Letter: Housing First puts ‘horse behind the cart’

It is a wishful hope that free housing…will somehow motivate people off drugs and back on the straight and narrow path to recovery

To the editor:

After months of behind closed door planning, the scheme has finally hatched. In the name of compassion, [Kelowna city] council is asked to effectively displace low income senior citizens in order to accommodate untreated, homeless, mentally ill drug addicts.

Thankfully, timely alerts have been sounded by our local newspapers (It Starts With A Home, Barry Gerding, March 11 Kelowna Capital News).

This is more than a frivolous matter with major potential consequences for our community.

The Housing First movement urges us to put the cart before the horse. It is a wishful hope that free housing, without treatment commitment, will somehow motivate people off drugs and back on the straight and narrow path to recovery. So called experts claim it’s not fair to ask homeless people to prove their worth as citizens before moving them into housing. They all speak of benefits yet no one speaks of consequences.

What is not fair is the displacement involved in giving addicts without commitment a place in line with all low income persons.

And what about fairness to the community? What about the landlords and neighbouring tax payers stuck with the continual repair and security costs? What about the safety concerns of children, seniors and other more vulnerable people? What about loss of enjoyment along with depreciated economic values? What about policing the even less desirables who hang around and supply drugs to the housing facility? What about the loss of tax revenues from business displacement and devalued properties? What about the unrecoverable loss of healthy communities?

Housing First is a social experiment of extremely high risk. They hold high the ‘compassionate approach’ flag in its lobby as a non-profit venture. There is much more to it than a simple reduction in the number of people sleeping on the street.

There is already a high cost in dealing with the unpredictable behaviour of persons with untreated mental illness and/or addiction. A high concentration of people with risk behaviour issues amounts to institutional housing. It is the thin edge of a wedge that will lead to the establishment of a multitude of related social service providers. Housing First is a simplistic solution that will effectively multiply the problems of economic and social costs to the surrounding community.

It is urgent that you take a closer look at what is being sold here.

Housing First is an abandonment of well-reasoned efforts for more low income housing. It advocates priority to the homeless, with untreated mentally ill and unresolved drug/alcohol addiction issues. It is an abandonment of carrot/stick or reward/punishment as a motivating force in changing the lifestyle of those needing to make batter choices. It is a program for failure and, as such, it is not supportable.

The displacement of worthy residents, low income or otherwise, for a risky large scale social experiment such as this is totally unacceptable.

The best proven policy is one of ‘tough love:’ Proven treatment compliance first before long term housing support.

We all know the bad apple analogy. We should also understand the issue of enablement. Adoption of Housing First involves tacit approval and complicity in perpetuating antisocial or destructive behaviour. It provides comfort without obligation for positive change. Teaching people how to fish rather than providing them daily with free fish is a form of tough love. Certainly, helping people to make better choices involves much more than wishful thinking and free hand outs.

Ian R. Sisett, Kelowna


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