LETTER: Voice articles tough on local homeless

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Editor: We are writing on behalf of the Peer-2-Peer Group and R.O.C.K. Missions to address the recent articles published in The Chatham Voice regarding our community’s most vulnerable people. While we appreciate the opportunity for open dialogue on important issues, we are deeply concerned about the hurtful language and lack of understanding and compassion.

The articles in question perpetuate harmful stereotypes and can contribute to the stigmatization and discrimination faced by people experiencing homelessness and people who use substances. Rather than promoting a constructive conversation about addressing these issues, they only serve to widen the divide and hinder progress.

On the front page of The Chatham Voice published on Nov. 2 there is a photo of an individual and where they are currently residing. There was no consent provided by this individual to be on the front page of the publication, and doing so places this individual at risk.

It is crucial to remember that the individuals we work with are some of the most vulnerable in our society, facing complex challenges that often stem from systemic issues beyond their control.

Every resident in Chatham-Kent deserves empathy, support, and understanding, not stigmatization.

The Peer-2-Peer Group and R.O.C.K. work tirelessly to provide vital support and resources to the community, including access to harm-reduction supplies, food, mental health services, and more.

We kindly request that The Chatham Voice considers the potential impact of the language used in articles related to homelessness and substance use. We believe in the power of the press to influence positive change in our community.

The R.O.C.K. Missions
Peer-2-Peer Team

2 COMMENTS

  1. I completely and wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter.

    I’ve noticed more and more hurtful language over the past few years, but of course this has always been an issue with vulnerable populations. I’ve also noticed that articles about unhoused members of our community (not just ones written by The Chatham Voice) often have more reader engagement than other news stories which is minacious when you take a moment to give consideration to the fact that some of these articles do perpetuate harmful stereotypes, whether it’s inadvertently or not.

    As an aside, I can attest that the term “vagrant” which was used in the article is an outdated term. Even if the term was quoted, perhaps it would have been productive within the article to take the use of the word as an opportunity to discuss the importance of using more person-centered language when discussing vulnerable populations.

    I admit that I do not have enough knowledge on the photo that was taken and shared on the front page of The Chatham Voice, however I did think it was abnormal as well. I went to reread the article written by Pam Wright titled “No Easy Fix for Homeless Encampments, Shelter” and I did not see anything about the individual giving their consent for the photo being taken, nor did I see anything about the individual being interviewed. Please correct me if I am wrong as I do have a habit of reading too quickly.

    I appreciate that in practice it isn’t this simple, and that I have no experience as a reporter, but I am sure someone from The Chatham Voice can confirm with us that “Nate” gave their consent. I appreciate that there’s legal justification to be able to take photos of community members in public; however, I can’t completely agree that sharing this photo of the impromptu shelter was entirely ethical without express consent from the individual.

    Again, I appreciate that it isn’t as simple as it presents to all of us without experience as reporters, but in an ideal situation I would have appreciated “Nate” having a chance to share their story within the article. I believe interviewing unhoused community members will help us develop an appreciation for what services are lacking in our community to have so many members of our community consistently falling through the cracks and not receiving proper supports before their health and living situations deteriorate. Again, if we could please have someone from The Chatham Voice confirm that consent was sought I’m sure readers would be appreciative and more empathetic to the effort The Chatham Voice was making in highlighting the need for better supports in our community for unhoused individuals and families.

    Community members having little to no consultation on the placement of the emergency shelter on Murray Street further served to divide community members. Members of our community were not given a chance to properly express their voices and despite the undeniable need for this emergency shelter, I still empathize with the Tecumseh Park Neighborhood Association advocating for themselves as their voices were not respected in this decision. This should have been an opportunity for the community to come together and work together to help our neighbors.

    Regardless, it seems to me that our community doesn’t want an end to homelessness, but rather our community wants to put an end to having to look at the consequences of unhoused individuals not receiving proper supports. Out of sight out of mind, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this societal problem will be resolved by moving resources and unhoused community members somewhere else in the community.

    These are all symptoms of the cost of living far exceeding reasonable and sustainable levels, complete and total lack of proper government supports, a total deficiency in timely and appropriate mental health and addiction interventions, and an absolute failing on community, provincial, and federal leaders in addressing the housing crisis in a meaningful and urgent capacity.

    As the cost of living continues to spike and negative attitudes towards vulnerable populations continues to divide communities these problems will continue to escalate and the consequences of inaction and a lack of empathy will consistently make it more and more difficult for these concerns to be out of sight, regardless of where the next emergency shelter is located.

    I also fully believe that we should also be more empathetic to community members who are not unhoused, but have been negatively effected by the rapidly increasing number of community members being unhoused. Not everyone who has an uncomfortable encounter is trained in handling a complete stranger in a mental health or addiction crisis, nor should they have to be. While at the same time, nobody should have to be living outside with an almost complete lack of support besides community agencies and volunteers that are no doubt exhausted and as frustrated as everyone else, if not more.

    There’s no “us vs them” and there’s no “them vs us.” There’s just victims of a completely out of control financial and opioid epidemic. I still see so much good in the community, and I hope that we can all come out of this together. Please try to take a moment and honestly consider how you would feel if you were unhoused in Chatham-Kent, especially with the colder weather coming. Empathy is our greatest strength.

    • “Nate,” the person who built the shack, was not present at the time we took the photo. The feet seen in the photo were those of a friend of his who was keeping watch on Nate’s place while he was away.
      As for consent, we don’t need to ask for consent to take photos from public places. If it’s in the public’s eye, consent is not needed.
      We agree that some people would simply like to sweep our homeless out of sight, which is wrong. Furthermore, there are people who support the homeless, but have a NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) mindset. But there are also strong proponents in our community for supporting our homeless. A great deal of work, as well as a $9.5 million commitment from the municipality, went into the Indwell project at the former St. Agnes School, only to see one branch of the federal government turn down the proposal.
      You make some strong points in your comments and we are in the process of following up with additional points of view.

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