and effectively mediate almost any problem or dispute, and the campers have invited this kind of dialogue from the beginning.
Some of the ideas that tent cities are rightfully drawing our attention to include that shelters are the least desirable response; they are expensive and they present many safety and accessibility problems. Current housing initiatives in the region are happening too slowly and are not in scale with the number of people who are experiencing homelessness and housing affordability barriers. We need more investment and we need shorter-term options that can be made available quickly while new builds are under development. Supportive housing for people with multiple barriers to housing is not sufficient to meet the demand, nor is it varied enough to be responsive to the important safety and support criteria that potential residents are bringing forward.
Culturally informed housing for Indigenous people, housing that is adequately resourced to be responsive to the wide range of mental health and substance use support needs, housing that is accessible to people of diverse genders and sexualities, and housing that includes families are all needed in our region. Ask yourself, if your loved one was relying on supportive housing – and many of the people I care about are – what kind of housing would you want for them and what kind of models might actually contribute to wellness?