One of the most common debates within any group or organization that does anything to help those on the street is crossing the line from helping to enabling.
One soon learns that opinions are as varied as the number of groups doing the work.
Some just boldly go where few have gone before, while others move with more caution and discrimination in order to achieve similar aims.
As I was driving away from the kitchen the other morning in order to pick up some groceries, I noticed a neighbouring businessman sweeping out the vestibule entrance to his establishment. There were assorted bits of garbage and discarded clothing, which, when all in one pile, made quite a large mound of refuse. Seeing me driving by, he gave an open arm questioning gesture while holding a couple of used needles in his hands. He does this same exercise every weekday morning; needless to say, I think I know his views on the subject!
At the kitchen I have the pleasure of speaking with a few of the folks on the street who care enough about their environment that they will pick up a lot of the refuse left behind by others. They care. In speaking with one in particular, the issue of needles came up. Having three months clean under her belt, she showed me her arms with great pride; there was not a trace of injection marks. In her words, there was no justification for needles to be left laying where they had been used. At times, even when she was injecting herself, she would borrow a broom and dust pan to help clean up messes left by others.
The one comment she made was that the prolific handing out of supplies, meals, clothing and everything else they could use, made it extra hard for her to quit using. So in order to correlate her statements, I approached several other overcomers who to a person agreed with the comments made. The one thought that came out of this questioning was that there was absolutely no accountability for all the free products received.
Hence, we have business people having to daily deal with the sometimes dangerous garbage on their doorsteps.
When our children were growing up, it was not uncommon for shoes to be left in the walkway where they were removed, coats dropped where they were taken off, items left two feet from the intended garbage can, so considering that, how can we really expect anything different from folks on the street? Unless they are taught, reprimanded, or reminded constantly, how can we expect anything different?
Last night on The National in a series of articles on the drug issues, it was reported that one clinic in Vancouver gave free heroin to selected addicts. This was in effort to stop these addicts from a more destructive behaviour due to constantly searching, stealing, and using all other efforts to find enough to pay for the drug.
The most common catch-phrase in the drug fighting world is harm reduction. I believe we have to revisit that phrase, because we have to ask, who is the harm reduction for? At present, it is not much more than harm transference. Without any accountability expectation, the harm is removed from the care-less addict and transferred to the public at large.
In this morning’s Advocate, one of the front page stories is the city council’s efforts to increase safety in the city. It does not take too much reading to realize they are referring specifically to the downtown core. The one comment that made the most sense to me was the quote attributed to Coun. Ken Johnston where he stated that the city cannot continue to afford to police its way out of the problem. The word holistic is used often in this article, but no specifics were included. So we are no further ahead.
The courts of this country and this city constantly hold an accused accountable for their offensive or illegal activities. So if accountability is so important to our judicial system and the basis for various degrees of punishment, and has become such a priority, why has not more attention been paid to it?
If I am to be held accountable for my actions, why can I not expect the same from everyone else? Especially when we go to such lengths to provide for those less fortunate; can we then not expect a certain amount of respect for those services?
I would recommend that the city council look at efforts to educate and then demand a certain amount of accountability from those that they would sooner not have to deal with. They would in all likelihood be surprised by the results. Would not that be fair?
Chris Salomons is kitchen co-ordinator for Potter’s Hands ministry in Red Deer.