Killoran: Offering some food for thought

Thousands of citizens of Kamloops, including about one in five children, live in poverty.

They are often hungry, homeless or without stable housing. They are at greater risk of violence, unable to access adequate medical care or social supports or suffering from addiction and mental illness.

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Many have suffered unspeakable brutality and are coping with the multiple traumas a life of poverty inflicts.

Despite this, the recent approach of the RCMP and City of Kamloops has not been to help these fellow citizens, but to further marginalize and humiliate them by cracking down on their shopping carts, seizing them at the behest of local business owners and multinational corporations.

No criminal charges have been laid and no evidence linking anyone to any thefts has been proven in a court of law, but, practically speaking, this does not matter as street people lack the political power to assert their constitutional rights -- a fact the city and police know only too well.

Sadly, the poor are among the groups in our society often targeted without reasonable grounds, their property seized, their possessions dumped and their lives upended without any due process.

Citizens who wish to stand in solidarity with our homeless and marginalized populations should demand answers from the RCMP, candidates for municipal office and city officials as to how this egregious waste of taxpayer resources can be justified.

How is it that resources are too scarce to help people find a way out of poverty, but thousands of dollars can be directed toward a campaign of bullying and harassment against our most vulnerable citizens?

Homelessness and poverty are scourges to be eliminated, but attacking the poor and homeless is not only morally indefensible, but ineffective. If people wish to avoid the sight of poor people pushing shopping carts around downtown streets, then the causes of poverty must be addressed.

Tackling hunger is one way to mitigate poverty and there are numerous positive approaches city government could employ with the goal of making Kamloops hunger-free.

We could follow the lead of other cities in B.C. by requiring "food assets" be considered as amenities and mandated as part of any large future developments.

What this would mean in practice is that any major development would have to set aside space for initiatives like community kitchens and gardens, facilities to support neighbourhood food networks, edible landscaping and community food markets.

Resources like this do much more than simply feed people, they give people living in poverty a place they are welcome and an opportunity to be productive. One need only attend a Friday bingo night at New Life Community Kamloops to see a sense of belonging and community is just as significant as the hot dogs or nachos served.

Food assets help to build these bonds of community. One impoverished citizen described places poor and hungry people can gather as "somewhere you can feel like a person again." Nourishing, empowering and providing safe spaces for the poor is a much more successful approach -- ethically and fiscally -- than criminalizing poverty.

Hospitals triage patients according to the degree of urgency they present. The poor and hungry require the most urgent care in our community, so they should be our first priority. Future development ought to be undertaken with their well-being in mind.

Voters should ask the mayoral and council candidates in Saturday's byelection whether they support adding food assets as amenities to Kamloops' Official Community Plan and what specific policies they will support to end poverty and hunger in our city.

Joe Killoran is a high school teacher and law student and writes as a volunteer with the Kamloops Food Policy Council, whose website is at kamloopsfoodpolicycouncil.com.

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