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

Curbside reads available as Okanagan libraries reopen

Okanagan Regional Library reopened June 2 in phased approach

Shoppers line up hours early for reopening of Penticton’s Care Closet Thrift Store

The not-for-profit thrift store supports several local organizations and charities

Summerland man rescued following ATV accident

Helicopters used to transport injured man to Kelowna for treatment

South Okanagan playgrounds now open

Once caution tape is removed, playgrounds are officially open for public use

Moog and Friends Hospice hopes to raise $30,000 this month

Donations give hospice a chance to win an additional cash prize of $20,000

VIDEO: A Vancouver Island black bear takes weekend nap in eagle tree

Videos captured by Terry Eissfeldt shows the bear arriving Saturday night and sleeping in on Sunday

Motorcycle driver disappears after crash along Highway 1 in South Shuswap

Chase RCMP respond to two single-vehicle crashes over the weekend

RCMP report Shuswap suspect threatened to kill neighbours

Police say man was arrested with loaded weapons inside vehicle and residence

Kelowna Mountie faces internal review after ‘uncooperative’ arrest

“A thorough internal review of this officer’s actions is currently underway,” said Kelowna RCMP Supt. Brent Mundle.

NDP getting COVID-19 wage subsidy ‘indirectly,’ B.C. Liberal leader says

B.C. NDP says Andrew Wilkinson is wrong about federal link

Morning Start: #BlackLivesMatter started with a love letter

Your morning start for Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Parent, superintendent, trustee report smooth return to classrooms in B.C.

The biggest challenge is convincing families that it’s safe, some say

High water levels on Shuswap Lake may close popular Canoe Beach

Rain forecast could flood entrance tunnel, city staff to evaluate

189 homes in Grand Forks area given evacuation orders

Homes are in the Nursery, Grand Forks Airport, Gilpin Rd., Johnson Flats and Granby Rd. areas

Most Read