Leon street, dry and wet houses, widespread drug abuse, a fentanyl crisis, people sleeping on benches, in parks, and on the steps of small businesses. This is not what a working social safety net looks like. If I'm elected, I will not be solving all of the problems around homelessness and drug abuse. I promise I will fight towards realistic goals to reduce homelessness, rehabilitate drug abuse, and protect residents from skyrocketing property crime in Kelowna. It's a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach, but most importantly, actual leadership and not just talking points.
My approach to the inventory problem is multifaceted. The most effective way for the city of Kelowna to increase inventory, is to have a comprehensive review of current zoning, specifically the effectiveness of RU7 zoning versus low to mid-rise housing achieved in RM5 or RM6 zoning.
Additionally, the city of Kelowna can leverage market forces aggressively. We have out of control rental rates and property values. However our industrial zoning is stuck twenty-years in the past. A key part of opening inventory throughout Kelowna, is working cohesively with industrial landowners and developers to convert existing vacant inventory into low to mid-rise high-density housing.
This doesn't eliminate the need for new and additional affordable housing units that BC Housing is planning to build. Affordable or supportive housing should be placed in communities with the right support infrastructure in place. Communities such as Rutland have carried far more than their share of supportive housing units, it's time to work with a broader plan for supportive housing that involves the city as a whole.
Health & Rehabilitation
Inventory is only the first step, with just as crucial a task being the health and rehabilitation of people suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues.
Interior Health already provides a wide range of services, including short-term assessment & treatment, long-term programs for those with a serious and persistent mental illness, as well as substance use prevention and treatment services designed to support clients in their recovery. We need to continue and adapt the available programs and services to the critical issues that underprivileged Canadians are facing. Whether that's revisiting the use and role of outpatient and support staff, or completely revisiting the way underprivileged residents interact with our medical services.
The city of Kelowna must have a unified approach to at both the provincial and federal level. The Liberal government dedicated $1.25 billion to fight homelessness, as well as $3 billion into more and better home care services for all Canadians. The BC provincial government has dedicated over $633 million for the 2022 year alone. Our city staff and council must advocate in partnership with Interior Health, to ensure our local institutions are able to access additional available funding. We must do everything we can to help scale Interior Health's infrastructure to better address homelessness and community health.
We cannot group all people experiencing either chronic or episodic homelessness with substance use & abuse. Although the rates of substance use are disproportionately higher among those experiencing homelessness, the issue cannot be explained by substance use alone. My aim is to ensure that there is a sufficient level of accessibile, professional care, for individuals with substance use issues that face insurmountable barriers to obtaining health care, including substance use treatment services and recovery supports. For those underprivileged Canadians that do not require any rehabilitive services, we must ensure we're improving access to healthcare, in the form of increased infrastructure for walk-in clinical needs as well as access to available family doctors.
There is an argument that housing should be a 'reward' for compliance with behavioural modifications. This means adherence to strict rules, intolerance of alcohol, drugs and compliance with medical treatment, i.e. showing and demonstrating a 'willingness to change' to reach the goal of rehousing. The reason I support the housing first model, beyond studies that demonstrate housing first participants perform significantly better in recovery, is the fact that I truly believe that an effective social-safety net helps restore dignity, not just hand-outs. By working to restore dignity to those underprivileged, and providing mechanisms for them to dictate their terms for recovery, we will witness a far greater long-term result for society.
Policing & Community Safety
The policing aspect surrounding persons experiencing homelessness, should be focused on policing criminal activity and supporting mental health incidents.
Studies support that there will be a significant reduction in small crimes and repeat criminal offenses by following a housing first strategy. One of the main components of opening up available inventory, is that property will not be owned by government entities. Restoring freedom and dignity is the first step to mitigating the root causes of homelessness-related property crime.
The city of Kelowna should advocate an increase in the amount of RCMP auxiliary constables in all community neighbourhoods. Statistics demonstrate that creating a more visible police presence, even in auxiliary capacity, will reduce property crime.
Furthermore, the city of Kelowna should partner with the Kelowna RCMP detachment to request access to additional federal and provincial funding that has been set aside for homelessness and community health. An increase in uniformed officers will allow regular property checks and more-frequent neighbourhood patrols. This will provide peace of mind to our community and dramatically combat the rise in property crimes.
Forward-mobility is partnering with local agencies to provide pertinent life and work-skills training to Kelowna's most vulnerable.
Helping lift Kelowna's most vulnerable out of chronic and episodic homelessness by providing accessible inventory is a key component to fixing the problems our community faces, but it may not be the most significant. Our middle-class faces some drastic challenges, with limited realistic job opportunities for unskilled workers, and little-to-no forward mobility for limited-skilled workers. My fourth, and what could be the most crucial step of the process, would be to work with all levels of government, as well as both private and public institutions, to help identify gainful employment opportunities for Kelowna's most vulnerable. These are the people that are faced with poor or no realistic opportunities for employment.
Forward-mobility will be providing pertinent life and work-skills training, as well as planning and job placement, through a network of interconnected agencies throughout the municipal, provincial and federal governments. I accept and completely understand that not everyone will accept, or are capable of gainful employment due to chronic mental-illness or other handicaps. However, everyone deserves the proper attention from the services and programs our government partners have to offer, to maintain a base-level livelihood (that does not include bundling up in a sleeping bag in City Park downtown).
At issue in this video is homelessness, affordability and drug abuse in the city, and a conversation around potential solutions, or a posture that Kelowna city council can adopt moving forward.