Residents of Kelowna are frustrated with the current state of our homeless challenge in the city. Many have expressed to me how this crisis is negatively affecting their lives either personally and professionally. Most simply want quick, swift action (like enforcement and prosecution) to solve the challenge. With extensive research and consultation from law enforcement we know this is not a sustainable solution to our problem.
We have to work in a methodical way to implement a number of actions that will slowly chip away at the homelessness issue within our city so we can support this segment of our population that has been forgotten for many years. We did not get to this state in the last year (or 4 for that matter) and therefore it will take years to amend. If we take the ‘knee jerk’ reaction approach, we will waste money, create further dissension and ultimately solve the challenge at a slower rate.
The Journey Home Strategy (a $47 million-dollar plan) is leading the way with a measurable strategy to begin to invest into infrastructure to support the homeless residents of Kelowna. The method put simply is ‘housing first’ a philosophy of providing shelter so those experiencing homelessness can recover from addiction and mental health in a safe, supportive environment. This will mean varying degrees of housing with social support services for different demographics, cultures and ages.
It’s important to note that the majority of this funding will be required from provincial and federal governments who control where municipalities are able to invest into social infrastructure. Time is of the essence – for the first time in years our Provincial and Federal government’s social policies align to address this dire situation. The City has a very small budget to address homelessness ($150,000 over the next two years) so this means we must advocate for our city and push our higher governments to fund the strategy.
However, funding is not the only barrier for the implementation of the Journey Home. These housing assets will need to be built somewhere. As a community, we will need to welcome all members of the community to live in our neighbourhoods – disbursement of housing is key in reducing strain on one area of the city. Where we will be challenged is with the ‘NIMBY’ attitude: ‘Not In My Back Yard’. In order to create a complete community ALL residents need to be welcome and that’s all of our responsibility.
Crime Prevention by Environmental Design also plays an important role in reducing the negative impact of crime in our community. By fostering diverse growth in development allowing varying styles of building from social housing, to town-homes, to luxury condos all in one area significantly decreases crime by design. Safety is increased in numbers and when we integrate all members of the community together we build a diverse, accepting city.
It’s obvious that with little investment into housing solutions in the past 15 years has helped lead to where we are now. Yes, statistics have proven that drug use has become more intense. Our homeless community is more visible than ever. But enforcement and criminal charges are not the solution to reducing drug use in the city. We have to look to supportive, social services to encourage those living with addiction to find the help they need. Only when we begin to give people a place to go will we alleviate the negative impact drugs play on our society.
We also have to begin supporting the youth in our community who are experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental health challenges now. 9% of our homeless population is youth as described in the Journey Home/Way Home Strategy (many are ‘hidden homeless’ as they couch surf or stay with friends). I believe that the key to reducing homelessness in the future starts with prevention in our youngest demographics. If we can transition youth to supportive housing with support services when they are young we will significantly reduce their chances of becoming episodically homeless as mature adults.
Of course, the majority of these solutions will fall onto partners within the non-profit sector to execute. However, as a city we can prioritize these needs to the level they deserve and advocate all levels of government to come together to create solutions.
Watch below for some insights I gained on safety and homelessness after door knocking and speaking with community members.