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.
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.