Waters: Homeless protest magnifies the problem in Kelowna

Work is being done to address homelessness but results re not coming fast enough for many

Solving the problem of homelessness in Kelowna — if even achievable — is a long-term project.

But tackling the issue and showing initial results is something that can be done with more immediacy.

While some will argue the city’s five-year Journey Home initiative, aimed at addressing homelessness in Kelowna, has already shown early signs of success with a sharp increase in social housing in recent years, others point to a growing tent city along the lower black of Leon Avenue downtown as proof not enough is being done.

For some, the promised results of Journey Home are not coming fast enough.

Earlier this week a group called the Alliance Against Displacement came to town to publicly call for more help for those living on the street in Kelowna.

During a gathering with the media, the group’s spokeswoman listed four demands, including more housing, no unlawful searches of the tents many homeless use for shelter, street-side electric outlets so the homeless can heat their tents safely and more respect from the police.

While the protest was dismissed as a “frustrating distraction” by Journey Home officials, it highlighted a growing perception by many that the process currently being used is not providing results to help people on the street now.

Journey Home is a multi-pronged approach based on the “housing first” model that has been shown to work — get people who need housing into their own place first and then get them the services they need and there’s a better chance of success in the end.

But creating new housing takes time, and there is a cost.

Kelowna has fared remarkably well when it comes to the amount of social housing provided by the province in recent years. But every development has been met with opposition, particularly from perspective neighbours.

And, as was pointed out by many at the protest earlier this week, supportive housing alone is not the only answer. They want to see more housing options, especially as winter is just around the corner.

Given recent local history, and the current climbing property prices, finding more shelter space in Kelowna will be difficult short of the city buying buildings to create it.

In From The Cold, a long-time shelter in the city looked for a year to replace its building when it was forced out due to redevelopment and was unsuccessful. The shelter’s closure just added to the ongoing problem.

In the end, the Alliance Against Displacement protest did not tell the city anything its residents — both those with homes and those without — didn’t already know.

Kelowna has a problem and despite the work being done to alleviate it in the long-term, in the short-term it’s getting worse.

It’s not an abstract issue. Lives are literally at stake.

The aim of Journey Home is good and the people working to make it a success are genuinely doing their best. But short-term solutions need to found just as much as long-term ones.

The city prides itself in what it does for the betterment of those who live in Kelowna — particularly those who have. It needs to also show it can help those who don’t have.

Alistair Waters is a regional editor with Black Press in Kelowna.

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