Column: Landscape of human suffering is growing

Forcing each city to individually deal with homelessness doesn't work. B.C. government must provide a provincial strategy now.

When I first moved from the big city of Burnaby to small town Maple Ridge some 20 years ago, there was only one visible homeless person and his name is ‘Pete the Bum.’ Not such a politically correct nickname but two decades ago, it didn’t seem so derogatory.

Wearing tattered clothing, the gentle giant was and still is a fixture in Maple Ridge. Everyone knows him or sees him regularly, and many have tried to help him into housing. But while it’s rumoured he has a place to go, he spends most of his nights — rain or shine — pushing his wheelchair up and down Lougheed Highway or hanging out at the 7-Eleven.

Why am I talking so much about Pete? Because, so much has changed in the landscapes of human suffering in suburbias dotting Metro Vancouver. Big cities have had homelessness issues since their inceptions, Vancouver still having world-wide notoriety for the indignities happening to the people in the Downtown Eastside.

But while Pete surely wasn’t the only person living on the streets —  I’m sure there were others — it was a very small population, and manageable from a municipal, health and policing perspective.

Fast forward to 2016, and the number one issue facing almost every municipality in B.C. is homelessness. Shelters, mental health teams, outreach workers, social services, hospitals, policing, courts and jails are overwhelmed and overburdened with this ever-growing issue.

The cost of homelessness on the taxpayer is enormous and ballooning every day. Our emergency responders are dealing with mental health issues, overdoses  and drug-induced psychosis regularly. People with mental health issues are finding shelter in a jail cell instead of getting help in a hospital. It’s heartbreaking and it’s taking an emotional toll on society.

I think it’s safe to say if you even have half a heart, seeing people sleeping on the streets or pushing their possessions around town, especially through the driving rain, is a pretty unbearable sight. These are human beings, who have families and feelings.

This is a complex issue without a permanent solution. And that is what is scary. Every municipality has tried an approach to helping but not one has ended or seriously reduced homelessness. Committees have been struck, meetings have taken place, shelters have been built, and continue to be built, hundreds of millions of dollars have been contributed by governments and continue to. But the provincial government has been a complete failure on this issue, leaving each city to deal with it on their own.

There needs to be a provincial strategy. Municipalities should not be burdened to come up with their own formula to a solution they have no training or experience with. This patchwork of supports and help for the homeless is not working. Enough with throwing a few dollars at each city.

Every community is at its wits-end. A provincial strategy will be costly in the short term but it’s the only option now.

Just Posted

Pride flag taken down by Township of Langley

Woman said she was told it was removed from her front yard because of a complaint

Langley’s Wyatt twins make Pan Am team

Wyatts back home after completing freshman year at University of Memphis

VIDEO: Beer lovers tip a few for Langley Rotary Clubs

17th Annual Tip ‘n Taste at Cascades Casino serves up craft suds for local charities

Langley Mustang achieves personal best

Local track and field team earn 14 gold medals at successful Jesse Bent Memorial Meet

Former Langley school moved to new site for condo project

The old Murrayville Elementary’s core was shifted on its site

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

Give Hope Wings fundraiser launches Saturday from Pitt Meadows

Flying marathon will benefit low income Canadians needing flights for medical treatment

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

Most Read