The first swan. The first crocus. The first street sweeper.
And soon the first tent of a tent city – the latest addition to the Yukon’s sign-of-spring roster.
Nobody knows just yet where it’s going to spring up, only that it will, somewhere in Whitehorse.
But it won’t be sprouting up on the lawn outside Premier Darrell Pasloski’s office, where last summer it quickly flourished from one tent to several dozen, plus a travel trailer and, in the final days, an Occupy Whitehorse truck/camper combo.
The government is making darn sure that’s not going to happen again.
Anyone who tries to push their pegs into that particular piece of real estate or any other public land will be fined up to $1,000 or thrown in jail.
Chances are (and this may be stepping out on a limb) that a person living in a tent on a public lawn in the middle of a bustling city, without heat, power or water, probably won’t have that kind of extra coin kicking around to pay a hefty fine.
Given the swanky digs up at the new Whitehorse Correctional Centre, they’re more likely to go for the “up to six months” option. Not only cheaper, it’ll come with a private room, an eight-channel TV, three squares a day, and a job.
But the government’s plans to ban camping on public land is not going to stop another tent city from taking root, say anti-poverty advocates.
They expect the new tent City to be bigger and to attract the same mix of residents – the truly down-and-out who have somehow survived another winter, students on a tight budget who are saving for school, the working poor who simply can’t afford current rents or can’t resist a good bargain, and the occasional tourist.
They say, as long as there’s a booming economy there’ll be a need for inexpensive shelter.
Granted, the housing crisis is a complex problem and a political minefield, but it’s time to stop the thumb-twiddling.
How can there be government money to provide emergency shelter for feral cats from Beaver Creek while there is nothing for cold and hungry people who mill around the Salvation Army entrance early each morning?
It makes no sense.
Cheap, basic housing units could be constructed in weeks or existing buildings renovated, but there has to be the political will.
Although it may already be too late to do any of that for this summer, if the government would get off its duff, it could have the problem well in hand before the first crocus blooms next year.
Affordable housing, not a tent city and related court cases, would be a much nicer sign of spring.