B.C. VIEWS: Don’t let anger over homelessness get in the way

Frustration in B.C. grows as the problem persists

Much has been said about the things that divide us. The federal election rekindled talk of western alienation. In B.C., the focus is on an urban/rural split.

But there is one thing we can agree on: the growing pervasiveness of homelessness.

Once an issue confined to the core of major cities, the problem is evident now in almost any community.

Just how bad it has become was revealed in the first concerted count done last year. The province-wide survey, conducted by volunteers in nearly 25 communities, found 7,655 people with no secure place to call home.

Certainly the majority were in Metro Vancouver. But their numbers were also found in communities as diverse as Fort St. John, Cranbrook, Comox Valley, and even Salt Spring Island.

British Columbia is not unique. The number of homeless in the Seattle region, for example, is estimated at 12,000. Nationwide, it is believed 30,000 people won’t have a good place to sleep tonight.

Of course, we don’t need statistics to tell us there is a problem. A walk through any town or city reveals just how bad it has become.

That evidence sparks two reactions: anger and frustration.

The anger was evident in Kelowna a couple of weeks ago. Business owner Raegan Hall said she and other businesses were at risk of being driven out of the downtown because of the growing number of homeless.

“If this homeless and drug infested population does not get handled swiftly and properly,” she wrote to that city’s downtown business association, “our once vibrant downtown is going to become a ghost town overrun with what looks to me like a zombie apocalypse.”

That anger is echoed in many communities. Business owners are tired of cleaning up garbage and debris every morning before they open. They’re tired of their employees feeling threatened. They’re tired of paying for private security or watching their customer base shrink.

RELATED: Nearly 8,000 homeless in B.C., first province-wide count reveals

And it’s not just business owners who are angry. Residents too are concerned their parks and playgrounds are becoming makeshift camps.

The first casualty of anger is empathy. That reality is evident at public meetings about proposed shelters, or in online discussions about the issue.

It would be easy to give way to that frustration. But efforts are being made to address the situation.

Where once poverty and addiction were seen as moral failings that society had no responsibility to support, we’re seeing a greater appetite for intervention (if for no other reason than economic). Municipal governments, which rightly said social support was beyond their purview, are playing a greater part in crafting solutions. The federal government is promising to recommit to its role – largely abandoned since the 1990s – of providing support for affordable housing.

And the provincial government is moving forward on its plan to create 2,700 supportive housing units. Already nearly 1,500 have been built as part of the government’s 10-year commitment.

ALSO READ: Downtown Kelowna business owner voices outrage over homelessness issue

Of course none of this will fix the problem overnight. How we got to this situation is a complex combination of housing affordability, inadequate support for mental health, a crisis in substance dependency, and longtime governmental neglect.

But it won’t be made any better if we abandon the businesses struggling to survive in our downtowns. (When was the last time Amazon supported your local minor league team?) Or surrender to the anger that dehumanizes and vilifies people because of their circumstances.

That’s something we should all agree on.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Shuswap animal sanctuary seeks to fit frostbitten baby goat with prosthetic leg

Fundraiser started to help Zuri, newest resident of Twin Hearts Animal Sanctuary

Stanley Cup returning to Salmon Arm after 15 years

Resident excited for twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see iconic trophy

Money available to curtail nutrient pollution of Shuswap watershed

Excessive phosphorous could make algae blooms and other unpleasant conditions more common

Eight times a charm: Larch Hills skiers win team trophy at Teck BC event

Shuswap contingent wins Midget Championships honour eighth year in a row

Salmon Arm boy is only Para-Nordic athlete at BC Winter games

Thirteen-year-old Kaden Baum competed in three races on his sit-ski at the games.

Okanagan rescue team comes back home from Australian mission

Brad Pattison’s team spent 33 days rescuing wildlife

Alleged racially-motivated vandalism concerns Penticton Chinese community

Chinese community worried fear surrounding COVID-19 coronavirus a cause for discrimination.

Kelowna mayor to request RCMP’s ‘unfounded’ sexual assault report

RCMP said the report was completed over a month ago but have yet to release it or make a statement

Criminality not suspected in Ellison trailer fire death

The body was discovered after crews responded to reports of a house fire

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

Kelowna youth accused of killing 16-year-old released

The young woman was arrested on Feb. 21 and is facing one charge of manslaughter

Interior Health appoints administrator at Summerland Seniors Village

Numerous concerns raised about private seniors care facility

Man arrested following suspicious trailer fire in Kelowna

Reports came in about the fire at approximately 11:45 a.m. on Monday morning

Most Read