Letter: “When a fellow human being is at risk of imminent harm or death …we act. Now.”

A concerned citizen demands action on Kelowna's human crisis

I am dismayed and disheartened to read, and witness, the division occurring in our city in regards to homelessness. 

The City of Kelowna, with widespread public engagement, and the laudable work of the Journey Home initiative, has an excellent plan in place, and has done incredible work to date in seeking sustainable, longterm solutions. BC Housing and local agencies have created, and are working to develop more permanent supported housing as part of an extensive Housing First program. These are forward-thinking successes worth celebrating. 

At the same time, in the midst of a brutal cold snap that coincides with a  lack of emergency shelter beds, some citizens are huddling in tents facing hypothermia or death, while  others rage at a system that seems rudderless in providing leadership and solutions. 

It is easy to get mired in the many barriers and risks to providing quick responses to this human crisis. “We need liability insurance” they say. “There is no funding!” they exclaim. “We are neither mental health nor addictions counselling experts” they mourn. “It is not our jurisdiction” they explain. 

It is also far too easy to justify a “not in my backyard” approach or a lack of action by coming from a place of fear, and focusing on the “why” from a place of judgment , rather than having compassion and empathy.

Why someone happens to be without permanent housing (i.e. trauma, drug addiction, severe mental health issues, employment crisis) is actually not our business. And, when that someone, who is a fellow human being, is at risk of imminent harm or death, the cause of their state of homelessness is, in fact, entirely irrelevant. What IS relevant is our responsibility to care for our own. 

And that means we stop circling the wagons, and passing the buck, and explaining why creative, outside-the-box ideas won’t work or don’t meet accepted criteria, and we act. Now.

Before our sense of community and commitment to working together to solve our social issues are fractured beyond repair, and more importantly, before someone dies thanks to a situation we all played a role in creating.

Karen Mason