I was in Vancouver over the weekend visiting my daughter, her husband and my grandson. He’s 8 months old, his life a beautiful big slate of possibilities not yet explored or even imagined.
Three weeks ago, my daughter and her family, along with 43 other tenants who lived in the same apartment building in downtown Vancouver, were summarily evicted the day after a fire destroyed 10 units completely and caused extensive damage in the building.
My daughter and her husband had insurance. They have family they can stay with while searching for a new place. They have the means to afford to find and move into a new place, and they have the resilience that comes from a lifetime of relative privilege that has given them emotional reserves to fall back on to hold them up as they journey through these difficult days post fire.
So many others in the building don’t have those same opportunities. They are senior’s, single mom’s and dad’s faced with enormous damages and losses plus the challenge of having to find a place to live in Canada’s second most expensive renter’s market.
At the family emergency homeless shelter where I work, families arrive at our doors every day seeking shelter after a housing crisis has hit.
Like my daughter and her neighbours, they didn’t plan on the crisis and are doing whatever they can to weather the storm. In this case, bringing their family to an emergency shelter. What is essential to the families we serve is what is essential to my daughter and her neighbours – finding safe, temporary shelter while they seek new housing. Housing that is safe and sustainable. Housing where they can once again be at home in that place where their stories of new possibilities begin.
Everyday families come to the emergency shelter seeking shelter. Like my daughter and her family who are staying at his parents, or their neighbours who are staying with family, in motels or on friend’s couches, the shelter is not their home. It is the place they are staying as they navigate their path back home.
As my daughter and I wandered the streets of Vancouver, checking out shops for furniture and baby supplies for their new home, we talked about the unexpectedness of this event in their lives and its impact. They are moving to a new neighbourhood. Her son will no longer be swimming every week at the Y around the corner or sitting in the park with her across the street watching the puppies play or the birds in the trees.
“Will my son remember what happened?” my daughter wondered. “I just want to get him back into a routine. Get him settled in his own room.”
It has not been easy, but they are doing their best.
I am sure her thoughts are similar to those of the parents who come to the shelter. How much will their children remember? How will they be impacted? How do they get them settled quickly in a new home?
Faced with the crisis of being without a home, they are doing their best to ensure their families are safe. On their journey home, some people will need a little bit of extra help and support to make it happen. But no matter what, every family needs a place to call home for their children where a better future is always possible.
It is easy in homelessness for those of us looking ‘in’ to think the crisis is all the fault of the adults involved. That it is their choices that caused the problem.
No one caused the fire that resulted in my daughter and her neighbours being evicted, and not having insurance is not the problem either. The same is true of the families who come to a family emergency shelter. No one human caused their homelessness. Lack of a social network, lack of social policies that protect the vulnerable from greed and the man-made attributes that contribute to a highly-overpriced housing market are all players. Our human condition’s need to accumulate wealth, to build bigger and more without thought for those who are not able to take advantage of the same opportunities are also contributors.
And the part that is so daunting, that makes it so hard to witness children experiencing homelessness day after day is the fact, it is the children who pay the ultimate price. They are the one’s who suffer the consequences.
Homelessness is not the problem, just as those experiencing it are not the problem.
We all are contributors and benefactors of its root causes. We all buy into and pay forward the creation of this state called homelessness through the things we do to create ‘better’ in our own worlds that have unintended consequences, and sometimes intended consequences, in another’s world. In our complicity, whether overt or covert through our silence, we are all impacting the futures of the children who are its innocent victims.
If you would like to help the families who were impacted by the Thurlow Street Fire that resulted in my daughter and her family and neighbour’s evictions, you can support their GoFundMe campaign HERE.