Homelessness & Mental Health
In 2018, Mayor and Council helped launch the Journey Home initiative. The goal was to achieve “functional zero” – a state that describes a situation where homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring – in Kelowna by 2023.
Several hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested into an initiative that did not deliver the results it set out to accomplish. In fact, homelessness and crime rates have soared to new highs. It’s time for a new approach.
A New Approach:
After meeting with representatives from the Kelowna Gospel Mission, Metro Community, John Howard Society and many other hard working good intentioned social service organizations, I have heard various reasons why we have a homelessness and mental health crisis in our community. The bottom line is that we can’t continue doing the same thing and expect a different result. That is the definition of insanity! Some say it was a societal failure of closing down Coquitlam Riverview Hospital several decades ago. Although the living conditions were not ideal, it was safe and better than living on the street. The facility had gardens, a gymnasium, as well as recreational and vocational training; things that are not available to persons residing on the street.
As a community, we need to rally to construct a “Campus of Care” where people with mental health issues can be loved and cared for by professionally trained staff on a 24/7 basis. In addition, those with severe addictions should have the option to enter a detox program, followed by a range of treatment options using a step-down approach – inpatient care, to residential/community treatment followed by supportive housing or independent housing, depending on the required level of continuing care. Interior Health should be offering the complete “wrap around services” as per the proven Portugal model.
Complex Care Facility in Kelowna:
Mayor Basran has stated numerous times that he is working with the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus and the provincial government to build a complex care pilot project in community. Where is the facility? The situation has gotten worse instead of better. We don’t need to spend additional money on consultants, pilot projects or more “wet facilities”. As your Councillor, I will be a strong advocate for those in need. I believe stronger and more effective advocacy work can and should be taking place. We need to rally the community around this issue – with leadership from our local government.
Mayor and Council have tried with limited success. I believe stronger, more persistent and passionate leadership needs to take place to make this happen. According to front line workers, the opioid epidemic – with its rising substance use issues and associated complex needs – is absorbing the capacity of the non-profit housing sector (particularly shelter providers), leading to operational stress. Central to this issue is the lack of supportive housing in the region to help individuals recover from their substance use issues and related trauma. Poverty, homelessness, and societal exclusion are factors that make people physically and mentally ill. People who are homeless face increased discrimination, violence and other harms. The longer homelessness persits, the more physical, mental and spiritual health challenges an individual has. Day to day living becomes focused on survival and meeting very basic needs. Despite being complex issues, other communities have had much more success dealing with these issues. These are the examples we need to look to in order to formulate our plan of action.
Looking outside Canada for success:
European cities like Vienna, Austria and Helsinki, Finland and US cities Columbus, Ohio, as well as Salt Lake City, Utah are examples of cities that have solved homelessness almost entirely. If we want to end homelessness in Kelowna, we must learn from their models and policies. It is essential to realize that we don’t want a society where people live and die on the streets. Once we understand that, it becomes easier to start taking steps to solve this problem. We can’t keep blaming the provincial or federal governments and saying it is their responsibility, when the problem is in our own backyard.