Saturday, April 14, 2007

Not NIMBY - Just Good Planning

Today's Kitchener-Waterloo Record has a report of a recent public planning meeting. Some politicians are calling for another soup kitchen in downtown Waterloo.

I believe in a strong social safety net, in affordable housing and subsidized services for people who need them. I have done extensive volunteer work at food banks and give generously to my local food bank every year without fail.

But I'm a single woman who lives in downtown Waterloo and in recent years I have felt unsafe walking by myself downtown. The reason is that I am threatened by strange men. Most recently it was after dark (about 9 PM this winter) and I was walking on King Street. Noone was around when a man emerged from the shadows of a doorway and asked me for money. I said no but he continued to walk beside me, pestering me. My mother, who gets around very slowly with a walker, had a worse experience when a man who seemed to have severe mental problems planted himself in front of her, blocking her way on a narrow sidewalk while yelling at her. It doesn't take many of these experiences for a woman (quite rationally) to be reluctant to go out on her own.

AND THAT REALLY SUCKS. Both my mother and I live downtown (in different places) because we like the freedom of walking to shops and entertainment. Both of us are without male escorts. Thanks to these experiences, both of us have limited freedom to go out.

We already have a mess in downtown Kitchener, which has a lot of scary people. I have witnessed fights twice in the last couple of years, once where a bunch of teens were beating up a homeless man in the square in front of City Hall. Downtown Kitchener has several institutions to help homeless teenagers and adults - and that's great and we all praise them for their good work - but a side effect is that downtown Kitchener is no longer a place where most citizens can safely and comfortably spend any time. I do go there (occasionally, always in a group and always parking close to my destination), and I see a lot of shady characters.

The Political Correctness Police can tell me that I have no right to question any help we provide to the underpriviledged, but I'm underpriviledged here too. I know that most people who use soup kitchens are good people who wouldn't cause me any trouble, but it's just a fact that a soup kitchen will attract a percentage of people whose presence will make the downtown more unsafe for me. I know this because of some of the people who live in a halfway house near downtown or who go to a soup kitchen near my house. It's probably the case that the people who cause problems are people with severe mental problems or people with criminal records.

If these politicians (none of whom, I'd bet, walk alone downtown at night) insist on putting another soup kitchen or shelter in my neighborhood, then they should also pay for increased police foot patrols at night... enough police that a woman can walk on her own without fear.

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1 comment:

mike said...

Good post with some excellent observations. I have only been in Waterloo for the last 3 years [apart from 4 years at UofWaterloo in the late 70's]. Downtown Kitchener is a "dark place". Even in daylight, there is a spirit of oppression. Now, having said that, the answer is not simply to eliminate things like food banks which attracts those in need. I don't get that impression from your post at all.

What I wrestle with, what Waterloo needs to wrestle with is how to meet the needs of the poor, of those with minds that have been distorted through illness or alcohol/drugs, while, at the same time, ensuring the safety of all residents? If there is another soup kitchen in downtown Waterloo, where is the equally needed afordable housing?

Thanks for raising the issue.