Squamish Multifaith Association held its 5th annual Unity in Diversity Dinner on October 22nd at St. John’s Anglican Church. This popular community event brings together a diverse group of people to explore topics of mutual concern and interest. The topic of ‘homelessness’ attracted a crowd of 50+ participants. Panelists Mayor Patti Hentzman, Maureen Mackell and Sherry Small provided an overview of the current situation in Squamish with thoughts on community engagement. The figures were alarming, with more than 100 adults categorized as homeless during the October count. High rents and limited low income housing options have exacerbated the situation. Helping Hands Society executive director, Maureen Markell described a population way more diverse than the mental health/addictions profile that fits the current stereotype. The society provides emergency shelter, a drop in centre and hot meals. There are several other organizations who are also providing services for this in most need, including Howe Sound Women’s Centre and Sea to Sky Community Services. Mayor Heintzman outlined some strategies that the district are working on to alleviate the situation, including working with existing partners and the development of more rental units and transition housing. Sherry Small, a long time advocate for those marginalized, got to the heart of the matter as she emphasized the gifts brought by each individual regardless of their circumstance. Turning the topic on its head or perhaps we should say heart, she saw the challenge not so much as structural as human. “Listen to understand,” she invited the participants so that in community we can help one another and work as one.
If you are interested in learning more or becoming in engaged, check out http://www.squamishhelpinghands.ca and this site for future updates.