My year-or-so working for a homeless advocacy group (Toronto disaster relief committee) meant that I was fairly regularly taking phone calls and receiving emails from anti-homeless wing nuts and anti-poor idiots. This would happen especially on mornings immediately following some media clip on TV about homeless folks that had a quote or two from me or a co-worker or a homeless person who identified themselves as a member of the committee.
As well as the "you're just encouraging them" remarks
whenever we were organizing emergency relief efforts (warm winter clothes,
sleeping bags, etc.), which I certainly heard more than once, I would
often hear other remarks:
(Most homeless shelters in this city, especially single men's shelters and the church-run "out of the cold" system, require everyone to leave at 8am and not re-enter the shelter until dinner time. most men's shelters are massively over-crowded in the winters, with men sleeping on thin mats on the floor - only inches apart -- shelters are very often completely full and turning people away by 6 or 7pm. Funding for homeless drop-in services where people can go in the daytime has been cut annually, with many drop-in's being forced to close.)
"The so-called 'homelessness crisis' is just over-blown by the media and professional agitators. There are only a couple hundred of these people who have chosen this lifestyle."
(32,985 different people stayed at least one night in Toronto's homeless shelter system in the year 2002 alone - including 4,779 children -- see http://www.toronto.ca/homelessness/ -- each night, the 4200 emergency hostel beds in the city's 65 shelters are full, with over-crowding and mats on floors to accommodate some overflow in many shelters.)
"Why don't these people just get homes? There is lots of public social housing."
(There are now over 72,000 "households" - both singles and families - on the waiting list for affordable housing in Toronto alone, with an expected waiting period of ten to twelve years. These 72,000 households represents over 180,000 individuals. Many homeless people are regularly dropped off this list for failing to fulfill the requirement of contacting the administrators of the waiting list at least once every twelve months with updated "contact information". Many others are dropped off the list because there is no way to contact them or because they didn't respond to a mailed letter within a prescribed period of time.)
These complacent comments always remind me of a conversation that I had with someone in the midst of winter while I was working on a sleeping bag collection drive for the many homeless folks who are crowded out of the shelters here (in Toronto, an average of two homeless folks die each week in the midst of winter due to exposure and related problems).
Some well dressed fellow walks over to me and enquires why we're collecting sleeping bags when "that just encourages them to live on the streets".
I asked if he owned or had ever owned a sleeping bag...
He replied "Of course, I go camping every summer with my children".
"Don't you think that sort of behavior would just encourage your kids to be homeless? and aren't you concerned that you, yourself, will suddenly decide to leave behind your warm suburban home for the comfort of a sleeping bag on the streets of Toronto in the winter?"