Letter: In 2018, it’s time to vote for Kelowna’s homeless

The homeless of Kelowna are being batted around for political advantage.

To the editor:

All-candidates meetings have not yet begun, but one observation can already be made about the race for the mayor’s office. The homeless of Kelowna are being batted around for political advantage.

It would be wrong to say that former bylaw officer Bob Schewe or former Chamber president Tom Dyas got it started. Rather, look to the ordinary people who write explosive letters to obliging media outlets, attacking the homeless as lazy, biohazardous, and dangerously criminal. The very sight of these humans of Kelowna causes exceptional offence to the furious letter-writers.

And look, too, to the writers of op-eds who harbour negative perceptions of the homeless and let such perceptions merge into a belief of actual threat. One recently wrote that the homeless appeared to him “a little crazy and potentially volatile” – not actually volatile, only potentially so. Speaking of the news office window pane dividing them from him, he imagined imminent incursion: “I just hope the glass holds.”

With no sense of irony the journalist then referenced a city survey that found 20 per cent of Kelowna residents “think” downtown is unsafe, and a Chamber poll that found 82 per cent of downtown businesses “have concerns” over safety and security. There’s nothing to indicate that these thoughts or concerns differ from those of the letter-writer who urgently penned two paragraphs about a man in underwear on Leon St. who “repulsed” her, just blocks away from the beach where everyone is in their underwear. She spent more words describing the drug-addled – one glaring with arms folded, one stumbling – protesting on behalf of all those who are “scared for our lives to go downtown.”

Serious crime in Kelowna as measured by the Crime Severity Index actually decreased in 2017 due to a decline in robbery. The city’s crime rate indeed remains high, but this measurement includes far lesser offences such as bike thefts. The RCMP has explained further that the crime rate should be taken “with a grain of salt” because tourism inflates the population by 1.6 million over the year. When those Chamber approved visitors arrive, there’s an increase in everything from property crime to traffic violations.

Bob Schewe has stepped into the fray almost singularly focused on the “offensive and unsafe” condition of the downtown. Our parks, he says, “have turned into an uncivilized arena with associated transient presence and their activities.” His platform moves in several directions, involving creation of a new loitering bylaw, closure of the Cornerstone homeless shelter, getting the “qualifying homeless” into permanent housing, and increasing policing for the rest.

Tom Dyas has served notice to Colin Basran: he thinks Basran has been a weak leader, Dyas will be a strong leader, the city is a business, Dyas is a strong business leader, and the downtown core is a “major issue” to contend with.

As president of the Chamber of Commerce, Dyas produced many prepared statements about the downtown homeless that displayed a humanitarian streak. But in one meandering podcast last year, he went off that message, repeating several times that the downtown had to be cleared of congregated, uncontrolled homeless people in order to “revitalize” the area for future development.

It can be argued that Dyas showed considerable ruthlessness in blindsiding his good friend Basran by running against him. One can only wonder how ruthless he will be in implementing his downtown eradication plan. Basran-the-Weak increased the hours per day to 24 when the homeless could be fined for sitting or sleeping on sidewalks, confiscated shopping carts full of homeless people’s possessions, increased policing, created a bylaw to punish those donating money to the homeless at intersections and bottles to them at bottle depots, and got out there with sidewalk washing machines to create the perception of washing something away. If Dyas-the-Strong is given the chance, what will he think up?

A race to the bottom to satisfy ignorant populist demands and craven business imperatives does not make Kelowna a better place. Instead, intelligent, compassionate solutions to homelessness such as the Journey Home Strategy are needed. Contrary to their worst selves, Dyas served as a member of the Journey Home task force to plan the initiative and Basran voted to adopt the strategy once it was prepared. It’s time for Dyas and Basran to get a firm fix on their better selves. In 2018, we all need to vote for the homeless.

Dianne Varga

Kelowna, BC

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