We’re very lucky that extreme poverty generally doesn’t show its face in smaller towns like Peachland and Oliver.
That’s not the case in bigger communities around the Okanagan. The dark underbelly of Kelowna is impossible to ignore for anybody walking along the downtown street of Leon Avenue.
It’s depressing that so many people live on the streets right nearby. Everybody is rooting for them to get back on their feet but it’s very difficult to help. Giving out spare change is a nice way to make their day a little more comfortable, but it’s a pretty feeble way to improve their dismal quality of life.
Homeless people deserve compassion for falling deeper through the cracks of Canadian society than any other group. Everybody is just a product of their environment, and for those who were born into a broken home or living with mental illness, the deck was stacked against them.
But that doesn’t mean we should condone shanty living wherever disenfranchised people see fit. It’s only natural for homeless to want to congregate around a city’s downtown, but it’s also natural for everyone else to want their community to be free of sketchy people.
We manicure every aspect of our environment but politicians struggle on how to best sweep the squalor of homelessness under the rug.
The city of Medicine Hat has been praised for eliminating its homelessness problem by paying to house anybody in need. City officials there calculated that the recurring costs of dealing with them is around $100,000 each year, compared to the $20,000 price tag associated with housing them.
Hats off to Medicine Hat.
But I doubt that solution would work outside of extremely boring communities. Vibrant cities like Vancouver and Kelowna have a gravitational pull that causes some people to feel dead set on living in them, whether they can afford it or not. Medicine Hat, on the other hand, is the opposite of vibrant. Street people, in my supposition, have little desire to live in dull and unexciting communities, especially in rural parts of the Prairies.
In Vernon, the number of people begging for money is on the rise, where reports of panhandling increased by 83 per cent from 2015 to 2016.
Last summer, a well-known Penticton panhandler was fined for panhandling after years of frequenting the same spot.
Ticketing a panhandler is a bit of a joke. Somebody who’s resorted to panhandling isn’t going to have the money to pay for a ticket. Also, what repercussions could a homeless person possibly face for ignoring a ticket?
Many Penticton residents were upset to find out that homeless man was ticketed, and through public outcry, the City of Penticton has seemingly backed away from ticketing them.
So instead of ticketing them in Penticton, city staff have recently installed a “kindness meter,” inviting generous donors to give their spare change to a brightly-coloured parking metre instead of an actual homeless person. That way, rather than worrying whether the beggar will waste your donation on booze or drugs, the city can apply it towards social programs aimed at helping homelessness.
Penticton municipal staff pitched the idea as an altruistic way to help out the homeless, but it’s pretty easy to read between the lines – the city is deterring panhandlers by diminishing their revenues with a flower-painted parking meter.
Dan Walton is editor of the Peachland View