November 17, 2014

Commentary | February 24, 2014
Radio from the streets
EDITORIAL

This Wednesday night, community radio station CKUT 90.3 FM, along with 35 radio stations across Canada, will be broadcasting the 12th annual Homelessness Marathon from outside the Native Friendship Centre Montreal. This pan-Canadian event is a night-long live broadcast intended to raise awareness, change perspectives, and spark dialogue on homelessness and poverty in Canadian communities. The national broadcast is collaboratively produced by community radio stations in 13 cities across Canada, and this year is primarily hosted by CJSR-FM, a campus-based station in Edmonton.

The Homelessness Marathon is broadcast from the streets, and aims to amplify the voices of people affected by homelessness. As they share their experiences and participate in discussion, people who are homeless give their perspective on issues that affect them. The Marathon stands in sharp contrast with the usual media coverage of homelessness, which often gives the spotlight to so-called authorities on the topic, rather than to people who live the reality of homelessness every day.

Moreover, discussion of homelessness in the mainstream media is usually framed in economic terms. Homelessness is treated as an economic inconvenience to society, with those affected viewed as a burden to taxpayers. Under this view, the alleviation of this burden is the primary motivation for the reduction of homelessness. Combined with a lack of awareness regarding the lives of people affected by homelessness, this leads to a misguided approach. By providing a platform to the people affected, the Homelessness Marathon contributes to a more accurate understanding of homelessness.

People affected by homelessness are still stigmatized by mainstream media today, portrayed as entirely responsible for their situation, as opposed to being put into an economic situation involving homelessness by circumstance. Homeless people are alternately painted as drug abusers, as not seeking help for mental illness, as well as not being economically productive members of society. This narrative erases the much more complex reasons for homelessness and discounts the possibility that some might choose to be homeless. It purports to justify the government’s lack of social services and infrastructure set up to accommodate those affected by homelessness. This excuses the government’s failure to make existing services and resources more accessible.

Last Thursday, the provincial government promised $6 million in funding for the improvement, and creation of outreach services for people affected by homelessness. Another $270 million, financed through the AccèsLogis Québec program, will be put toward creating 3,250 social housing units – 500 of which will be designated for the homeless or those deemed at risk of homelessness. Already, a spokesperson from the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté – a group working to eradicate poverty – said the proposed funding is “insufficient,” as indicated in a Montreal Gazette article published on February 20.

CKUT will broadcast the Marathon for 21 hours, beginning on February 26 at 5 p.m. and ending the next morning at 9 a.m. The broadcast will bring in voices to talk about issues such as gentrification, the rights of sex workers and drug users, mental health, Indigenous rights, and prisoner justice and recidivism. Beyond simply stopping by the marathon broadcast outside the Native Friendship Centre, it is also important to give your time to the many shelters and services for those affected by homelessness. This broadcast can be seen as a starting point to engage with a community that has largely been marginalized.

 —The McGill Daily Editorial Board

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