New Year, Old StuntsPosted: January 4, 2012
While most people spent January 1st recovering from a hangover, BC MLA Jagrup Brar headed into work. Kinda. Sorta. Ok, not really.
Brar, a Surrey MLA, has taken on a challenge to survive the month on only $610, the amount of money a single, unemployed individual would make on welfare. The goal of the challenge is to demonstrate that it isn’t easy, I guess.
This is a political stunt of the laziest kind. Brar, who is a member of the New Democratic Party (the closest thing to socialism in Canada and, in fact, a self-proclaimed socialist party), is doing it not to demonstrate how tough it is but is doing it to score points with party leaders and voters. I’m going to be honest: the current welfare rate is too low. But a blanket increase would be silly, because while not every welfare recipient in BC does drugs, a lot do (oh yeah, for non-Lower Mainland readers, Vancouver has one of the worst homeless problems in the world, which involves a lot of illicit drug use and mostly-untreated mental disorders), and that would mean a lot of misappropriated tax dollars. We should spend more money, but spend it smarter, if you ask me.
But there are a few problems specifically with what Brar is doing:
1) His effort implicitly assumes that all welfare recipients are homeless.
Fact: not all welfare recipients are homeless. Duh.
2) Brar gets to go home and to his office once a week.
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden; or, Life in the Woods. It’s basically a long essay about the time he spent living outside of society… at first glance. Cursory research has demonstrated that Thoreau went to town now and then and his sister brought him pies and occasionally did his laundry. Thoreau did not “live off the grid”, but just pretended to. And that’s exactly what Brar is doing. No homeless person — as he is pretending to be — gets to go home and hang out with his family for a day before heading back onto the streets. The fact is that life for the average homeless person is pretty hard. The whole not-having-a-home thing is a bit of a drag, and you never get a break from being homeless. What Brar is doing is the equivalent of slumming.
3) For Brar, his homelessness began on the 1st and ends on the 31st.
Relating to the above, Brar only has to pretend to be homeless for 31 days. Someone who is more or less permanently homeless, again, doesn’t get the break Brar is going to get. He has the 31st to look forward to; a real homeless person has another month of homelessness to look forward to.
4) Brar is robbing the homeless.
This is what pisses me off the absolute most and does so to no end. All the above? Those are just flaws in what is otherwise a lame political stunt recycled from decades past. It’s not new or inspirational whatsoever. It won’t change anything and isn’t meant to, and that’s that. Brar’s money, fortunately, is not coming out of social housing or anything like that: he’s not literally collecting welfare. What he’s doing, I think, is worse.
Every time Jagrup Brar eats a “free meal” or spends a night in a “free shelter”, that’s one less meal for someone who needs it and one less bed. Brar is kind enough to highlight the waits at the Front Room (a shelter in Surrey), for example, that only has 40 beds but 50 people in line. The demand for these beds is higher than the supply. For Brar to essentially take a bed that someone else needs, just for a stupid political stunt, is absolutely disgusting and Brar should be ashamed of himself.
You can accuse me of partisanship, but I firmly believe that 1) the homelessness problem of Vancouver is ridiculous and 2) something needs to change. I work with drug addicts and people with mental disorders every day. The vast majority of them are great people with severe problems. Through life, every now and then, you stumble. You take a fall. Maybe you pull yourself back up, but sometimes, you can’t. I firmly believe that these people need help and that as a society, it is our responsibility to help. I don’t think Brar is entirely wrong in saying there’s a problem with welfare in this province, or that $610 isn’t a lot to live on. He’s right, and we need to find a solution to it.
But spending a month slumming and taking food and beds away from the homeless is probably not a solution. It’s a cheap political stunt and it’s disgusting.