When I think of a “wellness” centre, I imagine a place where one might be able to exercise, see a nutritionist, take a course on personal development, learn more about parenting, or see a counselor. Some of you might imagine a wellness centre as something akin to a health spa where you can spend an arm and a leg to get your arms and legs massaged or exfoliated or poked with acupuncture needles.
My guess is none of you would imagine a wellness centre as a place where inebriated homeless people are locked up in a cell without any due process of law and then set free a few hours later only to be re-arrested the next time they drink too much and the next time and the next time. This “wellness centre” idea is being promoted by the Edmonton Police Service and apparently a few agencies who serve the homeless. The hope is, among these groups, to use the Remand Centre for a new type of jail for the homeless. Yes, I know it’s being called a “wellness centre,” but let’s drop the spin and call it what it is.
Bissell Centre is not among this group by the way, just to set the record straight. We think criminalizing poverty and homelessness is, well, wrong. It’s wrong.
What the wellness centre advocates want is the Government of Alberta to enact legislation that would allow the police and perhaps others to bring, I imagine even with force, homeless people who are drunk directly to jail. No judge involved. No right to legal representation. Similar legislation exists in Manitoba and on some nights there is a line of squad cars waiting their turn to lock someone up.
I imagine some folks might think locking up homeless people is good for them, that it is somehow an expression of caring for them. But the proposed wellness centre won’t provide treatment of any kind and while it might be possible referrals are made to treatment centres, the fact is the wait for treatment centres is so long they offer little help or hope when people decide they are ready for treatment. In Winnipeg, people leaving that city’s version of a wellness centre are lucky to leave with a brochure in their hand, and maybe a kind word, or a friendly, “see you soon.”
Also, keep in mind that the legislation being proposed will also mean your brother, daughter, cousin, spouse, neighbor could also be locked up without due process. That’s a little closer to home, right? That happens in Winnipeg. But I wonder, for example, if drunk hockey fans leaving our arena will face arrest or if the law would only be applied to the homeless man or woman hanging outside the arena on hockey night. After all the arena is not for them and how traumatic it would be for hockey fans to have to face the unpleasant aesthetics of homeless people.
An acquaintance told me recently that hockey fans who paid big bucks to attend a hockey game shouldn’t have to face beggars and drunks when walking to their cars or to the bus stop. My response was homeless people should not have to be homeless and then be jailed for that tragedy because hockey fans don’t like seeing their homelessness.
Here’s another thing to ponder. Nearly half of our homeless population is Aboriginal. In Winnipeg, Aboriginal people are by far the largest group jailed in its wellness centre, according to reports shared with me by visitors of that institution.
Remember how our society once felt it was a great idea to snatch Aboriginal children up from their families and send them to residential schools (you do realize those kids were locked up there, right?). I think most of us know now how immoral and damaging it was to do that to people and kids. I worry and I suggest so should you that there is a small movement afoot to once again lock up Aboriginal people and others – you know, for their own good.
In today’s Edmonton Journal, there is an editorial on how the Ice District is displacing people, poor people to be frank and of course homeless people are the poorest of the poor. It’s worth a read – click HERE.
The editorial references a promotional video of the “Ice District” which lauds the development. Here’s an excerpt:
“Interspersed with images from the yet-to-be-fully-realized neighbourhood is video footage from various existing downtown hot spots: restaurants, night clubs, coffee shops.
“But what Ice District’s video doesn’t highlight, unsurprisingly, are the multiple outposts in its vicinity that serve Edmonton’s homeless population — over 2,300 people, as of the fall of 2014.”
These outposts, which includes Bissell Centre and other inner city agencies devoted to helping those people the wellness centre would lock up don’t seem to matter to the many developers that are doing all of this work to cater to everyone but the poor. Just as the development is creating pressure on the homeless and also low income people to move along to “somewhere else,” it won’t be long before ideas are put forth about additional development that will be for the good of the city, which will also happen to include displacing organizations like mine.
When I heard the Katz Group decided to name the area the Ice District, I had a couple reactions. I did think how interesting it is that a multi-millionaire gets to name an area of my city. But more than that I thought what a fitting name it is for a district that by design is leaving the poor and the homeless out in the cold.
If you think it is right and just to lock up human beings without due process of law, the same laws you want to apply to you and your families, then you will be happy with what some groups want to create at the wellness centre.
But If you think it’s just wrong, if not immoral to do so, I encourage you to let your MLA know because last I heard the Alberta Solicitor General was looking into drafting this worrisome legislation – at least it was under the PC government. I am praying our new government will put a stop to that,