Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher

The Face of NIMBY is Not Pretty


“Who’s going to live here?”  It is one of the most frequently asked question when talking to communities about housing for formerly homeless individuals.

The challenge is, the answer is the thing that causes their fear to rise. Individuals with long-term experience of homelessness.

Not because formerly homeless individuals and families are scary, but rather, because often we carry misconceptions of what the state of homelessness is and who the people experiencing it are.

Homeless and criminal are not the same words; yet there are those who believe Homeless = Criminal.

People experiencing homelessness may have a criminal record. But then, it’s almost impossible to live in homelessness and not be ticketed for some infraction for which the majority of us would never be ticketed.

Jay-walking. Sitting on park benches. Open liquor in public spaces. Being intoxicated in public. Spitting on the sidewalk. Littering. Urinating in public. These things happen every day in our city, especially during Stampede, yet often they are overlooked by authorities because, well really? Are you going to ticket everyone? And anyway, it’s Stampede. It’s just what happens.

In homelessness, you do not have the luxury of a backyard or living room to pop open a beer and kick back. You do not have access to a washroom when you need it.

As to jay-walking and sitting on park benches and other things that people of all walks of life do everyday, they are less likely to be ticketed at the same rate as those who are visibly homeless. Add to that the fact that individuals in homelessness do not have the resources to pay fines and often do not turn up for court dates, it’s easy to see how a criminal record can easily follow.

The other factor that leads to individuals in homelessness having criminal records is that addictions are often a result of, or part of the homeless condition. And, even though homelessness accounts for less than 0.1% of the population, over 40% of those experiencing it self-report having an addiction (approximately 10% of the total population will report being impacted by an addiction in their lifetime).

Again, without the resources to a) support an addiction, or b) get help; individuals will turn to other means to get the substances they need to feed the beast of an addiction.

And that’s why housing with supports is so important.

Homelessness by its very nature is an unstable condition. With housing and supports, individuals begin to take stock of their lives from a place of stability. In that place, evidence clearly shows that self-care follows. Use of illegal substances, interactions with police and emergency response teams, incarcerations, all decrease.

For six years I worked at one of Canada’s largest homeless shelters. During that time I never once experienced a mob scene where a mass of individuals yelled and threatened staff, demanding they answer questions or give them assurances they will be safe on our streets, or not be ticketed for sitting on a bench, or as happened the other night, give them the names of the people who were coming in that day to serve meals or sort clothing or a host of other jobs regularly filled-in by volunteers.

Yet, last week, when my co-workers and I attended an open house to meet with community about a proposed housing development for 28 formerly homelessness citizens , we were met with an angry mob threatening us, demanding answers, yelling out and demanding to know, “Who is going to live here?”


They weren’t there to talk about the merits of our proposal. The aesthetics of the building. Its fit within the architectural landscape or compliance with zoning.

They were there to talk about ‘the people’.

When a for-profit developer proposes an apartment building, community does not demand to know the income, life-history including criminal background-check, race, gender, faith of those moving in. They do not demand to know what will they do in their spare time. Because they have no right to know these things. And to ask would be to risk being charged with infractions of the Human Rights Act.

Yet, because people have been marginalized, impoverished, homeless, and are often without a voice, people feel they have the right to ask questions and use names that demean the human condition of fellow citizens. They feel they have the right to act out in ways that are more threatening and offensive than anyone I have met on the streets or in a shelter who is experiencing homelessness.

This week, I have been sifting through emails from community members regarding our project.

I am stunned by the face of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) many of those who have written in portray. It is not pretty.

Yet, at the same time, I am optimistic. Their opposition is not based on the merits of the development. It is all about fear.

We can, I hope, abate fear by continued engagement that heightens our awareness of the need to  lower our voices against and raise our voices for taking action to get homelessness off the streets and out of backyards by making it possible for people to find themselves at home.




Author: Louise Gallagher

I believe in wonder. I believe we are all magnificent beings of divine beauty. I believe we can make a difference in this world, through every act, word, thought. I believe we create ripples with everything we do and say and want to inspire everyone to use their ripple to create a better world for everyone. I'm grateful you're here.

11 thoughts on “The Face of NIMBY is Not Pretty

  1. I’ve seen fear and NIMBY make people act in such non-pretty ways, Louise. On my street, there are signs everywhere against a public bike path, from fears about how that will affect property values. I’ve heard there was an angry town meeting about that, with people shouting down others from a neighboring community who had testimonials about how a similar bike path was a very positive thing. Thanks for this fearless post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. NIMBYism is, on its face, ridiculous over-reaction, fear and ‘anticipation of bad things’

    Set aside the uninformed ridiculous prejudices for a moment to realize that it is adjustment to change people can’t handle. We handle subtle little changes easily, incrementally, but a radical change sets us back on our heels. Forget how good it might be for us, it shocks us because it is sudden and large.

    Maybe there is no way to introduce such a project slowly – but it seem to me, it is the suddenness mixed with ignorance, that is the gap to be bridged …

    KUDOS to those who keep trying.

    But, are they trying different ways of trying? The opposition forces seem to have some predictable ways. Perhaps proponents should change some tactics so two ‘naturally opposed parties’ don’t just play out a familiar script based on irrational fears vs. rational arguments … surely, somewhere on the planet of 7.5 billion smart people, someone’s figured that one out??

    If not, why not you, here, now?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We have had many discussions about the source of their fear and anxiety — and have even spoken with community members about it. Yesterday, we did something different and are continuing to explore ideas on how to do it differently. It is a constant one foot in front of the other, slowly, patiently and compassionately. Thanks Mark!


  3. Fear is what drives prejudice. NIMBY is a horrible concept. Keep up the fight.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Keep fighting the fight Louise, as I know you will. ❤ I agree with Lisa and you…fear makes people say and do things that they normally would not do or say. We all do it at some point. Whether it be centered on homelessness, refugees, political leanings, race, etc. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all learn to learn more before we react to something we don't anything about?
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. U need former homeless people,to explain the journey back to society….i am formerly homeless,but sad how so many fight each other for solutions…..the answer is right there….my neighbours have not made one comment of my past…as said the answers are right there……r u ready to listen?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Shirley. Your voice is powerful and we include the voice of lived experience in many community engagement pieces. In this instance, I know how re-traumatizing their response was to me — and am not willing to jeopardize the well-being of anyone until we have a common ground where all voices are heard with respect and everyone is able to treat one another with dignity. Hugs


  6. I am descended from a convict who stole two coats back in the horrible days of Britain in the late eighteenth century. I know only too well that good people can sometimes resort to crime. After their convict beginnings, my ancestors in Australia then became the pioneers who carved out the interior of New South Wales as they tended to be outcasts and shunned by the people in the cities but they were also gifted grants of land on receiving their freedom, with the government wanting someone to settle those interior lands. However, in that new environment that they then were able to make it on their own, they became worthwhile citizens and passed down tenacity and many other admirable traits to their descendants. I do not think that those in similar situations these days, after having a hard time, would have the same opportunity to do that … to make a go of it, by being given the gift of a grant of land by the government.


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