Homelessness in the Back Yard : Yay or Nay?

The epidemic of homelessness is no longer ignorable. The rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness are on the rise in the nation people can no longer turn a blind eye. Just recently the US Census Bureau released figures that indicated that 46.2 million people currently live below the poverty line, the highest it has ever been in the 52 years that the Bureau has been publishing the number. And while giving a few bucks to those in need might help, further and more long-term solutions are needed.

That’s why Pivot, a homeless advocacy group located in Vancouver, has started sending out a “Yimby!” (Yes in my backyard) toolkit to counter local resistance from residents arguing that shelters and other services in their neighborhood are a detriment to society. The toolkit includes instructions on spreading the word of the need for mental health facilities, needle exchange programs, and supportive housing.

Most locals believe that by supporting these various programs – most notably the needle exchange program – their neighborhoods would become a haven for the homeless. NIMBYism (the “not in my back yard” pejorative) represents those who seek out a comfortable distance between the homeless and their neighborhoods. Locals are afraid that if they open their areas then a flood of the stereotypical homeless will rush in.

The YIMBY initiative is essential for progress to be made in the fight to end homelessness. I grew up in Lakeview, Chicago – about an 8 minute drive from downtown – and the plights of homelessness were abundant. My family and I also spent summers in Turkey where the “beggar culture” was rampant. As I compared the approaches of the two surroundings during my upbringing with Chicago having a more volunteer-based effort and Turkey being more faith-based, I found that interaction with community was key for solutions to be made. For example, most people ignore the homeless in Turkey but on certain holidays like “Sugar Feast” (?eker bayram), members of the upper class will slaughter lambs and cook them along with other traditional dishes to feed the local victims of poverty. Memories of my father and his family cooking the meal helped teach me that charity – a pillar of faith in Islam that I hold the dearest – is vital in community. My American mother also fostered in me a desire to volunteer, that if you are more fortunate than others it is your duty to contribute to help uplift society.

YIMBY defines this perfectly. The most effective way to end homelessness is when communities come together in the most appropriate way possible. Whether that is slaughtering a lamb on holidays or organizing different places of aid (needle exchange programs, shelters, and so on) it all brings us closer to the end of homelessness forever.

– Melis Solaksubasi, Fall 2011 Intern

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