LETTER: Sick of narrow-minded response to homelessness in Vernon

Give Your Head A Shake, Vernon

I have been reading lots of opinions in the Morning Star about the current drug, crime and homeless issues affecting Vernon and I have to say the majority of them make me sick.

Instead of having meaningful dialogue about how to effectively address the root causes of these issues, Vernonites choose to pontificate about bylaws restricting where the homeless can be, the “lack” of police or community watch groups, the need for more surveillance downtown, and even one Vernonite has gone so far as to suggest we suspend the Charter rights of the homeless in order to more effectively deal with them.

All of these so-called solutions cause more harm not only to those already living in the margins of our community but to our community itself. We must instead ask ourselves: what causes people to turn to drugs, crime and homelessness?

People turn to drugs for a variety of reasons including mental health issues, physical or sexual abuse, stress, loneliness, low-economic status, predisposition to addiction and many others. Once someone has become addicted to drugs or even alcohol they will then do whatever is necessary to get their fix. Enter crime and homelessness.

So why is this happening in Vernon?

Firstly, housing prices have been steadily climbing making it harder for low-income individuals and families to find affordable housing.

Yet instead of addressing this issue head-on, Vernon city council seems content to continue approving large developments, such as Turtle Mountain, that only serve to push housing costs higher.

Where are the multi-story apartment buildings? Where are the rent controlled buildings?

Secondly, the city is not trying to solve these issues, they’re trying to manage them. There are innovative solutions across this country we can look to instead.

In Hamilton, Ont., the police have partnered with a local hospital to create the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team. This specialized unit, made up of one officer and one mental health professional, responds to 911 calls involving mental health issues to better assist these at-risk individuals by providing the resources and help they need rather than just throwing them in jail.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates that, depending on the community, 23 to 67 per cent of homeless people suffer from mental health issues.

What then is the point of more police, more community watch groups and more surveillance?

These are complex issues but they are not impossible to fix. They require this community to come together with forward thinking solutions, not the antiquated authoritarian suggestions we have seen so far.

Remember: those living in the margins of our community and of society are human beings too. They are someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, mom or dad. We must treat them with the same respect and dignity that we would want our loved ones treated with should they, God forbid, ever find themselves in that position.

Ryan Kolman,

Vernon

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