I had to laugh when I read Saturday’s editorial in the Times Colonist about homeless “consultants” hired to attend the City of Victoria’s workshop on short term sheltering options.
The writer was concerned about the precedent being set by the city for paying a $20 stipend to homeless people to order to get them to show up and express their opinion. S/he questioned the need to “bribe homeless people to speak on their own behalf”.
Unfortunately, the writer’s argument fell apart by the end of the article with the statement “it would have been appropriate to provide coffee and sandwiches, but not cash payment”.
Umm… Isn’t this another form of “purchasing” public input?
Everyone is joining the political debate: Jordon Bateman, BC’s director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation “doesn’t agree with paying one group of people a fee to attend a public meeting to advance their own self-interest”. Councillor Geoff Young thinks it “was not a good use of funds”. And Mayor Lisa Helps equated the $20 payments to a consulting fee. She said it was “the least expensive consultants we’ve ever hired… and they had already done their research.”
All this political posturing and opinion misses the real point of this exercise. That being, how do we empower the powerless and give them a voice?
Unless you’ve lived on the streets, it’s difficult to understand how beaten down homeless people can become. With no safe environment to retreat to – no home of your own, it begins to feel like the world is against you; even the most innocent actions and gestures of others begin to feel ominous. Every time free money is accepted from the generous, they are robbed of a little piece of their dignity and self-worth. In every way, homeless people are marginalized and powerless to affect positive change in their own lives.
I give Mayor Lisa Helps full points for supporting an idea that empowered the homeless and motivated them to show up in record numbers to provide their voice in a meeting that could powerfully affect their own future. And while her “consultant” metaphor is laughable and easily refuted by her opponents, I note it effectively imbued real value to the attending homeless people. The distinction being they were paid for their services rather than given a free handout.
Did some of them show up just for a quick twenty bucks? You bet they did. But they also came away with something far more important than a few dollars. They came away educated on the issues and its players, and perhaps they came away with a greater sense of hope because they found out their city actually gives a damn about their opinion and their plight.
Well done City of Victoria employees! The record numbers of people most impacted showing up to contribute to the conversation vindicates your out-of-the-box thinking.
I’m one taxpayer who won’t begrudge paying a few dollars to help give hope to the homeless.