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Guest column: OMFG, how did we get here?

One cold rainy night driving through the centre of town I noticed a man lying on the sidewalk
Homeless people huddle under a tarp in Duncan during a cold snap in late 2021. (Jen Hlannon photo)

By Bob Day

Okay, now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the recent article in the paper about the guy that died outside on a cold winter night.

First of all, I have to ask how many of us have driven by groups of unhoused individuals and kept on driving? Next, how did you feel inside when you drove past? Then, how long did it take for you to erase that sight from your mind and carry on with your day? Finally, who do you blame for those folks having to live their life on the street? I would love to see your honest answers.

I have a true story to tell you and it goes like this:

As an elected official, I felt that every resident in my community deserved my representation. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that most of the policies and systems in place were designed to well serve the privileged population. Locally, provincially and federally we don’t have well designed systems and policies in place when it comes down to servicing individuals, who for one reason or another could not fit inside the margins of what we may call normal living.

I made it a habit of staying in touch with the small population of unhoused individuals in my community on a regular basis and having one on one conversations and learning about their lives. These stories have left a permanent imprint in my mind and reminded me of how privileged and blessed my life has been. My hard times did not even come close to the circumstances told to me by my street friends.

One cold rainy night I was driving through the centre of town and I noticed a man lying on the sidewalk. I quickly realized it was one of my unhoused friends. This was in 2020 and I was mayor of Lake Cowichan at the time. I distinctly remember the shivering in my soul and the thought that became engraved upon my mind: “I was the mayor of Lake Cowichan and there I was, driving by this person sleeping on the streets of my town.”

I was, and still am, ashamed that as a community leader I had no system or policy to call upon to rescue this person.

There are 24 hour services available to fix just about anything broken in our privileged society. But, there was no number to call to pick up this broken man and get him the help he needed or at least provide the basic needs to sustain life. To top it all off, I later learned this person had a life threatening disease to go along with his severe disability. I thank God that the actions of a very strong willed local healthcare practitioner rescued my friend and got him the care and a housing situation he so desperately needed, using the medical system.

This story is only one of hundreds that repeats itself every day somewhere out there on the streets in most every city and town across this continent and beyond. I guarantee that if this was a stray dog, it would have been picked up and taken in almost immediately and cared for with more compassion than a stray human.

At the end of the day, I am still ashamed, but for a society that is so desensitized to the harsh social issues around us that have the characteristics and proportions more devastating than the recent pandemic. And, that we need to fabricate sensationalistic headlines to make people stop and read the thoughts and facts of a journalist trying to tell the real story.

Finally, I am not ashamed of becoming unelected, because I can now become an agent of change along with the many others that realize society has taken a detour around a large issue that has grown up to bite us in the ass.

OMFG, how did we get here?

Bob K. Day is a resident of the Cowichan Valley and the former mayor of Lake Cowichan.