ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – Homelessness arrives in Kamloops but so far so good

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

Homelessness is nothing new in Kamloops but, back in the ‘90s, as I wrote in this column published May 7, 1994 in the Kamloops Daily News (under the headline, “On the streets of the big city”), it was more of a nuisance than a public-safety concern.

IF YOU’VE BEEN to Vancouver lately, you’ll notice that the place has changed. It isn’t just the drive-by shootings and gangland wars; it doesn’t seem as friendly as it once was.

In the good old days, you could walk all around the downtown core of Vancouver at any time of day or night, and feel perfectly at ease. Nowadays, the place is swarming with street people.

Street people are not necessarily to be confused with the criminal element. They are not so much a personal-safety concern as they are a personal-nuisance concern.

Everywhere you go in downtown Vancouver, you are confronted with panhandlers. Some are old, some are young, some sit quietly on the sidewalks with signs, some openly harass pedestrians.

The Kamloops version of this phenomenon is miniature in comparison. We’ve always had an interesting element that collects in some parts of downtown, around the billiard hall, the Kami Inn, the New Life Mission, Riverside Park.

They, too, are of different social strata. Some are not really street people, because they have homes to go to and simply use the downtown zone to congregate, while for others a major source of income is the bounty of back-alley dumpsters and whatever they can coax out of passersby. Their home is a shady tree in the park or a cardboard box under the bridge, or the relative comfort of a flop house.

In general, though, we are lucky in this city not to have the extent of the problem that cities like Vancouver are trying to deal with.

At this week’s Okanagan-Mainline Municipal Association convention in Kamloops, the issue of homelessness was mentioned by Housing Minister Joan Smallwood. She noted the increase in the number of people in Vancouver who live in the streets.

“That’s not part of the legacy I as a Canadian want to be a part of,” said Smallwood, who also noted. “It’s not just a big-city phenomenon.”

Indeed, it’s a problem that is growing and will continue to grow in this strange economy where hard work and loyalty, and even education, are no longer enough to guarantee employment.

The issue is huge, encompassing the need for affordable housing, job training, health care, social services, the works.

For the average Joe or Josephine, the immediate concern is how to deal with the next less-than-spiffy gentleman who approaches you on the street asking for a handout.

On this, there are varying approaches. You may not be inclined to give money to panhandlers because you think it just encourages them, and they probably don’t spend it on anything worthwhile anyway. Or you may believe that these are, after all, people just like the rest of us, except that they need a little extra consideration. While regular folks tend to find panhandlers undesirable, few street people choose to be homeless.

I tend to react according to my mood on any particular day. The last time I was in Vancouver, I quickly tired of being accosted three or four times a block.

I was especially abrupt with a fellow in his teens, and his girlfriend, who didn’t want to take no for an answer. I was quite certain, by the way they were dressed and acted, that they were not in need at all, and were simply cashing in on the panhandling culture.

Yet, there were many young people who were obviously without support, and could genuinely use some extra money. So now, we’re put in the position of trying to make instant judgments on who needs the spare change from our pockets and who doesn’t.

A friend tells me of the guy in Vancouver who puts in a regular shift on Robson Street as a disabled homeless, then packs up his crutches and walks away. Some people give panhandling a bad name.

Will the situation get worse before it gets better? In large cities, it’s probably going to get horrendous. Way up here in the Interior, it’s an issue that requires attention, but we can count our blessings it’s nothing like Vancouver.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former TNRD director and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9489 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.

1 Comment on ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – Homelessness arrives in Kamloops but so far so good

  1. Almost 30 years later we finally see some serious political will to tackle the growing problem.

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