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View From City Hall: Securing a roof over each resident’s head

The need for housing in Kamloops is a continuum that spans many areas
KEN CHRISTIAN COLUMN HEAD

Homelessness is a critical and growing problem in Kamloops.

Many ask, “Whose problem is it?” The answer is that it is everyone’s problem and to ignore it simply makes it worse.

I often hear that we should just send the homeless home. The fact is that the last known address for most of the homeless in our city was a Kamloops address.

I often hear that we are just attracting this population to Kamloops when we provide services. The reality is that this is a national, provincial, regional and largely urban problem.

In our region alone, the point in time counts have shown an alarming and sharp increase in homelessness; 114 in Penticton, 297 in Kelowna, 224 in Vernon, and 206 here in Kamloops.

Yet Kamloops lags in the provision of shelter space, with 63 per cent sheltered in Penticton, 74 per cent in Kelowna, 53 per cent in Vernon and 58 per cent here in Kamloops.

That means literally hundreds of people living in the Thompson-Okanagan face the prospect of living rough and camping outside this winter.

We can and must do better.

The root causes of homelessness are complex and varied, but nearly all can be traced back to the social determinants of health and a calamity of life events that lead to poverty and eviction.

Forty years ago, when homeless numbers were low, faith-based groups and service organizations filled the void and people were sheltered and cared for.

As the numbers grew and the co-morbidities of addiction, acquired brain injury and chronic untreated mental illness complicated the needs of these citizens, compassion fatigue increased and the solutions shifted from community-based to government-based.

As a city, we are doing our part. Many don’t like that, but in a civil society, we view that as our moral and social responsibility. We have sought partnerships with BC Housing, social agencies and anti-poverty advocates to provide small neighbourhood solutions, as opposed to large, collective shelters.

We have worked to avoid tent encampments with which many other cities have struggled. Most importantly, we have lobbied for addiction wraparound services that will support those experiencing homelessness on their journey back to a place where they can regain all they have lost.

People don’t choose to sleep on our streets in the rain and cold. They find themselves with no other options and, as a council, we accept our role in helping them on their journey home.

We currently assist in housing on several fronts — often as land partners and occasionally as a landlord.

We don’t operate housing, nor are we solely responsible for many of the neighbours’ concerns we so often hear about.

The need for housing is a continuum. At one end are emergency, temporary or seasonal shelters and on the other end are affordable and attainable entry-level homes for young families.

We often think of housing needs based upon our own personal experiences, mostly from owner-occupied, single-family, taxpaying residences. That is no longer the norm.

The continuum includes supportive housing, complex-care facilities, long-term care, group homes, homes for women and children fleeing relationship violence, treatment facilities, student housing, market rental housing, income-adjusted subsidized housing, seniors’ housing, and culturally specific housing.

Generally speaking, we need more in virtually every category and myself and council are working, across the continuum, to help secure a roof over the heads of all our citizens.

We believe it is the right thing to do.

Ken Christian is mayor of Kamloops. His email address is mayor@kamloops.ca. Council columns appear monthly in the print edition of KTW and online at kamloopsthisweek.com, under the Opinion tab. To comment on this column, email editor@kamloopsthisweek.com.