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KYLLO – Leaving vulnerable people out in the cold is simply inhumane

(Image: CFJC Today)

By GREG KYLLO
MLA, Shuswap

COLD, WET, WINTER WEATHER may be an inconvenience for most of us, but for unhoused individuals in our communities it can lead to serious injury and even death.

Greg Kyllo.

Above all, it is simply inhumane to leave vulnerable people on our streets with no place to warm up, secure dry clothing and stay safe.

This is the sad reality in a number of Interior and Okanagan communities right now, including in my riding of Shuswap.

This week, I sent a letter to Housing Minister Murray Rankin requesting an urgent briefing to discuss a resolution to the serious situation unfolding in Salmon Arm.

The Salvation Army Lighthouse provided overnight shelter for the homeless in Salmon Arm until May 31 of this year, when it was determined that simply providing overnight shelter was not sufficient to meet the needs of the community. There were also challenges with staffing, and the facility was permanently closed.

Since then, the City, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and others have been searching for another location to fill this gap, without success.

While Cedar Place has been able to provide housing security to some people, there isn’t room for everyone and, as a result, many more are sleeping outdoors in tents. This is unacceptable to me, and to the many constituents writing to express their concerns as temperatures dip below freezing.

Meanwhile, similar scenarios continue to play out in Vernon, Penticton, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Merritt and Kamloops. Shelter operators in these communities have written an open letter to BC Housing, the Interior Health Authority (IHA) and mayors and councils in the region, outlining the many struggles they are facing.

The shelter operators note employees are completely burnt out. They come into the job wanting to make a real difference, only to find it dangerous, under-paid and under-resourced.

In the middle of a labour shortage affecting numerous sectors in B.C., how do we expect to attract people to these important roles if their working conditions don’t improve?

Shelters require funding to enhance security measures not only for the protection of workers, but for those staying in the shelters as well. Everyone deserves to feel safe.

Shelter operators are also frustrated by the lack of meaningful outcomes for those in need, particularly for those with complex health issues. In their letter, the operators say, “The cycle of bringing challenging persons in from the cold, to shelter them in the most basic of temporary shelters, to provide the barest of supports, to make limited investment in health, skills, and real housing; and then to have them exited back to the streets on the first day of spring with a tent and well wishes, has become an exercise in futility at best.”

It’s my view that this NDP government has failed in its commitments to build more housing and provide adequate wraparound supports for our most vulnerable. In 2017, there were nearly 2,000 permanent shelters in B.C., but the NDP has only added 360 more permanent shelters during its time in government.

Where is the housing minister? Where is BC Housing? Where is the IHA? The silence is deafening. It cannot be left up to cities and community organizations to not only figure it out on their own, but to take the heat from citizens who wonder why no action is being taken to get people the shelter they deserve.

It’s unfair, and the province needs to step up quickly before we get much further into the winter season. Lives may depend on it. With incoming Premier David Eby, who previously served as housing minister, set to be sworn in on Friday — I hope this will be among his top priorities.

Greg Kyllo was elected as the MLA for Shuswap in 2013, 2017 and re-elected in 2020. He serves as Official Opposition critic for Labour. 

About Mel Rothenburger (9224 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca 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 ArmchairMayor.ca 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.

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