Kelowna’s priority at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler this week is to gain provincial support—and money—for its ambitious, multi-year, multi-million dollar plan to address homelessness.
Mayor Colin Basran said the effort to pry funding from the province to support the Journey Home Strategy includes a number of face-to-face meetings with provincial ministers, including the ministers of health, social development and poverty reduction, mental health and addictions and municipal affairs and housing.
“My message to all of them is, what we need is the province to help get people into housing so they can then get the support they need,” said Basran.
The Journey Home Strategy is a five-year plan to end homelessness in Kelowna. It is currently being implemented by a city appointed task force, which council approved earlier this year. Using a “housing first model,” the plan looks to house those on the street and then get them the support they need and treatment for issues such as mental health problems and addiction if they are needed.
Despite the city moving forward with the strategy and the local RCMP increasing downtown patrols to address growing concerns about open drug use and other problems, several candidates running in the current civic election campaign have complained the city, in their estimation, is not doing enough deal with the issue.
Basran said he wants to find out from the ministers how Kelowna can access funding to help build the 300 new units of long-term supportive housing the Journey Home plan calls for, as well as provide 500 new program spaces for treatment.
He said it has been shown that a housing first approach works and is an effective way of then getting people who need it into support programs to deal with mental health and addiction, both of which are often prevalent among those living on the street.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities convention gathers municipal politicians from across the B.C. to share ideas, meet and talk each other as well as provincial politicians, and,as a group, call on Victoria to support specific calls.
Basran said the issues of homelessness, mental health and addiction, crime, people sleeping on the street and discarded needles is not specific to his city.
“This is a crisis, a serious issue faced across North America” he said after attending a meeting of B.C. mayors at the convention earlier this week.
“Kelowna is not facing these issues in isolation.”
He said it is also not new.
“It’s been building for decades,” he said.
In response to current candidates who are pointing a finger at his council for not doing enough to deal with issues, he said no one person or one council can end the problems on the street. It will take a combined effort involving all levels of government, as well as the community, said Basran.
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