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Posted: June 16, 2019

A more important political problem than the economy

“Perceptions” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

It’s only a tarp, but it says a lot about what’s wrong with the world today. Hell, it says a lot about what’s wrong with Western Civilization in 2019. Let me explain .

I heard the story on the CBC morning radio show Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Cranbrook Community Connections Society of Southeast BC was appealing to the public to donate tents. That’s right, TENTS! What was this, I thought. Are these bureaucrats promoting a mass campout or something?

No, the truth was much more incredulous than that. The society operates a Homeless Outreach Program and they were appealing to those of greater means to donate old camping tents they were no longer using so that the homeless of

Cranbrook could have a roof over their heads at night.

A “roof ” be it canvas. plastic or nylon. Whatever the case, it’s better than sleeping under the stars or the pouring rain or the cold, damp air of some of these chilly June nights. Better also on the warm nights too because it provides a modicum of privacy and dignity to those who have little of both.

This is where the old, brown tarp comes in. Actually, it’s sort of embarrassing because that old army canvas was the first camping “roof” I’d ever slept under on the forested banks of the Slocan River way back in the 1950s when my dad couldn’t afford any better. I’d completely forgotten about it until a few years ago when my brother delivered it to me after he couldn’t sell it in a garage sale. Who would buy a silly, old canvas, tarp these days?

Well, I’ll tell you something. I slept under that brown canvas cover with my mom and dad when I was four years old, listening to the wind blowing through the cedars and the odd black bear crashing through the bush as we all snuggled up closer to dad and his protective double-barrel shotgun. Sixty years later that tarp was a family heirloom as far as I was concerned and I wasn’t going to part with it.

Then, I heard the CBC story.

Actually, my first thought was of two old camping tents that I used with my family. They, of course, were much more modern than the old brown tarp and were of the free-standing variety with poles that bent and a zipper window and door. Not much in this era of motorhomes and 5th wheels but they did the job and we were glad to have them. And they were a lot easier to put up than cutting poles and erecting a lean-to like dad used to do. So, I decided to donate them. No sooner had I done so, then I thought about the old family tarp. No way I was going to give away what amounted to a family heirloom was my initial reaction. Then I thought a little more.

Like most of you reading this, I’m aware we have homeless people in our little piece of paradise below the Rockies. Homeless families even. And in all honesty, I confess I try not to think about it too much. I mean this is Canada, a First-World country, one of the richest in the world. So why has homelessness and affordable housing become one of the biggest political issues of the day? Answer this and they should make you Emperor.

I can’t answer it although I have my own theory and I’ll tell you in a sentence of 25 words or less. It’s the breakdown of the nuclear family as we’ve known it that’s been the backbone of industrial and pre-industrial civilization for hundreds of years. (24 words)

In the nuclear family, Dad was the breadwinner and Mom raised and socialized the kids (hopefully with some help from Dad). It wasn’t perfect and Mom bore the brunt of the most important work, raising the kids. But kids raised like this were far less likely to end up on the street panhandling, staring blankly at their devices or over-dosing on alcohol and opioids.

I know these remarks will outrage some and I regret it. But politicians don’t have the answer to today’s ills and no wonder. Homelessness is a societal problem and it’s going to take action by society as a whole to fix it.  That’s why I commend the Community Connections Society for at least suggesting a stopgap measure until we come up with something better.

Nobody should be sleeping under an old brown tarp these days unless they want to.

It’s up to all of us – not just the politicians – to come up with something better. like one parent at home (Mom or Dad) nurturing the family and the other making a livable wage that will support a family.

Is that asking for too much?

Lead image: Gwen Noble Ex. Dir, Community Connections and Erin Pan, Homelessness Outreach Coordinator for Community Connections, hold up tarp donated for Cranbrook’s homeless. Photo courtesy Gerry Warner

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and a sentimental old sot, who’s so sentimental he can even choke up over an old brown tarp, but I think dad would have understood.


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