Photo credit David McNeary, Creative Commons.
This week the rains of winter found us, a foretaste of a season that forecasters believe will be one of the bitterest winters we've seen in some time. The rain is falling in liquid shards; two more days of this and we'll see an early cold weather alert, which means people who are toughing it out right now in our parks and beaches, on our streets and under doorways will have somewhat greater access to shelter.
The rain drives home the reality of the BC Auditor General's observation that, in 2007, the cost of providing police, ambulance, emergency hospitalization and court-related resources to contend with the human impact of homelessness cost BC taxpayers $55,000 per homeless person per year. The Auditor General compares this to the $37,000 it would cost to provide the same person with stable and supportive housing, as part of a considerable volume of evidence to support his conclusion that "the government does not have a comprehensive plan for addressing homelessness."
Much has changed since since the Auditor General's 2009 report Homelessness: Clear Focus Needed. Today, there are 1,215 seniors at immediate risk of homelessness on the North Shore. The Lookout Society's eminent executive director, Karen O'Shannecery, advises us last year saw a 5% increase in the number of seniors turning to homelessness shelters and she projects this will grow to 10% within a year. This trend is likely to increase as the percentage of seniors in our community rises. At the same time, there's been a 38% increase in the numbers of youth 25 and under who have become homeless in our community since 2008.
Faced with this reality, there are a number of practical and immediate steps all of us can take to end homelessness in our community. In fact, we believe this can be done beautifully. Here are two things we can do right away:
First, let Christmas start today for everyone on the North Shore who's at risk of homelessness. Sponsor a Festival tree for your family, your business, community or place of worship and let it be a meaningful beacon of hope: put your tree to work now in raising the charitable donations essential for the ongoing work of the North Shore Shelter.
Second, use this blog, the four Saturdays of the Festival's fabulous and free concerts and any other moment you can find for open and frank conversations about the reality of homelessness and housing insecurity in our community. These conversations could be challenging.
The reason we have a shelter for homeless adults on the North Shore stems from a particularly painful conversation. She was a lady in every respect, living in a home of her own in the British Properties and well into her eighties when her neighbours found her. Her husband had died some years before, and she found his Canada Pension was not sufficient to pay her property taxes and support her. So she used that money to pay the tax, with a small amount left over to keep up appearances by paying a gardener to come in once a month and mow the lawn. Inside her home, she shut down all of the rooms and lived only in the nanny's quarters to save on utility costs. She did not fill her prescriptions. She ate cat food. Her neighbours looked in on her when they saw the junk mail piling up at her letterbox, found her in a coma and saw her admitted to Lionsgate Hospital. She had no family in Canada, and so the hospital contacted the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's offices in the Downtown Eastside, because at the time there were no shelters on the North Shore. It was the experience of an elderly West Vancouver lady with the brutality of housing insecurity and, eventually, homelessness, that set in train the creation of our own North Shore Shelter.
Honour her by allowing your own Festival tree to shine in our forest of Christmas trees on Dundarave Beach. Answer her loneliness by helping us to create frank and loving conversations about how to make sure the people who built out community, and the people who are the future of our community, can always make their home among us.
The universe has its own rhythm and reason, so it was entirely fitting that we received word this week -- as Canada turns its heart to Thanksgiving -- that the Department of Canadian Heritage has once again awarded significant funding to the Dundarave Festival of Lights. This means that we can keep the Festival's 20th Anniversary this Christmas by providing urgently needed financial support to our performing artists, allowing kids their first opportunity to sing in public and bringing the magnificence of the season as-you've-never-seen-it-before to the heart of Dundarave Beach and Dundarave Village. And it means all of us, performers and audience alike, will have warmth and shelter against the bracing weather of a North Pacific winter.
This moment of thankfulness, running the three days of the long weekend, drives home the fact that to be human is to live in relationships, with others and for others. None of us would be who we are today were it not for the people who in loving us and sustaining us make us the persons we are. There are so many inducements to loneliness in our culture, especially if you're insecure in your housing or reduced to homelessness, and it often takes a conscious effort to turn our minds to the fact that every beat of our hearts is due to the hearts that made us. The blood in our veins carries the blood of our ancestors, and our sense of identity is woven through with the identities of the people who have taught us, befriended us, and loved us through our lives.
So here's a way to bring this fact to light, a new Thanksgiving tradition. More and more families and community organizations (like the North Shore Dragon Busters) are using the Dundarave Festival of Lights as a beautiful and public moment to honour the people they love. Sign up for your own Festival Tree this season and let your tree shine for everyone who has loved you into being. Let your Festival Tree be a beacon of thankfulness for them, a sign of hope and encouragement for everyone who sees it. Then bring them with you to Dundarave Beach on November 26th to for the world's most spectacular tree decorating party, to celebrate together the ties that keep us human, the love and friendship that make us the people we are.
The Dundarave Festival Society
We are a circle of friends working in the Dundarave Festival of Lights Society to bring to life the promise of Christmas in our community, a season of life, passion and purpose that leaves no one in the cold. This is community-driven social change, in the true spirit of Christmas and the best spirit of our community.