Kelowna’s bid to tackle its growing homelessness problem is expected to result in a plan by this summer to deal with it over the next five years. But the plan won’t eradicate the problem altogether.
The city’s move, spearheaded by a 23-member task force put together last year and using the expertise of a nationally-recognized expert, is expected to be ready for council’s approval in June. But earlier this week, consultant Alina Turner, said it’s unrealistic to expect homelessness to ever be absolutely ended. Instead, she said, the goals are to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring in the city, have homes for all who need them and getting the homeless into accommodation within days of being identified.
“We want to introduce the concept of functional zero,” she said.
They are lofty goals. And, with an estimated 1,900 people in the city experiencing homelessness, tall orders.
But it can be done. One just needs to look to other, similar-sized communities like Medicine Hat, Alberta. It announced last year that it had eradicated homelessness there.
But, as Turner made clear to council on Monday, a plan alone is not be the answer. It’s a start, and very good one. But dealing with homelessness will take buy in and ongoing work by the entire community and, in many cases, from surrounding communities as well.
A coordinated effort, major capital investment in affordable housing and innovative thinking will be needed to help those who do not have a roof over their heads.
With property prices and rents skyrocketing here in recent years, as well as a very low rental vacancy rate, it remains to be seen if the people behind the plan can also get developers to buy in and agree to be part of the solution.
Kelowna has shown many times in the past it is quick to respond in times of crisis. But those responses have been to individual events that are easier to see and quantify. The overarching homelessness crisis is a much bigger, less defined and long-term emergency. But the need is no less urgent.
As Turner pointed out, attempts to address homelessness in the past have failed. It is hoped, by bringing in a wide array of people, representing all facets of the community, to work on the new plan will generate the buy-in required to make it work this time.
There’s no question Kelowna is a desirable place to be. But for those without a home, the promise the city offers is often out of reach.
The measure of a community is not how it treats those who have, but rather how it treats those who have not. It’s time the entire community steps up to help the people who need it the most and get behind this attempt to deal with what is arguably the biggest social problem facing the community today.
Dealing with homelessness will not be easy and it won’t come cheap. But it’s clear the need is there and now is the time to act.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.
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