Tuesday December 19, 2006
Plenty of room for improvement
By BILL TIELEMAN
And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.
- William Wordsworth, Salisbury Plain, 1794
Outside my Kitsilano apartment, in the recycling area off the lane, a homeless man sleeps among the blue boxes of newspapers, bottles and cans.
Driving along West Broadway, I see more homeless begging on the streets.
Close to my office a bundled man sleeps under the 7th and Fir viaduct, possessions in a battered shopping cart. The temperature is freezing.
But along Burrard Street I see a gleaming row of 20 brand-new Lotus Elise sports cars, available in many colours for just $60,000 each. Nearby is MCL Motor Cars, where the thrifty can buy a used 2005 Bentley Continental for just $209,000.
Welcome to Vancouver, land of the homeless and hopelessly wealthy.
Recently much attention has been paid to the poverty problem, with some hoping to help people in need while others just want to make them go away.
Many causes are mentioned and solutions proposed and yet homelessness has gotten significantly worse year over year, despite a strong economy and low unemployment.
But the most important cause gets ignored - because it can't be fixed by charitable donations or personal efforts, as worthy and needed as those are.
It's the large and growing gap between rich and poor, here and around the world.
A study this month by the World Institute for Development Economics Research found that the richest one per cent of adults own 40 per cent of global assets, while the bottom 50 per cent own barely one per cent of the world's wealth.
A more equitable distribution of wealth from rich to poor depends on government action.
But when the B.C. Liberal government cuts social programs to pay for big tax cuts for corporations and the rich, drastically reduces eligibility for welfare, fails to provide enough drug treatment programs, doesn't create adequate low- income housing and increases costs for medical services, the results are crystal clear.
And those results sleep and beg on our streets and in our alleys today.
B.C. has Canada's worst child poverty rate according to Statistics Canada at 23.5 per cent - one in four kids. And in 2005 the Lookout Emergency Aid Society had to turn away people needing shelter a shocking 5,000 times because all beds were full.
One last personal story. As I came out of a store the same evening a ragged man was begging for change.
As I gave him some money he simply said: "I'm so hungry." And he was.
Best wishes for the year ahead to all readers but especially those without homes this Christmas. We can do so much better than this.
Bill Tieleman will be guest hosting Nightline BC on CKNW AM 980 from 7 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 18, 21, 22, 27 & 28.