Opinion » Editorial

Speak out with intent

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There is one thing you can't criticize the people of Whistler for and that's not speaking up.

It's a trend that is getting more and more noticeable.

A few months ago, we began to see people speak out at council meetings and that trend has continued.

Councillors themselves are speaking their minds more, as they become comfortable in their leadership role in local government.

And, of course, Facebook groups like Whistler Summer and Whistler Politico have been very active for a few years now.

True, we have had some thorny issues capture people's attention the last several months — the ongoing issues of congestion in the resort, the sale of Whistler Blackcomb to Vail Resorts, changes to pay parking, the ongoing struggle to keep bears and other wildlife safe, the housing crisis, the need for employees — I could go on and on.

While it is easy to view the ongoing commentary as either patronizing or whiny, I challenge readers to see it in the light most comments reflect — people are trying to illuminate problems in the resort and hoping that by bringing it to people's attention, solutions can be found.

You can see that, for example, in the recent posts about the way people are abusing our environment and being careless about keeping attractants safe in the woods and in the neighbourhoods.

This from one Facebook user this week: "... the disrespect of surroundings is frustrating. Day lots smell like urine as well as the trees surrounding the skate park. A few weeks ago I was at the skate park in the morning with my son. 4-5 people were sleeping right there in the woods which didn't bother me but the smell of urine from people peeing everywhere was disgusting."

In recent weeks, we had the shocking story of two people who brought close to 20 kilograms of garbage out of the Joffre Lakes area. Those social-media stories prompted others to share their "garbage-in-the-woods" stories, which included one person who dragged a mattress out of the woods not far from a municipal trail.

On Sunday, June 25, a fire broke out on Wedge Mountain along the fire service road — likely the result of a campfire not extinguished properly. As the story spread, people began to speak out on social media about the number of people living up there. Yes, living. These do not appear to be campers who chose to set up on Crown land for the allowed 14-day stay.

There are all kinds of these types of outdoor living situations around the corridor. Some are genuine campers enjoying the great wilderness that is B.C., others want to live rough, and others have no choice as the cost of living puts pressure on them.

It seems like Whistler will never solve its housing crisis. It's been a news story in Pique since the paper started over two decades ago. Our population keeps growing as the success of the resort demands more workers, but housing availability can't grow at the same rate. Rents go up thanks to market forces and the result is people living in campers, tents, anywhere they can, to work here and enjoy the lifestyle.

There has been discussion of setting up a homeless shelter here to help out those in short-term crisis, but that would be admitting there is an issue... or worse..."If we build it, they will come."

Well, let's wake up on this issue. "They" are already here and we should be able to help.

If the resort is going to crack down on those living wild, do we not need to be able to help them in the short-term if they need it? By shutting down camping, or even long-term wild living, through fines and tickets for trespassing we are in essence making people homeless and offering them no housing solution except to leave town — to leave the place they call home.

Is that what Whistler is? A place focused on the ideal and not the real?

We have the same challenges, issues and problems as every other town, as well as a host of others brought on by our incredible success (for which we are all grateful). We can't pretend we don't have hungry, or homeless, or abused, or substance-abusing residents. We can't turn the other way when it comes to taking action to protect our environment and the creatures that live here — including the humans.

So, yes, let's keep talking about all these issues face to face and on social media and let's work together, and with the strong institutions we have, like local government, the Whistler Community Services Society and the Whistler Housing Authority to address them.

Let's each ask ourselves what we can do to help — like those pulling garbage out of woods and lakes — instead of looking around for people to blame.

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