HOCKEY PARENTS are right. Kamloops’ Memorial Arena should once again be turned back into an ice arena, for use by hockey players, figure skaters and pleasure skaters. That was what it was built for, and that’s what it should be.
But don’t blame COVID for the predicament. Homelessness has been here for years, getting worse and worse, long before COVID. COVID didn’t cause the need for more shelter beds.
In 2012, a Point in Time Homelessness Count identified 99 unhoused people in Kamloops. In 2015, 108 were counted. By 2018, 195 unhoused people were identified during that year’s Point in Time count.
Shelter space, which Memorial Arena is now providing, is desperately needed. Especially going into another COVID winter, our community needs some type of shelter out of the cold for people living on the streets.
Correction. Shelter space is not desperately needed. Adequate housing is.
Here are some of the pressures on housing which have exacerbated the situation.
First, Kamloops is home to Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre. According to a frontline social worker I’ve spoken to, there is no guarantee that individuals discharged from that facility have a plan for housing. When some of those individuals are discharged, they end up on our streets with nowhere to go, except a shelter bed.
Second, Royal Inland Hospital is over capacity. They have no extra beds. People who need mental health care are being discharged as quickly as possible. They don’t just need housing. They also need mental health supports.
The frontline shelter worker said up to 30 percent of the occupants of their shelter need mental health supports. That care goes beyond what a shelter is designed to provide. That is the responsibility of Interior Health, but it is being handed to shelters to deal with.
Third, as has been reported previously, Thompson Rivers University is experiencing a severe housing shortage for its incoming students. Students and other low-income individuals compete for the same low-cost housing.
The stock of student housing has not increased significantly over the years to match increases in student demand. Non-students are paying the price.
Fourth, life happens. Seniors retire and don’t have adequate pensions. Youth age out of foster care and need housing. People’s relationships end, and they need to find housing. Landlords want their space back and people lose housing.
People get evicted, and there are no vacancies to be had. Whole villages burn down, and people need housing. Housing in Kamloops is extremely hard to come by for anyone right now, especially those with less income.
Finally, one of the requirements was that Trans Mountain would take care of housing their crews. In reality, there are no large work camps housing the pipeline workers in Kamloops. Instead, crews building Trans Mountain moved into housing that others in our city would have occupied. Good news for hoteliers and landlords who can collect premium rent.
The City of Kamloops is collecting millions of dollars each year from Trans Mountain for providing a path through the city. That will benefit us all with lower taxes and extra funds for things like parks. But some are directly impacted because of housing shortages and increased costs of housing. City of Kamloops dropped the ball on addressing the impacts Trans Mountain had on the local housing market, and ensuring minimal impact to our citizens.
Kamloops is held up by many as a city which has made great strides in building affordable housing. That’s true. Year after year, Kamloops has seen affordable housing built in our city for all types of people. But the reality is our city has not kept up with the demand.
Continued pressures from many factors continue to leave people unhoused. Shelter beds won’t solve the problem. Added housing for all types of low-income peoples, whether students, seniors, youth, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, and the working poor is what is needed. Otherwise, we can all expect the number of unhoused to keep rising.
City council is now on the receiving end of angry hockey parents demanding Memorial Arena be returned to an ice arena. And the arena should go back to an ice sheet. But for a new shelter location to be possible, the City council needs to speak with one voice supporting a new location in another neighborhood. City council must be willing stand up to opposition, which invariably happens, when shelter is moved into that neighborhood.
Our community needs shelter space, but we need adequate housing even more.
Until another comparable space can be found, the shelter needs to remain at Memorial Arena. The sooner we can get the ice back, the better. The sooner we address adequate housing, even better.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.