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Stephen Quinn
Stephen Quinn


Three non-cheers for a non-letter that was never not unwritten Add to ...

Earlier this month, a letter was not circulated among members of a single-issue East Side residents group unhappy with the new 40-bed HEAT shelter which recently opened at 10th and Victoria. The letter did not, in the most paranoid language possible, describe the fraudulent process by which council approved the location of the shelter. Nor did it express serious concern with the lack of public consultation that preceded council’s decision to locate a shelter in an area that already has more than its share of social services.

The letter failed to mention that the shelter is situated just three blocks from a daycare centre and that parents with small children who are likely not frightened by the sight of homeless people frequently walk by, sometimes after dark.

Nor did it mention its proximity to the Broadway and Commercial SkyTrain station with its myriad social service challenges and excellent transit connections.

It especially failed to imply any sinister agenda on the part of current council majority.

“This is not a NIMBY issue,” no one is quoted to have said. “But we have had it with this council and their lack of concern for ordinary residents,” no concerned resident continued.

The letter did not advise not-at-all irate area residents to stack the phone lines of local open-line radio talk shows to express their lack of displeasure publicly for the benefit of people who might agree that the opening of a shelter for homeless people is far from a travesty.

It did not call for nearby property owners to be extra-vigilant and to call the police emergency line for minor infractions such as smoking, loitering or glances from homeless people deemed to be threatening or intimidating. It did not suggest that the 911 operators would welcome all calls of a non-emergency nature.

The letter did not advise residents to frequently visit the shelter and speak with shelter operators under the guise of “just checking in” and to suggest to workers that any infraction, no matter how minor, would be recorded and the operators of the shelter held directly responsible. It did not advise ratepayers to end every conversation with shelter staff by pointing to their own eyes with their index and forefingers, then flicking their wrists to reverse the gesture directing it to the staff member while silently mouthing the words, “I’m watching you.”

The letter did not list a series of recent accomplishments, not the least of which wasn’t forcibly removing from certain council members the hide of a wool-bearing animal under which they had been disguising their true selves. As well, the letter did not take credit for exposing the perversion of democracy that occurred when a group of elected officials who campaigned on ending homelessness suddenly, and without explanation, moved to shelter homeless people during the coldest months of the year.

The letter was not, at once, apoplectic, hyperbolic and grammatically dubious, especially when it came to the use of commas and attention to subject-verb agreement. It did not refer to homeless people as “the homeless,” in the same way one might refer to a syntax-challenged angry-letter writer as “illiterate.” THE LETTER DID NOT LIBERALLY EMPLOY THE USE OF BLOCK CAPS.

The letter did not outline a conspiracy by which council, with the help of developers, would allow the “temporary emergency shelter” to return year after year until the land is redeveloped, but not before current residents are driven out.

Nor did it encourage brave volunteers to step forward and assume leadership roles suggesting that this issue, and this issue alone, might be the foundation of a successful career in civic politics.

The letter did not question studies conducted by the city suggesting the number of homeless people may be inflated. It especially did not speculate on whether any of these so-called “homeless” might be receiving disability benefits.

The letter did not suggest that anyone is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

The residents group responsible for failing to send out a letter to all residents did not ironically appropriate its name from a champion of social justice.

None of this happened in East Vancouver, in the area surrounding the new HEAT Shelter at 10th and Victoria.


Stephen Quinn is the host of On The Coast on CBC Radio One, 88.1 FM and 690 AM in Vancouver. @cbcstephenquinn

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