Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tieleman on real cause of homelessness and poverty in BC - unequal distribution of wealth

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column - News, Views & Attitude

Tuesday December 19, 2006

Plenty of room for improvement


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.


Anonymous said...


I can't believe that you're suggesting that anyone has the right to take anything from someone against their will simply because they are "less fortunate".

It's convenient that we live in a socialist society where the many feel justified in taking from the few. Robbing from the rich to give to the poor idealogy doesn't create more wealth all around, nor does it create more prosperity. It just makes everyone less prosperous and gives people the idea that they are somehow entitled to things that aren't theirs.

Low unemployment? Then why aren't they working? Strong economy? Then what's the problem?

You go to great lengths to point out the greediness of the rich yet would probably take offense at someone pointing out the laziness of the poor, would you not?

Socialistic ideas and capitalistic ideas cannot intermesh, that is where you get these problems.

Bill Tieleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Tieleman said...

Rand - thanks for posting a comment on my column.

But I think you are imagining things I didn't say.

First off, I own a corporation that makes annual profits.

Second, I talk about the unequal distribution of wealth. I don't talk about "the right to take anything from someone against their will" as you put it.

I do say government action is required to redistribute wealth. But governments must act reasonably or face defeat by voters.

Every nation levies taxes to pay for state services. What those taxes are and what those services are is always up for democratic debate.

Scandinavian countries have higher taxes, higher social services and very successful economies. Are they "robbing from the rich" or are they equitably distributing wealth while benefiting all?

We don't live in a "socialist society" either! Good grief - look around.

Define "robbing from the rich to give to the poor" please.

You ask why people aren't working if there is low unemployment and a strong economy. The answer is clear - many of those in need are not able to work. They may have mental illnesses, addiction problems or chronic diseases.

Why do you think someone would live on the streets if they had a viable alternative? Why do we have thousands of desperate addicts in our cities? Is it because of the desirable lifestyle of degradation and depravation?

No. Obviously people need help that government isn't providing.

Lastly, I did not at any point say that the rich are greedy - that is your interpretation. I don't begrudge anyone their honest success nor do I expect anyone to begrudge me my own success.

But I do expect government to do a better job. And I do expect that when we are surrounded by the trapping of affluence and grotesque poverty at the same time, all members of society, rich and poor, should be appalled and demanding action.

Anonymous said...

NOTE: Received by personal email

I agree with much of what Bill wrote in the above noted column; however, I am not sure that the NDP can escape criticism for this current crisis either. I'd hazard to say that probably the blame can be extended all the way back to Bill Bennett's (he of the Expo generation) government or further .

The fact is that individuals, governments, and churches can only do so much.
However, a criticism I have is that the help extended to the poor often amounts to a band-aid. What is $340 per month (or whatever the welfare rate is), a free bus pass and other helps in this day and age? Too little for any person to reasonably survive on.

I know that there are people who take advantage of welfare, some of them are the recipients and some of them are landlords or shall I say "slumlords"? Believe me, I know that such people exist.

I was once homeless, due in part to the poor pay that I receive in security (the employer sometimes failed to pay me the proper amount owed to me), plus the unkindness of a former roommate.

I didn't know what to do; I actually slept at my worksite (when off duty) or walked around the streets of Richmond. I hid it from my best friends, my church and my family; two friends dropped me off by my work New Years' Day because I asked them to.

I walked around, sat on a bus bench then went to a 24 hour restaurant, because of pride and shame. I was homeless for more than one day, ironically this happened around Christmas time.

What happened? I let my church know of my situation and they came to my aid. They let me stay at the church and helped me to find affordable housing, the pastor's wife bought me groceries. A number of coworkers also showed great kindness to me when they learned of my troubles.

Why do some people feel "proud" of offering someone some change that perhaps they wouldn't even miss? 25 cents times 10 doesn't buy an awful lot of things.

Some people suggest donating to appropriate charities but I cannot bring myself to trust many charities - Christian or nonChristian - because I am not convinced that they are accountable nor good stewards of the money they receive.

There are free meals advertised but they often take care of one day out of seven, and often provide little more than unsubstantial fat or caffeine (doughnuts/coffee).

I think it better to buy the homeless person a meal rather than simply hand them money; but what about the rest of the person? Can you imagine sleeping in the cold? Many of us got a taste of that when our power went out due to the recent storm. My living space was so cold - I hope I never go through that again.

What ought we to do? We should treat each homeless person - even the ones engaging in criminal behaviour - like the humans they are. We should walk up to them and spare some time to listen to their troubles; take them for a meal and not let any restaurant attempt to turn them away when we arrive. Once we've eaten with them, make the effort to find out why they're on the streets.

