Letter: Homeless need housing, not hounding

Mayor Basran, even low-barrier shelters … cannot accommodate all of those who end up homeless.

Open letter to Mayor Basran:

Thank you for your essay-type reply to some of the participants of our greeting card campaign.

In it, you say that the City of Kelowna does not intend to harass the homeless.

But almost in the same breath you say you know most of the homeless will not be able to pay the fines levied for sitting or lying on sidewalks.

If you know they cannot pay such fines, why are you fining them?

Obviously, that piles stress onto already stressed and highly vulnerable individuals, many of whom, according to statistics, have mental illness.

You say the bylaw is meant to prevent people from congregating on sidewalks and intimidating the public in the vibrant downtown business centre.

Just the other day a homeless person wrote a letter to the editor (Kelowna Capital News, Dec. 23, 2016) describing the prejudicial treatment she received from a downtown business owner.

Melanie and her shopping cart were no more intimidating than a ham sandwich, yet she, a paying customer at a laundromat, was shuffled off the premises for no reason other than she was homeless.

Is this business owner representative of the Downtown Kelowna Association membership, whose interests the city defends over the constitutional rights and freedoms of the homeless?

You have said the Gospel Mission is not at full capacity and has another location available should there be overflow.

Mayor Basran, even low-barrier shelters such as the Gospel Mission, Inn From the Cold and the Alexandra Gardner Women and Children Safe Centre cannot accommodate all of those who end up homeless.

Couples, people with pets, and active drug users can be left out in the cold.

Just as important, few emergency shelters offer 24-hour support. Inn from the Cold, for example, turns out its sheltered between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

These people inevitably end up sitting, crouching, lying and huddling on sidewalks at some point in what must seem a pointless, painful eternity.

The homeless need housing, not hounding from city bylaw officers and the police.

They needed it yesterday.

Thankfully the city is now engaged with homelessness, on its own and with partners.

But this does not excuse (the) harassment and criminalization of the homeless.

I call upon you to immediately end this blatantly discriminatory persecution.

Dianne Varga, Penticton


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