Shane Pointe has all seventeen hundred of us laughing, holding hands and swaying to his indigenous welcome song. He teaches us the word Lalem. It means house. “We are one Lalem working together,” he proclaims with an uplifting grin.
He is full of infectious positivity, hope and joy. Shane takes in the capacity crowd with warm, loving eyes. He puts his hand on his heart, breathes in deeply and with a cry of profound gratitude, he thanks us for the incredible work we do.
“There is nothing more important than what you do,”
With characteristic Shane Pointe charisma, he welcomes Ravi Kahlon our provincial housing minister. The two-time Olympian turned politician takes the stage with a smile that rivals Shanes.
But the uplifting moment is immediately brought low.
“You can’t help someone if they are dead! You can’t help someone if they’re dead! You can’t help someone if they’re dead!”
In they march, the ten or so protestors are armed with bull horns, signs and angry faces.
Ravi stands quietly while they co-opt the stage. The small mob is upset because of Bill 34, which bans public drug use, and Bill 45, which allows for more sweeping powers when it comes to the decampment of homeless populations.
The insurgents let us know that because Ravi has failed to use his position of influence to repeal these bills, he is guilty of murder. They force the audience into an awkward moment of silence in honour of the dead who have slipped their earthly moorings as a consequence of these bills, and then, in bullying fashion, they urge us all to protest the entire conference and walk out with them. As they leave the stage and make their way towards the exits, Shane retakes the stage.
“Excuse me, I want to say something.”
The murmuring audience and the chanting protestors hush so the elder Shane can speak.
“You have come here today and made a very serious accusation. You’ve called this man a murderer. This hurts my heart.”
He says as he presses his hand to his chest.
The protestors double down. They take to their bull horns again. Anger, bitterness, and blame stream forth.
Shane, still with kind eyes but growing fire in them, extends his hands toward the interlopers and raises his voice above all others.
“This gentleman (Ravi Kahlon) is personally not causing death the anyone. We are in a crisis, and he and all in this room are working hard, and your words are very, very hurtful.”
They refuse to hear his admonition and start to shout again.
Shane turns to the audience and shouts to us with hands still raised,
“My friends, Lalem!”
We respond, “Lalem!”
Soon, their shouts of “Shame on you” are drowned out by ours of
“Lalem!” “Lalem!” “Lalem!”
And so begins the Housing Central Conference for 2023
The days pass quickly, and soon, the conference is at its end. There is a heightened level of angst this year. Housing is a major challenge. Costs are soaring; there are not enough houses available. Middle-income people, in addition to the poor, are falling out of the market with alarming regularity. Add to this the devastation of the Fentanyl disaster, and it becomes easy to see why there are more pensive faces and pursed lips this year than ever before.
- It costs three thousand dollars a month to rent a one-bedroom in Vancouver
- The cheapest home for sale in our city is two million dollars.
- It would take 40 years of saving for the average person to have enough for a down payment in this housing market.
- Homelessness has increased by 131% in Richmond and an astounding 509% in Merrit.
- The primary term describing the feeling of housing providers in the NFP sector is “Overwhelmed.”
- There are over 40 homeless encampments in B.C.
Shane takes the stage one last time to bid us farewell. What can he say? He cracks jokes and quotes from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new book. He challenges someone to an arm-wrestle, and before long, he has us all laughing. But Shane wants to do more than give us a chuckle on our way out the door. He doesn’t want us to think in terms of a housing crisis. He wants us to do the best we can and try our hardest. It’s a simple, heartfelt speech for us not to give up. This gentle elder looks out at the crowd and pauses. Reaching from somewhere deep inside himself, he finds the words, and his native language bursts out. After repeating the unknown phrase several times, he then translates it for us.
“You are good medicine.”
With eyes of love, he lets the blessing sink into us deeply. I see a tear begin to fall down the cheek of the woman seated next to me. I feel one of my own begin to fall.
Over and over, he reminds us.
“You are good medicine.”
That’s the message of encouragement to us. The grand counterbalance to the crisis. Shane has us stand and hold hands. He sings his ancient song of blessing. I feel electricity from the human touch. I feel hope multiplying itself within me as this sung prayer finds it’s mark on my soul.
I’m ready for another year.