Moving liquor store won’t fix poverty

Dear Editor

The Battlefords Chamber of Commerce has proposed pressuring the provincial government to move the liquor store out of downtown North Battleford.

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Although the motivation behind the proposal may be commendable, the continued availability of low-cost liquor, other alcoholic substances and hard drugs suggest this approach will prove ineffective. Respectfully and perhaps more significantly, the proposal to move the liquor store is simplistic. The community needs to tackle the root causes of addiction, versus taking an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” approach.

Aside from legitimate issues raised by community leaders about the inappropriateness of the liquor store murals depicting Indigenous leaders, our community’s time may be better spent supporting more initiatives like the Battlefords Indian and Métis Friendship Centre’s new rooming house, advocating for appropriate levels of public funding to service providers like the Lighthouse Serving the Battlefords and calling on the Sask. Party government and our local MLA to open a long-overdue standalone detox facility for drugs and alcohol in the Battlefords, so that people requiring longer-term medical detox do not need to leave our community.

We must propose actual solutions to addiction, homelessness, untreated mental health difficulties and poverty in the Battlefords that go beyond attempts to coax or force marginalized people away from downtown. The idea that ending the Battlefords’ problems with addiction, homelessness, mental health difficulties and poverty will come about simply by moving liquor out of reach, or enacting stricter penalties for panhandling, is naive and counterproductive. Any prairie city with a population greater than 10,000 people will have citizens living in poverty who congregate in the downtown core, liquor store or not. Some of those cities have been progressive in their approaches and have reaped economic benefits from enacting creative, well-supported public policy. Medicine Hat, Alta., is one example of a city that has effectively eliminated homelessness through a “housing first” strategy.

The work of our city’s mayor, council and public safety co-ordinator is helping to change conversations around these issues and focusing work on long-term, underlying solutions to chronic issues related to poverty here in the Battlefords. Unfortunately, at the same time, our current provincial government is steadily reducing funding to social services and to community organizations like the Lighthouse that help alleviate the impacts of poverty and reduce crime. The government’s 2016 strategy of sending homeless people from the Battlefords to British Columbia on one-way bus tickets is not the answer and not just because there are no bus companies left in Saskatchewan.

Respectfully, if the Chamber or other interest groups in our community want to help solve the problems of addiction, homelessness, untreated mental health difficulties and poverty, it may be wise to focus on Sask. Party cuts to the Lighthouse, cuts to affordable housing, and the sorry state of addiction and mental health services throughout Saskatchewan. Advocacy on those issues will have a far greater impact on improving conditions in the Battlefords and lowering the rates of addiction, homelessness, untreated mental health difficulties and poverty for our fellow citizens.

Benedict Feist

North Battleford

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