B.C. VIEWS: Don’t let anger over homelessness get in the way

Frustration in B.C. grows as the problem persists

Much has been said about the things that divide us. The federal election rekindled talk of western alienation. In B.C., the focus is on an urban/rural split.

But there is one thing we can agree on: the growing pervasiveness of homelessness.

Once an issue confined to the core of major cities, the problem is evident now in almost any community.

Just how bad it has become was revealed in the first concerted count done last year. The province-wide survey, conducted by volunteers in nearly 25 communities, found 7,655 people with no secure place to call home.

Certainly the majority were in Metro Vancouver. But their numbers were also found in communities as diverse as Fort St. John, Cranbrook, Comox Valley, and even Salt Spring Island.

British Columbia is not unique. The number of homeless in the Seattle region, for example, is estimated at 12,000. Nationwide, it is believed 30,000 people won’t have a good place to sleep tonight.

Of course, we don’t need statistics to tell us there is a problem. A walk through any town or city reveals just how bad it has become.

That evidence sparks two reactions: anger and frustration.

The anger was evident in Kelowna a couple of weeks ago. Business owner Raegan Hall said she and other businesses were at risk of being driven out of the downtown because of the growing number of homeless.

“If this homeless and drug infested population does not get handled swiftly and properly,” she wrote to that city’s downtown business association, “our once vibrant downtown is going to become a ghost town overrun with what looks to me like a zombie apocalypse.”

That anger is echoed in many communities. Business owners are tired of cleaning up garbage and debris every morning before they open. They’re tired of their employees feeling threatened. They’re tired of paying for private security or watching their customer base shrink.

RELATED: Nearly 8,000 homeless in B.C., first province-wide count reveals

And it’s not just business owners who are angry. Residents too are concerned their parks and playgrounds are becoming makeshift camps.

The first casualty of anger is empathy. That reality is evident at public meetings about proposed shelters, or in online discussions about the issue.

It would be easy to give way to that frustration. But efforts are being made to address the situation.

Where once poverty and addiction were seen as moral failings that society had no responsibility to support, we’re seeing a greater appetite for intervention (if for no other reason than economic). Municipal governments, which rightly said social support was beyond their purview, are playing a greater part in crafting solutions. The federal government is promising to recommit to its role – largely abandoned since the 1990s – of providing support for affordable housing.

And the provincial government is moving forward on its plan to create 2,700 supportive housing units. Already nearly 1,500 have been built as part of the government’s 10-year commitment.

ALSO READ: Downtown Kelowna business owner voices outrage over homelessness issue

Of course none of this will fix the problem overnight. How we got to this situation is a complex combination of housing affordability, inadequate support for mental health, a crisis in substance dependency, and longtime governmental neglect.

But it won’t be made any better if we abandon the businesses struggling to survive in our downtowns. (When was the last time Amazon supported your local minor league team?) Or surrender to the anger that dehumanizes and vilifies people because of their circumstances.

That’s something we should all agree on.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Four air ambulance flights out of Terrace delayed or cancelled

Pandemic precautions caused nighttime closure of service station providing weather data to pilots

Skeena Resources, Tahltan prez excited by purchase of Eskay Creek

Skeena gets full control of mine, Barrick gets 12 per cent of Skeena and a one per cent royalty

VIA Rail lays off 1,000 unionized workers across the country

Northern B.C. route Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert is not affected by VIA Rail layoffs

Overall house sales drop in the northwest

COVID-19 pandemic slowed market activity

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Tree planters get help with COVID-19 protective measures

Ottawa funds extra transportation, sanitizing for crews

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE decision

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Most Read