'It’s a Canadian crisis': Homelessness expert, city react to national spotlight on Kelowna's tent city

'It's a Canadian crisis'

The executive director of the Central Okanagan Journey Home Society calls it "poverty porn," while the City of Kelowna’s director of community safety says it’s disappointing and unfair to single out Kelowna.

They are reacting after federal Conservative party leader Pierre Poilievre shared a TikTok video of the city’s homeless encampment along the Rail Trail with the comment, “These images are not from a faraway third-world country. This is Kelowna. After eight years of Trudeau and the NDP.”

The video has been widely circulated on social media.

“It looks different when a politician or a public person of interest goes to a community, meets people, learns their stories, gains consent to share that, as opposed to just grabbing a video off TikTok and using it to point at other political parties that aren’t his,” said Gauthier.

Community safety director Darren Caul says a 57 second video doesn’t tell the whole story of the strides Kelowna has made, considering it’s the fastest growing city in the country. He defends the city’s designated camping site for the unhoused.

“The advantage to a designating space; not withstanding that it meets our legal obligation (to make public space available for outdoor sheltering), is that it enables finite resources from our not-for-profit partners, health and social service partners, as well as police and bylaw to focus on that site and on the nearly 100 people who shelter overnight at that site, in our bid to maintain health, safety and security,” Caul points out.

The topic was on the agenda for Mayor Tom Dyas during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference.

“I know homelessness is top of mind for many people. I‘ve been at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Ontario the last several days to learn about what we can do as a community to address this. The number of individuals living on our streets is unacceptable,” wrote Dyas in a Twitter Post Wednesday.

“Learning from other communities - their successes and mistakes - is one of the best ways we can address our issues here at home. The Mayor of Edmonton, Amarjeet Sohi and I discussed these issues at FCM and I look forward to bringing back solutions to Kelowna,” said the mayor.

Gauthier adds if it wasn’t for the efforts of the city, social agencies and other stakeholders there would likely be 800 more people living on the streets in Kelowna. However, the continued rise in the cost of housing in the Central Okanagan is making it increasingly difficult to get ahead of the trend.

“For so many, this is a pure affordability issue. We have so many people who don’t require mental health supports, that don’t require substance use treatment or those other services that I think most people associate with why people are on the streets.

“We have a huge concerning number of seniors on our streets. We have veterans on our streets. We have youth, we have families, and just affordability is the common theme.”

She says decades of federal and provincial government cuts and redirection in funding away from housing programs. “There are growing numbers of homelessness everywhere. It’s not a localized crisis. It’s not a B.C. crisis. It’s a Canadian crisis.”

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