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Social service agencies shed crocodile tears over demise of Kelowna Drop In Centre

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 | 8:30 am

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Christine Walsh (left) drug policy coordinator for the Central Okanagan Regional District and Shelagh Turner, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association.


By John McDonald

This much I know to be true. Unless an angel comes out of nowhere, the Kelowna Drop In and Information Centre, a street-level service provider for the homeless, will cease to exist March 31 after almost 30 years in business. The building is up for sale and staff have been told they may not have jobs beyond that date.

I also know that a raft of other service providers say the impending closure is “unfortunate” and have declared they are working together to ensure “that vulnerable people will not be left behind or forgotten.” They have vowed to plug the holes left behind behind by the centre’s demise.

I know this because Christene Walsh, the drug policy coordinator for the Central Okanagan Regional District held a hastily-convened press conference yesterday in the administration offices of the Kelowna Gospel Mission to tell the media as much. The Gospel Mission is one of the key players in town, along with other social service agencies such as Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, Canadian Mental Health Association, Living Positive Resource Centre, John Howard Society, NOW Canada and Crossroads Treatment Centre.

Walsh made appropriate noises about how the goal of the surviving agencies was to minimize disruption of services to the the homeless and how they had the capacity to absorb the loss of the drop in centre, even though there is a minimal overlap and duplication, don’t you know.

Despite Walsh’s assertion that her mandate is to promote ongoing collaboration and communication between these agencies, the best word she could come up with to describe the demise of the drop in centre was “unfortunate”, and the main thrust of their message was how imperative it is to make sure that a $50,000 B.C. Housing breakfast program contract stays in the Central Okanagan. Can you say crocodile tears?

Do you need more proof that these agencies get along in name only? The Kelowna Drop In Centre was conspicuous by its absence at a press conference called to discuss its impending doom. Walsh says the Drop In Centre was invited, but never showed up. The Drop In Centre says it heard about the press conference from the media and was invited at the last minute as a clear afterthought.

I’d better hope that I never become homeless, get addicted, develop a mental illness or acquire HIV, because for what I’m about to say next, I’ll likely end up dying alone from full-blown AIDS, lying in the gutter, craving a fix while listening to the screaming voices in my head.

Part of the problem for these social service agencies, I believe, is the social service agencies themselves. There is inevitable duplication and overlap of services when a bunch of non-governmental organizations, with differing ideologies and mandates, vie for the same set of government service contracts.

For proof of this, I had to look no further than the press conference, where the 10 heads of 10 different agencies, nodded their collective heads in agreement with Walsh’s statement about duplication of services.

I’m just guessing, but between them all, they would draw a salary of at least $600,000 a year. How about we merge the service providers, hire one of them as boss, can the other nine executive directors and hire them back as managers?

That alone would likely save enough money to keep the Kelowna Drop In Centre from going under.

Digging a bit deeper, you would likely find similar duplication of services within these agencies. It might not necessarily be on the front lines, but in the back shop where, say, 10 different accountants prepare 10 different financial statements and do 10 different payrolls. Or 10 different purchasers order 10 small-lots of such basics as toilet paper and sticky notes, losing out on the economy of scale.

I don’t really blame these agencies for the mish-mash mess of services and duplication that exists in Kelowna and other communities.

For that, I finger the provincial government, which has left this critical sector to fight amongst each other for the reluctant crumbs it chooses to sweep off the cabinet table.

With one stroke of the legislative pen, the government could create the Social Service Health Authority and give it the mandate to oversee the delivery of these services across the province.

One of Premier Gordon Campbell’s first acts in power, was to create the regional health authority system. It was supposed to end the duplication of services and internecine squabbling that existed amongst the dozens of community health councils, hospital boards and health regions that delivered health care in B.C.

I suspect ideology is the reason the Campbell government has left this sector in turmoil.

At the root of it, even though the government has made plenty of noise about ending homelessness and has even spent some money creating housing, I think the Liberals still view chronic homelessness and addictions as moral failings on the part of the individual.


Social service agencies shed crocodile tears over demise of Kelowna Drop In Centre3.259

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11 Responses to “Social service agencies shed crocodile tears over demise of Kelowna Drop In Centre”

  1. Steve T says:
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    I couldn’t agree more. It’s like news websites…how many does anyone really need. Let’s fire everyone involved in them, then hire them back at lower jobs when we consolidate them all into one website. I am assuming that John is going to be first in line to sacrifice his job since this was his ideology after all.

    Heck, this story alone was covered by no less than 5 news agencies…that kind of duplication of services makes not for profits and health care agencies look slim and efficient.

    Thanks for pointing out what you see in a mirror John.

