To the editor:
A solution to homelessness in Kelowna exists but is being ignored.
The City of Kelowna could implement a three per cent hotel room tax to raise $3 million annually to build and operate housing units for homeless residents in waterfront parks. The tax revenues would house, feed, educate and provide health care services and job training to unit residents. Buildings could have retail space to provide travel information, souvenirs and sunblock to tourists using the park to help offset building operating costs and enable the homeless to get a leg up in this world.
The city could use their considerable powers to make this happen with land use and zoning changes; nominal $50 leases for 30 years; and property tax exemptions. This important public land use is justified since homelessness creates no parking issues, has a negative impact on tourism, has huge public costs, parkland is under-utilized most of the year and, is revenue neutral to city taxpayers.
Helping the poor to help themselves is a very noble cause for both council and Tourism Kelowna to support. Tourism is a billion-dollar contributor to the Central Okanagan economy and an industry that continues to grow at a steady rate. With over 1.9 million visitors to Kelowna annually, the tourism industry contributes over $1.25 billion in total economic output. These benefits can and should be used to offset rising social costs created by both tourist growth, population growth and a speculative condo market.
Sound foolish or over the top? Not at all. This solution is basically the same one the City of Kelowna offered Tourism Kelowna to find a home for its Visitor Centre by relocating it to a downtown public waterfront park. There is no difference between helping the homeless with food, shelter and other issues to get ahead than there is in helping tourism operators get ahead. It is simply a matter of choosing which group to help.
This is an election year that could solve homeless issues. The City of Kelowna should give it’s 300 homeless residents the same opportunities and priorities it gave Tourism Kelowna’s 350 members. After all, what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.
Richard Drinnan, Kelowna