Letters to the Editor

Burnaby mayor's view on homelessness behind the times

Re: Mayor Corrigan has his say on the homeless shelter issue (Column, NewsLeader, Feb. 1)

Halfway through reading this I had to stop and confirm that Chris Bryan’s interview with Mayor Derek Corrigan wasn’t some kind of elaborate political satire. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. As of this moment, the comments on the website commend Mr. Bryan for publishing “such a candid [interview]” while also congratulating the mayor on his “compelling arguments” against cooperating with the provincial government to fund and build a permanent homeless shelter in Burnaby. The “compelling arguments” mentioned by a commenter are in fact an elaborate exercise in finger-pointing, bolstered by a thinly veiled social darwinist perspective on low income and homeless individuals and their circumstances.

Corrigan appears to be well aware of his critics, as well as how (relatively) simple it would be to set up a permanent homeless shelter, and yet he refuses to do so, saying that “it wouldn’t achieve anything to address the problem or help Burnaby as a whole.” His main reason for refusing is based upon anecdotal personal experience which has led him to believe that the homeless population is generally “beyond hope,” so addicted, so morally reprehensible, that the appropriate response is leaving them to fend for themselves.

It’s funny because if Corrigan was to, for example, voice this opinion in any one of the Sociology or Urban Studies seminars I attend at UBC, a veritable uproar would ensue. He would be informed that “social darwinism,” i.e. the institutionalized de-valuing of those perceived as unable to take care of themselves through policy decisions, went out of style in the ‘40s. And yet here, in 2013, a publicly elected representative is shamelessly mobilizing classist rhetoric to justify a decision that could save lives in one of our most vulnerable demographics.

Corrigan is correct about one thing: homelessness is a much more visible problem than that of the working poor. But to suggest that one population is more deserving than another is to play God, which coincidentally, isn’t part of the job description. Instead, it is the mayor’s job to both recognize that poverty is a structural problem and ensure that we are doing our best to support all populations. Corrigan appears to have a very selective understanding of poverty, recognizing that the “working poor” are products of circumstance, who can benefit from government assistance like subsidized housing, while turning a blind eye to homeless populations. He blames the closure of Riverview, lack of provincial and/or federal involvement, and anyone else rather than accepting that intervention in the homeless issue in Burnaby would be no different than the steps he took investing in community amenities in the Edmonds area. It seems that Corrigan has a rampant case of NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard) that I would suggest stems specifically from the visibility of homeless populations in the urban landscape. He is quoted as saying he did what he needed to do to “strengthen a part of Burnaby that was in danger of becoming the new Downtown Eastside,” clearly suggesting that that area is an undesirable area of Vancouver. However, refusing to acknowledge that Burnaby is part of a larger Lower Mainland urban system and can contribute to solving widespread issues therein is disingenuous, as the onus is simply shifted to another municipality or government, while Burnaby maintains its image as the “best-run” municipality in Canada.

While I am not suggesting a permanent homeless shelter in Burnaby would be a one-stop solution, I do believe Corrigan’s opposition is based upon an offensive, outdated view of the homeless population as well as being informed by an isolationist attitude towards a problem that crosses municipal boundaries and requires cooperation on all fronts.

The character that is revealed in this article is unbecoming of a man of his position. And don’t even get me started on his brief statement that “gentrification is one of his only tools available” to improve the Edmonds area.

Jelena Kocmaruk

Burnaby

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