|Photo by EV.|
Last week, I sat at my desk at work, feeling hyper-aware of the little spots on my feet where water containing soap and some diluted amount of someone else's pee had splashed.
It was in that moment that I decided to write about this. About how I, a bleeding heart liberal socialist, have begun to develop sympathy for the NIMBYs of the world.
NIMBY, if you don't know, stands for "Not In My Backyard." It's the people who agree that we need things like homeless shelters, just always in a different part of town. In Vancouver, there have literally been protesters in the wealthy parts of town with signs that say, "Right idea, wrong neighbourhood."
I have always thought these people were unmitigated selfish jerks who care more about their property value than another human's suffering.
Then, during the pandemic, the homeless guy who hangs out on the property of my workplace lost most of his other options for places to go and all of his other options for places to go to the bathroom. Which means exactly what you might think it means.
Suddenly, we went from having someone around who we have a decent rapport with and generally moves along if we ask, to an almost-permanent camper, leaving garbage and human waste to clean up every day. And just to be clear: when I say we have to clean it up, that means us. Like, one of the five people on staff, not some magical sanitation team.
It's not healthy, it's not our job, and it's not entirely safe. But it immediately became clear that our options were to let it sit there, pay exorbitant rates for a cleaning team to come sometime between five hours and five days from when we called, or do it ourselves. In the meantime, children often play around our building.
The fact is that the official "solution" in most cities to issues like this is to call the police, or maybe a bylaw officer, who can do no more than issue tickets or ask the person to move along. That, or try to get the person into a shelter where they may or may not want to be.
Which is the real problem: when NIMBYs complain, they complain about things like this. They complain about needles, human waste, and garbage. They complain about noise, fighting, and people having mental health crises in the middle of the street.
The issue is not necessarily that these things (which are all signposts of other unmet needs) happen, but that there are no real supports or services to deal with or prevent them, in the moment or the long-term.
You may be able to call the City's sanitation department about a needle and someone comes by sometime later that day or the next, which doesn't really help the fact that you're out right now wondering if it's worth the risk for you to just pick it up (and put it... somewhere) because your kid or pet or neighbour may step on it.
In the case of a mental health crisis? You are supposed to call the police, which at best criminalizes them in their moment of need and at worse may end up with them killed.
And the waste? Nobody seems particularly equipped to deal with that.
Herein lies the real problem: it isn't that people with different lifestyles and needs and problems move into a neighbourhood. It's that cities are built to accommodate certain lifestyles, needs, and problems, and there is a huge, gaping hole in supports for anyone who doesn't fit that mould.
Sign up for my email newsletter for a bi-weekly digest and bonus content!