With spring comes migration, birds are flocking to our region, some to stay and some are just passing through. These birds know that there is sanctuary here on their way north. The peninsula takes them within striking distance of Manitoulin Island and the north. Others appreciate the wilderness we fight tooth and nail to protect. We provide bird feeders, birdhouses and a variety of habitats, and we are not surprised to see the birds, as we have created a home for them.
The same can be said for people in crisis. We have the services they need in this community. Most of our towns have food banks, emergency rooms, and park benches. Owen Sound, as the urban centre of our region, has the most services. But weíre losing them. The menís shelter is soon to be closed, the methadone clinic is also said to be closing, and we lost one soup kitchen last year to have it replaced with another, fortunately.
Some have said to me that the reason we have so many vagrants (their word not mine) around town is we have the services. If we didnít have the services they wouldnít come here. Their logic being if we get rid of services then we get rid of social problems.
If we follow that logic we should close our hospitals. If we donít offer cancer treatment then people in our community wonít suffer from cancer. If we close our womenís shelter then women will not longer experience violence in their homes. Well they may still experience it but when they are able to leave theyíll leave completely and housing them wonít be our problem.
The methadone clinic did serve heroin addicts who were trying to keep their life on an even keel, but it also served your neighbors. Those that suffered from serious back pain and got addicted to painkillers. The person who lives next door that goes to work, coaches hockey and makes a difference in the community, they too were clients of this service.
There is a disconnect somewhere in our society. Those that service justice in our community see these issues as health related, as many suffer from addiction or mental illnesses. Our health care system is overloaded and we as Canadians have the right to refuse treatment, so unless a person is willing, health has a hands off policy.
Those that look after our economy see it as a policing issues, the police can remove someone who is creating a disturbance and therefore restoring order, and commerce, to the block.
The police, and the justice sector in general, are caught in the middle. They are there to hold those who willfully commit crimes accountable, but what about those who for reasons beyond personal control, perceived or real, are accused of being a criminal. Poverty is not a crime, but those experiencing poverty can be criminalized.
I always found the 8th Street East block between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Owen Sound to be the most fascinating block. I marveled at the diversity of the block, itís energy and contrasts. On one side you had the adult store and the Christian bookstore, mixed in with some martial arts studios. Chastity and indulgence balanced with mental discipline. On the other side were Samaritan House, the menís hostel, and a couple of wonderful bistros: food the common denominator, presentation the only contrast.
We are truly at a moment in our community, the proverbial fork in the road. Are we a community that offers shelter to the weary, hope to the hopeless, fairness to the judged, and compassion to the lost?
Sometimes the task seems too big, too many issues to balance, simply just too much. But there are signs of improvement if we know where to look. Our Health Unit is really starting to grasp that health is not simply a medical issue; it is a social issue too.