Homelessness Action Week — oh put a sock in it!
Vancouverites are well aware of the homelessness in their midst but I doubt if many of them, outside of some in the downtown core, are aware of the fact that we are in the middle of this year’s Homeless Action Week (October 11 to 17).
No one that I’ve spoken to this week, homeless or otherwise has had any inkling of “what week this is”.
I cannot speak to how Homeless Action Week is marked in other parts of Metro Vancouver but here in the city of Vancouver, I believe that the week has shrunk to the point of insignificance and irrelevance.
This year especially, it is so small and so firmly rooted in the downtown core, with just a few outlier events in East Vancouver (as this Google map shows), that it could fairly be described as a Downtown Eastside (DTES) community event.
And while an annual opportunity to focus on the unique issues of that troubled and vibrant neighbourhood is certainly a good thing — it’s not the same thing as focusing on or addressing homelessness across Vancouver.
Too small an event for this big a city
All week, I’ve asked every homeless person that I’ve met, the same question: Do they know what week this is. Not one of them has so far.
Of course it’s a bit of a trick question. My survey group is almost entirely made up of homeless people like myself, who stick to Vancouver’s West side, meaning, mostly Kitsilano, Fairview and Cambie Village.
As far as the city’s social services are concerned, all of us West side street people might as well not exist. We are homeless incognito.
One South Granville security guard said ruefully the other day that he hasn’t seen outreach workers in the Fairview neighbourhood for over a year.
I had to laugh at that and tell him that I now see the Lookout outreach car once every three weeks or so — whenever I’ve been invited to ride into the Downtown Eastside to collect that nice condo’s returnable beverage containers.
It has always been the case that a large percentage of Vancouver’s homeless population has lived on the south side of False Creek, yet a majority of the Homeless Action Week events are downtown, without a single event on the West side.
This year, about 70 percent of the 10 distinct Homeless Action Week events, by date and location, are in the downtown core.
And of the 85 hours of Homeless Action Week programing, 53 hours, or over 62 percent, are in the Downtown Eastside. And nearly half of the remaining hours spent outside the downtown are a single, three-day sock drive at the Mount Pleasant Community Centre — a sock drive for Pete’s sake!
It’s true that nearly half of the programming hours are meant to be directly beneficial to homeless people (but only if you include that sock drive). And at least 28 hours of the total are given over to art exhibits and plays.
And I thought 2013’s Homeless Week was weak
Two years ago, I also wrote how the majority of 2013’s Homeless Action Week (October 13 to 19) took place in the Downtown Eastside and how I felt that too many of the events involved dealing with homelessness at a remove — through dialogues, and exhibitions and film nights — rather than by helping homeless people directly.
But in 2013 there were something like 18 distinct HAW events, compared with only 10 this year. And for all the talking, talking, talking in 2013, there was still far more doing than is apparently being done this week.
In 2013, the hands-on programming consisted of at least 13.5 hours-worth of “Homeless Connect” events — service fairs, the city called them. These were designed to bring help and services to homeless people in five Vancouver communities, including the Downtown Eastside, Mount Pleasant, Marpole and Kensington-Cedar Cottage.
This year there are only two Homeless Connect events — one downtown and the other in East Vancouver.
Unfortunately, because the city goes out of its way to delete old event information from its online calendar, it’s difficult to directly compare one year’s HAW with another.
But I can say that beside this year’s HAW, 2013’s was larger, more practically focused and made a greater effort to reach out to marginalized people across the city.
And still it didn’t touch the life of a single homeless person that I know.
Fact is, that I’m coming to see Vancouver’s “awareness weeks” as empty public relations exercises, designed to do nothing more than create a vivid but false impression in the minds of voters that real public engagement and progress towards solutions has taken place.
Are we all enjoying improvements to cycling that couldn’t have happened without Bike to Work Week? How much of the cost of Bird Week actually went to help birds? And does any Vancouver homeless person need Homeless Action Week half as much as they need a good, lightweight waterproof sleeping bag?
Speaking for myself, my equally homeless friend Jeff and every other homeless person that I’ve known or can imagine, the answer to the last question is emphatically NO!
Especially not, if the best that the brains at Vancouver City Hall can come up with, after a year of planning, is a sock drive! Click the images to enlarge them.