As winter closes in on the North Okanagan it’s hard to ignore the plight of the homeless in our community. We’re told the number is around 150, but that’s just the ones we can see. The real number is likely much higher as there are likely many who haven’t made it to actually living on the street yet.
Despite Vernon city councillor Juliette Cunningham’s contention that she and other social agencies are “working every day on this” not a lot seems to be happening. The plight of the homeless continues to affect all of us to one degree or another, but as the weather worsens, the real victims here are the homeless themselves.
Thankfully there are social agencies and volunteers working in the interim to assist as best they can. Still others rack their brains, search their souls, write thought provoking letters and circulate petitions in their search for a solution.
In his well written letter of Nov 3, Barry Dorval did an excellent job of articulating the fact that these are our fellow human beings, worthy of our assistance, just as we would be were the shoe on the other foot. Greg Hesford (Nov. 5) goes on to remind us that there are resources all around us that could potentially be utilized if we could just mobilize the right combination of people and agencies to make it happen.
But is it do-able? Can such cooperation occur? Do enough people care enough about the homeless to make it happen and would such efforts have a positive effect if they did? I say the answer is yes, yes and yes!
Medicine Hat, Alberta is a small city, similar to our own in many ways. In 2009 they embarked on a five-year program to eliminate homelessness in their city. Five years later (actually six, they waited an extra year just to make sure) they were able to declare the project a success. The first city in North America to do so.
Rather than provide more temporary shelters and ladle out more soup (although that continues to be part of the program) they created and implemented a program whereby no homeless person sleeps rough (on the street) for more than three nights and spends no more than seven days in a homeless shelter before being placed on a waiting list for permanent accommodation. In other words, nobody remains truly homeless in Medicine Hat for more than 10 days.
There are no strings attached. No first staying clean or getting a job or promising to get counselling. Once properly housed though, many do in fact start to make efforts at resolving the issues in their lives that lead to their homelessness. And while some will continue to cycle through the system, there are actually some success stories emerging.
And, for the fiscally responsible who really only care about how much this is going to cost, there’s good news as well. It turns out it costs about half as much to house these people as it does to provide them with the emergency services they require while living on the street.
The program has been so successful that it was reported on in the New York Times. Check it out. I know the naysayers are already warming up their laptops to present all the reasons why this can’t possibly be true or work here in Vernon. However, rather than getting all caught up in negativity, I would call on my fellow citizens to do their homework. Then let’s get the ball rolling on this problem. I’m confident there are many in this region who would gladly give of their time and energy to implement a similar program, and I would start out by placing my name at the head of that list.
Ron Munro, Armstrong