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JONESIE: Cowardice and finger-pointing aren't getting Kelowna an emergency winter shelter

November 28, 2019 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


What’s it going to take?

As I write this, it’s -8 C and about to get colder. That doesn’t even account for wind.

That’s probably when most of us reached for the thermostat to crank the heat in our cozy homes.

That should also be roughly the point when everyone stops with the questions about why people become homeless, why they are using drugs or not, whether they have stolen bikes or not, whether they deserve our help or not.

Because we are reaching the point when 50 to 100 homeless people sleeping outdoors in tents stop being merely uncomfortable and start worrying about waking up in the morning.

It’s well past the point the bureaucrats and elected officials in charge of this ridiculous situation start breaking a few rules and find a winter shelter for people without homes or options.

Kelowna is the only major city in the province without a winter emergency shelter.

The City of Kelowna and the B.C. government are pointing fingers at each other and no one is giving us the straight goods.

The provincial ministers involved are both shameless cowards on this.

Shane Simpson, the supposed minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction refuses to speak about it and hides behind statements carefully crafted by his communications people. Housing Minister Selina Robinson apparently has the same communications team writing say-nothing responses. She’s sure happy to brag about all the other winter shelters in the province, though.

Neither of them will stand up and be accountable. Their only words on this situation is to blame the City of Kelowna, saying it "has not yet decided on a site for a new temporary shelter.”

To his credit, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran has been more upfront, but even he’s holding a few cards back in explaining what's taking so long. He’s not wrong in saying this is a provincial responsibility but for some reason he’s the one on the hot seat while Robinson and Simpson cower in their Victoria offices.

He said Kelowna has looked and even found suitable space, but were turned down, presumably by private building owners who are apparently quite comfortable watching people freeze on the streets.

We hear rumours though, that B.C. Housing is offering only rock-bottom rates for this vital service, making it easy to turn down and hamstringing efforts to find the space.

Where’s everyone else? Maybe when MLA Norm Letnick is done accepting meaningless petitions, he can try putting a little pressure on. Now that he and Steve Thomson don’t have government money to hand out, they’ve been invisible on issues that matter.

Where’s Interior Health? When addicts die, they can muster emergency protocols and deploy small armies to hand out needles and naloxone kits, buy RVs and challenge the entire public perception of harm reduction. Even little things like the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act won’t get in their way while they harbour drug use.

Where’s Provincial Emergency Preparedness? If you or I have a house fire, they’ll provide Emergency Social Services to get you food, clothes and a hotel room or place to stay for 72 hours.

At what point is this an emergency that gets them shelter? Can’t the City of Kelowna or the province declare an emergency and transport those people living in tents to a hotel room?

Will it be when someone freezes to death?

We put that question to Basran and to his credit, he answered it.

“My hope is not,” Basran said. “We’ve provided heaters and blankets and we’re doing everything we can to keep people alive and pursue every option possible to create a temporary indoor shelter for the winter.”

I don’t doubt it. From all accounts we’ve heard, the City has been doing its best to broker a space on behalf of B.C. Housing. But we also hear that even if space is found, it could take weeks for an operating non-profit agency to hire staff and ramp up service — if any of them are even prepared to do it.

That alone should make this an emergency — considering it’s now nearly December — requiring the bureaucrats to abandon their precious paper trails and do something.

But so far, it appears that’s what will have to happen.

And Shane Simpson and Selina Robinson — good luck ducking questions when it does.

— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca

News from © iNFOnews, 2019
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