Editorial: Homeless outreach can be a divisive issue

Reaction has been both passionate and divided after Langley City locked the vehicle gate at Rotary Centennial Park to prevent Kimz Angels and Langley Vineyard volunteers from feeding homeless people there for a second time in September.

The outreach workers were also slapped with $800 in fines for several bylaw violations related to their efforts.

Not surprisingly, response came swiftly from readers when we reported the story last week. Equally unsurprising is the fact people have come down solidly on both sides of this very divisive issue.

Roughly two thirds of respondents to a Times poll have so far indicated they disagree with the City’s actions.

People commenting online have called the move cold and callous, noting that whether housed or homeless, all people deserve to be treated with respect and that caring for those less fortunate than ourselves, including feeding the hungry, is one of the basic tenets of a civilized society.

Those on the other side of the debate point out that respect is a two-way street.

The lunch service, usually carried out in the Vineyard church’s parking lot, had been put on hold in an attempt to build better relationships between the church’s neighbours and the people coming by for a meal each week.

One of the main issues was that people would usually linger afterward, said Pastor Leith White, leading to problems with garbage and overall cleanliness.

Comments from area residents suggest the problems are more serious and far-reaching, but City CAO Francis Cheung said concerns about loitering and the potential for a camp to be set up was one major factor in the decision to clamp down on the food service at the park.

It is perhaps a leap to suggest a weekly lunch could escalate into a homeless camp, but the City — and residents along the Nicomekl floodplain — learned two summers ago just how difficult it can be to ask people to relocate once a camp has been established.

We believe Langley City and its residents have shown compassion and concern, which is why there are as many homeless outreach services as there are in this community, including the Gateway of Hope shelter where meals are served each day and extra beds are provided during inclement weather.

Volunteers and staff at agencies throughout the City work hard to make sure that food, shelter and clothing are provided to those who need it.

That said, demand for services for Langley’s growing homeless population has clearly outstripped Langley’s ability to provide them and now it’s time for higher levels of government to step up.

It’s not OK to simply shift the onus onto a community and its volunteers, who clearly want to do the right thing, but are never going to please everybody in the process.

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