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McDONALD: Call me a socialist but Journey Home just might end Kelowna homelessness

May 04, 2018 - 1:38 PM

 


OPINION


Sometimes I feel like the biggest scold in the world, always ranting in this column about what I think the problem is.

So it’s nice to be able to give a big shout out to the Journey Home task force and all who have participated in its processes.

And there are many from the frontline social service agencies to those of us who have homes and those who don’t.

Although the official unveiling is next month, the Journey Home task force has put forth its draft strategy to take control of homelessness in Kelowna (and by default, the Central Okanagan).

I purposely did not say 'end homelessness' because there will always be people who end up on the street or live in precarious situations. It is in the nature — I would say one of its failures — of our society.

(Damn, scolding again).

Journey Home doesn’t use the word ‘end’ either referring to ‘functional zero’ as the desired outcome, which in essence means they plan to spread a big net that tries to stop people from ending up homeless in the first place.

From what I can tell — and I’ve been covering this beat for 20 years — the draft strategic Kelowna city councillors will see Monday, May 7, is pragmatic and realistic. It also answers some of the big questions most locals will have: How long it will it take and how much will it cost?

Six years and close to $47 million is the Journey Home estimate, although over half of that will come from the federal and provincial governments, presumably through the federal and provincial housing and poverty reduction strategies.

About five per cent will come from Kelowna taxpayers. The rest? Well, that's the biggest question mark in the whole vision, although ongoing fundraising is part of the plan.

I’m not going to try and explain the whole strategy, but the core tenet behind it is Housing First, which asserts that housing — a real house, not a shelter bed — is the primary ingredient, before sobriety, before rehab, before anything else.

If it sounds like socialism to you, well, maybe it is, but nothing else seems to work.

So if the plan is adopted, is reaching functional zero homelessness in Kelowna a given? Of course not, nothing in this world is.

First off, this is not a done deal, although Kelowna council is pretty much bound to accept the Journey Home recommendations.

To do otherwise would be political suicide given they initiated the process with much fanfare and have given it tacit approval at various stages during its development.

But the timeline for the plan is six years more than enough time for subsequent city councils to modify the plan or change aspects of it or abandon it completely.

Certainly the vision put forth by Journey Home is also going require ongoing coordination and buy-in from lots of local non-profit groups which are the foundation of the homelessness response.

The level of cooperation they seem to be showing now has not always been the case and could go that way again.

Buy-in from us locals is necessary too, which means we need soon to start seeing a visible reduction in street homelessness. It is the marker by which the entire safety net will be judged.

There is a municipal election in less than six months, too little time to expect immediate results, so it cannot serve as a referendum on the success of Journey Home.

So given homelessness and its attendant issues have supplanted traffic and taxes as the top concern of Kelowna residents, is the Journey Home plan enough to return the current crop of councillors to office next October? It just might be.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.


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