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Weldon LeBlanc: Homelessness – whose problem is it anyway?

Friday, February 12th, 2010 | 2:38 pm

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By Weldon LeBlanc

Homelessness – whose problem is it anyway? The answer is simple…it’s everyone’s problem. Arriving at a solution however is a much more difficult challenge.

The business community in Kelowna has been criticized in recent days and told to step up and do more to address homelessness. The fact is, you can’t just tee-off on the business community. The root causes of homelessness are complex with no ‘silver bullet’ solution. The solutions involve service providers, government, citizens and the business community.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Regular surveys are conducted in Kelowna to determine the number of homeless people. Recorded numbers of homeless people in Kelowna are as follows (these are considered ‘absolute homeless’ living in formal shelters or on the street):

November 2004 there were 290 people in shelters and 130 living on the street (420 total). This was up from a total of 221 in April of that year.

April 2007 Kelowna had 119 people in shelters and 150 people on the street (total 279).

December of 2009 there were 125 people in shelters, but no recorded number for those on the street.

These numbers give a snapshot of the ‘absolute homeless’, but it is not considered the true number of homeless in Kelowna.  It does not take into account those considered ‘relative homeless’; these people are living in inadequate conditions or are living in housing that they are unable to remain in over time.

As of last week, the accepted number by those who work on the frontlines indicates the homeless number (absolute and relative) in Kelowna at over 600 people.

In 2007, Richard Harris (Central City Concern) of Portland, Oregon was invited as a keynote speaker in Kelowna. Following the luncheon, an afternoon forum was held with business and community stakeholders to address homelessness.

The mission of Central City Concern is to provide pathways to self-sufficiency through active intervention in poverty and homelessness.  Central Cities approach to reducing homelessness is summarized in four key points:
Housing that is supportive of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction
Positive peer relationships fostered through involvement in a community of people in recovery
Attainment of legitimate income, through meaningful employment or accessing available benefits
Transformation of world view and self image from a negative to a positive outlook, enabling people to become productive citizens who want to “give something back” to the community
Central City Concern has “developed a comprehensive continuum of affordable housing options integrated with direct social services including healthcare, recovery and employment.” They employ 460 staff, an annual operating budget of $33 million serving 15,000 individuals annually. These resources are staggering and indicate the magnitude of the resources needed to address homelessness in Kelowna.

Harris used the Portland example as a possible solution for Kelowna. He noted that as a community, we need to develop a long-term strategy that would address the need for affordable (and sustainable) housing, resources to deal with the challenges of addictions and mental illness, and provide employment to ensure sustainable living off of the street.

Create affordable housing, create jobs, and provide services to assist people in recovery; not an easy solution…but not impossible.  It won’t happen overnight.

A “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness” has been prepared.  Affordable housing is a key issue…and it’s being built. Let’s continue to work with our service providers and our elected officials to address the root issues of homelessness.  We have political will, a caring community, and we have awareness that a problem exists.  We are on the right path.

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