On Tuesday, June 1, we gathered together at the Prince George City Hall to honour the 215 children who were found at the Kamloops Residential School. Our flags were lowered to half-mast and the Lheidli T’enneh flag will not be raised again until January 2, 2022. Our act of remembering is not just a symbolic gesture, but calls us to action today.
Prince George is in the midst of a complex and protracted social crisis, which is most visible in our downtown core. The criminalization of poverty, the overdose crisis and enduring racism are magnified on the foundation of our colonial history. While we have some excellent agencies in town, these social services set against the magnitude of this crisis pose insurmountable barriers for people who need support the most.
However, over the last two weeks I felt hope that the city was maturing its approach to tackle our social crisis. About ten days ago a small number of people set up simple but stable residences at Third and George. While their tents are not ideal or long-term solutions, in the face of an emergency a simple residence is a start. I heard that the city intends to evict these people from their residences. From what I understand, there is no plan for where they can go.
I am deeply concerned by this for three reasons:
- It is ethically wrong and it perpetuates the trauma and violence of residential schools. Many adults and youth on the street were directly affected by residential schools through parents or grandparents who survived. As the country is rocked by revelations of child graves and our city makes symbolic gestures to lower the flag, an act of eviction re-enacts colonial patterns.
- It is fiscally irresponsible. From a cost-analysis standpoint, our current simplistic approach to homelessness costs PG taxpayers more. Shuffling people along without a plan creates a higher demand for institutional services (hospitals, paramedics, RCMP, etc.), which is more expensive. We have already had costly overruns this year. It would be fiscally irresponsible to allow another unnecessary overrun, when there are more cost-effective solutions available.
- It contradicts our vision. We say we want to be a catalyst of the modern Canadian North and that we value imagination and innovation. To revert back to simplistic strategies that shuffle people along with hope that the problem goes away is naïve and lacks imagination and innovation. We have an opportunity to be leaders of the North, to demonstrate what real actions towards reconciliation looks like. To move people from their residences without a plan, in no way reflects our vision or values.
I conclude with a strong plea to NOT evict the people at 3rd and George from their residence. Until permanent housing is available elsewhere we need a designated place for people to sleep and store their belongings. As a taxpayer, I request that the city provide public spaces to defecate, urinate and wash in close proximity.
The Lheidli T’enneh flag will be lowered until January 2, 2022. I would like to challenge the city to have permanent and stable housing before the flag is raised again.
I write as a citizen of Prince George and do not represent any organization.