How big is the space between us?
There is something inside us that we believe when it tells us that someone is “less than” we are —an “other” — not to be trusted, spoken to, or even to be seen. What is that? How big is that “space” between us and them?
Why do we fear —or hate —someone who has a different bone structure, skin colour or physical ability. What about clues to status and financial security? And how about behaviour?
I wonder about this as I watch a growing wall of separation between the people of Maple Ridge and the disadvantaged that live in this small semi-rural city outside of Vancouver, BC. There is a group here, supported and cheered on by the City’s Mayor and Council, that wants no one with addiction or mental health issues living here. This vigilante group often pushes their activities to the point of criminal intervention.
The disadvantaged people, known only as “The Homeless” here, are longtime residents of the City, many with over ten years living in Maple Ridge. They have been pushed out of their homes for various reasons, primary among them rising rents.
I have interviewed people in this situation made homeless by fires, abuse and other incredible misfortune. Some live in tents, some in shelters, some in temporary modular housing, some in emergency rental spaces. Not all, but many, are suffering from brain injury, mental illness and/or addiction. The group in opposition to sharing our city would have you believe that this extremely vulnerable group has been bussed into Maple Ridge from other cities, making them “outsiders”. As a relatively remote, small-town type of city, distanced from many more sophisticated services, one would ask what the attraction would be for strangers here.
There are factions within the city that fan the flames of hate under the guise of “protecting” the citizens of Maple Ridge.
…is a prominent Ridgeilante, who recently sparked a controversy when he bragged on Facebook that he and his buddies were “sweeping” homeless campsites; “taking action where police and bylaws cannot.
These are human beings. They are not trash we can simply throw on a heap outside of town. They’re not any less deserving of the Canadian experience than anyone else, yet we just want them to disappear. Maybe they’re not comfortable to be around, with their erratic behaviours and “unkempt” appearance. But they are sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters of real people, likely people we know. Get into a conversation with them, and you discover their intelligence, education and humour.
To prove my point about the optics of separation between “us” and “them”, watch this video, Make Them Visible.
So, how big is that space between us? And how big do we, ourselves, contribute to that space?
If we can rationalize that these people are not pulling their weight, does that make it easier? “I’m working and just scraping by, feeding my kids and barely getting any sleep. Why can’t she get it together?”. I would ask, instead of why are you different —how much are you the same?
What do we have in common—all of us— in Maple Ridge? Young, old, employed, unemployed, we are all “from” here. We all belong here. So, why is there space between us?