Edmonton writer Audrey Whitson, who lives in Boyle Street, wrote her Solstice blog post about the greatly increased number of unhoused people in her neighbourhood. Following are excerpts from the post, which can be read in full here.
Lately I feel a little like I’ve been walking through the streets of Charles Dickens’s London, with waifs on every corner and debtor prisons in the form of credit cards and food banks, or perhaps the byways and highways of John M Synge’s Ireland in the late 1800s and his accounts of tenant farmers turned out of their small huts to survive in the ditches when they couldn’t pay the rent. Or even better, walking through Maria Campbell’s account of growing up Métis on the prairies, as one of the Road Allowance People because these were the only places available to them to scrape together a living.
But no, I go about my business — bank, bakery, grocery store — in Edmonton, Alberta. A dynamic, modern and civilized city by most accounts, part of a prosperous province and country. At three o’clock in the afternoon, I pass the single men’s emergency shelter off 97th Street, people already lining up for a bed for the night. I pass the young women trying to sell themselves for a meal or a place to crash. I stroll past the dozens of makeshift tents that line every available strip of public land between private fences and public sidewalks off 95th and 96th Streets.
What to do? It’s a dilemma for all who live here.
The number of people without a home in Edmonton has doubled (at approximately 3000) since the start of the pandemic.
A good friend and priest, René Fumoleau, who worked with the Dene in northern Canada most of his life, told the story of a time when he asked a local artist to draw a scene for Midnight Mass. He wanted a picture of the holy family arriving in Bethlehem, only it would be a Dene village and they would have a tent and a dog team. …weeks, then months went by and still no drawing, René finally cornered him. That’s when the artist told him, he just couldn’t imagine Mary, Jesus, and Joseph left to fend for themselves. Why, if they had arrived at any Dene community, any one of them would have made room. They would have been welcomed.
Audrey Whitson is MacEwan University’s 2023 Writer in Residence.