Are they the formerly hospitalized turned out by our alleged government (such a government bears more than a passing resemblance to Hitler's government in attitude at least)? They should be returned to proper treatment, not assembly line doping up without regard for their individuality. If they've been abused by a current/former employer then we should help them obtain justice.

If they've no roof over their heads, is there any legitimate reason we cannot help them or even shelter them ourselves? Can we not think of someone who needs a renter who will be kind to someone in great need?

I commend Bill for writing about this issue, for his kindness to the person he met and I agree with his closing statement: "We can" (all of us) "do so much better than this."

Patrick Longworth

Anonymous said...


You are the second greatest pundit in this Province...

However, your banging the drum on the bourgeoisie is a bit much, no?

The distance between the stuffed and the proletariat is the chief cause?

20 Lotus' in a row? Are you sure about that? I'm a long-time MCL customer--never seen it anywhere near the store.

Mental illness is the number one problem with homeless folks in this City, particularly on the DTES. Solve that, or even begin to chip away at it (are you reading this Gordon old chum?--reopen Riverview--now--please!) and you've got yourself serious game against the pushers and players, who joyfully revel in competing games of political flagman, as it does nothing but broaden their client base.

I 'm sure I'll enjoy every column you write, they are entertaining if not informative. But you were stretching this time--in the words of your pal Dick Cheney--bigtime!

But only because it's you and I just love hiding my celebrated boorishness behind a viel, thin as it may be, of timidity, I will yield to your explanation of your gentle wind against all of the hard-earned moula meisters, over several glasses of wine (your choosing, of course, but it must be red), since you are such a pro at quaffing the irresitable nectar of the bourgeoise youself! HA!

Anonymous said...

Many years ago a fellow we knew worked for the old Ministry of Human Resources. He worked in statistics. He most definitely was not left wing by a long shot. He said, a number of times, that a certain number of folks will never work as they are not capable of working. So I asked how many. About 4 percent is not unusual. So society must look after them. I do agree with what he said. If someone on the street is trying to get a job how would they go about it, if they have no place to clean up themselves and their clothes. No alarm clock to get them up on time, no bed to sleep in. No fixed address, no phone and no mailing address. It's so simple to tell us there are lots of jobs available, but some folks simply are not equipped as I mention, to start tomorrow. Social housing is needed and long overdue.

We lived in the Four Sisters Co-op in Vancouver, we paid market rent, the majority were on a sliding scale. We knew people who started with nothing, but with secure housing, got motivated. Many went back to school or took some trade training. One fellow who was schizophrenic worked with me to build planter boxes to put on the roof of our building. The guy was great with tools.He ended up on a liaison committee with the local police. We were so pleased a couple of years after we left the city to meet a woman, who has four kids. We went for coffee to talk about our old home, and she refused to let us pay. "I have a job she said and I owe it all to the place we lived". Just one more success story brought about by social housing.

Anonymous said...

Bill, I appreciate your response to my comment and I'm afraid that some of my post was too emotionally driven, I'll attempt to bypass that this time.

You stated that you are speaking of unequal distribution of wealth, and that the governments job is to distribute wealth to all people equally.

This is a socialistic idea, Bill. Social programs are socialistic as well.

I'm sure you don't mind having your corporation give money to people who you think need it, and that's fine. In your case, it's voluntary.

In my case (were I to own a corporation), I would not want my wealth taken from me to distribute.

I disagree that it is incumbent upon the government to "provide" for the people. I think people who wish to voluntarily sacrifice their wage and earnings to others (in the case of charities) should be able to, and those who do not, should not.

Social programs should be set up by people who want to contribute. Democratic debate dictates what the majority wants to do with their money, not what each individual wishes to do with their money.

And if the homeless are unable to work, then these charities can "provide" for them, and let people who want to look after themselves and their own do it without interference by the "gooberment", who have less of an idea as to what to do with my money than I do.

Bill Tieleman said...

Rand - thanks for your more reasoned comments.

However, I can only conclude from your arguments that you are a pure Liberatarian - that is, you seem to think all social programs should be completely voluntary.

As such, I strongly disagree.

More important than my own opinion though, is the fact that Canadians don't agree with you.

This country has a strong tradition of government-funded social programs - and that's what the majority of Canadian want.

That is not socialistic, by the way. Socialism would mean that the means of production are owned communally without profit - obviously that is not the case. And every country has social programs.

Lastly, democracy means the majority rules, not that those who don't agree don't have to play by the rules. I don't support all sorts of government expenditures and misadventures but I still have to pay my taxes!

Thanks again for commenting.