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Failing our homeless


Last week, I hosted a visiting MLA from another riding. She had asked for a tour that would highlight both the challenges Kelowna faces and the positive strides our community has made.


Eagerly, I showed her the KF Aerospace’s Centre of Excellence where she could explore the new airplanes and tour the museum section.


We visited Canco's new head office to understand their growth trajectory, a story rooted in modernizing gas stations into community hubs – replete with charging stations, food, and convenience stores. Her delight was palpable.


We toured Kelowna’s Gospel Mission, hearing about the incredible assistance they provide to our community. Besides housing and feeding those in need, they also support local businesses as they increase interactions with the homeless, an initiative that is truly inspirational. However, we also learned about their limitations. For the first time in their 50-year history, the demand for meals has surpassed what they can supply. Despite their tireless efforts, the Mission has been unable to provide meals for everyone in need.


We also confronted some less encouraging aspects.


A trip down the rail trail left the visiting MLA shocked. The staggering number of homeless individuals was simply overwhelming.


But this sight is common in other areas of our community. Tents, shopping carts, and people seeking shelter in alleys, parks, and alcoves have become an all-too-common sight.


The reality is that homelessness in Kelowna has increased, with numbers doubling over the past year, despite the addition of shelter beds to our community.


The root of this issue? The BC NDP's policies and governance are a direct contributor to the situation we see on our streets. Those struggling are evidence of the trajectory we are on.


Some are grappling with economic hardships, unable to make ends meet due to the high cost of living. Others are dealing with mental illness and, unable to find the necessary supports, resort to self-medication.


Many of these vulnerable individuals fall prey to those who exploit their predicament.


Are there those who choose to live on the street? Maybe. However, perhaps if hope, help, and a home were offered, their choice might be different. For those trapped in the grip of addiction, making sound choices becomes increasingly difficult.


Regardless of the reasons, it's clear that the government’s current approach isn't working.


Last week, the Minister of Housing addressed the Urban Development Institute. Mayor Tom Dyas had some pertinent questions for him, about what Kelowna needs in order to support those in need.


I support Mayor Dyas and his requests for funding and health supports to address this multifaceted issue.


As many will know, cities like Kelowna don’t have the financial or, in some cases, the jurisdictional capacity to address these kinds of problems head on.


Sadly, it seems that upper levels of government have been all too happy to downshift the responsibility to our cities.


It is beyond time that the BC NDP put forward a comprehensive, province wide action plan to help our homeless population find the shelter and assistance that is right for them.


I specifically said “action plan” because we don’t have time for another of the government’s vaunted ‘studies’. We know what the problem is and now we need to act.


Maya Angelou famously said: “If it is true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn't it also true a society is only as healthy as its sickest citizen and only as wealthy as its most deprived?”


I invite you to share your thoughts:


What do you believe should be done to address homelessness in Kelowna?


I love hearing from you and read every email that you write me.


You can email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call the office at 250-712-3620.

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