Our broth­ers’, sis­ters’ keep­ers

About 25 evicted ten­ants in old build­ing on Cum­ber­land Street find new ac­com­mo­da­tions by July 1

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY REV. BOB HUTCHESON Rev. Bob Hutcheson, of Char­lot­te­town, is a re­tired min­is­ter of the United Church of Canada.

Well, the 150th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions have come and gone, al­beit with mixed re­views.

But an­other very sig­nif­i­cant event came and went on the same day as Canada 150, seem­ingly un­no­ticed by most.

Think­ing back to April and May, you will likely re­mem­ber the an­nounce­ment that about 25 ten­ants in an old build­ing on Cum­ber­land Street were to be evicted on July 1. The an­nounce­ment was from Hol­land Col­lege. They were pur­chas­ing the prop­erty to build a new stu­dent res­i­dence

A lot of peo­ple were in­censed. Ap­par­ently there was no plan for re­lo­cat­ing the res­i­dents. It was ev­i­dent that th­ese peo­ple were among the most dis­ad­van­taged in the city — in­deed in the Is­land.

Talk­ing to politi­cians and peo­ple in real es­tate, it be­came ev­i­dent that th­ese “poor­est of the poor” had not a leg to stand on.

Gov­ern­ment showed lit­tle in­ter­est in chang­ing things.

Worse, gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics showed that there was vir­tu­ally no rental hous­ing avail­able for any class of peo­ple let alone the least pow­er­ful or ad­van­taged (1.6 per cent in Char­lot­te­town last Novem­ber)

The city was well aware of the sit­u­a­tion — (the mayor works for Hol­land Col­lege so he left things for the deputy mayor to han­dle.)

They claimed there was noth­ing the city could do — even though the city’s Strate­gic Plan says the city will be work­ing with other lev­els of gov­ern­ment to re­solve is­sues of hous­ing.

The prov­ince ex­pressed some in­ter­est in the prob­lem but I have no ev­i­dence that they ever rolled up their col­lec­tive sleeves — at least pub­licly.

Whether be­cause of pub­lic pres­sure or out of a stricken con­science, Hol­land Col­lege got in gear and com­mis­sioned Della Parker of Parker Realty to help th­ese wor­ried peo­ple to find hous­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion.

To make a long story short, it was nip and tuck but Ms. Parker and her firm did it.

By June 30, Parker had seen to it that all the would-be evicted ten­ants had a place to live.

More than that, most of the new ac­com­mo­da­tion found was of bet­ter qual­ity that what they were mov­ing from.

(There is one prob­lem not re­solved. The last I heard, the two busi­nesses lo­cated in the old build­ing had not found a place to set up shop.)

So what lessons are to be learned? That is a hard ques­tion to an­swer.

Cer­tainly The Guardian and other me­dia kept the key play­ers’ feet to the fire for a good part of the time.

Hope­fully, they can be counted on to do the same and more in fu­ture dire sit­u­a­tions, which threaten the ba­sic well be­ing of the less for­tu­nate.

A small, stirred-up group of ci­ti­zens brought is­sues be­fore the pub­lic as best they could. It seemed they were frus­trated for the seem­ing lack of con­crete re­sults.

Yet, they un­doubt­edly had an in­flu­ence on the fi­nal re­sult.

Se­condly, any sug­ges­tion that gov­ern­ment is ad­dress­ing the is­sues is a huge stretch of the truth.

There are sev­eral agen­cies, which in the­ory have a key role in sit­u­a­tions such as this. I vis­ited sev­eral of them. They want to help but their or­ga­ni­za­tions are not much more than a shell. They have a cou­ple of staff but vir­tu­ally no re­sources to back them up.

Thirdly, it would ap­pear that Hol­land Col­lege did not work from a po­si­tion of prin­ci­ple. They had pretty much a free hand to do what they chose. The end re­sult is at least partly to their credit.

But surely peo­ple, in a Davi­dand-Go­liath bat­tle like this should not be thrown to the lions. They need to have cer­tain rights and an ad­vo­cate who sees to it that they are not vic­tim­ized sim­ply to serve the wants and needs of the rich and pow­er­ful. Like it or not this is up to all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

There are other lessons to be learned but I am not at all con­fi­dent that most will do any more than to pass this off with the hope that no one will press them too hard on im­prov­ing our readi­ness to tackle such is­sues.

But prob­a­bly our most im­por­tant les­son is, we are all our broth­ers’ and sis­ters’ keep­ers.

DAVE STE­WART/THE GUARDIAN

Seven prop­er­ties in the area of Cum­ber­land and Grafton street were af­fected by Hol­land Col­lege’s plan to build a new 80-bed res­i­dence across from the main cam­pus.

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