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

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

Revelstoke Mountain Resort has received grant funding to build Phase 1 of the Valley Trail Network on Nichol and Camozzi Rd. (Revelstoke Mountain Resort)
City of Revelstoke gets grant for paved path along Nichol and Camozzi Rd.

The project was designed in partnership with Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Downtown Revelstoke. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
COVID plunges in Revelstoke with only 4 new cases

This is the lowest number of new cases since mid-January

The City of Revelstoke is proposing a 1% property tax increase for 2021. (File photo)
City of Revelstoke proposing 1% property tax increase

Public input will be collected in coming weeks

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

Revelstoke City Council is considering updates to the zoning bylaw that would allow all residential zones to have short term rental units. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke vacation rentals might soon require on-site caretaker

A public hearing on the issue will be scheduled shortly

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing escalates to stabbing in Nanaimo

Victim, struck with coffee cup and then stabbed, suffers minor injuries; suspect arrested

(Phil McLachlan - Black Press file)
Enderby man prohibited from driving after colliding into Kelowna bus stop

Vehicle was towed, 35-year-old man served 24-hour driving prohibition

A 50-year-old Lake Country man was arrested and cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl were seized from his vehicle after a concerned citizen called in the suspicious vehicle idling on the wrong side of Woodsdale Road Feb. 18, 2021. (Lake Country RCMP)
Drugs, cash seized from suspicious three-wheeled vehicle in Lake Country

Man, 50, arrested after police respond to concerned citizen’s call

Numbers of new COVID-19 cases for the week of Feb. 14 to 20 appear to be trending down for all local health areas in the North Okanagan-Shuswap. (BC Centre for Disease Control map)
Colours on COVID-19 map getting lighter for North Okanagan-Shuswap

Number of new weekly cases reported by BC Centre for Disease Control drop throughout region

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Royal LePage Place, along with the adjacent Jim Lind Arena are the two ice arenas operated by the City of West Kelowna..—Image credit: contributed
$442,200 to replace aging ammonia chiller at West Kelowna arena

West Kelowna is the recipient of a provincial grant to replace the ammonia chiller

The husband wife team of Brett Turner and Olivia Fobert are the bakers and makers behind Joy Road Catering who are opening up a pop up bakeshop this May in the former Craft Kitchen. (Facebook)
Pop-up bakeshop opening in downtown Penticton

Joy Road Catering’s Bakeshop will be offering breads, pastries, lunch bowls and a marketplace

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Most Read