Kelowna's next plan to address homelessness needs to be better

New plan for the homeless

I had so much hope for (Kelowna’s) Journey Home initiative when it started.

The Journey Home Society was to coordinate the efforts between BC Housing, non-profits, the Interior Health Authority and the city towards the plan for housing those without homes.

It had high aspirations and involved many great individuals in our community in the crafting of the policy and planning. With an unwavering dedication to achieving "functional zero" homelessness, the society had a vision for our city where people wouldn't be chronically unhoused.

Last week, the City of Kelowna announced that it would not be continuing it’s relationship with the society.

With such great vision and aspirations, this seems improbable. And yet, we need to face the bitter truth, something hasn't worked as it should have. Our parks, alleys and the Okanagan Rail Trail continue to be the dwelling places for many of our unhoused fellow residents. Despite adding shelter, the number of “street entrenched” individuals is growing.

As a community, we can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result.

I commend the mayor and council for taking the reins and trying something different. The city has said there will be a new plan this fall, and it is yet to be released. As I see it, there are several key areas I hope are included in the new direction.

First, we need to ensure greater coordination between all levels of government. Kelowna's homeless problem isn't one we can solve in isolation, or without the involvement of the provincial government.

We need strong, unified advocacy from our local, provincial and federal representatives, who can bring resources and policy changes that will directly benefit our community. Without all levels of government working in unison, our efforts will be fragmented and their impact reduced.

Second, transparency and outcomes-based initiatives should be our guiding principles. We need to clearly understand the initiatives we're undertaking, the outcomes we expect and how effectively those initiatives are meeting their objectives through reporting.

Openness and honesty in these efforts will build trust in the community and ensure we're channeling our resources where they will make the most difference. It’s difficult when even the report on the Journey Home Society used by council for its decision, has not been released to the public. The public needs to know what is being worked on and what the results are in order to increase accountability.

Lastly, a comprehensive plan is needed, rather than the current, less direct process of housing and care. We need a roadmap that considers not just housing, but also mental health services, addiction treatment, employment support and community integration. Only by addressing all the facets of homelessness can we hope to create lasting change.

Kelowna’s residents deserve a full system of care.

As we take stock of the situation, it's critical we acknowledge how our system is failing those who are homeless. By focusing solely on the provision of shelter, we are treating only the symptoms, not the root causes. To truly help our homeless population, we must provide the right solutions for their reintegration into housing and community.

In doing so, we need to remember every individual living on our streets, in our parks or on the rail trail, is a person with a unique story, deserving of our empathy, respect, and support.

As we strive for a Kelowna without homelessness, let's ensure our journey home is not just about a physical shelter, but also about the warmth, understanding and inclusivity of our community.

My question to you is this:

What would you like to see in the City of Kelowna’s new plan to address homelessness?

I love hearing from you and I read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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