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LETTER – Editorial on Columbia Street West used oppressive language

Signs on Columbia Street warn against panhandling in traffic. (Image: Mel Rothenburger)

Re: Mel Rothenburger: Columbia Street is no place to put social housing

I had the opportunity to read the article that you wrote, Columbia Street West is no place for social housing. I was intrigued by the title and disappointed by the content. First, starting your article with ‘we’, implying that as a community Kamloops shares your opinion on people living without homes.

You immediately dehumanize them by referring to them as street people. You created an “us vs them” narrative by labelling and putting them into a marginalized and socially deviant category. Additionally, you empathize that “they don’t live by our norms”. What norms are they actively trying to oppose?

You also mention that some are drug addicted. This is an interesting point that you’ve chosen to highlight as many people that have homes are also addicted to drugs and can also be violent. I am curious as to why you did not bring them up as a possible danger to elementary schools or the peaceful downtown lifestyle.

This article used subtle and oppressive language that has a very othering affect. The phrase that struck me the most was, “Their behaviour is inconsistent with family life in a neighbourhood…more advantaged folks deserve to live safely and in peace and quiet.”

I am confident that most people would love to feel safe and stable in their living arrangement and most people would feel very lucky to be able to choose what part of town they live in, free of consequences. Most of us are very privileged and we can complain about our neighbourhood.

Some people, like the people you are referencing in your article, don’t have the luxury of deciding where they live nor do they have the luxury to be able to move onto a new neighbourhood because us ‘more advantaged’ folks are bothered by their lifestyle.

You also chose to mention two serious police incidents that resulted in a neighbourhood lockdown. Would you be able to provide any sources that show that those incidents were a direct result of the location of the low-income housing? You specifically mention one being a shooting and one being a domestic dispute. I would be interested to hear from local RCMP as to what areas report more incidents that would fall under both categories.

Did you know that as of November 2019 Kamloops was listed as the 67th most dangerous city in Canada? I do believe they are referring to Kamloops as a whole and not just Columbia Street West. https://www.macleans.ca/canadas-most-dangerous-places-2020/

Language is a powerful tool that people with a platform should be held accountable for. We can provide a positive message or one that perpetuates stereotypes, oppression and marginalization of people that are already facing an uphill battle.

My humble suggestion is, we should all count our blessings for the privilege that we do have and the fact that we are lucky enough to have a home, with a bathroom. And we are lucky enough to not live addicted to drugs.

You use the word ‘congregate’ when you mention people without homes being together. What I see are people that have created the only sense of community that they can and are protecting one another in whatever ways that are necessary because the dominant population does not respect their dignity or their struggles.

In the future, it would be very inspiring if you noticed a situation such as the low income housing on Columbia, or the defecation at Beattie elementary and provided a list of resources that need more funding to take care of these situations. Or perhaps highlight organizations that are doing what they can to help those that need it.

Instead of using language to divide people, use your platform and your ability to use language in a way that builds community. With or without a home, we are all members of the Kamloops community and it is up to us as a team to make the changes we would like to see in our city.

KAYLA SCHAAK
TRU Student

About Mel Rothenburger (7841 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

14 Comments on LETTER – Editorial on Columbia Street West used oppressive language

  1. Homelessness, drug addiction, mental conditions are not a “choice”. Why is it that people with supposedly “normal family life and a comfortable roof over their heads” don’t understand self-destructive behaviour is really not a choice? Mental trauma, especially at a young age is the common denominator for troublesome adult life. Yes you did “earn it” through hard work or perhaps really smart choices and no one disputes it. But you were given at least a little love and support to develop into the productive being that you are. Some unfortunate souls never got the love nor the support…we the lucky ones must care!

