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

Peace Arch News ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

Surrey parents, students navigate remote learning during COVID-19

The Surrey school district teachers are slowly rolling out plans for new way of educating

Surrey MLA Jinny Sims cleared of criminal wrongdoing

She resigned her cabinet post during RCMP investigation

Surrey councillors say halt policing transition as 2,016 workers laid off

City of Surrey has reportedly laid off 1,900 part-time auxiliary workers and 140 full-time employees because of the pandemic

White Rock announces more COVID-19-related changes to parking

‘Counting on community to do the right thing’ when it comes to free hospital-parking spaces

VIDEO: ‘Used gloves and masks go in the garbage,’ says irked B.C. mayor

Health officials have said single-use gloves won’t do much to curb the spread of COVID-19

COVID-19: postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

53 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., four new deaths

B.C. has 498 active confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus

Vancouver man, 21, charged after mother found dead in Squamish home

Ryan Grantham, 21, has been charged with second-degree murder

Fraser Valley’s tulips fields off limits to visitors due to COVID-19

Abbotsford and Chilliwack tulip farmers have announced their festival season won’t go ahead

Don’t stop going to the doctor, just do it virtually: B.C. association

Doctors encourage patients to access telephone, online visits

BREAKING: COVID-19 case diagnosed at Abbotsford rehabilitation residence

First Abbotsford care home to have confirmed COVID-19 case

Businesses advised to prepare for federal, B.C. COVID-19 assistance

Canada Revenue Agency portal expected to open next week

Most Read