COLUMN: Terrace council needs lesson on homelessness

The ‘tent city’ article (Terrace Standard, 25.07.2019) reveals that multiple government and non-government agencies recognize homelessness in Terrace as a problem.

Affordability may be a contributing factor, but mental health, alcohol and addiction issues are likely to be more persistent contributors to the problem of homelessness. Maybe the city’s delegation to Victoria will spur the provincial government to take appropriate action. However, even if the government were to respond to the city’s delegation with a promise to take immediate “action on the root causes,” the trail from that promise to actually achieving an end to homelessness in Terrace would be a long and convoluted one indeed.

One councillor called for a balance between compassionate and punitive measures to deal with homelessness. How do you punish a homeless person? Jail may end up being more reward than punishment on a cold and rainy night. Maybe the city should consider punitive measures for businesses who fail to adequately secure their shopping carts. Should the tent city be moved beyond the city’s boundaries – let the regional district deal with the problem? I have doubts about the effectiveness of even the most astute bylaws and their energetic enforcement to reduce the problem for the homeless or for the community.

Instead of going to Victoria, city council could send a delegation to visit Salt Lake City, Utah. In just one decade, 2005 to 2015, homelessness in Salt Lake City (population 200,000) was reduced by 90 per cent! With 10 per cent still on the street, Salt Lake City’s mayor was not ready to consider the job to be done. The Guardian Weekly (12.07.2019) reported that the city’s mayor “went undercover in 2017 for three nights as a homeless person, sleeping out on the streets, to better understand the challenges people faced in finding food, shelter and solutions.” Could a visit by Terrace city council to Salt Lake City be more useful than a trip to Victoria in its search for ways to deal with our tent city problem?

Another approach could be for the city to partner with the Ksan Society. That society’s Sonder House project offers a home for the homeless: an effective local solution to the tent city problem. According to the Standard’s report the number of tents sheltering the homeless decreased when the Sonder House project became operational in June. All 52 units in that project are occupied, and a waiting list is already building up. Is the Sonder House success a fluke? Could a Sonder House II project be as effective as is the original in reducing homelessness in Terrace?

Homelessness is not unique to Terrace. It is a growing problem not only in British Columbia, but in Canada and in virtually every other so-called first world country. Mental health, addiction and poverty are among the leading causes contributing to homelessness. However, in all circumstances, the immediate problem for the homeless is a lack of housing. The Ksan Society’s Sonder House project does not alleviate the many and varied problems the homeless are coping with, but by providing people on our society’s bottom rung with a home, we and they are in a far better position to tackle their many other problems.

Instead of going to a meeting in Victoria, some of our councillors could join the homeless for a few nights and get first-hand appreciation of homelessness, its problems and possible solutions.

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