  2. The letter writer states that “we are lucky enough not to be addicted to drugs.” This suggests a strong belief in fate and less trust in the idea that humans can take action to change our situation. I would respectfully suggest the writer look more at their core beliefs about what humans can do to control their world. In my opinion, there is much we can, and should, do to influence the outcomes in our life.
    The writer would also do well to consider that their passion to change how we speak is matched by the passion of Mel R. to improve the city. Can the writer find a way to work both sets of energy in the same direction? Perhaps the writer should consider a career in municipal and regional politics and find ways to get the majority to support the changes for which they are looking. That would be the sign of a pragmatic, effective community builder.

  3. darcy Anderson // October 29, 2020 at 7:10 PM // Reply

    (My humble suggestion is, we should all count our blessings for the privilege that we do have and the fact that we are lucky enough to have a home, with a bathroom.), my life is not a blessing ,I worked my ass off and overcame many obstacles for it. Getting tired of all these liberal views that I am paying for. Stop giving away my money and make others work for theirs.There are lots of opportunities for work. (. The phrase that struck me the most was, “Their behaviour is inconsistent with family life in a neighbourhood…more advantaged folks deserve to live safely and in peace and quiet) You damn rights I do I worked for it.

    • Jaime scheske // October 30, 2020 at 9:58 AM // Reply

      👏🙌 Couldn’t agree more!

    • Common sense // October 30, 2020 at 2:03 PM // Reply

      “What you’re homeless? Just work.”
      “I have to pay money so other people don’t die? STUPID LIBERALS.”

      See how stupid it sounds?

    • Hi Darcy,
      I think you’re failing to see that someone else might have worked really hard at something too. Their homelessness may not be the result of being lazy or expecting everything to just be given to them, they may have put in the same time and effort too.
      You say you worked really hard to get to the place you’re at, imagine if something really terrible happened at this point and forced you out of your home and taking away your income. Would you still feel the same way? Or would you feel more empathetic to those on the streets.
      This may come as a surprise to you but Kamloops actually does not have many jobs available. Those that are? Are unattainable. Being homeless for any reason, automatically disadvantages people towards getting a job.
      Sometimes all it takes is that one push from an outside source for people to be able to get their life back on track and I don’t think they should be discriminated because they haven’t had that opportunity yet.
      Just because you don’t see your life as a blessing doesn’t mean those without a home wouldn’t view it as the best thing in the world. Believe it or not, you are privileged to live in a house, everyone is privileged and disadvantaged in different ways that come together to creat who we are, no one should ever be oppressed because they have more disadvantages than privileges.

  4. What a smacking letter! I haven’t read something this articulate and punchy ever! Will print and frame it.

  5. This letter is spot on. People who complain about the homeless and homelessness are often only one or two major life events away from being there themselves. It could happen to anyone. No matter how well you are doing at the moment you are never completely protected from being in the same situation if something goes wrong. The real problem is poverty, not the homeless, which is systemic in our society.

  6. I felt exactly the same when I heard him on the armchair mayor. My jaw was left wide-open as I was listening. Well-written Kayla!

  7. Norm Westbrook // October 29, 2020 at 4:01 PM // Reply

    Well said !

  8. Keith Simmonds // October 29, 2020 at 3:40 PM // Reply

    Wow! What a great letter. Well written and very much on point. I’m just as guilty in some of my own ‘otherings’ and really, really appreciate the critique laid out by the author. i will think three or four times before generalizing anyone or making assumptions about a person because i think they belong to a specific ‘class’. I’m sure Mr. Rothenburger will too. I’ve read some very thoughtful, self-aware and cogent pieces from him in the past. Great letter Kayla Shaak. Keep them coming!

  9. Yes, language is very powerful, and this article badly abuses it in the name of sympathy, leaving a very slim chance that the message will be anywhere near successful or effective. P.graham

  10. You might not like the language but it’s the truth! Truth is not always sugar coated. Why don’t you try having housing near these assisted housing projects and we can talk then.

    • You ever try talking to someone in assisted housing? Not just judging them from your window because they made different life choices then you? Have you ever been addicted or heard an addicts story? Count your blessings and hope you never have to move downstairs.

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