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COLUMN: East's fear of the homeless without foundation

Writer, who takes Midland councillor Sheldon East to task for saying homeless people are 'terrorizing downtown.' says that 'left unchecked, fear can grow into hatred and bigotry'
King Street in downtown Midland.

(Editor's note: This column is in response to an article titled 'Terrorizing downtown': East grills Guesthouse CEO on vagrancy' published Jan. 20.)

Recently, the Midland shelter CEO's deputation was challenged by a councillor pressuring him for accountability; the councillor referenced anecdotes of drug dealing, public indecency, including man who 'whipped out his thing.'

Fear, whether based in reality or fantasy, is a powerful emotion.

It can freeze us in our tracks or make us act in ways we never dreamed imaginable. Left unchecked, fear can grow into hatred and bigotry.

Fear was front and centre at a recent Midland council meeting. Fear, and the anger that often accompanies it, appeared to be the motivation to verbally attack the director and patrons of the Guesthouse Shelter.

Images of a wild gang of thugs wreaking havoc on our streets sprung to mind as Mr. East accused the patrons of ‘terrorizing’ downtown Midland.

The only problem is, I live very close to downtown, and walk those unruly streets every day both morning and night, and not once have I ever felt or seen the ‘terror’ or ‘fear’ that Mr. East describes.

Now, of course, that may be because of my imposing 5’6” pudgy middle-aged frame and my docile dog that usually accompanies me, or perhaps it’s because ‘feeling’ like you are in danger is far different than actually being in danger.

I’ve never felt afraid because I have nothing to fear. The only real danger to me and my furry companion are the icy sidewalks and the drivers that feel a red light is merely a suggestion to stop.

It isn’t that I haven’t encountered the many people, who are much less fortunate than the majority of Canadians, that are found on our downtown streets and waterfront areas. Quite the contrary, I encounter them almost every day and my interactions are no different than I would have with any person. We exchange greetings, sometimes they will pat the dog, and very infrequently they will ask for some change, which, if I have any, I gladly give.

As Mr. Sykes points out, the reasons for requiring the services of a shelter like The Guesthouse are varied and many, but at the core it comes down to a greedy society that would rather police the ‘problem’ of poverty, substance addiction and mental illness than face the reality that we are failing our most vulnerable citizens.

Money for policing is plentiful and makes up nearly 30% of Midland’s budget, while our shelters and social services have to beg for scraps in order to provide the most basic of services.

Perhaps the emotion the residents of Midland, and Canadians for that matter, should feel is shame and embarrassment. Embarrassment that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and in one of the statistically safest towns in Canada that we still have people like Mr. East who would use anecdotes and half-truths to push a personal agenda and perpetuate the myth that the streets of Midland are dangerous.

Perhaps, instead of manufacturing fear, we can look at these people for what they are — people. All of them are sons and daughters, many are brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and all of them are people. People who would likely choose a different path if given the choice and resources to change that path.

They are people that deserve our compassion,understanding, and help rather than our derision, fear and hatred.

Andrew Walker has been a Midland resident for nearly three decades. He is a residential contractor and father of three who regular walks Midland's streets with his faithful canine companion Ramsey.