Why don’t the homeless come inside when it’s cold?

In recent days we have all heard a lot about the new provincial legislation the "Assistance to Shelter Act" which will allow police to force homeless people into shelters in extreme weather, though the VPD recently announced that they will not be enforcing this legislation.  This act has received a lot of criticism from a wide range of individuals and advocacy groups.

The act continues to be controversial as it is seen by some as a way to clean the streets before the Olympics and as a violation of people’s personal rights. As a former youth worker, I want to touch on the reason some people choose to stay outside even when shelter is available to them.

Adults and youth live on the streets for a variety of reasons including: abuse, mental health concerns and drug and alcohol addictions. These same reasons often prevent people from seeking shelter. If you are a person with severe schizophrenia and are hearing voices, being in a room with a lot of strangers and being asked to lie down and go to sleep can be a near impossible task.

Schizophrenia can make it hard for you to sleep at certain times or make you feel the need to walk and move. So to be forced into a shelter can be a traumatic experience for you and may even cause you to have a negative outburst. The same trauma can be felt by people who have been physically or sexually abused; it can be very triggering for people to be in an open room with beds close to people they don’t know.

In recent days we have all heard a lot about the new provincial legislation the "Assistance to Shelter Act" which will allow police to force homeless people into shelters in extreme weather, though the VPD recently announced that they will not be enforcing this legislation.  This act has received a lot of criticism from a wide range of individuals and advocacy groups.

The act continues to be controversial as it is seen by some as a way to clean the streets before the Olympics and as a violation of people’s personal rights. As a former youth worker, I want to touch on the reason some people choose to stay outside even when shelter is available to them.

Adults and youth live on the streets for a variety of reasons including: abuse, mental health concerns and drug and alcohol addictions. These same reasons often prevent people from seeking shelter. If you are a person with severe schizophrenia and are hearing voices, being in a room with a lot of strangers and being asked to lie down and go to sleep can be a near impossible task.

Schizophrenia can make it hard for you to sleep at certain times or make you feel the need to walk and move. So to be forced into a shelter can be a traumatic experience for you and may even cause you to have a negative outburst. The same trauma can be felt by people who have been physically or sexually abused; it can be very triggering for people to be in an open room with beds close to people they don’t know.

Vancouver has a lack of shelter beds and detox programs and most are severely underfunded. The staff and volunteers do the best they can to help as many people as possible and keep it safe as possible. But adult shelters are often understaffed and can dangerous as people can be aggressive to one another, be drunk or high or steal belongings. For people who are trying to stay sober, being with people who are actively using or drinking can cause them to relapse.

Many homeless people have only a few possessions and those precious belongings are often kept in carts or many large bags. Many shelters lack the space to hold these items and people are unwilling to leave their belongings outside where they can be stolen.
These are just a few examples of why people choose to stay outside.

For me the key word is "choice". Everyone deserves the right to choose what is best for them and unless they are at risk to harm themselves or someone else. I hope you take the time to think about and research this issue so you can decide how you feel about it. Everyone in Canada and Vancouver should have a choice and voice in what affects their city and its people.

Other articles of interest on the subject:

http://www.streamsofjustice.org
http://www.pivotlegal.org/
http://davideby.blogspot.com