(SEE THE ACCOMPANYING VIEWPOINT OF A PERSON WHO IS HOMELESS IN SALMON ARM AT THIS LINK.)
The visibility of homeless people in Salmon Arm is increasing and, with it, concern from the community.
The city’s social issues committee discussed in May an increase in panhandling, loitering and homelessness. Last month, city councillor Louise Wallace Richmond, as well as city staff and representatives from the RCMP and Downtown Salmon Arm, met again.
“It’s not something we haven’t seen before, but we haven’t seen it last as long,” said Wallace Richmond.
She says everyone at the table wants to be part of a sustainable solution, one that’s collaborative, compassionate and creative.
The best way to help vulnerable people is to donate money or time to social agencies who serve vulnerable people, she says.
“I don’t think we can bylaw our way out of this.”
The social issues committee will meet again in the fall, and she encourages the public to call or email her.
Lindsay Wong, manager of Downtown Salmon Arm, agreed it’s a complex issue and educating businesses is key. She pointed to the Shuswap Survival Guide compiled by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in this region.
She said signage and landscaping might also be considered.
“We’re trying to do the right thing, we want to move carefully, but we do want to take action.”
Sgt. Scott Lachapelle, who has worked in other communities with similar problems, says Salmon Arm doesn’t have the resources such as shelters that vulnerable people can rely on.
“Law enforcement is only a small part… Community involvement needs to be a bigger part.”
He favours donating to organizations aimed at getting people into housing, rather than throwing $2 into a hat.
In formulating a solution, he says, “Salmon Arm really needs to look at itself. What is our core issue, what is it we want to curtail or control?”
Dawn Dunlop, executive director of CMHA’s Shuswap/Revelstoke region, which runs about 150 housing units, has been advocating for a Homeless Outreach Program from BC Housing with no success. She says the program won’t solve homelessness, but is a resource for people who are at risk of homelessness. A staff worker can come out of the office and engage with the community.
Mayor Nancy Cooper said she wants to support CMHA in this endeavour.
BC Housing’s email response to why Salmon Arm doesn’t have the program was, in part: “The homeless outreach program works best when the private market has vacancies where those who are homeless can be housed. In Salmon Arm, the vacancy rate is extremely low. Our focus has been increasing housing stock in communities like Salmon Arm.”
In the meantime, Dunlop encourages people who are homeless or at risk of it to come to the CMHA office at 433 Hudson Ave., or call 250-832-8477. No units are available, but the association can start getting people connected to resources.
Dunlop says although the community is observing an increase in homelessness, “it’s been happening for a long time; it seems to be more visible of late.”
She asks how the community can work together to solve the situation “so we don’t criminalize homelessness. These are our most vulnerable of citizens…”
David Byers of the Salvation Army says he’s seeing more transients than ever.
“They’re looking for some affordable housing and we just don’t have any.”
He says his organization is working with BC Housing to try to secure housing.
“But at this time we haven’t seen any benefits yet.”
Meanwhile, tents and sleeping bags are given out. The Salvation Army offers a meal at 191 Second Ave. NE, on Wednesdays from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, soup is provided at the food bank at 441 Third St. SW.
“Probably an average day there’s around 40 or 50 bowls of soup. Then we try to supplement with whatever we can. At least they’re full when they leave.”