BEPPLE – Kamloops needs more housing, not just more shelter beds
AND I’M BACK. My last column with the Armchair Mayor was April 6, 2022. That was the week before I declared I was running for a seat on Kamloops City Council.
Mel Rothenburger has a policy that he won’t print a column of someone who is campaigning for office. So I got a long holiday from writing this column. But luckily, once elected, the policy is waived.
So here I am.
My columns going forward will likely be a bit different than before. When I was on the outside, I sometimes praised but often wrote columns critical of Kamloops City Hall.
Now the gig is different. I may need to defend a decision made by council that some in the community aren’t happy with. Conversely, if a decision of Council as a whole isn’t one I agree with, I will still say so. I’ll try to avoid too much self-congratulations.
My biggest opportunity now is to describe more of the pros and cons behind the decisions, and competing forces that led to directions taken.
Case in point is the City’s response to supporting homeless people in our community in the cold weather months. Yesterday in Council, Carmin Mazzotta, Social, Housing, and Community Development Manager for the City of Kamloops, presented to Council.
He described how shelter services are the responsibility of BC Housing and their service providers, but there are many others involved, including the City of Kamloops which is providing space at Stuart Wood and at the Yacht Club.
The City is working closely with BC Housing, service providers like Mustard Seed and Out of the Cold, Interior Health, RCMP, and other agencies to support the creation and running of cold weather shelter services in the City. It is a joint effort which takes continual communication.
One day, the shuttle bus might not be working, another day there might be problems staffing a shelter. Every day, the different groups work to keep things working.
Despite currently having just over 200 shelter beds available in Kamloops there are still gaps.
Worst of all, even with 200 shelter beds available, there is a need for up to 60 more spaces. Work is underway to not only Cold Weather shelters, but also Extreme Weather shelters to support the additional folks.
Actually, what is really needed is not more shelter beds, but more housing. Without housing available, there is a rotating door of shelter to streets back to shelter and back again to streets. There are 260 people currently in that rotating door in Kamloops.
Housing, sometimes with supports, rather than more and more shelter beds is what is needed.
Going forward, City Council will be tasked with many things. One of the most important things it can do is provide clear direction to City staff on how it wants to help create more housing in Kamloops.
Second, it can work with others including BC Housing, ASKWellness, A Way Home Kamloops, and Canadian Home Builders Association to find solutions for building housing. As Mazzotta spoke of, collaboration with others is required.
It’s still a long winter ahead. Let’s hope all the folks on the streets have a place to get out of the cold. And that the current council can support those doing the heavy lifting to make it happen.
Nancy Bepple is a Kamloops City councillor with a strong interest in community building projects.
When a person is on the street, cold and hungry, the priority is a shelter.
Next in line comes affordable housing or a recovery program. A shelter and recovery/affordable housing are two different things.
BTW, a lot of people who are over 65 & on a fixed income have had to swallow year after year after year of increases from City Hall. The endless stream of spending has got to be curbed. Accountability needs to happen or else pensioners will not be able to afford to stay in homes they spent a lot of their working lives paying off a mortgage, raising a family etc.
There is no help for us and no offer of a solution from city staff or council. If and when that ever happens, Nancy, I will be very surprised. Pensioners, for the most part, are becoming the newest sector of society who also need help with affordable housing.
Help turn off the tap for frivolous spending by City Hall.
As once said, “if they build it, they will come”. I have friend who moved to a small town in BC. She was pleasantly surprised to find there was no homeless problem and that she could go to her grocery store without being hassled by panhandlers. She asked around and was told, since the town doesn’t supply free food and shelter, they don’t have a homeless problem. HMMM, makes you think!
But since we do have a problem, I fully agree that we need adequate housing with full wrap around services to get these folks back into mainstream life. Unfortunately, these “wrap around” services are for such a short term that they really are not effective. Addiction and mental illness are a lifelong issue. Developing a strategy to support these people on the long term is the only way we are going to see change.
I think what is bothering a lot of taxpayers, myself included, is the vast amount of funds that are going into to solving this issue and the obvious lack of positive results and accountability.
I would argue a number of presently homeless people are not capable on their own to support and maintain a decent level of housing. In an economy that is begging for helpers and workers anyone with a tiny bit of initiative can earn a living, learn a trade and graduate up the economic ladder. Granted inflation and real wages are still a challenge the realities are such that earning potential is at an all-time high. But in the same breath I do emphasize with low income earners and would like to see more spartan but nevertheless cozy affordable housing. In the last few years progress has been made and it looks like more availability is coming.