It’s a 'natural evolution' for Kelowna, Kamloops to take on social issues | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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It’s a 'natural evolution' for Kelowna, Kamloops to take on social issues

Ths homeless tent city on Kelowna's Leon Avenue was dismantled and relocated at city expense last fall.
October 02, 2020 - 7:30 AM

Traditionally, cities like Kelowna and Kamloops have looked after local issues such as roads, sewers and garbage collection but have left things like mental health, addictions, street issues and even crime to higher levels of government.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities, in an online booklet called: Local Government in B.C. – A Community Effort, outlines the role of local government in some detail: “Local government provides and maintains the community’s basic essential services – clean water, garbage collection, sewer systems, roads and sidewalks, streetlights, and fire and police protection. Your local government may also provide other services including libraries, parks and recreational facilities such as skating rinks, gymnasiums and swimming pools.”

Social services can now be added to that list as Kamloops and Kelowna are both playing a bigger role in dealing with homelessness, crime and other problems plaguing their streets.

“Our bylaw officers are, in fact, increasingly connecting with mental health and outreach agencies in our community, engaging and working closely with them and their work,” Darren Caul, Kelowna’s community safety director told “It’s a natural evolution.”

He just got approval from Kelowna city council to draft a Community Safety Plan.

“The City is a convener to engage social agencies and other organizations and governments who have a role in the upstream issues, the social issues, that impact our community and fall to the police if we’re not coordinated,” Caul explained. “That might mean, when bylaws and police are first responders to a social issue, they are well positioned to engage other specialists who are trained and best equipped and have the mandate to address that individual’s or that family’s particular needs.”

Kamloops is taking a different approach as it will be retraining and rebranding its bylaw officers over the next few months to become Community Safety Officers. They will play a more active role in dealing with things like connecting the homeless to other services.

READ MORE: How Kamloops is trying to deal with a wide range of social issues facing all cities in B.C.

Mayor Ken Christian isn’t concerned about whose job it technically is to deal with such issues.

“The reality is, on the streets of Kamloops, businesses are suffering and customers aren’t feeling comfortable so we felt we needed to do something a little bit more,” Christian told “Here the streets are quite animated with street affected populations. We need to do more than walk by individuals that are in distress lying on our streets. Up until now that’s been what’s happening. We want to help them get the services that they need, be they mental health interventions, public health interventions, detox interventions or, in some cases, if they’re criminal behaviour, we need police interventions.”

At this point, the City is shifting the focus of the enforcement officers and it’s not costing taxpayers anything extra.

Change started earlier this year when the provincial government called on cities to expand their bylaw officers’ duties to help police COVID-19 rules.

Again, that has not cost the local taxpayers but, if that changes, Christian promises to take action.

“Down the road, if this starts costing us a lot of money, then I would be the first to talk to the Solicitor General, saying this is your ministerial order, where is some of the recompense to the taxpayers in Kamloops relative to the cost of this?” he said. “Right now that’s not an issue. I’m more interested in seeing if this works.”

Both mayors are part of the B.C. Urban Mayor's Caucus that put out a call to change the way cities are funded so they can take on more of the social issues that their cities are facing.

"What’s frustrating for us is that we continue to have provincially- and federally-mandated issues, like social issues, downloaded onto us and we’re expected to provide services and programs when they’re not in our mandate,” Basran, who is co-chair of the council, said.

READ MORE: B.C. mayors want to change the way they do business with the next provincial government

In Kelowna’s case, the City incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses last winter setting up and maintaining a homeless campsite. While it was relocated last week, it’s still seeing 15 to 20 people camping out every night.

READ MORE: Running homeless campsites for a month cost the City of Kelowna more than $100,000

Kelowna taxpayers spent roughly $1 million dealing with homelessness last year

Kelowna’s Community Safety Plan will go beyond reacting to the visible issues of homelessness and crime to go so far as asking the school system to identify children and families at risk of “falling into criminality” and trying to prevent that from happening.

“To truly address these issues, we need to be addressing the root cause of how individuals find themselves in these situations and are committing crimes in our community in the first place,” Caul said. “So earlier and stronger interventions, that’s how we can really have an impact of reducing crime and victimization in our communities.”

That’s a long way from streetlights and garbage collection but, Christian noted, it’s just something cities of a certain size have to take on.

“Cities of our size have a common problem,” he said. “When we’re around that 100,000 mark – we're a little under it, (Kelowna's) a little over it – there’s a new set of issues.

“The other part of it is that our populations are not used to this. People, when they haven’t been downtown in six months and they go downtown and they see what it looks like, they’re a bit shocked so they’re quick to pick up the phone and say: ‘Why aren’t these people being arrested? What’s going on with the court system?' All of these kinds of solutions that some people will jump to really stem from a lack of exposure to what the reality is on the streets.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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