Last week, we demanded action on the territory’s worst social scourge – alcoholism.
This week, Glenn Hart started playing to the cameras.
Wearing a painter’s cap and carrying a roller, Hart got down on his hands and knees to post a message to his peeps.
“Visit www…” he rolled on the concrete sidewalk.
Apparently, he wants to “open the dialog between government and citizens.”
Yukon is getting glasnost in the waning summer – it’s online, and it’s moderated.
And it comes as a surprise.
Because we’ve been trying to talk to government officials for months about poverty and addiction – the very roots of social exclusion.
With a very few exceptions, Hart’s Health officials and their counterparts at Justice have been especially closemouthed. Some might even say obstructionist.
Then, this week, the government launched a social-inclusion campaign.
That’s where Hart’s sidewalk graffiti comes in.
There are messages on the street, before businesses and public buildings – right where the derelicts wander and seek shelter – that say, “You Don’t Belong Here,” and “You Can’t Take Part.”
“I hope when people walk over that message, they think about what it means – that they’re not included in society,” said Hart. “We’d like to make people aware.”
Confused? Don’t be. What Hart means is that he’s trying to make the regular folk aware.
It’s a public-awareness campaign, a nod to the fact there are actually people in Whitehorse who, for a variety of reasons, exist on the fringe of society. Or outside it entirely.
Some live on the street, some couch surf and some trade sex for shelter.
Sometimes when they are found staggering down the street, cranked up on Listerine or cheap sherry, they wind up in the drunk tank. Or pestering doctors and nurses in emergency.
Media in Whitehorse have been chronicling their sad tales for more than two decades.
Government has been finding ways to delay action, to ignore or to spend as little as possible on these social pariahs for just as long.
Until one dies.
Then there’s a flurry of activity – reports are drafted, symposiums and conferences held and sidewalk art commissioned.
These people need food, a safe, warm place to live, medical help and more robust drug- and alcohol-treatment facilities.
But, with its billion-dollar budget, the Fentie government has, instead, created an office with 2.5 staffers who are organizing symposiums, marketing campaigns and will draft a study this November.
They’ve been working on this stuff for 10 months.
And Thursday it launched its three-week-long, $30,000 social-inclusion campaign designed by Aasman.
Its slogans will be painted at 11 places.
Imagine what an intoxicated guy staggering down the street might think when he comes across the words, “You Don’t Belong Here.”
Of course, he’s not the target.
The government is, once again, spending money on the folks with money and computers, not the homeless.
It’s food for thought, not people.
And, for the politicians, it creates the impression of action where none exists.
By the way, the paint is nontoxic.
And, in three weeks, officials will turn on the pressure hoses and the messages will disappear.
Of course, those on the fringes of society will persist.
They, too, have been hosed.
But they are not so easily washed down the drain. (Richard Mostyn)