Open conversation about homelessness needed

“The majority of those homeless in the Castlegar area are from the area, most born and raised here.”

Here I go again — banging the homelessness drum. It seems to be an endless endeavour. I have for years been involved with advocating and asking people to take notice of those most vulnerable in our communities. It is a drum that still needs to be heard.

Castlegar has been very fortunate in that we don’t have tent cities, people in doorways or on benches. Homelessness is relatively unseen for the most part, but let’s be clear: they are here, and they need to be noticed and given opportunities to make their lives better and that starts with housing and wrap-around supports.

There are few lulls in my week when I am not called, messaged or texted about a person or people who are panhandling, digging in bins or just looking forlorn, lost and in need of help. Once you see the look it is hard to forget. There is something in their eyes that just pulls at your heart. Seeing another human who feels dejected by society leaves a scar each time you see it, not to mention the long-lasting scars that they carry.

Our homeless population is growing, our rental stock is non-existent for many folks, these folks particularly, but housing is needed overall. There are people living in cars, tents, in makeshift huts and couch surfing when and where available. Our shelter is always full and sometimes the person may not be a good fit with those already in there. Community Harvest Food Bank has spent over $14,000 this year on emergency housing.

Homelessness is not our responsibility alone — it is a community issue and one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. We need to be proactive, not reactive. When homelessness explodes it is very hard to come back from that. It can fragment a community beyond belief.

To be very clear, the majority of those homeless in the Castlegar area are from the area, most born and raised here.

I am not proposing that Castlegar become the mecca for the homeless population. Not at all. In fact, those that come here from elsewhere are always asked if they want to go home, and it’s encouraged if they have family and supports elsewhere. What I am asking is that we have an open honest conversation about what can be done.

Yes, the City of Castlegar is proposing a committee to discuss housing, but the homeless population will be at the bottom of the priority list. The cold, rainy nights are already here and it is only going to get colder and wetter. We need to think about who we are as a community, what we stand for and do we stand for all people?

I certainly appreciate the help from business, industry, individuals and organizations for their help over the years and I hope that the generosity continues. To get involved or have a conversation, please call me, write a letter to the editor and please urge your city leaders to be proactive.

Deb McIntosh is co-ordinator of the Castlegar Community Harvest Food Bank and a former city councillor.

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