A Challenge to the city of Chilliwack, BC

Subject: A Challenge to the city of Chilliwack, BC
From: Lauren Stewart
Date: 19 Jan 2020

To whom it may - and definitely should - concern: our city is in turmoil, and something needs to be done about it.

It’s no secret that our city has a homelessness problem, and it’s definitely not going unnoticed by the public. The issue however, is how it’s being noticed. It makes me feel a form of second-hand guilt knowing that I wake up in a city everyday where those who are struggling are looked down upon to such a degree that we as a society have created a lower-than-low class for the ones who need our attention the most. Now, I’m no saint. My part in society is a small one, but I like to think it means something. I go to school everyday, working towards graduating. I work my part-time job at McDonald’s after school, and try to be a good person in the little ways I can. As a student, the shifts I work are the ones that go from dinner to the late evening, and these few hours are by far the most heartbreaking. To the people I serve, the homeless people in the lobby are “an eyesore” and “a nuisance”. To me, however, they’re people trying to find a little bit of warmth, and some solace in a small cup of coffee bought with what may have been all of their assets. Each night as I go through the motions of getting McDonald’s ready to shut down it’s lobby for the evening, I look at all of the coffee pots that are left either full or with minimal amounts of coffee missing from them. I look at the people shivering in the lobby, wearing ragged clothes that are a sad excuse to offer any kind of protection from the negative temperatures. So I take the coffee pots, and I grab some cups, and I put together a small bag of creamers, sugars, and stir sticks, and I make my rounds. The smiles I receive from this small gesture is enough in itself to make it worth it. Regardless, while this may warm my heart, there’s still an icy core inside me. The fact that me giving away some old coffee is effectively accomplishing more than the entire city council has one to offer the homeless support is both angering and deeply saddening.
The stigmatism around the homeless is also something that needs serious work. While there is some valid reason behind the scary stories we tell our children to make them stay away from those on the streets, it’s become all too easy to forget that they’re still people. If you prick them, they bleed. The bottom line is that those who are of the privileged class in society have created a disgusting stereotype, and in order to put a damper on this something needs to be done. Most of the people who are on the streets turn to drugs and other substances because they ultimately have nothing left to lose. The twisted mindset is that, they would rather be high than living the life they now have sober. Can you blame them? As you lay your head on your soft pillows every night, know that someone’s “pillow” is made of cement. As you curl up with your down-duvet, know that someone’s blanket are the clothes they’ve had on their backs for days, weeks, months. As you enjoy the luxury of driving to work, coming home to your family, having those “stick to your ribs” type of dinners? Know that someone within a few blocks of you will wake up on the sidewalk, wander the streets looking for any kind of spare change, and eventually lay back down on the sidewalk slipping back into the release of some drug-induced sleep; with the only thing sticking to their ribs being their skin. I know I’m talking big game for a teenager who doesn’t have a bunch of money at my disposal to try and save the world, but may I suggest you use some of the left over budget for snow removal to build some accessible housing? Or maybe top up the funding to the clean-injection sight in town to offer some other services for some actual growth. With great power comes great responsibility, Mr. Mayor, and I know you’re not naive to the things going on in the city you run. To you, the homeless might be an eyesore, but to me and many others, they’re still human beings with rights. We have no place to deny them their basic human rights, and yet here we are. We’re all a bunch of thieves, stealing from those who have had everything taken from them. No, we aren’t stealing materialistic objects, we’re stealing their faith in humanity. How would you feel if any entire community of almost 100,000 people, hated you? Wanted you gone?

As of 2018, Chilliwack had a population of just shy of 92,000 people, with a five year growth rate of 7.5%, assuming we maintain a steady growth rate, our town will be home to well over 100,000 people by 2021. More people means more people without homes, which means our problem is only just beginning. If that statistic didn’t make you start to take me seriously, maybe these ones will:
70% of people who are homeless in Chilliwack are living within an addiction. 46% have a mental illness. 13% have a medical condition. 28% have a physical disability. However, this shouldn’t shock you considering these are numbers you willingly boast on the city website. While honesty is a valuable trait, this isn’t something I would be so proud of. Now yes, to offer help, they have to want help. I completely understand that a lot of homeless people aren’t in a place to rationally accept aid. But to be fair, I can safely assume over half of the homeless population doesn’t know we have some limited resources.

As I conclude this, I want to make one thing crystal clear. This letter is in no way an attempt to slander Chilliwack’s name, or offend anyone working in the city council. If you’re offended, it means you know on some level I’m speaking the truth. I raise this letter as a challenge to you, a challenge from a seventeen year old high school student with a passion. Ask yourself: what can I do? Considering my only power is in the form of hot coffee, I’ve given you a big advantage. Game on, Chilliwack.