By TODD STONE
MLA, Kamloops-South Thompson
ALL BRITISH COLUMBIANS agree that we need supportive housing in our communities. I, too, believe that everyone should have a roof over their head, and I’ve been proud to support a wide range of supportive housing projects in Kamloops over the years, both when I was a member of Government, and also today as a member of the Official Opposition.
Supportive housing is important, because in addition to providing that roof over one’s head, it also provides supports, as the term would suggest. It’s supposed to be a place to help people get well.
But this can only happen if the housing includes the needed 24/7 on-site supports, which should include a team of physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical staff, counsellors and outreach workers, all of whom are able to provide the mental health, addiction and recovery supports as needed.
Sadly, these supports are far too often not available as promised. Unfortunately, we have watched what unfolds in our communities when those supports are not there.
In communities like Victoria, Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Duncan, Nanaimo, Coquitlam, Kelowna, and Prince George, neighbours and small businesses are all dealing with the consequences of needed 24/7 on-site supports not being provided in supportive housing projects. We also see this firsthand on Victoria Street West in Kamloops, where the situation has deteriorated rapidly.
The result is small businesses being broken into daily, small business owners worrying about the safety of their employees and customers, parents terrified of their kids stumbling across needles in playgrounds and neighbours worried about leaving their homes and walking the streets of their community. These are all very real issues and challenges directly resulting from the decisions made by the provincial government.
Regrettably, the Housing Minister has referred to all of this dismissively as “a bit of an unsettled time.” She has alleged that we in the Official Opposition are “dividing communities”, and “scoring cheap political points.”
Well, in response, I have this to say to the Minister who has been responsible for these issues for the past three years: All these challenges are happening on your watch. They’re happening on the NDP government’s watch.
Not a day goes by that the Housing Minister and members of the provincial government hail the ‘great progress’ they’re making supporting the most vulnerable and at-risk populations in B.C. Yet, how can they say that with a straight face, while at the same time knowing that they’re actually not providing the needed mental health, addiction and recovery supports in every supportive housing project?
How can they say that when, on their promise of 114,000 new units of affordable housing, they’ve only opened 2,963 units in three years? How can they say that when homelessness is worse today than ever before? How can they say that when overdose deaths and non-lethal overdoses are at all-time highs under their watch?
One only must take a walk down Victoria Street West in Kamloops to see that the needed supports are not available, and to hear from small businesses and neighbours what they’re experiencing daily as a result. Even the NDP mayor of Vancouver recently said that the homelessness crisis and the addiction crisis are worse under this government than ever before.
It’s worth noting that the hard-working, courageous women and men on non-profit and social service front lines of caring for our most vulnerable and at-risk populations are increasingly delivering these messages to all elected officials: ‘Housing First’ makes sense, but what’s next?”
They say that we need resources and tools that have teeth in them, not a patchwork of band-aid supports. They make the observation that if there are no 24-7 on-site supports, where needed, all that government is doing is warehousing people.
They point out that Alberta spends 80-fold more on mental health and addictions than our province – including 4,000 new recovery beds and five therapeutic communities – and ask the valid question, “If Alberta can do this, why can we not do it here in British Columbia?” They shake their heads as they acknowledge that mental health, addiction and recovery supports do not equate to “having a cup of tea,” as the Minister of Housing recently stated.
Enough is enough. To the Housing Minister and the NDP government, it’s time to be accountable for not delivering the 24-7, on-site mental health, addiction and recovery supports as promised. It’s time to be accountable for the reality that your decisions are also failing small businesses and entire communities. It’s time to do what’s right. It’s time to do what you promised. Why? Because it’s not too late.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to get better, to access a dignified path to recovery that fits their unique circumstances, to move from homelessness to wellness. Neighbours and small businesses also deserve to live, raise their families and work in their neighbourhoods and feel safe doing so.
It’s not too late for the NDP government to do what is right, and that is to provide the needed 24-7, on-site supports in every supportive housing project across this province. British Columbians are demanding and, indeed, expecting the NDP government to do just that.
Todd Stone is the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson.