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‘Empathy and compassion’: Councillors say don’t rush to judge homelessness in Salmon Arm

City councillor moved to tears by letter of woman whose daughter is addicted, living on street
City councillors respond to letters regarding numbers growing of people who are homeless in Salmon Arm, explaining many agencies working to improve situation, solutions are complex. (File photo)

Unlike most discussions of correspondence at Salmon Arm council meetings, the Aug. 8 session was an emotional one.

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond made note of two letters focusing on homelessness.

One from A. Yates dated July 21 referred to the Ross Street Plaza and the growing number of people without homes who they said are taking up occupancy there.

“As someone who works downtown, I can’t sit outside and enjoy the square on my lunch break, it is dirty, I feel unsafe and uncomfortable. I am not as encouraged to support the wonderful restaurants and cafes downtown because of this.”

They said they don’t know what the answer is, “but doing nothing can’t be the right thing to do.”

The second letter was dated Aug. 2 from H. Janzen.

“I am not only a long time resident of our city but the mother of an adult homeless person. Since the pandemic the amount of homeless people in Salmon Arm has at least doubled if not more,” she wrote. “The RCMP, Interior health, ambulance, Fire Department, Bylaw, and City works cannot keep up…”

She noted that mental health and drug addiction go hand in hand and are the reason many vulnerable citizens are on the street. She suggested having a mental health and drug addiction advocate to work and assist the local RCMP and all other city and provincial agencies that operate in the city.

“As a mother I cannot begin to tell you the anguish I have been through the last three years trying to get my child off the street. She is legally an adult but mentally she is still a child. I have exhausted all avenues to help her. All local agencies are well aware of her problems. She is not alone in her struggle to get clean and off the street. These people and those who love them need your help now. Permanent housing options or more shelters, safe injection sites, drug testing sites. And more and effective counselling services for their drug and mental health needs.”

She said she has sent copies of her letter to the MP and MLA.

Read more: Search underway for shelter location in Salmon Arm for people without homes

Read more: Five years ago, homeless man ‘had everything’

Wallace Richmond said she emphasizes with Janzen as a parent and her letter was difficult to read.

“That said, I think it’s really important to remember that although you might not see what’s happening on the surface as letter writer number 3 (the Yates letter) is suggesting, there are dozens of groups working tirelessly to come to the assistance of these folks. It is not illegal to not want help; I can’t emphasize that enough. People need to be treated with dignity, and here at the city, I know our staff does an amazing job when they have interactions with these vulnerable folks and I’m grateful for that. I know the same is the case with the RCMP and any… housing outreach support that we have.

She noted that BC Housing and the Canadian Mental Health Association are working together on an emergency shelter plan for the winter months.

“I think we all need to take a step back and think about what our needs and wants are. And remember that for everything you see, there are umpteen people working behind the scenes to provide services and relief and those people deserve to be appreciated.”

She said she and city council are doing everything they can to advocate to higher levels of government to make sure the city gets its fair share. 

Coun. Kevin Flynn added, his voice breaking with emotion, that September is the one-year anniversary of losing his brother to addiction, and the letter hit close to home. He thanked Janzen for sharing and Coun. Wallace Richmond “for explaining that, although we are a small city, we are working very hard to try to solve these problems. I never understood my brother’s issues, I never accepted him for who he was…”

He suggested empathy.

“Homes aren’t necessarily a solution because my brother was in a shelter and he overdosed. These issues are so much more complex than we understand… As frustrated as I am when I see what happens in our downtown, I think we all have to have some empathy and compassion.

“Thank you to the letter writer – I can’t imagine what you’re going through but I can because I went through it for 30-plus years with my brother. And unfortunately it didn’t end the way I hope it does for your daughter. I hope it’s more positive for her. Thank you for sharing; it’s not easy as I’ve just exhibited. It means a lot to me that people are writing these kind of passionate letters to try and get people help. It means a lot to me that people are working so hard in our community to make it better – and we need more help from senior levels of government.”

Wallace Richmond suggested the two letters be forwarded to the city’s social impact advisory committee.
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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