Last week’s decision of Saskatchewan to give two homeless young men bus tickets and put them on a bus to Vancouver drew shock and scorn across the country. Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang called the move “inhuman” and “callous” given that the two men had no support network in B.C., and one had mental health issues.
Whether Saskatchewan made the right decision, the two men had also made the choice to come to B.C. For them, the grass was greener in B.C.
Closer to home in Kamloops, many have noted that there seems to be more street people in Kamloops. They are especially noticeable in the downtown area and along Tranquille Road. The different meal programs and other support services, such as Pit Stop and the New Life Community are bursting at the seams.
As soon as a new program to address homeless starts up, the program is filled with new arrivals from outside of Kamloops.
Some have suggested that Kamloops is just “too good”, and that homeless people are coming here because of the services the city provides. Perhaps that’s the case, but there is likely more to it than that.
First, Kamloops is home to Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, one of only nine provincial correctional facilities. Currently there is only one other facility in the Interior at Prince George, with a second being built in the Okanagan. When inmates are discharged from the facility, many choose to stay in Kamloops. There are services here such as drug treatment centres which will help them on their road back to the straight and narrow. They often don’t have strong connections with their home community, and staying in Kamloops is as good as anywhere they might go to. People coming out of KRCC often end up on the streets. Even if they are from Kamloops, they may not be able to afford housing when they’re released.
People applaud the wages which go to the correction services employees. Having a correctional facility brings the benefit of many long term, stable jobs to Kamloops. There is also a responsibility to the released inmates in the community. Realistically, many will stay in Kamloops, and the city needs services to help them go from inmate to contributing member of the community.
Second, Kamloops is home to a major psychiatric facility. The majority of people who use mental health services in Kamloops work, have stable housing and go about their lives like everyone else. But there are some people with mental illness who can’t work, and have difficulty keeping housing. I know a young man, just like that, who has been homeless in Kamloops. Sometimes he has been able to keep a rental accommodation, sometimes he hasn’t. He grew up in Kamloops but his mother has died and he doesn’t have family support.
He is from here, but he has still experienced homelessness. Even if he has housing today, his housing may be lost tomorrow. Housing or no housing, he still belongs here.
Finally, whether you read Statistic Canada’s reports, or you just take a drive up the North Thompson or into the Cariboo, you can tell that small towns around Kamloops are shrinking. There is less and less to do in small towns. There are fewer and fewer jobs and services. There are people, with or without jobs and housing moving from rural areas into Kamloops. Just as people who are better off choose to move to Kamloops from rural areas, people who are homeless do too. If there were opportunities in smaller towns around Kamloops, people, homeless or not, would be moving in larger numbers to those places.
Homeless people come to Kamloops for the similar reasons as people who have housing. For services such as healthcare and employment opportunities. They stay in Kamloops because the options elsewhere aren’t better.
It may seem a burden that there seems to be more and more homeless people in Kamloops. But cutting services isn’t the solution. No matter who someone is, once they arrive in Kamloops, this is their home. We have to find ways of supporting them and helping move them from homeless to housed.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.