    2 major pieces to this story – the sad loss of the drop in centre and the coming together of no less than 10 organizations do come together to ensure that the needs of people continue to be met. SO much to talk about, and you focus on your little rant.

    Oh well, when you get “canned” and brought back maybe they will make you an opinion writer. That’s not a duplication of services. I mean sure, everyone has one, but they are all unique.

  2. Sheila says:
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    I had to double-check which website I was reading. John, is that you? The blatantly biased and non-objective investigative reporting style, compounded by an apparent lack of understanding and a bad case of can’t-see-the-trees-for-the-forest, and peppered with unprofessionalism, had me almost convinced that I was reading a piece by Kelly Hayes of Castanet.

    Taking cheap shots at an individual based on stereotypes around accent or place of origin isn’t cool, don’t you know.

  3. StrongWomanStanding says:
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    Dear Mr. know it all!!
    I am Hiv +, Hep c+, have a mental illness, was homeless, was addicted to heroin and crack for years. If it was not for services like the Kelowna drop in Centre I would not be 9 years clean and sober, I would not be attending college, I would not be employed, and I would deffinately not be in the best health I have ever been in!!!!! These Services save peoples lives and I hope you daughter or son never has to ask these places for help, because they just might not be there anymore!!!

  4. The Realist says:
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    Finally John is done with his fluff pieces. I guess no one from any of these agencies offered to take him out for dinner. Good work here John.

  5. Heather says:
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    Yes there is a problem with overlapping services whoever there are those clientel that go ONLY to the Gospel Mission because of how it is run. Then there are those that are only comfortable going to the Kelowna dropin . Some of the policies for these services allow the people to come in under the influnce while others dont. I dont think any of the servicesother than the drop in offer showers to both men and women. With the drop in center closing there ARE gaps in the system. Since one system alone is not perfect the overlapping is an effective way to be sure all people that are on the streets no matter their gender/addiction or any other discriminating factor may be. Just like we have overlappingservices in the business sector so too does the social service sector. It takes more than one mind to deal with all their is thats involved with the support of getting people off the streets.

  6. Concerned Citizen says:
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    The non profit structure in Kelowna does not work. It pits social service agencies against one another in a competition for inadequate funding dollars. This structure results in non-profits protecting resources to the extent where other service providers and clients may be unaware of existing programs. In the 1980s, licensing set a standard of care – it went a long way to ensure quality service and continuation of funding. That system has been disassembled. In its place there is confusion, uncertainty, competition and a lack of accountability.

  7. Doug R says:
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    Interesting article John. I love it when people with an ounce of knowledge spike the truth with a pound of hype. Truth is, those agencies at the front of the room save the butts of thousands of people just like you every year. At the front of the room were several advanced degrees in disciplines such as economics, social work and business. Collectively they have a couple of hundred years years experience in service development and design. Yet somehow a fool with a website knows enough to slag truly helpful people. The truth is non-profit management is a highly entrepreneurial job, requiring accomplished managers to raise millions of dollars each year from their skill and credibility. Staff are generally underpaid and overworked, and if the government took over it would cost triple to provide the same level of service.
    As a manager the job is to garner resources for your programs. Truth is, the management of the Drop In Centre did not raise the funds necessary to continue the service.
    That’s all.
    Do your job John – engage your brain and ask the right questions.
    This was one of the most shoddy articles by a paid reporter I have ever read. Talk about a waste of money!

  8. Mary says:
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    How about we take all the money that is given in corporate welfare to help the homeless in this country and eradicate child poverty in this province which is the worst in all of Canada.

    The sad thing is that these agencies are competing with each other for funding so the divide and conquer mentality seems to work and in the end it hurts the homeless and no one else.

    The other point is Gordon Campbell does not care about the poor he is there to fill the pockets of big business. Take a look at all the funding that has been cut since he has been in power.

    If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. Unknown

    It would be nice if the poor were to get even half of the money that is spent in studying them. ~Bill Vaughan

  9. Anita says:
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    This is journalism? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

  10. Karen (Abramsen) no last name says:
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    I totally concur with Mary. We should not be having agencies having to compete with each other for funding. Don’t we realize that adequate funding to deal with housing and mental health issues would do a lot to alleviate the homelessness problems. We are so short sighted and tend to measure everything based on the immediate bottom line. It costs less to provide housing for the homeless and adequate services for those with mental illness than it does to deal with the courts and justice system. The Kelowna Drop In Centre provided an anchor for so many and I am ashamed our community is not willing to fight to keep it open. .

  11. GD Star Rating

    Sorry to leave this message hear but I am looking for my brother harry Freison, whom I was told might be affiliated with the the friendship center there, If so can he be made aware of me n what I am doing, It would be Greatly appreciated , I have been looking for 24 yrs.

    Please continue discussion on the forum: link

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