You can still see the remnants of campsites up in Puckett’s Gulch.
This area, though, has become too well travelled with the construction of the stairway to the top of the clay cliffs for the comfort of summer squatters now.
Normally our homeless remain invisible summer or winter. It doesn’t really take too much effort to find them if you choose to look.
In the woods between FH Collins Secondary and the Millennium Trail or in the bush almost anywhere along the clay cliffs you can find spaces that folk have set up shelters for days or even weeks.
Occasionally these camps become almost permanent. One winter several years ago a young First Nations man pitched a tent in a hollow of a gulch near downtown. With three sleeping bags stuffed into each other he managed to make it through the winter.
You would find him during the day at the library or in other warm, public spaces just trying to get by.
For a number of reasons he had fallen through the gaps in our tattered social services safety net.
Most of the time, one by one, they are invisible. Rarely when a young person goes missing or folk find the energy to organize their plight becomes a visible issue.
In late June a friend who works with an inner city housing agency in Edmonton took me by a growing tent community that has occupied several vacant lots just east of that city’s downtown core since May.
I counted 48 tents then. By late July I heard from her that the population of homeless there had grown to nearly 200. Citizens and city officials could no longer pretend to ignore them.
‘Tent city’ Edmonton has galvanized efforts to address the homelessness issue in the setting of Alberta’s overheated economy and an obviously woefully deficient government housing policy.
A host of agencies and government departments have snapped to. When I was there, portable toilets had already been brought to the site and increased surveillance sought to provide needed security.
Last week workers started putting up a fence around the site. As well they moved a trailer in next to the tents to house personnel providing 24-hour security.
Special ID cards and a host of rules for the controlled site have some residents worried.
But talk of stackable modular housing units coming to the site, active help for some special-needs residents finding supportive housing, and concrete measures to address the problems that kept people from existing homeless shelters suggest that longer term solutions may truly be being sought.
Edmonton’s tent city just represents the currently visible tip of the larger problem of poverty in our country.
Organizations like Campaign 2000 (www.campaign2000.ca), which the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition is a member of, have been urging all levels of government to commit to a comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy.
This week Campaign 2000 called on our premier and his peers meeting in New Brunswick to work towards a policy that would include “good jobs at living wages; affordable, high quality child-care services; investments in health and education for aboriginal communities, including urban aboriginal peoples; a comprehensive child-benefit system, significant expansion of affordable housing, and accessible post-secondary education and training.”
Poverty, visible and invisible, takes a real toll on our communities. We have to act with the same resolve whether its painful consequences are in our collective face or beyond our sight.
The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition will be holding its monthly meeting on Thursday, August 16th from 5 to 7 p.m. at Maryhouse 504 Cook Street. All are welcome.