Let me get this straight: the prairies experience a turn in the weather cold enough to take the lives of a homeless couple (who asphyxiated from carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to keep a bus warm) and Edmonton’s response is to dispense second-hand mittens? Seriously? Are they serious?
Meanwhile, Edmonton’s spanky city hall with its gigantic main hall and beautiful view of the city sits empty — and warm — protected by security forces that have nothing to do except listen to the echoes of their feet on the polished floor. I guess it makes no sense to open the doors to the homeless at, say, 7 pm, give them a place to stay warm, give the security guards something to do like, say, restrain the hallucinating and swab up the pools of puke that some of the homeless are bound to produce.
I am not some impractical dreamer who thinks that homeless people are exactly like those of us with homes. Most homeless people can find a bunk with a friend or a relative, even for a space of several months, while they get their luck together. Some homeless people are new in town but most of the truly homeless are usually much more unlucky, cursed with addictions and other mental illnesses, or simply lacking the basic life skills that most of us use to guarantee a warm bed at night. Most bleeding heart types wouldn’t last two minutes in a homeless shelter. It takes serious moral mettle to do the right thing for an abusive, smelly nutcase. But, in a caring society — which we are supposed to be — that is what we must do.
I am not pointing the finger at Edmonton: it just happens to be the city where two people got cold enough to die. There are public buildings all over Canada using taxpayer dollars to sit warm and empty while my fellow Canadians sit outside in the snow, or the rain. If the public buildings are not for them, who are they for? Only lucky Canadians? Only Canadians who don’t actually need these buildings, or hardly step foot in them?
I am going to step off the moral high road for now and go utilitarian. Isn’t anybody else outraged that we are not getting better value for our damned tax dollars? If only from an environmental point of view, I want to see better use of government offices — those spaces that eat fuel and are used ONLY ONE THIRD of the time. Crazy! These spaces are an unused asset and ought to be maximized for….wait for it….the public good. And not just the lucky public.
It would not hurt public servants to share their offices with the homeless — if only to remind them what the public good really looks like.