The first inaugral World Homeless Day went off with a fizzle. In covering it, the best that the Huffington Post could come up with was an article from Calgary mentioning that an extra breakfast and lunch were served for the day. This was to replace a Thanksgiving dinner that used to be served. Not exactly front-page news. Now don’t get me wrong, I realize that these things take time to gain momentum, and I’m sure it will be better recognized next year. As well, there were another of activities that took place and just didn’t get much coverage.
However, the general lack of uptake leads me to reflect on the basic question of why we have World Homeless Day? On the World Homeless Day website, the purpose is stated as “to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness”. Is this something we need? When the idea of WHD was presented at the London Homeless Coalition meeting, 95% of our time was spent on debating the logo, versus planning any activities or press. Were we all just too busy, or was there a general feeling that the day was not useful?
I think that to answer this question, you need to look back to my post on the root causes of homelessness in Canada. My basic premise is that homelessness is not a personal issue, but a policy issue. This includes policy at the national, provincial and municipal levels. And, policy is a political manner, and political will follows public will. Therefore, I think that anything that can be done to raise awareness around homelessness, and generate compassion for people experiencing homelessness, is time well spent. If public feeling swung towards empathy around homelessness, and a desire to provide assistance to eradicate it, we would see governments forced to refine and implement healthier public policies.
Therefore, I believe that we dropped the ball on this one. Next year we need to take advantage of this opportunity to do something that will get some press, and will raise awareness. I have an idea of getting volunteers to sit along Dundas street with hand drawn signs, similar to panhandling, but with messages that will educate people. Of course, 10/10/11 lands on Thanksgiving Monday, so we may have to do it on 11/10/11.