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2010 Hunger Strike Relay - What have I done?

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March 14, 2009

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Via Email

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

This letter is the first in what will be a week-long series of letters to you.  Why, you might ask, am I writing to you and why for a week?  Well, a couple of months back I heard of the 2010 Hunger Strike Relay and I was intrigued by what I heard.  The 2010 Hunger Strike Relay is an action that started with the new-year here in Vancouver.  It involves citizens participating in a series of back to back week-long hunger strikes to raise awareness of our national homelessness crisis and to try and persuade the Federal Government to get back into meaningful and adequate funding of affordable housing in our Country.  For each week of the Relay there is a new participant, or in some cases groups of participants, who commit to a week of fasting in an effort to raise awareness.  The 2010 Hunger Strike Relay has continued week by week since the beginning of January and it is intended to continue through this year and into next.

Tomorrow, March 15th, I begin my seven day hunger strike and I thought that I would keep you informed through the week of my physical and mental state and how it relates to homelessness and affordable housing in the hope that you might better understand the issue and my commitment to try and bring an end to this crisis.  But to start with, I thought that I would write a little about myself and why I’m doing this.

I was born in Newfoundland where I lived for my first 11 years and then moved to Nova Scotia for the next 11.  My Dad started out as an insurance salesperson and over the following 15+ years worked his way to Vice President of one of the largest insurance companies in the country.  My Mom was a nurse who gave up her profession shortly after her second child was born so that she could stay at home and raise us.  My parents are exceptional people who put family above all else and worked hard to raise my brother, sister and I to be good people and to have a good life.  

I graduated from Dalhousie University in 1989 on a Wednesday, flew to Vancouver on Thursday, and started work as a development manager on a Friday.  Two months from now will mark the 20th year at the same job.  I am married to a wonderful woman who has worked the past 10 years in health care facilities management and construction.  My wife and I own our own home, we enjoy travel, dinner clubs, fly fishing, sailing, and we both participate in our community through volunteer work in the environment, arts, & housing issues.  Last year I received the Vancouver Arts Awards Volunteer of the Year award from the Mayor Sam Sullivan.  For all intents and purposes I live a very happy, productive and normal life. 

So why then would an otherwise happy, productive, and normal person participate in such an extreme action as to deprive themselves of food for a week?  I could simply try to allay my conscience by making larger donations to the causes that I believe in and do more volunteer work.  Lots of good people, myself included, do just that, however, I feel that the 2010 Hunger Strike Relay makes a larger statement that I can participate in.  It speaks to the passion of people who see the homeless in our communities and feel the need to do something more to raise the awareness of this issue.  It’s people like Dr. Michael Byers, a professor at UBC;   Constance Barnes, an elected representative on the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation;  Dr. Marria Townsend, a physician with a Community Health Centre; and the 84 year old Sister Elizabeth Kelleher from the Sisters of the Atonement.  They, in addition to many others, have already completed their 7 days.  Tomorrow marks the start of my turn. 

I’m sure that you are not unaware of the fact that homelessness exists.  Homelessness has been on the rise in Canada for decades and for the most part the action by all three levels of government has been one of political opportunism rather than a concerted effort to end, or even to stem the rising tide of this national shame.  I hope that my writings to you over the coming week will give you a better understanding of what this issue is about, of the commitment of frustrated citizens to try and bring about change in the way our society views and treats homelessness, and hopefully to bring about action from our political leaders so that one of the richest nations on the planet is no longer allowing this shame to continue.

Until tomorrow,

Yours truly, Robert O’Dea

Vancouver B.C.

cc.      Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Official Opposition

          Jack Layton, Leader of the NDP

          Libby Davies, MP

          Jenny Kwan, MLA

          Mayor Gregor Robertson 

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