Sometimes, problems require long-term solutions that require extended time to formulate and execute. Sometimes, they are more urgent and demand an immediate fix.
Many times, however, problems are of a more complex nature that requires both immediate attention and an enduring solution.
Such is the case with an issue currently being debated by city councillors, social-service providers and advocates and members of the general public. The proposed partial dismantling of bus shelters in Transcona, in response to their continuing occupancy by shelter-seeking individuals whose poverty- and addictions-related issues render the spaces unavailable to transit users and result in frequent emergency-services calls to attend to occupants in distress, has become a flashpoint for heated conversation regarding what, exactly, is the right thing to do.
Last week, Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) introduced a plan calling for the dismantling of two transit shelters located near the Kildonan Place mall. The locations are frequented by individuals who are described as experiencing homelessness, and are the subject of increasingly frequent calls for emergency-service response (more than 100 such calls in 2021 alone).
The shelters are littered with discarded needles, other drug paraphernalia, garbage and human waste. The occupants are reportedly often intoxicated and occasionally aggressive. Mr. Nason described the current volume of emergency responses to the sites as "a daily occurrence," adding, "It’s getting out of hand, and it’s just got to stop."
The councillor’s proposal — which calls for the removal of glass walls, benches and heating apparatus, leaving only the roof and necessary supports — was debated and passed (by a 3-1 vote) last Thursday by council’s public works committee. It was brought before executive policy committee on Wednesday, where more than a dozen delegations spoke against the motion.
"The (message) it sends is that people who are experiencing homelessness are not as worthy as others of walls or benches to sit (on)," said Siloam Mission CEO Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud.
In the end, EPC voted 6-1 against dismantling the shelters.
It’s a difficult issue, to be sure. Opponents of the plan say it’s insensitive to the needs of the city’s most vulnerable, and that forcing those who have taken over the shelters back out onto the street merely relocates the problem and puts the displaced people at greater risk. They argue the proper response is the creation of programs and supports that address the issues of homelessness and addiction and seek, in the longer term, to address their root causes.
Proponents of the plan to partially dismantle the shelters say it’s an immediate matter of public safety, and that the concerns of transit users, mall customers and the public at large also deserve consideration. In general terms, those who call for the removal of the at-issue shelters express sympathy for the plight of the occupants and agree that longer-term solutions are required.
And therein lies the challenge faced by elected representatives, at city hall and in more senior levels of government. Addressing deeply entrenched issues that have taken generations to develop will require many years of dedicated policy persistence and budgetary commitment; at the same time, the safety of other citizens, including seniors and others with limited mobility, who seek access to the shelters for their originally designed purposes is a consideration that cannot be dismissed outright, as largely seems to be the case here.
Both concerns must be addressed. Finding solutions that can adequately satisfy both sets of needs is precisely the difficult and deliberative kind of work our elected officials promised to do when they sought our votes. It is incumbent on them to deliver on that promise.