Now is the time for action
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2020 (1061 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For the last few weeks, our city has been faced with many different and adverse issues: COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to defund the police, as well as people living in poverty and experiencing homelessness and systemic racism.
Most — indeed, all — of these issues affect the Point Douglas Ward I represent.
At the city council meeting on June 26, I decided to put some comments on the public record, which I knew would upset some and give voice to others. My commitment as a public servant, however, is to honour people who have been forgotten and try to give a voice to the voiceless.
To put it simply: our city is failing Winnipeggers who do not have permanent addresses, who are currently living in poverty, and who are homeless. While these citizens may not always be heard or seen, elected officials must work just as hard to represent them in our decision making.
Considering the increase in poverty, violence and trauma on our city streets since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear this is not happening. We, as a community, must do better.
Of 1,500 Winnipeggers (as per 2016 census) experiencing homelessness, most are Indigenous women, men, youth, families, seniors and gender diverse peoples. It is no coincidence that some of the most disenfranchised in history are today’s most marginalized and — to put it frankly — our city treats these residents like garbage.
One only has to look at what recently happened to “tent city” when city officials literally brought a large bin and picked up tents, clothing, and threw them away, forcing people to give up their only possessions while displacing them as if they meant nothing. This mistreatment has continued, with the installation of “noise deterrents” at bridges that harass and disturb people simply trying to make a life for themselves. We must all stop targeting the homeless and target the causes of homelessness — the true enemy of our city.
I was elected to be a leader for my community. I don’t pretend to know what’s right for everyone but I do know what is wrong. I know when violence is happening. I know when injustice is being perpetrated. I know when a human is being dehumanized.
No elected officials would ever live with a noise deterrent in their back yards. No citizen would tolerate being forced to dismantle their homes and move, with nowhere to go. No person should ever be forgotten. The poorest of our city should be first in our minds. Why can’t we treat our fellow citizens with some decency? We should be asking “How can we help you?”; “What barriers are you facing?”; and “Where would you like to stay for tonight?”; instead of “Why don’t you leave?”
Kindness, consideration, and courage are the gifts we should give to one another — not contempt and disgust. This is how a family, community and Treaty people should act. This is what Winnipeg should be about.
I recently reacted poorly to comments directed at me on social media. This led me to contact an association to inquire about the training it offers in areas of racial sensitivity and cultural awareness. These are important questions that should be asked of all workplaces and was not meant to target any one person. At the same time, it is my duty as a public official to encourage all citizens, businesses and organizations to develop policies to inform and educate their employees to be a part of ending systemic racism.
While a commitment to documents such as the City of Winnipeg Indigenous Accord is a good step, it is simply not enough to state you are familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report. We must take action to implement the calls within these reports. Systemic racism is not cured with cultural awareness.
It is cured with real-life, actionable commitments to change focus on hiring, training, and policies that tackle racism head-on.
Public officials should be asking workplaces and all citizens: “What tangible action items are you doing to stop systemic racism?”; “What education and training is needed to ensure racism doesn’t occur?”; and last, “Are we all undertaking and achieving measurable outcomes to eradicate discrimination?”
Our world, county and city, is waking up to the fact racism exists and is everywhere.
It is time to do something about it. Leaders, community members, businesses, non-profits, and everyone in between must be a part of the solution.
Meaningful dialogue begins by asking questions, and I won’t stop now.
Point Douglas ward report
Vivian Santos is city councillor for Point Douglas.