BEPPLE – Shuffling homeless out of town won’t solve the housing problem

Abandoned shopping cart at homeless camp under the Red Bridge. (Image: Mel Rothenburger)

PETTY CRIME and public drug use are on the rise.  Residents and businesses alike are more and more frustrated and unsettled by anti-social behaviour in Kamloops.

Something needs to be done.  It’s just not clear what that should be.

This week, Kamloops City council debated a notice of motion by Coun. Denis Walsh to establish a wellness centre on City lands at the Rayleigh sports fields.

In Walsh’s motion, the proposed centre would provide “effective intervention.”  After vigorous debate, the motion was defeated.

Walsh’s premise was that if people could be taken somewhere the problems would go away.

I appreciate Walsh’s desire to tackle the problem.  There are many in the community wanting action.  But moving people out of town won’t solve the problem.  And it isn’t just one problem.

First, in the motion, he equated homelessness with addictions and criminality.   Those are separate issues.

Homelessness is a problem if inadequate supply of suitable housing.

The average sale price of home for sale in B.C. is currently over $933,000, up 22 per cent from a year ago.  The average rent in Kamloops for a one-bedroom apartment is almost $1,500/month.

Housing is excessively expensive. For those on social assistance, the housing allowance is $375 per month.  That rate has not changed since 2007.  Meanwhile, affordable housing supply is far less than demand.

Sending people to a treatment centre if they’re experiencing homelessness will not solve the problem of inadequate accessible housing in Kamloops.  New housing would.  More multifamily housing, more micro-suites, and more rooming housing would increase affordable housing supply. An increase in the provincial shelter rate would help too.

Second, in the motion, Walsh refers to public drug use as a crime.  Tackling public drug use would take the problem out of sight, but it would not solve drug use.

We see the open drug use along Victoria Street and Tranquille.  But for every person using openly, far more are hidden behind doors. For instance, the provincial Community Action Initiative action team in Kamloops which supports mental health and substance use projects, identifies construction works as one group that sees a high rate of pain-relief substance use such as opioids, because of their high rate of injuries.

What starts as a medical use can turn into a drug dependency.  Lack of family doctors, and long waits for appointments must only make things worse.  Not every drug addict is doing it openly, far more do it behind closed doors.

Accessibility to basic health care services such as primary health care is needed.  In Canada, only 7 per cent of funding is allocated to mental health, with even less than that to addiction services.

One argument that a mandatory treatment centre is required is that people don’t want to change.  But over 150,000 people seek out help for drug dependencies each year in Canada, with 90 per cent being those who are seeking help for themselves, with the rest being a family member looking for help.  People do access services when it is possible but wait times to access services can be months.

Adequate, accessible health care in our community is an important step, not moving people out of town because of lack of access to health services.

Open drug use, and petty crime impact us all.  Some more than others, especially businesses and residents who experience the actions firsthand.  There’s the business owner who has to clean up needles and drug paraphernalia in their back alley every morning.  There’s the resident who feels violated when their vehicle is broken into for a few handfuls of change.  There’s a store clerk who is traumatized by an armed robbery.  No one should have to deal with this.

But we are delusional if we think shuffling people out of town will make the problem go away when the underlying issues have not been solved.

Housing is a place to start.  Demanding adequate health services in Kamloops a second step.  And a third, as difficult as it can be, is compassion.  For whatever reason someone has ended up on the streets, they didn’t start out their life that way.

Whatever path brought an individual to homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness or petty crime, there is also a path that can move them to a better place.  As a community, compassion, rather than banishment, is a good place to start.

Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.

About Mel Rothenburger (9481 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on BEPPLE – Shuffling homeless out of town won’t solve the housing problem

  1. From my understanding of the councillors motion, you seem to be misrepresenting the premise of said motion. I’ve always been bothered when people are intellectually dishonest and that is exactly what you’re doing with this drivel. Walsh in no way suggests the problem will be eradicated by simply “moving people out of town”. Nor did his motion suggest that all homeless belong to a monolith, stating so just weakens your argument. As far as “out to town”, there are 10 daily buses currently running out to Heffley Creek, so it’s not exactly the hinterland. No one is arguing that housing isn’t a problem but I find it counter productive to misrepresent and tear apart someone else’s idea’s to prop up your own. What you’re foolishly doing is further polarizing the problem making it more difficult to initiate any change. Our present council has failed with these issues not unlike past councils have, as this problem has been around for decades, it’s just getting worse with no reason for not believing this trend will not continue. I’m all for creating a dialogue, building on common ground and building from there. Your comments are no more than a hindrance which are undermining any change. How is this helpful?

  2. Here is a ‘copy & paste’ of a section of an email that I sent to 3 men on city council:
    “I’d like to thank you for supporting the motion put forth by Denis. You may not be aware but I have heard it so often first hand; women over here are afraid. They are students, wives, mothers, grandmothers and sisters. Women are often most responsible for raising a family and keeping families together. Often, but not always, it is the mother whose influence helps keep their kids from trying drugs in the first place.
    Fear is part of mental health. I’m surprised that wasn’t considered as part of the equation when choosing a site in the middle of a residential area beside a park used by families, schools and pre-school daycares to take kids for a safe place to play.
    The last two years have played havoc with family life.
    The next three could be hell on family life.”

  3. First off, Denis DID NOT EQUATE homelessness with addiction and crime. Denis is a caring man and he certainly knows the intricacies and the differences. Denis is trying to help and the average folks have the right to make noise in regards to their safety.
    For sure we need compassion. We also desperately need leadership on a gigantic scale over this large, multi-faceted predicament. For far too long the issue has been swept under the proverbial carpet. The most stupid and damaging undertaking was and still is the “war on drugs.” An ideological pile of crap thanks to Nixon and his henchman Kissinger. As a side note, if the “war on drugs” money was channeled into eradicating homelessness, addiction and mental health we would’ve solved the problem long ago. On the topic of money and considering the depth of the problem (homelessness+addictions+mental health) it is going to cost us a gargantuan amount to address. It is well known that certain European countries have made great inroads on the subject. Perhaps the other council members who are presently sitting on their hands so to speak, could invite over them specialists and experts to give a presentation. I bet it would be much cheaper than asking staff to look into it.

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