Another homeless winter

The recent Yukon News article “By the river, with nowhere else to go” kicked me in the gut. The article and comments that followed left me feeling a little less safe and a lot more special. Well, special-interest-group, anyway. While any article on social problems seems to invite the uninhibited extremism of anonymous individuals, I know that even the worst of the comments don’t occur in a vacuum. So tired and old, the prejudiced comments that follow any discourse on social problems arguably have their roots in the Victorian Poor Law of 1834. It is here that the categorization of “the deserving” or “the undeserving” became sanctioned. It is here that some of the comments following “By the river, with nowhere else to go” have their origin. In this article, more than one commenter referred to people as “garbage bears.” These garbage bears, we learn, aren’t good for tourism. They clash with our new $1.3 million revitalization wharf and forever drift in the face of the riverfront’s purposed condo-owners, business proprietors, bicyclists and yes, even skateboarders. Garbage bears, we hear, must stop being victims; take responsibility for their lives; cure themselves; pound the pavement looking for jobs and become productive members of society. Garbage bears and actual bears do have one thing in common: a justified fear and distrust of the productive members of society. The attitude seems to be: don’t feed them, whip up public hysteria, trap them, relocate them, and if that doesn’t work, kill ‘em! As an experienced mental health and addictions outreach worker, I can tell you for a fact: People with “nowhere else to go” die from the treatment they receive. And while I’d like to believe reference to human beings as “garbage bears” is an aberration, I know it is not. I know it is not because I see this same belief system as a form of oppression and it results in a profound injustice on the most vulnerable people in the Yukon.

Read the full commentary by Dot Neuls on the Yukon News website