From Kamloops to downtown Vernon to Kelowna to Penticton — we have some serious problems.
Homelessness is of course a problem on its own, one we have addressed many, many times. But that's not what I am talking about. I could call them homelessness problems, but that word is insufficient. Among that catch-all term are drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill or some combination. It also catches a growing number of people who are trying their best but simply can no longer afford a place to live.
We need better words for this because they are not all the same and when people complain about the homeless, that’s usually not what they mean and it's not what I mean. This is not an attack on the homeless, it’s an attack on the attendant criminal behaviour and blight on neighbourhoods and parks and a growing list of no-go areas for the residents and citizens of our communities created by some of these citizens.
These are, by and large, wealthy communities. Homeowners from Kamloops to Penticton have amassed incredible nest eggs simply through home ownership that has grown two- three- or four-fold in value in the last 20 years.
I sense a great willingness on the part of many people to help their fellow man. We call on our local governments to not criminalize people just for being homeless and just look at some of the steps we have taken in recent years.
City parks are now a constitutional safe-haven for homeless people to set up camp if no shelter beds exist and I don’t hear too many complaints. Our societies make needles available to drug users and we even offer safe places for people to do those drugs. And I hear more applause than grumbling.
We have shelters and soup kitchens and welfare and affordable housing and transition housing and legions of people to offer assistance.
We still have a long way to go but we are educated on harm reduction and we understand it’s a better way.
But if things keep going as they are, the people we rely on to make all this possible — the people who pay for all this with taxes — are going to get fed up, if they aren’t already.
Homelessness should never be criminalized. Simply sleeping outdoors is not a crime. But again a distinction is required because crime is still prevalent.
Vehicle break-ins, stolen vehicles, stolen bicycles are crimes of opportunity and we simply have a lot more people seeking that opportunity. We hear this almost daily from the North Thompson to the South Okanagan. It's so prevalent in Penticton, the RCMP has given up on thefts from vehicles.
That’s on top of garbage and waste. Complaints about the danger of discarded needles are surely overblown, but they make our cities and streets look dirty and dangerous, not just to residents but tourists as well.
No one suggests these issues are easily dealt with, quite the opposite. But add it all up and we’re surging towards a critical mass of people who do not feel safe in the cities they and their families and friends built.
This is what we get for helping people in their times of need?
In Vernon, things are already boiling over. One local businessman was fined $100 for taking a shopping cart full of someone’s belongings to the nearby shelter. He got that fine because the John Howard Society shelter called bylaw officers to report him and offered to testify if the matter goes to court.
This business owner, who pays personal taxes, as well as business taxes, who contributes to the vibrancy of that city by keeping his business doors open and employing other citizens just got taxed again. Some downtown merchants pay another sort of tax through private security just to keep an eye on the place after hours.
And this is how he is treated? Not even by the homeless, but by homeless advocates? Exactly what are you doing there? Rather than advising patrons of the self-sustaining importance of being a good neighbour, a good citizen, rather than encouraging their charges to clean up after themselves and perhaps reward their neighbours by not making themselves a nuisance — you heap another burden on the very people who make this all this charity possible?
That one foolish act has perhaps done more to endanger the homeless than anything else I've seen.
There’s a growing concern that all this charity work is like feeding birds — our charitable nature attracts more people to come and take advantage. Again, across this province and perhaps across Canada, I see people happy to help.
But if we can’t control the crime, the mess, the damage to our communities, to our reputations, our feeling of community and safety, concerns about homelessness are going to give way to another kind of revolt.
And that won’t be good for anyone.
— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca